A TALE OF TWO TRACKS; Daytona and Talladega Look Alike, but They Don't Drive Alike

By Coble, Don | The Florida Times Union, June 30, 2010 | Go to article overview

A TALE OF TWO TRACKS; Daytona and Talladega Look Alike, but They Don't Drive Alike


Coble, Don, The Florida Times Union


Byline: DON COBLE

DAYTONA BEACH - From the top of the grandstands, Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway look alike. They have the same shape, the same relative size and the same reputation for creating some of NASCAR's memorable races.

But a closer look shows the sister tracks are diametrically opposite, hardly the result of the same cookie cutter.

Daytona is narrow, bumpy and slick. Talladega is wide, smooth and comfortable.

Daytona is a driver's track. Talladega is a mechanic's track.

Daytona takes skill. Talladega takes speed.

That's why Saturday night's Coke Zero 400 at Daytona is like no other race on the Sprint Cup Series schedule.

Sweltering heat and humidity, coupled with afternoon showers that keep the track from getting any rubber worked into the asphalt, will turn Saturday night's event into a treacherous race.

New tires will be worn out in a matter minutes, turning the 2.5-mile, D-shaped track into a giant slip-and-slide.

In February, Daytona still has its bumps and potholes, but it's not nearly as slick. That's why most teams will bring a different car this week, different from the Daytona 500 or either race at Talladega.

"Daytona is more like a regular speedway because you have to lift in the turns and drive the car," Denny Hamlin said. "The tires fall off really fast there, so you've got to find ways to get your car to handle. Daytona and Talladega aren't even close."

Daytona and Talladega present unique challenges, said Donnie Wingo, David Ragan's crew chief. Wingo will concentrate this week on making the car stable in Daytona's high banks, and that means trying to create as much downforce as possible.

When he goes to Talladega in October, Wingo's approach will change to making the car as fast and sleek as possible.

"Daytona is a normal track," he said. "It's about handling, trying to get your car to stick. Talladega is just the opposite. It's wide-open. We don't treat those tracks like they're the same."

Daytona will dig up the pavement and replace it in time for next February's Daytona 500.

Most drivers don't want Daytona to become a carbon copy of Talladega. Although the tracks look alike, the drivers like the differences.

"The thing I get from the drivers is they like the racetrack when it doesn't have a lot of grip," car owner Jack Roush said. "They like it when you go down in the corner, and you have to fight traction on the car and tire adhesion, and it does some slipping and sliding because it gives them a chance to better themselves in relation to everybody else.

"If the racetrack has a lot of grip, if a tire has a lot of grip, then you can be off on your setup, you can be braver than Dick Tracy, and there's not as much that separates you from the entire field."

A pothole during February's Daytona 500 created delays totaling 2 hours, 25 minutes. A few weeks later, the work order was signed to replace the pavement as soon as Saturday night's race is done.

"The next race we have, if the racetrack doesn't come apart again, will be one of the best races in recent memory that we'll have at Daytona because it will be hot and the tires will slip based on the time of the year," Roush said. …

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