Tire tweaks? Indianapolis test on tap this week
Four Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series teams will travel to Indianapolis Motor Speedway this week for a two-day Goodyear tire test at the legendary 2.5-mile facility. Drivers scheduled to take part in the test, set for Tuesday and Wednesday, are Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Team Penske Ford), Denny Hamlin (No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota), David Ragan (No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford) and Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet). The Brickyard 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race is scheduled for July 23 . "It seems like the last couple of years (Indy) has fairly well stabilized after the grinding that they did," Goodyear's Greg Stucker told NASCAR.com. "Kind of knocked the edges off the grooves in the surface. But the last couple of years we've felt like we were getting to the point that we could look at adding a little bit of grip. Particularly with the move from '16 to '17 with a little less downforce." NASCAR' s 2017 rules package created less overall downforce (from 2,100 to 1,600 pounds) on the cars through changes to the rear spoiler, front splitter and deck fin. Modifications to rear steer settings and a new tire rule (teams must start the race using the tires on which they qualified) were also made. While significant, the changes were an evolution of the initial package that debuted in '15 at select events when the sanctioning body began the move to take downforce away from the cars. Those changes were implemented for all races (excluding superspeedway events at Daytona and Talladega) in '16. Stucker, Goodyear's director of race tire sales, said an XFINITY Series test last October at Indy opened the door for a possible tire change in the Monster Energy Series. "When we tested with the XFINITY cars last year in preparation for their new configuration, we actually were running a little bit softer left side. It's the left side (tire) that we run at Pocono," he said. "So that gave us an indication, 'Hey, this might be something that we can standardize between Pocono and Indy, give the Cup cars a little more grip.' So that's one of the main goals, to look at that and see if that's a good move for Indianapolis this year and add a little bit more left-side grip." Stucker said the continued evolution of the rules package has not "significantly" impacted tire selection. The big bump, he said, came between '15 and '16 as the initial lower-downforce package was rolled out. "Because that was the plan," he said. "The big step from '15 to '16 (was) 'let's figure out where we land with tires and if we feel like we're in a good spot, even though we’re taking more downforce off as we go to '17, let's leave tires alone.'" But as the cars have evolved and tracks age and undergo repaves, Goodyear continues to monitor the situation and addresses the changing needs. "There are a couple of areas we wanted to work on," he said. "Kansas at the end of last year, obviously we're going to come with a little bit softer left side (tire), because we felt we were in that position even with the '16 package as we went to '17 and less downforce, that was a good move. Obviously Martinsville (was) a different focus, to rubber in the race track. Texas with the repave; Kentucky with a new top coat on now. Las Vegas, trying to generate a little more wear on a surface that generally doesn't create wear. "We had a few things to work on but it wasn't a significant move in grip like I would call the '15 to '16 move. Overall things are pretty stable and we're kind of fine-tuning specific race tracks that we feel like we can help a little bit." There currently are no plans to test at Texas, which was repaved and reconfigured prior to this month's race. Due to time constraints, there was no tire test at the 1.5-mile track. Stucker said officials were pleased with the Texas tire selection, which was the same left-side tire code used by teams at Kentucky in 2016 (Kentucky underwent a similar repave and Goodyear did conduct tire tests prior to that race). The right-side Texas tire featured the same tread compound as Kentucky but with a minor construction change. "You have to be cautious," he said. "With the (Texas) repave, we raced on it right after it was done. It's not going to change significantly as we get into the fall. I think the race track was very happy. … We certainly are. "Again, hat's off to the race track and to SMI for doing everything they could to put some rubber down with the Tire Dragon and trying to work the groove in. I think that was huge. And I think that was complimented with a pretty racy package from what we had."
Staff picks for Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway
RELATED: See all the cars lined up for Sunday's race Jimmie Johnson : "The focus is rightly on Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart this weekend. Away from the spotlight, though, Johnson and his No. 48 team finally get back on track with a dominant showing -- and "Six-Time" ties Gordon with his fifth career win at the Brickyard." -- Brad Norman Tony Stewart : 'Smoke' has been on a roll and no place means as much to him as the Brickyard. -- Kenny Bruce Kyle Larson : " Fueled by a landmark victory at Eldora Speedway and increased team performance, expect Kyle Larson to ride a wave of momentum into the Brickyard, backing up his two Indy top-10s by landing in Victory Lane for the first time in his Sprint Cup Series career." -- Pat DeCola Martin Truex Jr. : Furniture Row Racing puts all the pieces together, shedding any bad luck for another crown jewel win to pair with its Coca-Cola 600 triumph. -- Zack Albert Jimmie Johnson : " He's won here four times before and it's time for his frustrating summer to end." -- Holly Cain Tony Stewart : "Equipped with a third-place starting position for his final Brickyard 400 run, look for Indiana native Tony Stewart to continue his hot streak up front -- and eventually in Victory Lane." -- Jessica Ruffin Ryan Newman : "The Rocket Man has been close the past two weeks (seventh at Loudon, third at Kentucky) and qualified sixth at the Brickyard, so let's go with Indiana's forgotten son to pull off the upset on Sunday. After all, his last Sprint Cup Series win came at Indy (2013)." -- George Winkler Kyle Busch: " The Sprint Cup Series champ is starting on the pole and I think he's going to stay there to bring home his second consecutive Brickyard win. Also, with Saturday's XFINITY Series win under his belt, Busch is eyeing a sweep again, a feat that's only been done by him." -- Taylor Nunnally Carl Edwards : " The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has the speed this weekend and his quiet summer is about to come to an end with his first Brickyard win." -- RJ Kraft Jimmie Johnson : Four-time Indy winner is due for a Brickyard win and this weekend could be the year "Six-Time" ties Jeff Gordon for the most wins at the 2.5-mile track. -- Maggie MacKenzie Make your picks in Streak to the Finish !
NASCAR announces race package for XFINITY Series race at Indianapolis
BUY TICKETS: See the races at Indianapolis Teams competing in the NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway later this year will do so with a race package that incorporates three major modifications aimed at one goal -- improved competition at the legendary 2.5-mile speedway . Designed specifically for the 100-lap race scheduled for July 22, the modifications consist of a taller rear spoiler and splitter package; aero ducts on the lower front bumper area; and a 7/8th-inch restrictor plate currently used for superspeedway events at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway. The static ride height of the cars will remain at 4 inches, which is unchanged from the current 2017 rules package. The Indy package was crafted after much in-house simulation and development and then field-tested on Oct. 12 at IMS for verification. XFINITY Series teams from Richard Childress Racing, Roush Fenway Racing and Kaulig Racing participated in the test. "We (develop) the analytical package and come to some conclusions," Gene Stefanyshyn, NASCAR Senior Vice President, Innovation and Racing Development, told NASCAR.com. "But then we also need to go on the track and verify this. So this approach has been a two-step approach, analytical creation of the package and then on-track verification. "We race at 29 tracks (across all three national series) and they're all very special," Stefanyshyn added. " Indianapolis has a long history; it's a wonderful track. Our objective is to give our fans the best possible show we can. We are very proud of being able to participate at Indy; we want to put our best foot forward. We believe we have come up with a package that gives us the best opportunity to do that." MORE: IMS announces updated race weekend schedule Stefanyshyn said officials had teams run various packages during the test. While the use of the restrictor plates enabled the cars to run closer together, the ability to pull out and pass remained difficult. "We saw the cars were closer together, but we weren't able to create some passing until we introduced the aero ducts," he said. "That's the main purpose of the ducts, to give the trailing car more of an advantage … we always hear about clean air and how the leader has clean air. Our objective here is to try to give the trail car more benefit." Without the aero ducts, cars running down long straightaways such as those at IMS hit a wall of air, which creates "a significant horsepower deficit" when they get within approximately one car-length of the lead car, Stefanyshyn said. The aero ducts direct air in through the existing brake ducts and out through the wheelhouse on each side. The high speed air flowing out creates a larger hole or "envelope" for the trailing car. Use of the aero ducts should increase the amount of horsepower differential for the trailing car by approximately 25 percent. "We're giving the driver more momentum from four-five car lengths back, gaining coming into within half a car length; when he gets right into that bubble, he's still got to cross through it, but he's carrying momentum and he can break through it," Stefanyshyn said. Stefanyshyn said incorporation of the package isn't "a slam dunk," but studies and testing have thus far validated the changes. "Our belief is that we will create a situation where they can pass on the straightaways," he said. "That's been done analytically, it's been done with three cars. The question is when we turn 40 cars loose on the track can that still manifest itself and that's still what we’re hoping will happen." Speeds likely won't vary greatly with the new package, and the use of restrictor plates isn't expected to generate the big packs of traffic on the track similar to what typically is seen at Daytona and Talladega. Stefanyshyn said it's more likely that there will be several groups of five or six cars each, "and in each of those groupings we're hoping to see passing on the straightaways." The XFINITY Series has competed at IMS since 2012, and the lack of passing on the big, flat track has been a concern for NASCAR and speedway officials. Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing) led more than half the laps in winning the last two XFINITY Series races at Indy and he led 92 of 100 when he won the race in 2013. Dale Earnhardt Jr. addressed the racing package this week during his weekly Dale Jr. Download podcast. Earnhardt Jr. competes in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series for Hendrick Motorsports. He is also co-owner of JR Motorsports, which fields four full-time teams in the XFINITY Series. "I'm curious to see (the changes)," he said. "I think NASCAR sees this as an idea on how fix racing in general at Indianapolis ." According to NASCAR officials, there currently are no plans in place to utilize the package at any other venue or in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
Indianapolis announces updated race weekend schedule
BUY TICKETS: See the races in Indianapolis Indianapolis Motor Speedway announced Thursday that its Brickyard 400 race weekend will be condensed to two days of on-track activity for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Practice and qualifying for NASCAR's premier series now are scheduled for Saturday, July 22, bookending the Lilly Diabetes 250 for the NASCAR XFINITY Series. Coors Light Pole Qualifying for the Monster Energy Cup Series is slated for 6:15 p.m. ET, after the XFINITY Series' 3:30 p.m. ET start (NBCSN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Indy's annual Brickyard 400 follows Sunday, July 23 (3 p.m. ET, NBC, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The news follows similar announcements of condensed weekend schedules made by Pocono Raceway and Martinsville Speedway in recent weeks. Friday's slate at Indianapolis will now feature a pair of practice sessions for the XFINITY Series. That opening day will also feature a fan fest with interactions with Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers and the traditional Hauler Parade through Main Street in Indianapolis . This year's running will mark the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series' 24th visit to the historic 2.5-mile track. Kyle Busch has won the prestigious 400-miler the last two years.
Hot Lap: Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Take a virtual lap around Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Dale Jr. out, Gordon in No. 88 at Indianapolis , Pocono
RELATED: Pictures of Gordon through the years " Junior through the years Jeff Gordon is not done after all. The recently retired Hendrick Motorsports driver will compete for the first time this year Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway as a substitute driver for Dale Earnhardt Jr. , who will be sidelined at least two more weeks due to concussion-like symptoms, according to a team release. Gordon will also sub for Earnhardt Jr. the following week at Pocono. Earnhardt Jr. missed last Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway . Alex Bowman piloted his No. 88 Chevrolet as a replacement, but Hendrick general manager Doug Duchardt revealed last week that Gordon would sub for Earnhardt at Indianapolis if needed. Hendrick Motorsports said Wednesday morning that Earnhardt has not been cleared to resume competition. In addition to this weekend's Sprint Cup event at Indianapolis , Gordon will also drive the No. 88 Chevrolet in the series' event July 31 at Pocono Raceway. Gordon retired at the end of the 2015 season and joined the FOX broadcast booth. Sunday will be his 798th Sprint Cup Series start, and his first in a number other than the 24 he made so iconic. Gordon's history at the Brickyard makes him a natural pick for Sunday's Crown Royal Presents The Combat Wounded Coalition 400 at the Brickyard (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN, IMS, SiriusXM). The four-time series champion has a NASCAR-record five Indy wins, the most recent coming in 2014. "Jeff's a team player," longtime car owner Rick Hendrick said in a statement provided by the team. "I know he'll be ready, and I know Dale has incredible trust in him. It's going to be an emotional weekend (at Indianapolis ) with Dale not being there and seeing Jeff back behind the wheel. (Crew chief) Greg (Ives) and the team did a great job at New Hampshire, and they have the full support of our organization." Earnhardt was evaluated Tuesday at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program after missing last weekend's New Hampshire 301, according to a team release. On Monday, the 41-year-old driver provided an update on his condition during his "Dale Jr. Download" podcast, saying he had been struggling with balance and nausea in the days leading up to the New Hampshire event. Earnhardt also said Monday that there was no firm timetable for his return. NASCAR officials indicated last weekend that the sanctioning body would require notice from an independent board-certified neurologist with at least five years' experience in the field of sports-related head injuries before Earnhardt would be cleared to return to competition. "Our focus is giving Dale all the time he needs to recover," Hendrick said. "There's nothing we want more than to see him back in the race car, but we'll continue to listen to the doctors and follow their lead. What's best for Dale is what’s best for Hendrick Motorsports and everyone involved with the team. We're all proud of him and looking forward to having him racing soon." NASCAR has made neurocognitive testing mandatory for its drivers since 2013. Earnhardt also missed time in the 2012 season after sustaining two concussions in a six-week stretch. Regan Smith replaced him for two races -- Charlotte and Kansas -- in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs that year. After sitting out last weekend, Earnhardt slipped two spots to 15th in the Sprint Cup driver standings, also fading to the 16th and final spot in the provisional Chase postseason grid. The Hendrick organization indicated that Earnhardt will not travel with the team to either Indianapolis or Pocono. &amp;lt;/p&amp;gt;
Johnson, Harvick, others to test at Indianapolis
Four-time Brickyard 400 winner Jimmie Johnson headlines a group of one dozen NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers scheduled to take part in a two-day organizational test Tuesday and Wednesday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway . The legendary 2.5-mile track will host the Crown Royal presents the Wounded Warrior Coalition 400 at the Brickyard NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race on Sunday, July 24. Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, captured Indy victories in 2006, '08, '09 and '12. Also among the 12 drivers testing are 2003 Brickyard champ Kevin Harvick (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 Chevrolet) and 2011 winner Paul Menard (Richard Childress Racing No. 27 Chevrolet). Rounding out the list of drivers participating are Joey Logano (Team Penske No. 22 Ford), Brian Scott (Richard Petty Motorsports No. 44 Ford), Chris Buescher (Front Row Motorsports No. 34 Ford), Trevor Bayne (Roush Fenway Racing No. 6 Ford), Ryan Blaney (Wood Brothers Racing No. 21 Ford), Kyle Larson (Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates No. 42 Chevrolet), Matt Kenseth (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Toyota), Martin Truex Jr. (Furniture Row Racing No. 78 Toyota) and Clint Bowyer (HScott Motorsports No. 15 Chevrolet). On-track activities are slated to run from 9 a.m.- 5 p.m. daily. This week's test is the second of five organizational tests for Sprint Cup teams in 2016. Remaining tests are slated for Watkins Glen International (July 26-27), Chicagoland Speedway (Aug. 23-24) and Homestead Miami Speedway (Oct. 18-19). Only one team from each organization is allowed to take part in each test. Goodyear conducted its tire test for the upcoming race on April 26-27 with three-time series champion Tony Stewart (SHR), Aric Almirola (RPM), Carl Edwards (JGR) and Chase Elliott (HMS) participating. Last season, NASCAR unveiled a high-drag package highlighted by a nine-inch spoiler for Indianapolis and the August race at Michigan International Speedway . The package was tabled for 2016, however, and replaced by aerodynamic changes that took much more downforce and side force off the cars. "Last year we had the big-time spoiler change … on the back and the high drag to try to draft around this place so that was a little different than having the three-inch spoiler … with much less downforce," Elliott said during the April test. "So it seems like you require a little more brake getting into the corner, seems like it takes a little more effort to get the car slowed down for the corner than what we did here the last race. "It's hard to say until you come back and have a bunch of cars on the race track at the same time. This place is so big and it is really temperature-sensitive.” According to track officials, fans will be allowed to watch this week's test free of charge from the south terrace grandstands, the Turn 2 viewing mounds (adjacent to the speedway ’s museum) as well as the B Penthouse grandstands.
Gordon talks return, Dale Jr. at Indianapolis
SPEEDWAY , Ind. -- Fans lined up two- and three-deep outside the Indianapolis Motor Speedway media center hoping for autographs from four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon , who is returning to NASCAR competition this weekend. The five-time Indy winner will drive for the injured Dale Earnhardt Jr. for two races -- at Indy and next week at Pocono -- while Earnhardt recovers from concussion-like symptoms. Gordon, 45, was all smiles and admittedly still a little overwhelmed with the new part-time job as he addressed the media for the first time Friday morning. He was primarily concerned with his former Hendrick Motorsports teammate Earnhardt's recovery. "Most of all, I'm proud to be here and help this team out," Gordon said. "This is his team and what we want the most is to have him healthy and strong for the long term. My goal is to come here and give this team the best effort I can." Gordon said the whole opportunity to fill in for Earnhardt began with a simple cell phone text he received while vacationing with his wife in France. "Call me," read the text from team owner Rick Hendrick. "I can tell you, you sit down when you call," Gordon said smiling. "It hasn't happened a lot, but when it does, it's usually something big. "I was in the South of France at that time, second day of our vacation. I got that text and looked at my wife and said, 'Oh, boy, here we go.' "Rick said to me, 'Are you coming to Indianapolis ?' And I told him I was coming on Saturday. He said, 'You better bring your uniform.' Then he started telling me what was happening, and I told him, 'You're messing with me. I know you're messing with me.' "I knew right away the seriousness, that he wasn't joking. That this was serious. I honestly didn't have to think twice." So Gordon flew back from Paris to New York on Tuesday, a day earlier than expected and Hendrick had a plane waiting on its "new" driver to transport him to the team's headquarters in North Carolina. Once in Charlotte, Gordon had to get a NASCAR driver's license -- he currently held one as a team owner -- and get the required physical tests to certify he was ready for competition. The team still had Gordon's seat and steering wheel from last season's Cup finale at Homestead. Gordon said he spent time studying data and GoPro video from inside the cars of Hendrick drivers Jimmie Johnson and Chase Elliott when they tested last week at Indy. Gordon said he also spent time speaking with crew chief Greg Ives. "The cool thing about Greg Ives is he reminded me that he worked for Robbie Loomis when Robbie was my crew chief and he was telling some great stories about working with Robbie," Gordon said. "I've known Greg for a long time and always been impressed with him. But, I have never had the opportunity to work with him. I'm looking forward to working with him. I think he's a great crew chief and they have a great race team." An hour before Gordon and Hendrick spoke to the media in Indianapolis , Earnhardt sent a message to his fans on social media. "Today is the 1st day in many that I sensed improvement. Seen small gains during my physical therapy as well. Light at the end of the tunnel," Earnhardt wrote on Twitter. RELATED: Earnhardt gives update on his health "I certainly woke up feeling good when I saw Dale Jr.'s tweet, that he's seen progress," Gordon said. "I texted him right away as soon as I saw that. So, that is great news. Great way to start the day." Hendrick also reiterated how proud of Earnhardt he was for recognizing a problem and taking correct and cautious measures in terms of racing. And, he noted, Earnhardt was in the race shop Wednesday spending time with his team. "He looks good and he's in great spirits," Hendrick said. "He's encouraged and following the doctors' orders and we're really excited. He wants to get back in the car. "He wants to race, but he also knows that the regimen they have him on will get him right for a long time. So he's following doctors' orders, but I can tell he's getting a little antsy. But he's going to do well." Gordon conceded that in addition to getting used to the 2016 Cup cars -- and the digital dash, which he has never used -- was the simple and obvious thing of remembering he's driving the No. 88 Chevrolet. For 24 seasons, Gordon drove the No. 24 Chevrolet for Hendrick, earning four series titles and a record five Brickyard 400 trophies. Now, rookie Chase Elliott drives that car. "I'm going to be racing against the No. 24 car out there," Gordon said, allowing a slight smile. "It's a race car and I'm going to be focused on driving, not focused on anything else. "To me, once I get behind the wheel and I'm inside the car I don't know what is on the outside of that car." RELATED: Other times legendary athletes wore different numbers In addition to this role driving for Earnhardt, Gordon revealed he was asked in February to fill in for then-injured Tony Stewart in the season-opening Daytona 500 . He couldn't because of contract obligations with his new on-air role with FOX Sports. Certainly, few of Gordon's competitors Sunday have any doubt whatsoever that he will be competitive here. "He has the best stats of anybody or as good of stats as anybody here at this race track as far as top fives and top 10s," Richard Childress Racing driver Ryan Newman said. "I think that he is driving the same equipment, it's not like he's in somebody else's race car. He knows what he's driving, he knows the people he is driving for, so I don't see any reason why he is not one of the guys to beat." Teammate Jimmie Johnson echoed the prevailing sentiment in the garage. With both Stewart and Gordon in their final Brickyard, there will be plenty to watch. "It is big, the way it worked out obviously, but to have Tony Stewart in his final race, Jeff Gordon in his final race -- Part Two, it is a big time," Johnson said. "Jeff has always been so well supported by the fans at this race track. I can only imagine how loud they are going to be at driver intros -- and how bonkers this place would go if he is able to win." RELATED: Stewart would consider substitute role in '17 In another nod to the team's regular driver, track crews took down a sign the Speedway had placed above the No. 88 team's garage that identified Jeff Gordon as the driver of the car instead of Dale Earnhardt Jr. Gordon insisted that it was Earnhardt's car regardless of who was driving it this weekend. Gordon looked good in opening practice for Sunday's Brickyard 400 with the ninth-fastest speed, and no one has proven himself better here. "I'm certainly a little overwhelmed over everything that has happened over the last week," Gordon said. "But, most of all, I'm proud to be here and help his team out. This is his team. What we want most is to have (Earnhardt) healthy and strong for the long-term. Today is a great sign of things to come for him. "For me, my goal is to come here and give this team the best effort that I can, and give them the best result ... hopefully a good one. So really, this is just me helping out the organization. We will see what happens on Sunday. If we are out there having fun, and put a good result together, I can tell you what is in it for me is to make that team proud, and not let them down." &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Live chat: Indianapolis and Eldora
Chat with fans this weekend during the NASCAR action at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Eldora Speedway .
Heat at Indianapolis test helps teams gather applicable data
SPEEDWAY , Ind. – NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams wrapped up a second day of testing here at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Wednesday in preparation for next week's Crown Royal Presents The Combat Wounded Coalition 400 at the Brickyard. The 23rd running of the annual NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race is scheduled for Sunday, July 24 (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Wednesday's session, originally scheduled to last until 5 p.m., was shortened by one hour due to the threat of inclement weather. Teams worked through the lunch hour to adjust and get through their individual checklists. That the organizational test took place just one week before this year's race was a bonus for the dozen teams participating. "I wish more tests were like this where you come the week before," said Kyle Larson , driver of the No. 42 Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing . "A lot of times you test at a track three months before the race and the climate's different, the track is not the same as when you test, and you forget a lot of stuff you learn technique-wise as a driver before you come back. To be this close to the race, I wish more were like that." "For sure the temps have to be similar," six-time series champion Jimmie Johnson said. "It's nice being this close, absolutely." Johnson's No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet was fastest, unofficially, during Tuesday morning's session, and had the top overall speed at the close of Wednesday as well. Larson, fastest in Tuesday's afternoon run, was second after Wednesday's combined effort. "We opened up both days really strong but in the heat of the day, this track changes so dang much," Johnson said. "I feel that we learned more about the heat of the day on the second day. We're still not where we want to be. But at the start of the day, we're so stinking fast it's a bit of a letdown once the track heats up. It slips away a little bit. "I didn't realize the race doesn't start until 3 p.m. so maybe that will work in our wheelhouse, kind of bring some of the grip back. But this place is so tough to get right, especially in the heat of the day." Temperatures reached 87 degrees on Tuesday at the 2.5-mile track and 89 Wednesday. "We've got to get home and digest everything," Johnson said. "We made a lot of runs. We went through a ton of tires, ran a lot of laps." Larson said his team "made pretty big improvements" during the two days. "Today we were good at times and then we'd get loose," he said. "We kind of knew what adjustments to make to get the car back to being good. This place loses a lot of grip when it gets hot out, based off sun popping out or clouds covering up the sun. You'll have more grip for a few laps, the sun comes you and you lose grip again. "But I thought we were comparable to the 48, the 20 ( Matt Kenseth , Joe Gibbs Racing ) and your normal fast guys." Series points leader Kevin Harvick had the third fastest unofficial lap in his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet Wednesday, followed by Martin Truex Jr . ( Furniture Row Racing No. 78 Toyota). "We learned a little bit," Rodney Childers, Harvick's crew chief, said. "We're going to bring a different car back next week. "Normally when we test here it's cool and the track is a lot faster than it is when we come back. This is about as hot as it's ever been when I've been here. So the track is really slick and slowing down when the tires get hot. I definitely think we learned a lot though."
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