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Daytona sessions loom for NASCAR's new Cup cars

- jutter@charlotteobserver.com
Thursday, Jan. 03, 2013
Test location, dates NASCAR Cup teams have several scheduled tests planned before the Feb. 16 Daytona Shootout – the unofficial start of the season. Daytona: Jan. 10-12 Charlotte: Jan. 17-18 Las Vegas: Jan. 28-29

Just how well will these much-lauded, new-look Sprint Cup Series cars perform on the track?

Within the next few weeks NASCAR teams are going to get a very good idea.

A three-day test in preparation for the Daytona 500 will get underway Wednesday at Daytona International Speedway in Florida. It likely will be the first test of 2013 cars that includes almost every team that plans to run fulltime.

The sheer number of cars should at least provide a glimpse at how teams stack up against each other, even if – as teams do almost every year – they don’t show everything they have during the test.

So far, the maximum number of teams to show for a test of the Cup cars was 14 during a two-day test early last month at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Many teams have conducted tests at various tracks to work on their 2013 cars.

Penske Racing – home to reigning Cup champion Brad Keselowski – recently had driver Sam Hornish Jr. test at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.

Not only do all three manufacturers have cars that look much more like their production models, but Penske has switched from Dodge to Ford, making its transition more involved than others.

Penske’s work at Talladega was for the benefit of all Ford drivers, not just for Keselowski and new teammate Joey Logano.

Individual brand identity among manufacturers was a key element toward developing the new car, but questions about components like the cooling system on superspeedways was one of the main reasons for the Talladega test.

“It’s been a challenge to get all the correct features in the car within the design parameters and still having the car competitive,” said Ford Racing aerodynamicist Bernie Marcus.

“At the end of the day, you can have the best-looking car, but if it doesn’t work on the track, that’s not going to be good so we have to have both. We have to have the looks and the performance.”

Fans, drivers and their teams have eagerly awaited the chance to see the cars compete.

Finding the right balance that will allow the cars to remain competitive and put on a good show is NASCAR’s ultimate goal.

As always is the case, however, teams’ focus remains on the quest for speed.

“There’s been cooperation to get to the end goal of making the cars look the same on the race track,” said Pat DiMarco, Ford Racing NASCAR program manager.

“We’ve done that over the past few months and now we’re working towards our goal of winning the Daytona 500.”

In addition to several testing sessions prior to teams’ arrival next month in Daytona Beach, Fla., NASCAR also plans to alter the race weekend schedule at tracks such as Las Vegas and Texas to add days for testing. The schedule at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., also will be adjusted to allow for more practice time.

“When we hand this car off to the teams, it will be in the best shape we’ve ever handed a car off to the teams to start a new season,” said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR’s vice president of competition.

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