High expectations for Daytona 500

Sports Network

, Last Updated: 4:08 PM ET

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- After one day of testing on the newly-paved Daytona International Speedway, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers think the Feb 20 Daytona 500 could be one of the best ever in the 53-year history of the prestigious race.

Sprint Cup Series teams began a three-day test session at Daytona on Thursday. Michael Waltrip Racing drivers David Reutimann and Martin Truex Jr. led the way in the opening day of testing. Reutimann topped the speed charts at 195.780 m.p.h. during the afternoon session. Truex was a tick behind his MWR teammate at 195.776 m.p.h. Red Bull Racing teammates Brian Vickers and Kasey Kahne were third and fourth quickest, respectively.

Truex praised the track's new surface and predicted this year's Daytona 500 to be a thriller.

"It's going to be wild, and it's going to be fun," he said.

The 2010 Daytona 500 was marred by two sizeable potholes that emerged on the asphalt between turns one and two just past the halfway point in the race. Track officials made the decision to repave the surface last April. It was the second time DIS had been repaved since it opened in 1959. The track was resurfaced for the first time in 1978.

Last month, 18 drivers took part in a Goodyear tire test at Daytona. Driver reactions to the new asphalt were positive after the tire test and remain that way now.

"The track is in pretty good shape, and looks like the 24-hour [Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series race] test and just [following] the bit of time that it's been since the tire test we had in December, the track is starting to change a little bit," said Dale Earnhardt Jr., who won the Daytona 500 in 2004. "It was smooth as glass when we first tried it in December, and it's starting to become a little more rigid in places and change color in places."

Daytona's new surface will allow for wider drafts, which will make for racing identical to Talladega Superspeedway.

"The track is so smooth and has so much grip that there's no telling what people will try," Carl Edwards said. "The last lap is going to be insane."

The 2.66-mile Talladega track was repaved in 2006, and has since produced some of the most wild races in NASCAR.

Edwards concluded the 2010 Sprint Cup season by winning the last two races -- Phoenix and Homestead.

"I think you're going to see a race like I've never been a part of here at Daytona," he added.

Jimmie Johnson will kick off his campaign to win a record-extending sixth straight championship next month at Daytona. Johnson is another driver who thinks this Daytona 500 will be a wild affair.

"The [Daytona] 500 I believe is going to be everything everyone would hope for," Johnson said. "We're going to see a very, very action-packed Daytona 500."

Testing at DIS on Friday morning was scrubbed due to rain, but weather conditions improved to allow for a session in the afternoon.


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