All eyes on temperature gauges
TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Just how good does Matt Kenseth feel about translating his Daytona 500 win in the first restrictor-plate race of the season to Sunday's Aaron's 499?
He put it this way Friday: "It's probably the most I have ever looked forward to coming to Talladega, other than the first time I ever came here [in 1997]."
That's pretty darn good, going into a crapshoot race at Casino de Alabama.
Toward the end at Daytona, Kenseth and Roush Fenway Racing teammate Greg Biffle pretty much checked out on the field and dominated until Dale Earnhardt Jr. was able to slip past Biffle to finish second. But Earnhardt had no shot at Kenseth.
"Obviously we liked the rules package and made it work pretty good company-wide with Greg and Carl [Edwards] on the front row," Kenseth said of NASCAR's technical changes to cooling systems to discourage the two-car drafting fans hated.
Talladega is longer, wider and higher-banked than Daytona, so "the tracks are a little bit different, but since they paved Daytona they are a lot more similar than they've ever been," Kenseth said.
So Sunday, "I don't anticipate the racing being a lot different."
By custom he had to leave his 500-winning car behind at the Daytona USA exhibit, and "I am not sure how this car will run," Kenseth said.
Plus, "You don't know how much the other teams have caught up with their cars and engines and all that stuff from where we were at Daytona. We just had really fast cars and engines there and you hope it's the same or better when you come back."
Oh, and one more thing: "Anything can happen here, so who knows?" Kenseth said. "You can get wrecked on Lap 1 and you never know."
But, "Knowing that our cars were fast at Daytona makes you look forward to coming here a little bit more."
Denny Hamlin, who led the most laps at Daytona but wound up fourth after Kenseth and Biffle showed their hands, said there's one big difference this weekend.
"I think the X factor from Daytona to here will be temperature," Hamlin said. Weather forecasts for Sunday call for temperatures in the high 80s, if not the 90s, and so "the ambient temperature is 25 degrees warmer, at least, from what we raced at Daytona. And I know there were a lot of temperature issues at Daytona."
This race "is definitely going to be the hottest one of the season," Biffle said.
Tight NASCAR restrictions on radiator pressures for plate races leave the cars ultra-sensitive to overheating, so with hotter weather, "everyone's going to be temperature-limited right from the get-go," Hamlin said.
"The elevated temperatures here will make it very difficult to keep the cars cool," said Jimmie Johnson, who won this race last spring -- but under a different rules package, when tandem-drafting ruled and teammate Earnhardt pushed him to the victory.
But all in all, "As far as those two Roush cars, I think they were the strongest cars at Daytona," Hamlin said, "and I don't think that will be much different."
Biffle, who has led the points all spring but has only one win, at Texas, is getting antsy to add victories for the sake of seeding in the Chase.
"If you really think about it, the points right now don't count, provided I make the Chase," he said. And so as he sees it, "the only way I can get points for the Chase is to win."
If the Roush dominance from Daytona continues here, Biffle will get another shot at teammate Kenseth.