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Speeds top 200 on new, resurfaced Daytona track

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The recently repaved surface at Daytona International Speedway is fast. Really fast. Maybe too fast.

In the most significant test on the 2 -mile superspeedway, cars topped 203 mph Friday during practice for the Budweiser Shootout.

Joey Logano turned the fast lap with an average speed of 203.087 mph in the second of two practice sessions. Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch also topped 203 mph. Several others were close behind. In all, 10 cars hit 200 mph. Four more were in the 199 mph range, creating some concern at NASCAR's most famous track.

"The conditions are great," four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon said. "It's really smooth, it's got a lot of grip. Fast."

But will the sport's governing body allow those speeds to last? Two-time Daytona 500 champion Bill Elliott topped 210 mph during qualifying for the 1987 Daytona 500, and NASCAR responded by introducing horsepower-sapping restrictor plates the following year.

"I don't think the plate is going to change the speeds a lot," Gordon said. "We're locking up and that's what's making it fast. I'm curious to see if they do anything."

NASCAR already reduced the size of the Daytona restrictor plate following a tire test in December. The top speed then was 197.5 mph.

Another adjustment could be on tap.

"yea it is cool But no way it'll last," driver Brad Keselowski posted on Twitter.

NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said officials would monitor speeds during Daytona 500 practice Saturday "and see how things settle out."

All 24 cars entered in Saturday night's exhibition race turned laps in practice. But instead of the three-wide pack racing many expect when the green flag drops, drivers hooked up in bumper-to-bumper, tandem formations and drafted their way around NASCAR's most famous track.

The two-car drafts were faster than anything seen at Daytona in years.

"The game has changed, man," Gordon said. "We just figured it out. Everybody's figured out how to get locked in behind the other guy. It used to be you'd get in there, and you'd hit him and knock him away. Now we've realized, we've figured out how to hold the brake and get the car in there. Once you get in there, they're just locked on.

"You just didn't think you could drive around this track, and you certainly couldn't before, but with the new pavement and as smooth and as much grip as it has, now you can."

Daytona recently completed its second repaving project, the first since 1979. The notorious bumps in turns two and four are gone, as is the pesky pothole that plagued the race last February. Pit road is wider for increased safety. The result is a smoother track that causes less tire wear, makes handling almost a non-issue and creates faster laps.

The Shootout could be a wild, 75-lap event.

"Who knows how it's going to work out?" Dale Earnhardt Jr. said.

Drivers with teammates in the field should have an advantage, especially if the race ends up being decided by two-car hookups.

"Everybody is trying to figure out who to push, when to push and how long to push," Busch said.

The speeds weren't the only eye-opener Friday. The lights on the backstretch went out during the second practice session, with several cars racing through the dark at 200-plus mph. Track officials quickly halted the session, parked the cars and got the problem fixed.