THE BIG QUESTION: WILL TRACTION COMPOUND HELP THE TOP LANE AT CHARLOTTE?
CONCORD, N.C. - The addition of a VHT traction compound worked in the bottom lane on the concrete surface at Bristol Motor Speedway.
But the use of the TrackBite in the top lane on the asphalt at Charlotte Motor Speedway remains an unknown, as the track tries to widen the groove to give drivers racing options for Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 (on FOX at 6 p.m. ET).
"We'll find out," said Ryan Blaney, driver of the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford Fusion. "It's kind of uncharted waters, to be honest with you. Bristol is a lot different, a lot shorter race track, we're not going as fast... a concrete race track. You don't know how that substance they use is going to combine with asphalt. I'm curious to see how that does, and it's very heat-activated.
"At Bristol, we're going to be running the bottom regardless. That's why it worked so well on the bottom there, and here I'm wondering what it's going to be like when we're running 200 miles an hour into the top lane (at Charlotte) and hoping it's hot enough to stick. So that's going to be a little sketchy at first, but, like I said before, I thought NASCAR had to make a move on that side of it to get us off the bottom of the race track or at least give us options."
In Thursday's opening practice, where teams were concentrating on preparation for qualifying later in the day, no one ventured into the top lane-at least not on purpose. Trying to run the bottom, Kyle Larson inexplicably pushed up into the outside wall when his car tightened up.
Larson's No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet SS bounced off the SAFER barrier, damaging the right side of the car but not enough to require a backup Chevy.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. also got into the VHT sealer, but not by design.
"I got into it by accident," said Earnhardt, whose No. 88 Chevrolet SS slid up the track. Earnhardt, however, made a nice save and kept the car off the wall.
Drivers should learn a lot more during Saturday's two practice sessions, when they start running the outside groove on purpose.
DRIVE FOR DIVERSITY PIT CREW COMBINE SET FOR FRIDAY
Athleticism is a given for participants in the NASCAR Drive for Diversity National Pit Crew Combine, which takes place on Friday at the sanctioning body's research-and-development center in Concord, N.C.
After all, each of the 17 aspirants has a strong background in a sport other than racing. And the 13 men and four women have already been through tryouts at six universities: Alcorn State, Arizona State, Bethune-Cookman, Norfolk State, San Diego State and Virginia State.
The question then becomes which of the athletes will adapt most quickly to the specialized skills needed for pit crew work in NASCAR racing, as Phil Horton, director of athletic performance at Rev Racing puts them through a four-hour skills competition.
Sophia Ortega from Highland, Calif., may have an edge. She played softball for Bethune-Cookman, not far from Daytona International Speedway.
"When I came to Daytona, I realized how big the speedway was, and when I went on a tour, I was definitely interested in it," Ortega said.
Last year 10 of the 18 hopefuls were selected for the crew member development program at Rev Racing, the competition arm of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program. And the prospects for advancement are excellent.
All told, 35 NASCAR Drive for Diversity pit crew graduates currently are working in NASCAR racing, 25 at the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series level. In fact, three alumni-Raphael Diaz, Kevin Richardson and Mike Russell-were pit crew members for Ricky Stenhouse Jr. during his recent victory at Talladega Superspeedway.
"As we saw with last year's inaugural national combine, the caliber of athletes now competing for opportunities to train with NASCAR's Drive for Diversity is stronger than ever," said Jim Cassidy, NASCAR senior vice president of racing operations.
"As the program grows, it's attracting top-quality talent and competitors who we believe have the potential to excel at the highest level of NASCAR."
ANOTHER EARNHARDT FOR THE NASCAR HALL OF FAME?
In his final season of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series racing, Dale Earnhardt Jr. won't be eligible for the NASCAR Hall of Fame until the class of 2021, but the driver of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet SS is already looking in that direction.
"I'll admit that I look through the list of all-time winners and look at the ones that are in the Hall of Fame and look where my name is and see how many guys are in front of me and how many are probably going to get in, will I ever get in, and all that stuff," Earnhardt said on Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
"It must be a tremendous emotional piece of relief and satisfaction to get that kind of reward. I watched really closely when Mark (Martin) got going in there last year, and it just seemed to really validate all the work. Even the stuff he did before he got to Cup. It really just kind of sealed... it brought some closure, I guess, to his career.
If Earnhardt has any doubt about his own Hall of Fame status, here's some reassurance. He has 26 victories at NASCAR's highest level, the same as NASCAR Hall of Famer Fred Lorenzen. Two of Earnhardt's victories came in the Daytona 500, NASCAR's most prestigious race.
Add to that everything NASCAR's perennial most popular driver has done for stock car racing and aspiring racers as a car owner.
The bottom line? Earnhardt is more than likely to join his father, seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt, in the shrine for the sport's elite competitors.
-- NASCAR Wire Service --