Nashville Test Means Back To Work For Johnny Leonard Lebanon, Tennessee - - It's been nearly a month since ARCA RE/MAX Series driver Johnny Leonard has been inside his No. 13 Boca Bay Builders Chevrolet, but that's all about to change as Leonard...
Nashville Test Means Back To Work For Johnny Leonard
Lebanon, Tennessee - - It's been nearly a month since ARCA RE/MAX Series driver Johnny Leonard has been inside his No. 13 Boca Bay Builders Chevrolet, but that's all about to change as Leonard will join 40 other RE/MAX teams at Nashville Superspeedway this Tuesday, March 15, 2005 for the first "open test" session of the season.
Returning to the seat will also be the best medicine for the Cape Coral, Florida native as he'll try to get his 2005 season back on track following a devastating and unavoidable accident at Daytona International Speedway last month, which saw Leonard start his bid for the championship with a 34th place finish.
"I'm excited about the Nashville test," stated the driver, Johnny Leonard. "Nashville is one of my favorite tracks on the schedule, but the track has added the new SAFER wall barriers which cuts some of the track space, but it really shouldn't affect the way I maneuver Nashville."
Johnny Leonard is one driver who is glad to see the SAFER wall barriers go up around the 1.333-mile speedway. "Last year, I was running in the top-ten when I got into an accident with a slower car. I hit the wall really hard and I cracked some ribs. I don't want to crash here again, but if something like that should again happen anytime this year, I'm expecting the impact to be less severe.
Also, for the first time in history, the teams will be limited to the amount of RPMs they can pull, which is throwing some teams off balance. "We're confident in the rule changes, we've studied the changes, our engines are one of the best in the industry, I have no worries."
For the first time in his ARCA career, Leonard will bring two Chevrolet Monte Carlos to a test, the same cars he will bring back for the running of the PFG Lester 150 on March 26th. The primary car holds a brand new body recently purchased from HAAS/CNC Racing with Ward Burton behind the wheel last season, while the backup machine is from the SCORE Motorsports stable purchased from Hermie Sadler. Leonard has some success in his backup automobile as he collected a career-best ARCA finish of 12th last June at Michigan International Speedway.
"We feel it will only help us bring two cars to the test," explained Leonard. "Both are good cars, but I just want to see which one is going to work better for the race. Nashville is a crucial race for us. We race here twice in 2005, and I would like to know which setup and car could help us reach victory lane."
NASCAR Nextel Cup Series engineer and former crew chief Joe Snyder will join Leonard and his Florida Motorsports crew for Tuesday's session as a team consultant. "We (Johnny and partner Rick Woodard) have all the faith in our crew, but we have inexperienced on our side. We're bringing Joe in for the test to see if he can guide us in a better direction. Bobby Dick (current crew chief), Tommy Hallatt (car chief) and Rocky Rhine (lead mechanic) did a great job at Daytona, but we want to be a threat for the championship, and we believe if we have someone with more experience it can only benefit our race team."
The bar has been raised in the ARCA RE/MAX Series this season and Leonard is plenty aware of that. "There are a lot of good teams, and Nextel Cup affiliated teams, so these test sessions are crucial for us "smaller teams". We have good engines from pme (Pro Motor Engineering) but anytime we can get on the track, get me some extra seat time and try to get ahead of some of the other teams, who can argue with that?"
Following the Nashville test, the Florida Motorsports Group team will quickly return to Cape Coral, and prepare for a double-header on Easter weekend with the NASCAR Busch Series. "Nashville is a huge race not only for us, but for the ARCA RE/MAX Series. Their trophy is probably the best anywhere, the fans are great, and the racing is pretty exciting. This year, we're not racing under the lights, which I'll miss, but having the opportunity to race the same day as the NASCAR Busch Series that has to tell you something about how good the ARCA RE/MAX Series is."
The PFG Lester 150 is the second of 23 events on the 2005 ARCA RE/MAX Series schedule. Practice begins Friday, March 25th with an extensive morning session planned. Qualifying is also on tap for Friday afternoon with the race set to take the green flag Saturday March 26th, 2005. The Speed Channel will air the event live from Johnny's on-board camera beginning at 12:30pm EST.