Dale Earnhardt Jr. posted the fastest speed during a two-day Goodyear tire test at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Wednesday.
Earnhardt, driving the No. 5 Chevrolet of his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne, turned a lap at 188.69 mph as Goodyear works to develop a tire for September’s AdvoCare 500, the first race at AMS for NASCAR’s new Generation-6 race car.
Earnhardt was substituting for Kahne, who participated in the test Tuesday, but flew back to North Carolina to attend the funeral of Jason Leffler.
Also participating in the test at AMS were Marcos Ambrose, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Trevor Bayne and Denny Hamlin.
Unlike other tracks on the Sprint Cup circuit that have seen track records set with the Gen-6 car, AMS likely will see its track record stand because of its aging asphalt.
Geoff Bodine set the track record of 197.478 mph in 1997, just after the current asphalt was laid.
“I think based on what we’ve seen is that the new car is definitely faster. I don’t know if it is track-record fast because that was set a long time ago,” Rick Campbell, NASCAR Project Manager for Goodyear, told track officials after the test. “It’s certainly way faster than last year’s car, and I expect the speeds to be significantly faster than last year.”
Stenhouse thinks Chase ‘definitely doable’: Fifteen races into his rookie season in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series, Stenhouse has yet to score a top-10 finish, but as he met with members of the media at AMS during a break in Tuesday’s tire test, he said he thought making the Chase is still a possibility.
He’s tied with Ryan Newman for 18th in the points standings with nine regular-season races left, but he says the math is on his side. He sits only 28 points out of the top 10, the group that is guaranteed a Chase berth.
“We’re still not too far out of 10th place,” he said. “If we can keep running consistent and get a little better each and every week, then maybe we can slip up and have a shot at making the Chase. … It’s definitely doable.”
The two-time and defending Nationwide Series champion from Olive Branch, Miss., Stenhouse said his favorite tracks on the Cup circuit are the 1.5-mile ovals such as AMS, and he figures his best shot at his first Cup victory will be at one of those tracks.
“Kansas is a good one,” he said. “We led laps there (in April) at the end of that race, pitted and then the caution came out. Any of the mile-and-a-half race tracks are places we could get a win.”
Fun of hauling: Unadilla’s David Ragan has been running a road course of sorts en route to running Sunday’s Sprint Cup race on the road course at Sonoma, Calif.
He’s co-driving the hauler of his No. 34 Ford on the 2,700-mile trek across America.
“I’ve always liked big trucks,” Ragan said by phone as he made his way across the country. “I got my (commercial driver’s license) so I could drive the hauler for my Late Model team, and I figured this would be a good chance to get to spend some time with our regular truck driver, Mike Smith, and get a better idea of what his job is like.”
Ragan said he enjoys the communication with other truck drivers and the people he meets on the road and in truck stops.
“A lot of them congratulated me on winning Talladega,” he said. “It’s been a lot of fun.”
Successful niche: Over the past five seasons, Ambrose has emerged as one of NASCAR’s top road racers. At Watkins Glen, he’s been spectacular, winning two races and finishing second once and third twice in his other three starts. In Nationwide Series races at the Glen he has three wins in four career starts.
At Sonoma, he won the pole last year and appeared on his way to victory in 2010 when he stalled his car while leading in an attempt to save fuel. But he’s still seeking his first win there.
Ambrose, who drives the No. 9 Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports, said this week at AMS that he doesn’t consider himself better at the Glen than he is at Sonoma, despite the stats.
“I’ve had equal opportunities to win races at both tracks,” he said.
What he hasn’t had is good luck on the winding course in California’s wine country.
“Sonoma has been one track where I felt we have had victory just slip away from us,” he said.