A busy infield? Crowded bleachers? Pack-racin’… in January?
No, it wasn’t quite the pre-season days of yore, but Daytona International Speedway was alive and kicking last week, with many familiar faces spinning laps for next month’s Daytona 500.
“That was quite different from what I remember,” said the week… most famous face, Dale Earnhardt Jr. “I’ve never driven the cars with the big spoiler on the back, so I was quite surprised when we were drawing how much drag the car had.”
Junior, along with nearly two dozen other drivers, were at the speedway last week for the two-day Next Gen test.
No, he’s not coming back to the Cup Series anytime soon (more on that later).
But that doesn’t mean NASCAR’s most popular driver (sorry Chase!) Can’t help Hendrick Motorsports by spending a few days in Kyle Larson’s No. 5 Chevy to drive!
RISK BUSINESS:Dale Earnhardt Jr. test at Daytona, but don’t expect cup return: ‘I’m done taking risks’
MORE JUNIOR:KEN WILLIS: Junior Opens Up Again At Daytona, This Time It’s About The R Word (Yeah, Risk)
Next Gen cars have more resistance
So, as Junior said, the biggest difference he felt in these new Next Gen machines was the drag.
A whole drag.
“The cars don’t really produce runs like I expected,” he said. “In the 20 or so years that I raced here at Daytona, you could develop or create a run, whether it was from the energy of the car behind you or whatever it was, and that run would take half a lap, and that momentum or speed or boost can take more than half a lap.
“I don’t know if I feel like with as much resistance as these cars have, you can create those kinds of opportunities. You’re just stuck where you are.”
Awesome! Exactly what people in marketing want to hear.
Expect the same Daytona 500 chaos
All right, everyone take it easy. It’s not as bad as it sounds, right? Save us, Junior.
“I think the only real way I saw guys make something happen for themselves was to put people in three-dimensional space, and that’s what I think this Daytona 500 will look like. You’ll see side-by-side, duplicate files, until guys are tired of doing that and then they will be three-wide I think there will be tons of three-wide by the end of the race.”
Relief. It sounds like the 64th Daytona 500 will be just as chaotic as numbers 63, 62, 61 – everyone can breathe again.
Speaking of that chaos…
Dale Earnhart Jr. finished racing at Daytona
… Don’t expect Junior to ever be a part of it again.
In fact, he said last week’s 10-lap drawing session was just about the closest thing to real racing at Daytona.
“I’m done taking risks,” he admitted. “I have two little girls that I love to be around, and I put my wife through a lot. I just don’t know, at 47, that I would be willing to take the risks on the track. I’m I’ve always wondered what happens to these guys when the performance starts to snoop a bit? I think a lot of it is your risk assessment and your willingness to put yourself in very dangerous situations.
“When I was there (Tuesday) in the pack, I saw those guys going a little crazy… I don’t know if I really have that instinct anymore.”
And I know what you’re thinking…he’s acting dramatic! Well, Young Ryan Blaney, who was also at last week’s test, had this to say when asked about winning next month’s race.
“If it’s the last two laps of the Daytona 500 and I’m in it, I don’t care what happens to me.”
2022 Roar Before the Rolex 24 this weekend
Okay, that’s enough Junior (for now).
With the Next Gen test on the books, the next time we see those cars back on the track at Daytona will be the Tuesday before the 500 for a couple of 50-minute practice sessions.
But that won’t be the next time the track is hot.
That’s right…it’s Roar Week!
The Roar Before the Rolex 24 is scheduled for this weekend, with Friday and Saturday practice sessions and a qualifying race on Sunday to establish the starting grid for the 60th Rolex 24.
And so the 2022 motorsport season has begun.