Joe Gibbs Racing topped the first day of Preseason Thunder testing with Denny Hamlin leading the way with a lap of 195.712 mph.
With only one day scheduled to test for the No. 11 team, Hamlin was able to go out with his teammates Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch, along with Michael Waltrip Racing’s Mark Martin, at the end of the afternoon and post the fast lap.
"For us today our main objective was drafting," Hamlin said. "Our teammates, who looked pretty fast in qualifying trim we are going to leave them to that. Being that this was going to be the only day we were going to be here we were going to try to optimize any kind of cars around us that we could. We were able to get a little four car draft there at the end and at least make it a day that we learned a few things."
With crew chief Darian Grubb putting together a one-day test plan, Hamlin will now be able to return to North Carolina to be with his girlfriend Jordan Fish, who is expecting soon.
“I didn't want to leave her home alone at any point during the night," Hamlin said. "Things can come at any time and she's due right about now."
Today's sessions consisted of mainly single-car runs as drivers turned laps for the first time at Daytona in the new sixth-generation Sprint Cup car.
"This body style -- we’re just trying to figure out where is the happy spot," Hamlin said. "Does it want to be straight behind the other car? Do you want to be offset a little bit? Really it seems like the back car gets a lot of air to it. It essentially makes it hard to suck up to the front car, which I think will bode well for our competition at other race tracks going forward where the front car doesn’t have such a huge advantage. That part of it is pretty optimistic. It definitely will lend more to pack racing versus two-car tandem.”
Kenseth was second fastest (195.385 mph) in the afternoon and first in the opening session with a lap of 192.757 mph behind the wheel of the No. 20 Toyota.
The closing laps of the afternoon session with the other cars on the track helped give Busch the best 10 consecutive lap average of the day at 194.953 mph.
Driving the new Chevrolet SS, Jeff Burton was the fastest driver in single-car runs with a lap of 194.620 mph.
Danica Patrick, who is beginning her first full-time season in Sprint Cup, was near the top of the chart in both sessions after the team fixed a brake issue on her car early in the test.
"They found that the brakes were dragging so, pushed the brakes back for the last (morning) run," Patrick said. "They pushed me out, it probably looked like I was doing a full qualifying run, but we really just pushed the brakes back to see if that is exactly what it was. Sure enough we popped up the speed chart pretty well. It’s nice to know that the speed is there so now we will just start with our test plan. It’s definitely good to be back in the GoDaddy car.”
Patrick confirmed that she will not be running the Indianapolis 500 this season, but is trying to compete in some Nationwide races for Turner Scott Motorsports.
"We are definitely talking to them trying to figure it out and we are definitely working on that, but there has been nothing signed yet," Patrick said. "The exact dates, the races and the sponsor have yet to be confirmed for all that."
Marcos Ambrose had the fastest Ford in both sessions, posting the second and eighth-best laps, respectively.
"I love the new car," Ambrose said. "It's got a lot of grip to it. Obviously the car is a faster car. It's got less mass. It's got more left-side weight compared to the old car, which helps the cornering ability of it."
Reigning Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselsowski, who was the first on track this morning, was 31st fastest in both sessions. Today's test marked Keselowski's first laps at Daytona in a Ford after Penske Racing made a manufacturer switch from Dodge in the offseason.
"I am not happy not being fast," Keselowski said. "But you try to put it in perspective of how much work is yet to be done over the next month-and-a-half. Being first on the track, that is something Paul (Wolfe) really prides himself and that is our little way of needing the competition to say even if we aren't fastest we are going to be the first ones on it. I have a group of committed guys that want to do that."
Following a busy offseason for teams making the switch to the new car, Sprint Cup Series director John Darby liked what he saw on the race track today.
“When you look at the enormity of the project and basically putting three brand-new models of race cars out on a race track, and put speeds up that are within a tenth of a second of each other – it is an incredible, incredible effort,” Darby said. “I truly believe there is not another racing series in the world that could accomplish what these guys did since we left Homestead. I'm very pleased with every aspect of the car and every lap that was run."