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Apr 11, 2014 - 09:15 PM
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Rookies Get Bigger-Than-Expected Darlington Stripes
Posted by: ASkyler on Apr 11, 2014 - 09:11 PM
Feature Articles
Rookies Get Bigger-Than-Expected Darlington Stripes

By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

DARLINGTON, S.C.—Rookies and veterans alike expect to get a "Darlington stripe" whenever they compete at Darlington Raceway, but the two leading contenders for Sunoco Rookie of the Year this season got more than they bargained for during opening NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice at the Lady in Black.

In two very similar incidents, Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon did more than just brush the wall off Turn 2—they clobbered it.

There was only one significant difference between the collisions. Dillon's team was able to repair his No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. Larson had to go to a backup car.

"Kyle came over and asked, 'Where did you hit?'" Dillon said. "I said 'Off Turn 2.' He said, 'Me too.' I said, 'Did you try to come off the wall and make it turn?' He said the exact same thing. So we're just learning, I guess.

"You get really tight. I felt good into (Turn) 1, and then through the middle. ... I get tight late around the corner--it just carries speed. Just hit the wall, but I learned a lot right there. Hopefully, it doesn't happen again."


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Larson's version of the conversation was essentially the same, as both rookies tried to learn from the experience.

"We were talking, and it sounded like the exact same thing that we were describing," Larson said as his Ganassi Racing team readied the backup No. 42 Chevy. "Difference is I have to get a backup out. Our backup, they said, is just as good as our primary, so we had a really good run before I hit the wall.

"Just learning, I'm mostly in the wall in (Turns) 3 and 4 and never hit off (Turn) 2. I killed the wall in (Turn) 2. We'll get back out here soon and I'm sure be fine."

Larson was 16th fastest in the backup car in the second practice session. Dillon was even better—seventh on the speed chart. And Larson and Dillon were sixth and eighth quickest, respectively, in consecutive 10-lap average speed.


During a two-day Goodyear tire test this week at Michigan International Speedway, Greg Biffle reported straightaway speeds of as much as 220 mph.

That's about 7 mph faster than NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers ran during practice last year, but, surprisingly, Biffle said the increased pace didn't affect the way he had to run the corners.

"It really didn't, believe it or not," Biffle told the NASCAR Wire Service before Friday's opening Sprint Cup practice at Darlington Raceway. "It makes it a little more like a qualifying lap more than anything. The corner was about the same. Let's keep in mind that it was 40-something degrees with a track temp of 66.

"So it was cold temperatures with high grip and they were testing tires that had more grip. They put a tire on the car that we're not going to race that went that fast. So on the standard tire, I think the (speed) was down maybe three or four mph from that."

Biffle expects Goodyear to bring more durable left-side tires to the recently repaved two-mile track.

"I'm not so worried about those end-of-the-straightaway speeds," he said. "We slow down a bit in the corners—that's the thing. When they get sustained that high, it makes it harder to pass and harder to race. Goodyear is trying to come up with a little more reliable tire, and I think they've done that.

"I'm thinking they are going with the dual zone tread possibly, or at least that is what they were leaning toward (for the right-side tires). We'll see what they come up with after all the data. I think that's a better tire, because it puts a little margin in the right front. They don't want to blow a right front at that track."


Now the real work begins for team owner Gene Haas, who received word he has been granted a license to race in Formula 1 by the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), the governing body of F1 racing.

"Obviously, we're extremely pleased to have been granted a Formula One license by the FIA," Haas said in a statement released Friday. "It's an exciting time for me, Haas Automation and anyone who wanted to see an American team return to Formula One.

"Now, the really hard work begins. It's a challenge we embrace as we work to put cars on the grid. I want to thank the FIA for this opportunity and the diligence everyone put forth to see our license application come to fruition."

The FIA hasn't licensed new teams for F1 competition since 2010. Haas' F1 effort is independent of Stewart-Haas Racing, and SHR co-owner Tony Stewart has no involvement in the F1 project.


On Friday morning at Darlington Raceway, David Ragan surprised fans in the infield while pursuing the efforts of his sponsor, CSX, to support green initiatives.

Ragan toured the infield distributing recycle bags, chatting with fans and encouraging them to plant trees.

"CSX already had an environmental program in place where they pledged to plant one tree for every mile of railroad track they had, and they actually surpassed their goal, which is impressive," said Ragan, who is driving the CSX "Play it Safe" Ford for Front Row Motorsports this weekend.

"Now we're encouraging fans to follow their lead and plant some trees, too, by donating dollars to plant trees at NASCAR.com/Green.

CSX's "Trees for Tracks" program set a goal of 21,000 trees (corresponding to the number of miles of track) and exceeded that by 2,000 by the end of 2013.

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