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July 2, 2013

NASCAR drivers like results at Indianapolis test

INDIANAPOLIS — Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya like what they've seen from the new Cup cars at Indianapolis.

On Monday, the two former Indianapolis winners joined a growing list of test participants who have raved about everything from handling to quicker speeds to tire wear on the 2.5-mile oval that has often caused so much consternation for NASCAR drivers.

"Our car has been quick at a lot of tracks where it has not been really fast in the past, and the testing has been pretty good today,'' said McMurray, who won the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 in 2010. "It's our first time here with this car and it seems like some of the setup stuff is a little different from what we've been doing here the last couple of years.''

McMurray and Montoya are part of a small contingent - five cars from the Cup Series and four from the Nationwide Series - that is testing at Indy through Tuesday.

Also testing was Denny Hamlin, who was cleared to drive Monday morning after a hard crash Sunday at Kentucky. After the race, Hamlin complained of headaches, but Indy's medical team found nothing that would prevent Hamlin from climbing into the No. 11 car and turning laps in excess of 200 mph. Neither Hamlin or his team took questions.

With cool temperatures, overcast skies and light winds, the weather was ideal for top speeds, though rain postponed most of the scheduled afternoon session.

But the common them coming out of all the tests at Indy is this: The new car is outperforming the old one.

On a warmer, sunny day in April, Jeff Gordon and Trevor Bayne walked off the track and said they were impressed with the way the cars handled in those conditions, too, and both noted that even the tire wear was better than usual. That's become a recurring question since the 2008 race turned into a series of short sprints when tire problems brought out so many cautions.

Goodyear, the series' tire manufacturer, has since softened the tire compound, which produced far better results. That part hasn't changed.

"They've figured it out,'' said Montoya, who won the 2000 Indianapolis 500. "The grip level is really good today.''

Will that be the case in hotter conditions? The Brickyard 400 has traditionally been one of the hottest races in the series.

One possible solution to the heat is adding lights at the speedway, either permanent or temporary. Speedway officials believe running in the cooler nighttime temperatures could make the race better and perhaps boost attendance, which has been dwindling since the 2008 tire fiasco.

Most Cup drivers who have come through Indy, including McMurray, seem to embrace the thought of running Indy's first night race.

"I think if they do that, it would be for the fans. I'm not sure from a driver's perspective that it would be that much different,'' McMurray said. "But if they do that, I think it would be great.''

 

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