SPECIAL TO THE TIMES
SPEEDWAY, Ind. - When Reed Sorenson talked to reporters Wednesday after setting the fastest lap in testing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he wasn't terribly excited.
"It's not really a big deal," Sorenson said. "We've got to have a car that will run good on long runs, and right now we don't really have that."
Prestonsburg native Loren Ranier, a longtime member of Ganassi Racing, works closely with Sorenson.
Sorenson's top testing speed was 181.892 mph. Rounding out the top five for what ended up becoming a two-day test this week were Kurt Busch, Scott Wimmer, Ken Schrader and Elliott Sadler.
Granted, no money and no points are awarded to the teams and drivers that turn the fastest laps in testing at the legendary 2.5-mile oval. But most importantly for Sorenson and his team, they know from history that high speeds in July testing at IMS offer little more than false hope on Allstate 400 at the Brickyard weekend if the team doesn't return with a game plan to go even faster.
The statistics on success in finding speed at the traditional July NASCAR tests at Indianapolis Motor Speedway versus finishing well at the race a few weeks later are striking, and the moral of the story is: You may run well in July, but if you don't do your homework between then and early August, you may get run over.
In fact, from 2000 to 2005, only five drivers have posted top-five speeds in July testing and then managed a top-10 finish in the race: Dale Earnhardt and Mike Skinner in 2000, Rusty Wallace in 2002-03, Matt Kenseth in 2002 and Kyle Busch in 2005.
Conversely, the race winners have often barely registered a "blip" on the radar screen during testing. Bill Elliott, who won in 2002, had the 35th- and 36th-fastest cars in testing that year, and in 2004, when Jeff Gordon won for a fourth time and led a record 124 laps, he was ninth fastest in testing.
The science of speed isn't always focused on being the speediest team on the track on a given day. Nextel Cup Series teams take a regimented approach to testing at Indy and all other tracks.
"Just trying a lot of things, really," said defending race winner Tony Stewart, in describing his Joe Gibbs Racing team's approach to testing. "You don't set your benchmark strictly on the test itself and speeds you run. You set it more on what you're trying to accomplish and trying new things is what we're here for."
Monday was sunny and hot, creating slick track conditions, while Wednesday was perfect racing weather: cloudy and cooler. The difference in track conditions was apparent on the speed chart, as Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s 177.518 on Monday was no better than 21st overall.
Brian Vickers was Hendrick Motorsports' fastest driver in testing, placing 19th overall at 177.637. Kyle Busch and Gordon were 30th and 31st, respectively, and current points leader Jimmie Johnson was 36th out of 51 drivers.
In four starts at the Brickyard, Johnson has finished ninth, 18th, 36th and 38th.
"It would be nice just to run halfway competitive," said Chad Knaus, Johnson's crew chief. "We've never run very well here, and it's always been kind of a sore thumb to us, to be honest."