DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Three-time 400-mile-event winner Jeff Gordon is curious to see if higher temperatures create less grip -- and less "stick" -- in the annual Fourth of July weekend race at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday night.
Repavement of the 2.5-mile track surface in 2010 provided more grip to the competitors during Speedweeks earlier this year, but tracks tend to lose grip in hotter temperatures. Will that be the case this weekend? If so, how will it affect the two-car drafts that have become the norm during restrictor-plate races recently?
Gordon is eager to learn the answers to those questions when the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to Florida this weekend.
"With the bump drafting and two-car drafts, we were able to push another car all the way around the track here in February," said Gordon, who will drive the No. 24 Pepsi Max Chevrolet Impala this weekend. "We don't know yet whether we'll have the same level of grip this weekend with the higher temperatures. If we lose some grip, will one car still be able to 'stick' to another for a full lap or multiple laps?
"Right now, I'm expecting we'll still be able to (push the entire track), so you're going to have to find a partner. My (Hendrick Motorsports) teammate Mark Martin and I worked well at Talladega (Ala.), so I'm sure we'll try to work together again."
In 37 starts here Gordon has six wins, including three Daytona 500 victories, three pole positions, 12 top-five finishes and 18 top-10s. One thing has not changed during his 19-year career -- the ability to adjust to change at the superspeedway.
"When I first started racing here, we had big single-file packs where you had to work lap-after-lap-after lap to finally make the right move to gain a position," said Gordon, who is currently ninth in the point standings with two wins in 2011. "Then, with some of the changes to the cars, we were racing in big packs two-and-three wide where a big 'run' could gain you a lot of positions in one lap or even just one straightaway.
"Now it's evolved into the two-car packs. If you want to be good and have a shot at winning, then you have to learn how to two-car draft well. You have to learn how to cool the engine. You have to find somebody you can stick with who will stay with you all day.
"And you both need to be there at the end to have a shot to win the race."