It took a day and a half, but Sprint Cup Series teams were finally able to get on the track at Charlotte Motor Speedway for the second test of the Generation-6 car.
After a rainout Thursday and a three-hour delay for track drying on Day 2, NASCAR extended the session until 7:30 p.m. (ET), thus producing fast speeds under the lights on a cold day. Thirty-three teams were at the test, up from 16 during the two-day December session when the current rules package was not in position.
Aric Almirola of Richard Petty Motorsports recorded Friday's fastest lap at 194.021 mph under the lights.
"We learned a lot," Almirola said. "We've got a really fast Ford Fusion and I feel comfortable in our car. This is a really nice car Todd (Parrott) and the boys from RPM brought us. I'm just looking forward to getting going here."
Greg Biffle, who was fastest in the day's first session and seventh in the evening, was the first on track at 12:45 p.m. For Biffle, it was his third time in the Gen-6 No. 16 Ford on an intermediate-sized track but the first with a steel body and the correct components.
"We’ve tested a few times with a composite body and not all of the latest rules, but this is really it for us," Biffle said. "We needed these two days to figure out what the car is gonna end up like."
Teams not only had the day to learn more about the new car on mile-and-a-half tracks, they also had the opportunity to run their cars through NASCAR's new laser inspection station. With the development of this new car, NASCAR had the platform available at the Research and Development Center for teams to try and understand how it worked before the system made its debut at the track.
"I think it's going to cut down on inspection time," said Paul Wolfe, crew chief on Brad Keselowski's No. 2 Ford. "It checks a lot of things at one time when you roll up on that platform. It's basically one station that checks a lot of those things that in the past, officials had to do with manual gauges. Not only did (that) take longer, now you take some of the human element - or error - to say like how one official holds the gauge versus another. From the team side of it, it's nice from the time standpoint."
The Gen-6 cars have more rear downforce and more mechanical grip. Fifteen drivers posted a lap faster than 192 mph. The current qualifying record, set by Biffle last fall, is 193.708 mph. Ford took the top four spots with Carl Edwards (193.673 mph), Casey Mears (193.382) and Marcos Ambrose (193.285) lining up behind Almirola.
"We didn’t quite have the speed we really wanted in race trim, but we went to qualifying trim and it seemed to be comparable to some other guys that were doing qualifying runs as well," Mears said. "Overall, I'm pretty happy with it. At the end of the day, we got a lot of information and learned a lot."
Jimmie Johnson (192.795 mph) had the fastest Chevrolet, fifth, with Mark Martin (192.637) sixth in a Toyota.
“It drives nice,” said Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet. “It’s very, very fast. The balance of the car is really comfortable. It's fun to drive, especially driving the car this hard right now. “
A number of teams were testing the durability of the parts and pieces of the new car, with 13 drivers completing 100 or more laps in the second session. Michael McDowell, who was testing the No. 11 Toyota for Denny Hamlin, completed 359 laps throughout the day. Hamlin was not at the test so he could be with his girlfriend, Jordan Fish, who is expecting the couple’s first child.
"The durability part is because of the rear axle camber that we've given the teams, the latitude to work in, which helps the car grip," said Robin Pemberton, vice president of competition for NASCAR. "Those guys are making sure that part of it can go 600 miles or more."