Musical chairs debuts in Daytona By Brett Borden

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 10, 2000) It's January, so that roar emanating from Daytona International Speedway must mean its testing time again. The GM contingent is christening the new season (AND the new millenium) with its first open test. Nine teams are here to learn more about their new bodies, and the bodies inside turning the steering wheels.

Kenny Irwin is here in his new ride - the No. 42 SABCO Chevrolet. The man who held that seat last year, Joe Nemechek, is here also. He's now piloting the No. 33 Chevy. The guy who gave up THAT ride, Ken Schrader, is here with his No. 36 Pontiac.

Two members of this year's Raybestos Rookie of the Year class - Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Mike Bliss - are on the premises. So is Mike Skinner. And Ricky Craven. And two guys hoping to catch lightning in a bottle, or at least on the throttle, in Andy Hillenburg and Greg Sacks.

According to Irwin, Monday's test marks the official end of the offseason for him. And not a moment too soon.

"Actually, this is the first time that I'm going to be in a SABCO car," said the 1998 Raybestos Rookie of the Year, who finished third in last year's Daytona 500. "We haven't done any testing. We've just been trying to get the new bodies and build new cars and just get ready to come to Daytona.

"I'm just glad to be here in a car testing. The offseason has lasted a little longer than what I would have liked. I'm just ready to get going and get racing."

How much the team can get accomplished in this two-day test remains to be seen. But Irwin says that doing well next month is crucial for the new teams.

"(A good start) is important for everybody," he said. "It's very important for us, obviously, with a new deal and a new team and the better you can get started the better the chemistry starts off. And that's what I'm looking forward to.

"Once you're 15 races in, you look back and think 'Man, if we would have done this or that'. But coming to Daytona everybody is even. Nobody has any points.

Nobody has any wins. Nobody has anything on the other guy. If anything else, it's kind of a morale thing. You think 'we need to start off good, we can be the first guy to win a race, we can just get out of the gates well.' So we're just trying to do that."