Martin Truex Jr. Recap Video (via Michael Waltrip Racing)
CORNELIUS, N.C. – Martin Truex Jr. and the NAPA Racing team completed five days of testing last week at two tracks in Florida to ramp up for the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season. Truex and new Michael Waltrip Racing teammates Clint Bowyer and Mark Martin tested at New Smyrna (Fla.) Speedway for two days and then moved to the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway for three days of NASCAR's Preseason Thunder. Both sessions produced positive results leaving the NAPA Racing team enthusiastic and more than ready to race in the season opening Daytona 500 on Feb. 26.
"This past week has been a great chance for us to get back into the swing of things," said Truex, who enters his third season behind the wheel of the No. 56 NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota. "Both of the tests at New Smyrna and Daytona were important to us especially with the new fuel injected engines. We also had a lot of new things to try at Daytona because of NASCAR's rule package with the radiator and all the things that go with cooling. It was a big test for us with the fuel injection and running in the bigger packs."
Day one at Daytona saw the NAPA Racing team complete single-car runs. The emphasis was on radiator packages and the overall balance and stability of the No. 56 Toyota. Truex's fastest lap of 47.095 seconds/191.103 came in the afternoon session.
When the day concluded, NASCAR announced changes for Friday's test session. The sanctioning body called for an increase in the diameter of the restrictor-plate openings by 1/32nd of an inch to 15/16ths inches adding an estimated 26 horsepower to the engines. They also lowered the pressure relief valve settings from 30 pounds per square inch to 25 psi and narrowed the grille openings to decrease airflow to the engine. The last two measures were designed to decrease the number of laps one car could push another without overheating.
With the new changes made, the NAPA team was back on track Friday focusing on drafting. Truex paired up with Bowyer for the two-car draft. The duo topped the speed chart with a 43.962 seconds/204.722 mph lap. Teammate Mark Martin followed closely behind in fifth with a time of 44.610 seconds/201.748 mph.
"Since we didn't draft yesterday, it was hard to say how our NAPA Toyota performed with this new rule package," added Truex. "But we did the tire test back here a few months ago and it's pretty similar to what we did there. We had a big plate, but today's was even a little bit bigger. It was a little harder to keep the cars cool. That's going to be a challenge especially when we return in February to warmer temperatures.
"We stuck to our test plan, but it's been good to get out there and draft with both Clint (Bowyer) and Mark (Martin) and get a feel for things. So far everything is going good."
Once practice concluded, NASCAR rallied the drivers together and asked teams to participate in a pack drafting session to help gather information for NASCAR to apply to a baseline for next month's Daytona 500 package. All three Michael Waltrip Racing teams participated.
"It was a little bit hairy out there as I expected," remarked Truex, who ended up ninth quickest (43.941 seconds/204.820 mph) and fastest of the MWR Toyotas. "We saw speeds around 205 mph. That's pretty fast. In the two-car draft, our car was just starting to get to where it was on the edge and pushing the limits of the grip so it was definitely interesting with a lot more cars out there. The biggest difference was we couldn't make fast maneuvers like you could before when switching lanes. We had to be smooth pushing so it was definitely exciting for sure."
Running the large pack helped NASCAR implement additional adjustments for Saturday's final day of Preseason Thunder. Changes included closing the bottom of the radiator opening; reducing radiator pressures approximately four pounds and a return to the restrictor plate used in the opening day of testing.
For the final day, the morning practice saw crew chief Chad Johnston put the NAPA Toyota into qualifying trim. Areas of interest were splitter heights, front end geometries and air pressure packages. Truex's fastest lap (47.276 seconds/190.371 mph) was 25th on the speed chart. Then it was back to drafting for the final session. NASCAR once again asked for the practice to begin with a large pack to test its latest package. The NAPA Toyota once again performed well in the draft and ended its week of testing by turning the seventh-quickest time of 45.090 seconds/199.601 mph.
"I think we learned a lot," said Johnston after the test concluded. "We worked on what we can do single-car wise to make our qualifying effort stronger. We worked a lot on keeping our car cool in the draft and in the two-by-two racing so we can push longer. It's all about having something for them in the end and a chance to win the Daytona. 500.
"I think our overall speed is up there with the fastest guys. I think as far as race trim stuff, I feel pretty good about it. We still have a little bit of work to do on single-car runs for qualifying. But to be honest, it all comes down to the package NASCAR communicates to us after they evaluate all their information from these last three days. I expect to see some pretty significant changes coming before we go back. I think they'll be looking at the grille screen and the pressure release valve so we'll just have to stay tuned. Good news is we have speed and we're right up there with the guys we were contending with at the end of last season. We are on pace."