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Rain sets the stage for a Sunday Talladega double-header...and Daytona to be repaved for 2011

  Daytona's new asphalt, coming for the 2011 Daytona 500, should eliminate the possibility of potholes like this one that marred this year's 500 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   It's wet asphalt here and fresh new asphalt coming at Daytona, in a double-header announcement about stock car racing's two biggest tracks Saturday morning.
   Daytona International Speedway, where a pothole developed smack in the middle of the racing groove midway through the season-opener in February, will be completely repaved for next year's Daytona 500, track boss Robin Bragg has decided. Work will begin immediately following the July Fourth weekend 400 at Daytona. A concrete patch is currently in place.
   New asphalt may not be widely appreciated by drivers, who like the bumps and grinding around the 30-year-old Daytona asphalt, more than the anticipated higher-speed single-file racing possibly with smooth new asphalt.
   However Daytona and NASCAR rolled out Dale Earnhardt Jr. here Saturday to promote the new asphalt, because he has been a proponent of repaving.
   Nevertheless the lead story Saturday was the weather here in the heart of Alabama. (This 1969-era track was recently repaved in 2005.)
   With severe thunderstorms roiling the area, and a mean line of tornadic activity to the southwest and moving northeast Saturday morning, NASCAR officials called it a day, setting up another double-header Sunday with the 500-mile Sprint Cup race as scheduled at 1 p.m. ET (12 noon CT) to be followed by the Nationwide race.
    And Sunday is shaping up as a very nice spring day in Alabama.
     That's good, because Monday as a race day doesn't seem quite as appealing to TV audiences:   Persistent rains just last weekend at Fort Worth's Texas Motor
Speedway set up a NASCAR double-header on Monday.
   -- Texas on Fox (11 a.m. Monday) pulled a 2.1 rating. The top TV market in the country for the event was again Winston-Salem-Greensboro-High Point, with a 6.3. The Texas race typically draws a 5.2 rating or more, and it's one of the key TV events on the NASCAR tour.
    -- ESPN2's rain-delayed Texas Nationwide race earned a final national household coverage rating of only 0.7 – that's averaging 737,237 viewers. That race last year, run as scheduled on Saturday, earned a 1.4 rating with an average of 1,862,866 viewers.  
     Talladega, with Texas as a guide, has a good game plan for this: All tickets for either Sunday event, the Nationwide Aaron's 312 or the Cup Aaron's 499 will be good for both races Sunday. Cup ticket holders will have priority seating in any seating conflict; Nationwide ticket holders will be directed to open seating. (Gates open at 8.)

   Daytona's Robin Bragg: about to spend more than $20 million on repaving Daytona International Speedway (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    The last time Daytona was repaved was 1978. And the new asphalt produced some record speeds – the pole for the 1979 Daytona 500 jumped a whopping 10 mph, to a record 196.049 mph. And as cars became more aerodynamic, speeds kept going up, to Bill Elliott's 1987 Daytona record at 210.364.
    With plates, of course, NASCAR can now pick just about whatever speed it wants these cars to run (Jeff Burton was fastest in Friday Cup practice, drafting aggressively at 199.5 mph, hitting maybe 205 or 206 on the backstretch.)
    Earnhardt and Jamie McMurray, who beat Earnhardt at the wire to win this year's Daytona 500, were both cheerleaders for the expensive Daytona project.
   "It's a good choice to put a new surface down," Earnhardt said. "I'm glad to see it get a facelift.
    "The old surface was a lot of fun....but we have had some (issues)…It is kind of getting past its prime.
     "The sooner we get the new surface down, so it can get some weather on it, the quicker we will get to the kind of race track that everybody wants."
    Well, that's still to be seen. New asphalt has peculiarities.
     "It is going to make the racing a little bit different," McMurray says. "Probably more side-by-side longer throughout the run.
    "Daytona has always been the place you could run 10 or 12 laps wide-open and then you start to slide around.
    "With the bumps off turn two and off turn four, it made it harder to run side-by-side.
     "I would assume we will see more three-wide and side-by-side for longer throughout the run."
     That would make Daytona more like Talladega....which may not set well with everyone, because Daytona was more a driver's track and Talladega is more a, well, Talladega is just different.

   Jamie McMurray beating Dale Earnhardt Jr. to the line to win the Daytona 500 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   So will Daytona become another Talladega, when it gets the new asphalt?
    That may depend on Goodyear's pick of tires.
    "If they do a Goodyear test, they are going to have to take a lot of cars down there -- I assume most will want to go," McMurray said. "It doesn't really do any good to go do a superspeedway test unless you can get 15 or 20 cars in a pack and really simulate the speeds and the dirty air."
    A particular aspect of new asphalt, at any track, is dramatically increased grip....which can make for tire issues to sort through. Daytona's abrasiveness has Goodyear bringing one type of tire, which wears; smooth new asphalt should not be nearly as abrasive, meaning a decidedly different tire combination.
    However Daytona has some issues simply in its design – coming off turn two the transition to the backstretch is an abrupt falloff, which makes that one of the trickiest parts of the track. Talladega, on the other hand, has smoother transitions off the corners, keeping cars more stable. It's unclear at the moment if Daytona will want to make its transitions smoother.
    "You are always loose (off the corners at Daytona), and it is always hard to get your car to turn off the corner," McMurray said.
    Earnhardt agrees that new asphalt at Daytona will likely keep the cars bunched up more, in tighter packs: "We will be side-by-side and have the ability to race and run side-by-side for a longer period of time on the tire.
    "Usually (at Daytona) you would have to get all your work (passing) done (early in a tire run), and then you would need the whole race track (because the Daytona cars would be sliding around on worn tires.  You wouldn't be able to run side-by-side after about 10 laps."
    With new asphalt, however, "we should have a lot more grip, and be able to challenge each other for position a little more easily for a longer period of time in a tire run," Earnhardt said.
    "I still think, with the shape of Daytona (slightly smaller and narrower than Talladega), and certain characteristics of the transitions, near the end of the (tire) run we could probably still see drivers with handling aspects to be concerned with.
    "When they repaved it in '78, those cars were going about as fast as we go now (that was before restrictor plates), and there was still some handling characteristics within that race.
    "We don't ever have a handling issue at Talladega -- the cars don't ever go fast enough to push or get loose. But at Daytona I think they still will."


The starting lineup for Sunday's Aaron's 499 Sprint Cup race at Talladega
                                                  (set by point standings and the rulebook)


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   Dale Earnhardt Jr. says the new Daytona asphalt will be good for racing...others, however, aren't so sure. At least there shouldn't be any potholes...for at least another 30 years... (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


This could be the first time

This could be the first time Talladega broke 100 official lead changes in one day.

Daytona has been ten-plus years late in needing new pavement. Drivers like the bumps? That's stupid. Smoother is always better.

i agree that daytona should

i agree that daytona should have been repaved, back when they had all the equipment in place to repave talladega. can't believe they couldn't get a package repaving deal.
of course drivers like bumps...so they can force the other driver into a bad line....opens up opportunities to make things happen....
now smooth asphalt is a whole different game....sometimes smooth may be better (texas, maybe); but sometimes smooth isn't (like darlington?)
smooth is faster, for sure. but whenever we show up at a place like that, it seems like these guys drive like rookies....maybe we should have a rule that whenever there's new asphalt laid, we need a big test (would certainly have helped at darlington....)

uh, 100 official lead

uh, 100 official lead changes.....i might take a little of that action lol....wonder what the over-under is on cars running at the finish.....

When I said 100 official lead

When I said 100 official lead changes I meant for both races combined - the Winston 500 damn near broke that mark by itself today!

You should have taken the over for the Winston 500 and the under for the 312.

I'm puzzled the BGN race didn't have as much push-drafting as the 500.

okay, okay, i give....we are

okay, okay, i give....we are not worthy...you were right...i would never have predicted these guys doing so much wild and crazy racing....what the heck is going on here? i keep trying to read these guys' faces and it's like suddenly they're all supermen.....
the bgn race: whew! i was impressed when JM said the Cup cars so much safer.....after the Cup race...and then he triggers the big one in the NS thing.....i cant understand these guys at all.....

I stopped trying to

I stopped trying to understand them years ago.

BTW, Ryan Newman needs to be called out as a coward, when he whined about the racing and actually put points on the pedastal of importance instead of winning or trying to win the race. I am so sick of the act of Newman and some of these other drivers who whine about "Big One" wrecks and about how much passing goes on here, yet go to other tracks, get into wrecks where they hit harder and handling gets in the way of passing, and this kind of racing winds up being considered "better" than Talladega except to the eye test and every other objective measure of competitive value.

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