One of the biggest proponents of the Sprint Cup Series’ new low-downforce package has been Carl Edwards.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver got a kick out of the package’s debut at Atlanta Motor Speedway despite not knowing for sure what fans thought of the race, which went the first 210 laps without a caution.
“I had a hard time gauging what the fans really felt about the race, but from a driver’s perspective it was a blast,” Edwards said Thursday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in between two test sessions. “We were really driving.”
But after the first Thursday test session, which lasted two hours, Edwards admitted he hadn’t expected how the new package navigated the 1.5-mile track.
“I think the biggest surprise is just how fast the cars are going,” Edwards said. “I guess in my mind I envisioned the lower downforce package being slower, but the cars are really fast.”
Edwards was 14th fastest at 189.843 mph in the first practice before improving to sixth fastest in the second test session at 189.793 mph. The fastest speeds in both sessions were 192.981 mph and 192.940 mph respectively.
The top speed in the first practice for the 2015 Las Vegas race was 191.646 mph, but Jeff Gordon won the pole for last year’s race with a lap of 194.679 mph.
Edwards, who has two Sprint Cup wins in Las Vegas, also thought it was worth noting how much rubber tires were putting on the track.
“There’s definitely a difference where the cars are running versus where they’re not running,” Edwards said. “I think that’s going to help the race to be really good. You’re going to see us have multiple lanes. It’s already spread out in the corners, you can already run up to the second groove and make a little time right now. Hopefully that keeps migrating around and I really hope that it stays here all weekend. That rubber, when it does that, it makes the racing a lot more fun.”
But Edwards also said Sunday’s Kobalt 400 could be “treacherous” for drivers over the course of its 267 laps with a “ton” of corner speed and on-throttle time as in years passed.
“Honestly, it’s going to be a little treacherous,” Edwards said. “Just like always, you want the car to be free, and regardless of how fast we’re going, there’s still less air to lean on with the smaller spoiler and all that. I think it’s going to be tough.
“Hopefully the groove moves out, which it looks like it’s going to, and if that’s the case, it will be pretty neat. You’ll have guys running the very top, sweeping guys down the back straightaway, catching them. That will be pretty cool.”
Edwards estimated he ran between 25-28 laps on one set of tires, but that teams would discover over the course of the weekend how long they could run a set during green-flag runs.
“Last week was very unique where the tires were wearing out quicker than we needed to pit for fuel, that was an interesting situation which I thought was really a lot of fun,” Edwards said. “I don’t think they’ll wear that much here. They’re still pretty hard tires because the speeds and the loads and the pavement.”