Dayton Preseason Thunder, day 3 report

Engaging New Year: Greg Biffle Pops Question, Ready For New Season, New Team *Fresh Outlook: Jamie McMurray Seeking New Approach In 2007 *Toyota Time: Dale Jarrett Relishing Fresh Start With New Team *Times Three: Teams May Test Third Car...

Engaging New Year: Greg Biffle Pops Question, Ready For New Season, New Team

*Fresh Outlook: Jamie McMurray Seeking New Approach In 2007

*Toyota Time: Dale Jarrett Relishing Fresh Start With New Team

*Times Three: Teams May Test Third Car At Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 10, 2007) -- Highs and lows move at warp speed, even during a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series' driver's off-season.

For Roush Racing's Greg Biffle (No. 16 Ameriquest Ford) -- who opens 2007 with a new chief and crew -- this week's NASCAR Jackson Hewitt Preseason Thunder testing at Daytona International Speedway is a welcome pause from December's excitement.

Which included popping "The Question."

Biffle and longtime girlfriend Nicole Lunders got engaged over the holidays in their home state of Washington -- eight years after the two met during Biffle's first season as a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series competitor.

He admitted he'd felt the commitment pressure in recent years.

"Plus," he said, "I'm getting to the age and point where I'm thinking about starting a family."

And so on Christmas Eve, among family members, Biffle popped the question. A little extra wrapping and tissue paper served as camouflage.

"I just wrapped it up as a Christmas present -- in a Victoria's Secret box," Biffle said of Lunders' engagement ring. "So she unwrapped it all not really paying attention, and when she got it all apart, it hit her what it was."

Hint: Lunders said yes.

And Biffle ensured the engagement ring didn't speak for him.

"I asked, too," he added.

At Daytona, Biffle is also eager to erase last season's 13th-place disappointment -- this time with a supporting cast that includes new crew chief Pat Tryson. The 2005 series runner-up says this test session at Daytona is the perfect time for him and Tryson to make up quality time lost last month after Biffle dislocated his right shoulder at a tire test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Dec. 6. The healing process meant forgoing his usual off-season motorcycle riding and work on his North Carolina mountain property, plus postponing the momentum of bonding with new team members.

Their goal? Building better, speedier race cars.

"It's a constantly moving target, and the minute you can get your finger on it, try to keep it on it as long as you can, because that sucker keeps moving," the newly-engaged Biffle said during Wednesday's visit to the Daytona's media center. "That's what it takes to win races and championships."

McMurray Looks Inward For Rejuvenation ... Instead of spending his Wednesday morning media session discussing nuts, bolts and impending competition, Jamie McMurray (No. 26 Crown Royal/IRWIN Industrial Tools Ford) opened a window on his state of mind.

With a disappointing season in his rear view mirror, McMurray -- usually candid and talkative -- revealed why he was anything but in 2006.

"The deal with last year, I would tell myself after a race, 'I don't think it can get any worse,'" said McMurray of an eventual 25th-place standing in the final NASCAR NEXTEL Cup standings. "And then I'd show up the next week and I'd be like, 'Wow, I was wrong.'"

McMurray decided in the off-season to take a proactive approach.

He's taking positive-thinking courses, he said, to help prepare him mentally for the upcoming 2007 season. And, he's also sweating it out every morning in the gym with a new workout regime.

"I felt like last year that I was always kind of on the technical side trying to make myself smarter and try to make it better that way," McMurray said, "and it didn't seem to work out as well as what I had thought, so this year I'm going to dedicate myself to the physical and mental side of it and just try to make myself stronger as a person both physically and mentally."

***

Pit Stops: Around The Daytona Garage

Teaming Up: Jeff Green, Harold Holly Proven Duo ... NASCAR NEXTEL Cup veteran Jeff Green (No. 66 Best Buy Chevrolet) knows hunting -- he snared an eight-point buck during the most recent deer season -- but the pursuit of speed has proven to be more elusive.

Enter crew chief Harold Holly, who, together with Green, bagged the fastest time in Wednesday afternoon's session -- 48.200 seconds (186.722 mph).

The two are old friends, yet new NASCAR NEXTEL Cup competitors together. In the NASCAR Busch Series, they combined for 72 top-10 finishes in 96 starts, winning the 2000 NASCAR Busch Series title and runner-up honors in 1999 and 2001.

Holly joined Green's team last October, and Green is hopeful of his best-ever NASCAR NEXTEL Cup season.

"Some people you can communicate with for some reason and some you don't," Green said Wednesday. "He just seems to listen to me better than anyone I've ever worked with."

***

Also Refreshed: Jarrett Takes First Toyota Laps With New Crew Chief ... As a three-time Daytona 500 champion, Dale Jarrett (No. 44 UPS Toyota) is embarking on one of the most interesting seasons of his NASCAR NEXTEL Cup career. With a new team -- Michael Waltrip Racing -- and a new manufacturer -- Toyota -- Jarrett looks forward to making history, and working with a new crew chief, Matt Borland, who Jarrett is giving early, positive reviews.

"I've preached for a long time about needing engineers, and so I have one as a crew chief now," Jarrett said. "I think that's a benefit to any race team. Not saying that you have to have that to be successful, but obviously if you have an engineer in that position, they are much more willing and able to work with the engineering staff. I see that with Matt and I think everybody is very comfortable with him."

***

My Seat: Raines Truly Fulltime ... Last January, Tony Raines (No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevrolet), stood atop a hauler and operated a stopwatch instead of driving during Daytona's preseason test.

This year, he's mashing the gas in January -- and doing it well.

Raines was the fastest of his NASCAR NEXTEL Cup peers in Monday's opening session. He ranked fifth in Tuesday morning's session and third-fastest Tuesday afternoon. He was 13th in Wednesday's morning session.

Last season, two-time series champion Terry Labonte ran the first five races of 2006 for the then-new Hall of Fame Racing team, while Raines -- the eventual fulltime driver -- stayed on the sidelines.

"The Daytona 500 is obviously the biggest race of the year," Raines said Wednesday. "I was down here last year every day in the trailer and at the track with the team and the crew. I'm looking forward to actually being able to drive. It's a big race and I'm pumped up about getting to it."

Make-Up Time: Teams Set for Thursday Session ... NASCAR NEXTEL Cup teams attending this week's test will get an extra half-day's work on Thursday morning thanks to earlier inclement weather.

Heavy showers forced the cancellation of Monday afternoon's session, which means Thursday's rain date comes into play. Teams may test from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. Thursday at Daytona.

The second of two series tests begins next Monday, Jan. 15 and runs through Wednesday, Jan. 17. It features teams which were in odd-number positions in the 2006 car owner standings as of July 12, 2006.

Third Car Approved For Daytona Test ... NASCAR NEXTEL Cup teams attending this month's Daytona test sessions now have the option of breaking out a third car during their session's third day. It's a change from previous procedure, which mandated that teams use two cars -- a primary and backup car -- for testing.

Series director John Darby said the change came as a result of teams' request. NASCAR Jackson Hewitt Preseason Thunder is the series' only three-day test and allows teams to have more flexibility with their cars.

"It's very easy to accommodate a third car here if a team chooses to do that," Darby said. "It's helpful for teams who are in the (Budweiser) Shootout. It's helpful for teams who have built new cars for Daytona and Talladega and also for the Cars of Tomorrow."

***

Following the annual preseason sessions at Daytona, NASCAR NEXTEL Cup teams have six 2007 tests remaining -- at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Jan. 29-30), Bristol Motor Speedway (Feb. 28-March 1), Richmond International Raceway (April 3-4), Lowe's Motor Speedway (May 7-8), Dover International Speedway (May 14-15) and Talladega Superspeedway (Sept. 10-11).

On Deck: NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Testing Jan. 12-14 ... The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series will hold its test at Daytona International Speedway Jan. 12-14, in preparation for the Feb. 16 Chevy Silverado HD 250. The three-day session will include all teams and more than 40 competitors are expected to participate.

-credit: nascar

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