With the Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200 and the 2011 ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards season just 10 days away, one major story surrounding the series is as it is every year. The first ARCA race traditionally marks the opening of all stock car competition for the year, and this season, ARCA teams and drivers will be the first to take the green flag on the full newly-paved oval at Daytona International Speedway.
Lane Construction, which also repaved the surface at Talladega Superspeedway, site of the second race on the ARCA calendar, used 50,000 tons of asphalt to repave more than 1.4 million square feet of the 2.5-mile Daytona oval over a period of six months.
Fifty-eight ARCA Racing Series drivers tested on the oval over three days in January. This week, some of them spoke about that experience and their expectations for the first stock car event on the new surface.
Chad McCumbee, No. 1 ModSpace Ford:
"I think it's going to be a great race - certainly a very competitive race. The track's so smooth and grippy that I'm a little concerned that it will create a false sense of security for some. Guys tend to get too brave at times. If they saw a hole where there wasn't enough room, they might try and stick it in there more and make a hole that isn't necessarily there. But, from the fan's perspective, I think they're going to get their money's worth. I think you'll see some tremendous two- and three-wide racing. It'll be exciting for sure."
Ty Dillon, No. 41 University of Northwestern Ohio Chevrolet:
"The Daytona ARCA test went really well for our team, so I think we will be prepared and ready for Daytona when it's time to go there and race. Our No. 41 UNOH Chevrolet is really fast, and the guys are working hard to make it even better. I feel a little bit of pressure to perform well at Daytona based on my successes last season, but I'm confident in my team and in my car. I think my guys are good enough to handle anything that the 2011 ARCA season may hand us.
"I was impressed with the overall speed of Daytona. The track is really wild, especially being in the draft. I can't wait to get out there with 42 other cars."
James Hylton, No. 48 Hylton Motorsports Ford:
"I believe it's going to be the tightest racing in ARCA history. That's considering the condition of the track last year when all the cars were bottoming out, sparks flying off. It looked pretty frightful from inside the car. It'd make you wonder just how close you could really run next to someone based on the condition of the track and the way the cars used to move around. Now, with the new surface, it doesn't matter, you can run the bottom, the middle, or right against the wall. Compared to where the track was, and where it is now, I think it's going to be a tremendous race. On the old surface, with the technology that's built in to these racecars, they were set up to handle over the bumps, but now I think you'll see much more relaxed racing, and that's a good thing because I think you'll see the cars run closer together without the fear. I'm feeling very good about the race. We tested very well, and this is the first time I've gone to Daytona with a full-blown deal with Roush. Over the years, I've had to do the engines myself. Now I've got someone else worrying about that, so in addition to the new track, I'll be much more relaxed knowing I'll have one of the best engines, and the car drove excellent."
Grant Enfinger, No. 36 JAM Dodge:
"I feel like it'll be a better race. On the old asphalt, you were definitely more on edge. When you'd run side-by-side and hit a bump you could get knocked into the guy next to you. But now, the place is like glass and handling doesn't mean much, not like it used to on the old track. Whether you'll see a second and third groove come in, I don't know; but I definitely think you're going to get tighter racing all the way around. I mean, handling is nothing anymore; it's all about sheer speed. Nothing we did at the test really affected handling so anything you can do to make more speed, that'll be the key. It has the potential to be one heck of a race."
Sean Corr, No. 82 Empire Racing Ford:
"Well, just from what we saw at the test, we learned you could run the car anywhere you wanted to, which should be good for the race, because you can race anywhere on the track. We were literally running less than a half-length off the wall. Last year, you really couldn't do that because the car just moved around too much and you had to give yourself more wiggle room. Now the track is just so smooth; you can rail the car anywhere. It's going to be a lot closer racing, without a doubt. You won't have to worry about bouncing around and into the guy next to you. It got really hairy at times, and you had to be a lot more cautious. Time will tell. I can't say for sure it's going to be a better race; but it should be a much tighter race. We won't know until next week but I'm hopeful it'll be a good race."
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 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 ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards has crowned an ARCA national champion each year since its inaugural season in 1953, and has toured over 200 race tracks in 28 states since its inception. The series tests the abilities of drivers and race teams over the most diverse schedule of stock car racing events in the world, annually visiting tracks ranging from 0.4 mile to 2.66 miles in length, on both paved and dirt surfaces as well as a left- and right-turn road course.
Founded by John Marcum in 1953 in Toledo, Ohio, the Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) is recognized among the leading sanctioning bodies in the country. Closing in on completing its sixth decade after hundreds of thousands of miles of racing, ARCA administers over 100 race events each season in two professional touring series and local weekly events.