Hal Martin Leads First Day of Practice for Saturday's Daytona Opener
(DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.) - Hal Martin drove the No. 55 NOLA Motorsports Park Toyota to the top of the practice chart at Daytona International Speedway today, helping Venturini Motorsports to three of the top four positions on the first day of competition for the 2011 ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards season.
Martin drove his best lap in 48.092 seconds (187.141 mph) to edge Ty Dillon (No. 41 University of Northwestern Ohio Chevrolet), Venturini teammates Kyle Fowler (No. 15 Chevrolet) and Steve Arpin (No. 25 Mike's Hard Lemonade/Trent's Tire Toyota), and Tim George Jr. (No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Development Chevrolet).
Steve Blackburn, Matt Merrell, Bryan Silas, Brian Rose, and Tom Hessert comprised the remainder of the top 10. The top 10 drivers were separated by 0.878 second.
Six-time and defending Daytona ARCA winner Bobby Gerhart drove his No. 5 Lucas Oil Slick Mist Chevrolet to the 20th position on the chart, one spot ahead of nine-time ARCA Racing Series champion Frank Kimmel.
"What a successful day, all in all," Martin said. "We've spent a lot of long hours at the shop, and I've put in a lot of long hours of mental prep for this day. There were some things in practice we wanted to try, and the car just ran fast. That's all I can say. It's driving really well, and dicing in and out of traffic. We did a lot of drafting this afternoon and ran well in every situation."
Martin cited Arpin and Fowler, his teammates, and the Childress duo of Dillon and George as his "dancing partners" in drafting practice.
Drivers began to seriously draft around 3 p.m., two hours into the session, with Hessert (No. 52 Federated Auto Parts Toyota), Merrell (No. 32 Red Line Oil Toyota), and Silas (No. 11 Fast Track Driving School/Rockingham Speedway Ford) forming the first true pack.
Hessert, Benny Gordon (No. 09 VSI Ford), Martin, Arpin, Dillon, and Kimmel (No. 44 Ansell/Menards Ford) made it six later in the day, drafting together between 3:45 and 4 p.m.
With Menards Pole Qualifying presented by Ansell scheduled for 2 p.m. tomorrow, Martin had the chance at the beginning of today's four-hour session to take a mock qualifying run.
"We started out the day with mock qualifying runs, just to see where we stood basically," he said. "Hopefully, we get the pole, but you never know what will happen out there. I hope we can get a solid top-five start and go win it from there on Saturday. If we can start up front, we hope to stay out front."
Despite rain early in the day, practice began on time at 1 p.m. Martin indicated no major issues with the track's new pavement.
"The grip level's still there," Martin said. "You know, it's not like a track where it's been worn in and you get a little rain and the track gets green and there's no grip. That didn't happen. I know we had a good bit of rain this morning - it woke me up in the motorhome at 5 or 6 a.m. - but the track is just like it was at the test. The tires aren't wearing."
Venturini Motorsports general manager Billy Venturini left the track satisfied with his cars' performances.
"All the cars seemed really good," Venturini said."The Nos.15, 25, and 55 seemed to be the best three cars during single-car runs. So, I think we will have a very solid performance in qualifying. No. 28 (Miguel Paludo) and No. 66 (Mark Thompson), we expect to put them in the top 10 also. (In) drafting practice, all the cars seemed extremely strong. I think that we should be tough to beat. All the hard work seems to be paying off. I expect to qualify very well and make sure we can back that up on Saturday with a victory."
All 47 entered drivers took laps, and speeds are posted below. 43 drivers will start in Saturday's Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200, scheduled to air at 4:30 p.m. on SPEED. The starting field will be set in Menards Pole Qualifying presented by Ansell, tomorrow at 2 p.m.
Wisdom from an ARCA Legend: Earlier, Kyle Fowler (No. 15 Venturini Motorsports Chevrolet) had the chance to speak with ARCA legend Ramo Stott, a visitor to the garage today. Stott ranks seventh all-time in ARCA victories, with 27. The 76-year-old won the ARCA Racing Series championship in 1970 and 1971.
"We talked about the old and the new, as far as whatever he was doing and what it was like to run around this place, and where I'm running around this place, and the similarities," Fowler said. "Over time, it hasn't really changed as much as people think even through different pavements. The core of it is still the same."
With four weeks having passed after his car finished in the top 10 in open testing on the 2.5-mile superspeedway, Fowler developed a plan for preparation.
"I've been mentally preparing," Fowler said. "Preparing, preparing, preparing. I've been doing a little bit of the iRacing (computer simulation) stuff, because I've got to get familiar with this place more. I've been watching tapes of races and (NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver) David Ragan's been giving me advice."
Ragan, an ARCA Racing Series winner, is a native of Georgia. Fowler, 18, is from Smyrna, Ga.
The 80-lap, 200-mile Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200 airs live on SPEED at 4:30 p.m. Eastern on February 12, with live timing and scoring presented by ARCA Nation at ARCARacing.com. Bobby Gerhart (No. 5 Lucas Oil Slick Mist Chevrolet) is the defending and all-time leading winner at the track, with wins in 1999, 2002, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2010. Gerhart also won four consecutive poles between 2003 and 2006. The race is scheduled as the first of 19 this season.
Menards Pole Qualifying presented by Ansell begins at 2 p.m. tomorrow, and the series will host a final, 45-minute practice at 10 a.m. on Saturday. Live timing and scoring of all events will be presented by ARCA Nation at ARCARacing.com.