TEST SPEEDS NOT ALWAYS ACCURATE PREDICTOR OF BRICKYARD SUCCESS INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, July 13, 2006 -- When NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series rookie driver Reed Sorenson talked to reporters July 12 after setting the fastest lap in testing at the ...
TEST SPEEDS NOT ALWAYS ACCURATE PREDICTOR OF BRICKYARD SUCCESS
INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, July 13, 2006 -- When NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series rookie driver Reed Sorenson talked to reporters July 12 after setting the fastest lap in testing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he wasn't terribly excited.
"It's not really a big deal," said Sorenson, the 20-year-old driver of the No. 41 Target Dodge, as the clock wound down on testing. "We've got to have a car that will run good on long runs, and right now we don't really have that."
Sorenson's top speed for 2006 testing at IMS was 181.892 mph. Rounding out the top five for testing July 10 and 12 were Kurt Busch, Scott Wimmer, Ken Schrader and Elliott Sadler.
Granted, no money and no points are awarded to the teams and drivers that turn the fastest laps in testing at the legendary 2.5-mile oval. But most importantly for Sorenson and his Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates team, they know from history that high speeds in July testing at IMS offer little more than false hope on Allstate 400 at the Brickyard weekend if the team doesn't return with a game plan to go even faster.
The statistics on success in finding speed at the traditional July NASCAR tests at Indianapolis Motor Speedway versus finishing well at the race a few weeks later are striking, and the moral of the story is: You may run well in July, but if you don't do your homework between then and early August, you may get run over.
In fact, from 2000 to 2005, only five drivers have posted top-five speeds in July testing and then managed a top-10 finish in the race: Dale Earnhardt and Mike Skinner in 2000, Rusty Wallace in 2002-03, Matt Kenseth in 2002 and Kyle Busch in 2005.
Conversely, the race winners have often barely registered a "blip" on the radar screen during testing. 2002 Allstate 400 at the Brickyard winner Bill Elliott had the 35th and 36th-fastest cars in testing that year, and in 2004, when Jeff Gordon won for a record fourth time and led a record 124 laps of the race, he was ninth-fastest in testing.
That trend could change this year, as the top five drivers in testing have the backing of successful, experienced teams. In particular, Busch is the 2004 NEXTEL Cup champion, Schrader has two career top-10 finishes at IMS, and Sadler was the 2005 Allstate 400 at the Brickyard pole winner.
The science of speed isn't always focused on being the speediest team on the track on a given day. NEXTEL Cup Series teams take a regimented approach to testing at Indy and all other tracks.
"Just trying a lot of things, really," said defending Allstate 400 at the Brickyard champion Tony Stewart, in describing his Joe Gibbs Racing team's approaching to testing July 10. "You don't set your benchmark strictly on the test itself and speeds you run. You set it more on what you're trying to accomplish and trying new things is what we're here for."
An intriguing wrinkle of this two-day test was the disparate weather conditions teams faced July 10 and 12. July 10 was sunny and hot, creating slick track conditions; July 12 was perfect racing weather: cloudy and cooler.
The difference in track conditions is apparent on the speed chart, as the drivers that tested July 10, were rained out on July 11 and didn't run again on July 12 fared no better than 21st on the overall 2006 testing speed chart. The driver occupying that spot is Dale Earnhardt Jr., who ran 177.518 in the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet.
For four-time event champion Hendrick Motorsports, Brian Vickers was the team's fastest driver in testing, placing 19th overall at 177.637. Kyle Busch and Gordon were 30th and 31st, respectively, and current NEXTEL Cup Series points leader Jimmie Johnson was 36th out of 51 drivers.
With his record four victories at the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, Gordon is a perennial favorite to win the race. Vickers finished an IMS career-best third in the race last year, and Busch finished 10th in 2005, his rookie year at the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard.
But Johnson and the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet team haven't fared as well at the Speedway. In his four starts at the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard from 2002-05, Johnson has finished ninth, 18th, 36th and 38th, respectively.
"It would be nice just to run halfway competitive," said Chad Knaus, Johnson's crew chief. "We've never run very well here, and it's always been kind of a sore thumb to us, to be honest."
Johnson's assessment of 2006 testing was a mixed bag of disappointment and resolve.
"We didn't have the test we wanted, but (we) got some very important information, very useful information that helps us go home and make adjustments," Johnson said. "We've got a little work ahead of us, so we're not too fired up yet."
Practice for the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard starts Friday, Aug. 4, which is Chevy Day at the Brickyard. Qualifying is set for Saturday, Aug. 5, with the 160-lap race Sunday, Aug. 6.
Tickets: Tickets are on sale for the 2006 Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 6 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Fans can order tickets online at www.indianapolismotorspeedway.com, by calling the IMS ticket office at (317) 492-6700 or (800) 822-INDY outside the Indianapolis area, or at the ticket office at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Parking and camping information also can be obtained through the ticket office.
Hours for phone orders and the ticket office are 8 a.m.-5 p.m. (ET) Monday-Friday, while online orders can be made at any time.
Reserved seats start at just $35.