DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – “Routine,” is just fine on a Friday.
When it comes to the Friday of Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway, no news is good news for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series teams preparing for Sunday’s Daytona 500.
Cedar Rapids native Landon Cassill had himself a routine Friday. Nothing too exciting; nothing too stressful, which is just the way his No. 34 Front Row Motorsports team wanted to keep it. His Ford turned just 22 laps across two hourlong practice sessions, all with the idea of chasing a few answers to questions they left with from the Can-Am Duel 150 qualifying race Thursday night.
“We just kind of focus on ourselves; what we knew we needed to get some answers in regards to what we did (Thursday) night,” Cassill said. “We knew we had a number of changes and questions there. Today was what getting a few of those adjustments; got some speed out of the car, and (Saturday) is when we’ll be able to tell if it’ll pay off in the draft or not.”
Cassill finished the first practice ninth of the 21 cars who made laps — getting several laps in an approximately 10-car draft — and 27th of 28 cars in the second practice, making only single-car runs.
Teams throughout the garage went about their Fridays in the Cup garage a little bit differently. NASCAR allows teams to change engines during Speedweeks because of the number of miles the cars run over the course of a week, so many chose to make that change on Friday — at varying times.
Cassill’s team changed the engine before practice started Friday, so fewer laps were preferred to keep miles down on the cars.
When all the teams are at such varying points, it makes it almost impossible to use speeds from Friday as any kind of real gauge for who will be good for Sunday’s Great American Race. It won’t be until Saturday that that data becomes far more useful.
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“Today particularly, which today is a once-a-year type of day, everybody is changing their motors and there’s two practice sessions,” Cassill said. “Some elected to change their motor this morning and some people ran their motor from the Duels and then changed it and skipped the second session. Not everyone is on the same agenda, but tomorrow everyone will be.”
Still, focusing on themselves was enough to leave Cassill smiling after the end of his track time Friday.
After his Duel on Thursday night, Cassill said he liked the speed the car had but wanted to focus on handling. The changes crew chief Donnie Wingo made were positive ones, Cassill said, and while it’s not clear the precise effect of the changes — not having run in a big pack will leave handling in that scenario on a slicker, hotter surface a bit of a mystery — there were a few factors that led Cassill to believe his team was on the right track. Chief among them was the single car speed the No. 34 had, which was a big improvement from time trials last Sunday.
Most teams haven’t run enough laps at speed to get a great gauge, Cassill’s included, but practicing in a big pack two days before the race adds too much unneeded stress on teams that already are working almost around the clock to win the sport’s biggest race.
Saturday will give Cassill and FRM a final shot to tune the car and get it as ready as possible for Sunday’s race, as a 90-minute final practice session starts at 11:30 a.m. on FS1.
“(The car is) good. We made a few adjustments. We didn’t draft very much. We just tried not to put too many miles on the motor,” Cassill said. “We’ll draft (Saturday); there will probably be a bigger pack. We made some adjustments that I could feel, and we made one adjustment that made the car three tenths faster by itself — which is pretty substantial. There’s a lot to look forward to.”
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