INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — NASCAR had the perfect combination for the start of Tuesday's tire test in Indianapolis.
Cool track, new tires, long straightaways and cars with grip.
It doesn't get any better than that , and they aren't likely go much faster than this, either. After Mark Martin wrote on Twitter that he had hit 212 mph in the backstretch during the morning session, a disbelieving Jeff Gordon walked over to his team to see what it had recorded.
"They said 214 and I said, 'My gosh, it really is fast,'" Gordon said.
To put the speeds in perspective, Denny Hamlin won last year's Brickyard 400 pole with a fast lap of 182.293 mph. Gordon said all the cars Tuesday were faster.
The incredibly quick speeds didn't last long when the temperatures warmed up and tires started wearing faster. And while nobody expects the cars to go anywhere close to these speeds in late July, everybody was encouraged by the early performance of the new Gen-6 cars on one of America's most historic, and tricky tracks.
"Like so many other tracks, this car adapts well, it sticks really well to the track," said Gordon, who has won all four of his Cup titles with Hendrick Motorsports. "I'm pretty happy today because I think it went well."
All of that is good news for a series that hasn't always had the smoothest races on Indy's 2.5-mile oval.
Tire wear had been an issue for years before the 2008 race turned into a caution-marred debacle of short sprints. Since then, Goodyear has come out with tire compounds that have worked better at Indy.
On Tuesday, Gordon and a handful of other drivers were asked to start the testing on a new more environmentally friendly tire. It worked spectacularly well under ideal conditions. The tires, Gordon said, did not respond nearly as well in the afternoon, and Trevor Bayne, who also tested, noted his speeds were down by about one full second per lap in the heat.
The bigger concern?
"You want balance so the car enters the turn comfortably and that's what we had," Gordon said. "But it was definitely wearing a little more than we wanted it to."
So drivers tested other tire compounds with mixed results.
The same drivers will return to the track Wednesday for another closed practice.
For some, like Gordon, the test gave him valuable information long before other drivers could take their new cars onto the track.
Others, like Bayne who drives for The Wood Brothers, was just happy to turn laps on a track he's not that familiar with.
"I had an opportunity to do this in '11, but unfortunately, I was in the hospital and Greg Biffle came out and tested for me," Bayne said. "Last year, I came back and finished 16th and hopefully, I can come back and improve like that again this year."
One way to solve the tire-wear issue would be cooler temperatures, and after the state legislature approved the Motorsports Initiative last week, there has been talk of installing lights.
Speedway officials will have access to a loan for up to $5 million for 20 years to complete capital improvement projects but have not said what they intend to do. The possibility of night racing at Indy is an idea Bayne and Gordon support.
"I'm game for night races because that's what I grew up doing," Bayne said. "It would probably be better with the heat in July, so it would be a win all around for me."
It might even help improve attendance, which has been on the decline, too.
But on Tuesday, most of the talk around Gasoline Alley was all about speed.
"We never stop competing do we?" Gordon said.