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In search of the ‘right package’ at NHMS test sessions

  • Jeff Gordon speaks with the press before a second day of test runs at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in preparation for the Camping World RV Sales 301 on Wednesday, June 4, 2014.<br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

    Jeff Gordon speaks with the press before a second day of test runs at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in preparation for the Camping World RV Sales 301 on Wednesday, June 4, 2014.

    (ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Kasey Kahne drives his car back to the garages during the second day of test runs at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in preparation for the Camping World RV Sales 301 on Wednesday, June 4, 2014.<br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

    Kasey Kahne drives his car back to the garages during the second day of test runs at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in preparation for the Camping World RV Sales 301 on Wednesday, June 4, 2014.

    (ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Dale Earnhardt, Jr. drives his car around the track during a second day of test runs at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in preparation for the Camping World RV Sales 301 on Wednesday, June 4, 2014.<br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

    Dale Earnhardt, Jr. drives his car around the track during a second day of test runs at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in preparation for the Camping World RV Sales 301 on Wednesday, June 4, 2014.

    (ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Greyson Vessell of Manchester, 5, and his dad Ken watch the second day of test runs at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in preparation for the Camping World RV Sales 301 on Wednesday, June 4, 2014.<br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

    Greyson Vessell of Manchester, 5, and his dad Ken watch the second day of test runs at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in preparation for the Camping World RV Sales 301 on Wednesday, June 4, 2014.

    (ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Greyson Vessell of Manchester, 5, holds Kurt Busch's #41 car while watching the second day of test runs at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in preparation for the Camping World RV Sales 301 on Wednesday, June 4, 2014.<br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

    Greyson Vessell of Manchester, 5, holds Kurt Busch's #41 car while watching the second day of test runs at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in preparation for the Camping World RV Sales 301 on Wednesday, June 4, 2014.

    (ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Nikita Rossi, 5, hangs on the fence while calling out to Dale Earnhardt, Jr. as Dale Jr. got out of his car after doing test runs at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in preparation for the Camping World RV Sales 301 on Wednesday, June 4, 2014.<br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

    Nikita Rossi, 5, hangs on the fence while calling out to Dale Earnhardt, Jr. as Dale Jr. got out of his car after doing test runs at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in preparation for the Camping World RV Sales 301 on Wednesday, June 4, 2014.

    (ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Jeff Gordon drives around the track during a second day of test runs at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in preparation for the Camping World RV Sales 301 on Wednesday, June 4, 2014.<br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

    Jeff Gordon drives around the track during a second day of test runs at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in preparation for the Camping World RV Sales 301 on Wednesday, June 4, 2014.

    (ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. during NASCAR auto racing media day at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

    Dale Earnhardt Jr. during NASCAR auto racing media day at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014. (AP Photo/John Raoux) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Jeff Gordon looks on from the garage before practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup series auto race, Saturday, May 31, 2014, at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Del. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

    Jeff Gordon looks on from the garage before practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup series auto race, Saturday, May 31, 2014, at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Del. (AP Photo/Nick Wass) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Jeff Gordon speaks with the press before a second day of test runs at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in preparation for the Camping World RV Sales 301 on Wednesday, June 4, 2014.<br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)
  • Kasey Kahne drives his car back to the garages during the second day of test runs at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in preparation for the Camping World RV Sales 301 on Wednesday, June 4, 2014.<br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)
  • Dale Earnhardt, Jr. drives his car around the track during a second day of test runs at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in preparation for the Camping World RV Sales 301 on Wednesday, June 4, 2014.<br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)
  • Greyson Vessell of Manchester, 5, and his dad Ken watch the second day of test runs at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in preparation for the Camping World RV Sales 301 on Wednesday, June 4, 2014.<br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)
  • Greyson Vessell of Manchester, 5, holds Kurt Busch's #41 car while watching the second day of test runs at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in preparation for the Camping World RV Sales 301 on Wednesday, June 4, 2014.<br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)
  • Nikita Rossi, 5, hangs on the fence while calling out to Dale Earnhardt, Jr. as Dale Jr. got out of his car after doing test runs at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in preparation for the Camping World RV Sales 301 on Wednesday, June 4, 2014.<br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)
  • Jeff Gordon drives around the track during a second day of test runs at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in preparation for the Camping World RV Sales 301 on Wednesday, June 4, 2014.<br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. during NASCAR auto racing media day at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
  • Jeff Gordon looks on from the garage before practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup series auto race, Saturday, May 31, 2014, at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Del. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Thousands of laps and three victories at New Hampshire Motor Speedway haven’t taught Jeff Gordon everything there is to know about the Magic Mile.

“Believe it or not, quite a bit, because things are changing and evolving quickly as far as the cars and the setups,” Gordon said, when asked what veteran drivers can learn from two days of testing at a track they’ve ran for years.

Lower ride heights and downforce have led to faster speed at all tracks, he said.

“It’s something that you have to adjust everywhere you go and we certainly saw it yesterday and we’ll see it today and that will continue when we come back,” he said

Gordon won at Loudon in 1995, and remembered a flat, fast track that made it tricky to pass other drivers.

“I enjoyed the challenges of the track then and I still enjoy them now,” he said.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. has never won at New Hampshire, but ranked the track in his personal top 10.

“It’s got kind of a short-track feel to it, the straightaways are pretty long, but the corners are really fun and they’re a good challenge,” Earnhardt said.

A handful of the biggest stars in racing, from Hendrick Motorsports and Ganassi Racing, were in Loudon Tuesday and yesterday for test runs as the Sprint Cup series heads to Pennsylvania this week. With an eye toward this year’s Loudon races, Gordon, Earnhardt, Kasey Kahne, Jimmie Johnson, Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson spent most of Tuesday on the track before starting test runs around noon yesterday because of inclement weather.

Race weekend comes to Loudon twice again this year, first in July for the Camping World RV Sales 301 and in September for the Sylvania 300. A good run in the former could mean success in the latter, which will be the second race in the Chase for the Cup.

The test runs give teams an opportunity to see how drivers and cars handle the course before the series races.

“We feel like this is a place where we need to run well and we obviously place a lot of emphasis on this track and being competitive here so we are here trying to learn what we can learn and to find that extra speed that will help all four (Hendrick Motorsports) cars have a good run,” Earnhardt said.

“You have to look back at the races that you run here over the years and think about the recurring issues that you face pretty much every time you come here and try to find those and the way the car is driving today or yesterday,” he said. “Then you continue to try to work on that particular instance.”

NASCAR teams can do four test runs each season, and the drivers and racing team agree on the course beforehand. With two races at Loudon during the final half of the season, it makes for a good strategic choice for the trial runs, said Steve Letarte, Earnhardt’s crew chief.

“We’re not here to try to go fast. We’re here to learn and come back and make good decisions,” he said. “You don’t come to a track to find the right shocks and springs. You come here to try to find the right package.”

Any information gleaned from the test runs will be reviewed in the coming weeks.

“It’s really what we see afterwards,” Letarte said. “You can come test now at a place where the weather is decent for the rest of the year. It’s kind of a more strategic approach to how you’re going to spend your four tests.”

Morning drizzles pushed back the test run start times and left the stands nearly empty. For those who did come out, the message was clear, said Jerry Gappens, the speedway’s general manager.

“It kind of gets the doors open and lets everyone know, ‘Hey, racing is coming soon,’ ” Gappens said. “That these marquee teams chose New Hampshire to use one of only a handful of available tests is big. It tells you the importance of New Hampshire as these drivers try to get to the chase.”

(Iain Wilson can be reached at 369-3313 or iwilson@cmonitor.com)

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