Changing Weather Will Influence Daytona 500 Speeds
By Team Ford Racing Correspondent
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The first big weekend of the long and punishing Sprint Cup season is in the books, and what do we know?
One of the things we know is that we don’t know much -- at least as knowledge relates to Sunday’s Daytona 500 and how it might unfold.
Typically, the Sprint Unlimited race, won Saturday night by Kevin Harvick with Ford Racing’s Greg Biffle roaring along in his shadow, provides some serious clues about how the 500, which follows the Unlimited by eight days, might develop.
But Saturday night’s 75-lap lid-lifter for the year was of little value -- at least as it relates to the more serious competition that awaits on stock car racing’s most famous track this Sunday.
Saturday night’s race was run with the thermometer floating in the high 40s, and with the always-brisk Daytona Beach wind dragging the wind chill down to around 42.
To say the least, it was not “beach” weather.
Although it brought out big coats along pit road and in the grandstands (and even for the competitors at driver introductions), the cars were pleased. They typically run better -- faster -- in such conditions because the grip level on the track improves significantly.
Unless things change dramatically (or a meteor sweeps across the beach), Daytona 500 weather will be wildly different. The current forecast calls for a high of 80 degrees Sunday (after an even higher high of 86 Saturday, the last day of 500 practice).
A difference of almost 40 degrees from one race to another in the span of a week? Wacky. On track, the change will be like trading a concrete driveway for an ice rink.
Warmer conditions equal a track surface that will be much more slippery. Less grip means passing will be trickier, wrecks will be more likely, and pack racing will be more difficult.
Mix this in with the unknowns associated with the new Gen-6 race car, and the 500, the first long-distance test for the vehicle, could offer some chaos -- or at least some major uncertainty.
The racing, Biffle said, could be a lot like Daytona competition eight years ago, before the 2007 arrival of the Car of Tomorrow.
“I heard some guys talk about old school racing -- '04, '05,” Biffle said. “It will be like that. But when the car would get kind of a run, or you would get sucked up there and you would pull out, the car would continue to kind of accelerate before it died off with its momentum.
“Now it seems like the car -- you get a run, you pull out there, you side-draft a guy, it's like you put the brakes on. The thing has just a bunch of drag. It's really hard to maneuver and get a run.
“But the thing about it is, when you get 43 cars out there, that's going to be a ton different. It will be a lot different. Then the bottom line is going to work, there's going to be a middle. With more cars out there, I think it will be better.”
Teams have access to long-range weather forecasts, of course, and most of the garage’s top cars for the 500 have been prepared with warm weather in mind. An early test will come Thursday in the two 150-mile qualifying races for the 500 on a day with a projected high of 75.
Coats will be gone. Grip will be a bigger issue.
It’s the next stop on the way to the 500.