Daytona Preseason Thunder, day 1 report

NASCAR JACKSON HEWITT PRESEASON THUNDER AT DAYTONA -- DAY ONE * Toyota Teams Prepare for First NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Season * NASCAR Community Remembers Bobby Hamilton * Daytona 500 Champion Jimmie Johnson Ready to Race After ...

NASCAR JACKSON HEWITT PRESEASON THUNDER AT DAYTONA -- DAY ONE

* Toyota Teams Prepare for First NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Season

* NASCAR Community Remembers Bobby Hamilton

* Daytona 500 Champion Jimmie Johnson Ready to Race After Off-season Injury Heals

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 8, 2007) -- Twenty-six NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series teams went to work Monday at Daytona International Speedway, for the first session of NASCAR Jackson Hewitt Preseason Thunder testing.

Among them, three Toyota teams turned their first laps at the 2.5-mile tri-oval. The manufacturer makes its NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series debut this season.

Monday's session was shortened due to rain, necessitating an additional half day session from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Thursday, but Team Red Bull Toyota driver Brian Vickers said the team still got in enough practice Monday to evaluate their progress.

"We just want to come down here and have a good test," said Vickers. "It's our first time testing -- not only as a group of people but the cars as well. All of it's a learning process for us."

The results so far? Vickers says the cars are performing well. In particular, Vickers and his team paid close attention to the bodywork and its proximity to the wheels -- a good indicator of the accuracy of chassis setups. At Daytona, where aerodynamics is critical, minute details and measurements can make a difference.

"So far we've had minimal fender rubs," said Vickers, referring to the fenders rubbing against the tires. "For a brand new team and car, that's good. We've just got to have a good smooth test, nothing go wrong, get laps on the car, try stuff and learn to communicate."

Two Toyota teams cracked the top 15 on Monday morning's speed chart, led by Dave Blaney (No. 22 Caterpillar Toyota), who posted Toyota's fastest lap of 48.978 seconds (183.756 mph). Blaney also posted the 11th-best lap Monday morning and three-time Daytona 500 champion Dale Jarrett (No. 44 UPS Toyota) clocked in with the 14th-fastest lap, at 49.284 seconds (182.615 mph).

Competitors from other teams, meanwhile, are anxious to test Toyota's track mettle.

"I think all the talk is over," said Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Shell Chevrolet). "It's finally time to go race. We don't have to hear about 'this' is going to happen or 'that' is going to happen -- we're going to actually see what's going to happen. We get to go out on the track and see where everybody stands. I don't think adding another manufacturer's going to hurt anything; it's going to make it as competitive as it's ever been."

***

Johnson Healed and Ready to Race ... Reigning NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series and Daytona 500 champion Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) arrived at Daytona in good shape and in good spirits. Johnson injured his wrist in a golf tournament during the off-season.

"My wrist is good; I'm feeling good," Johnson said Monday. "I'm going to wear a splint in the car, just to be smart and to be sure, but my cast is off and my hand is working. The timing was perfect; I had the off-season to heal up and I'm ready for Daytona.

"The best motivation we have is experiencing what we did in New York and being honored as the champions. We want to do it again. We're just as hungry as we've ever been."

As further proof of his good health, Johnson said he's proceeding with his plans to race in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona road racing event on Jan. 27-28.

***

NASCAR community remembers Bobby Hamilton ... Although teams and drivers were focused on testing Monday, the garage area also was filled with thoughts of long-time NASCAR competitor Bobby Hamilton, who passed away Sunday after battling cancer.

"Bobby was not only a huge part of the racing family, but of the Petty family as well," said seven-time NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series champion Richard Petty, whom Hamilton drove for from 1995-97. "He will always be a part of our family. He had a heart of a champion and that affected everyone around him. You could always count on Bobby. He was just that type of guy. He never let you down and gave you everything he had on-and-off the track. His family is in our hearts and prayers."

Others in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series garage area also expressed their thoughts about Hamilton.

Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Shell Chevrolet: "Bobby and I raced hard on the race track. After 2001, we kind of had a run-in at Martinsville and ever since that point, Bobby and I became pretty good friends. It's hard to lose somebody in the racing family, let alone somebody that you knew particularly well. It's hard to understand why certain things happen to certain people. He was a good person, liked to race and liked to be part of the sport."

Brian Vickers, No. 83 Red Bull Toyota: "My heart goes out to his family and we'll definitely be thinking of him. We've all probably been through that and lost someone, but that's part of life. You've got to remember the good times and move on the best you can. We're all going to miss him."

Ricky Rudd, No. 88 Snickers Ford: "Bobby was a class guy. He worked hard to get where he was and was a good family guy. I hate to see anybody have trouble like that. I guess it's more a shock to me."

Jimmy Elledge, crew chief, No. 41 Target Dodge and former Hamilton crew chief: "Bobby really meant a lot to me. He's the guy I won my first race with and so far it's still my only win. Bobby taught me about a lot of things. When he came to the team in 2001, that team was two years old. He came in and really embraced the guys. He really had some neat qualities. He came over every week and spent the day with us, took us to lunch and stuff. He was a real solid figure that that team needed at the time, and I needed, too. We wish we still had him here."

In 15 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup seasons from 1989-2005, Hamilton recorded four wins, five poles, 20 top-five finishes and 67 top-10 finishes in 371 starts. He also won the 2004 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship. Hamilton formed Bobby Hamilton Racing in 1996, which became one of the flagship teams for Dodge Motorsports and produced his 2004 Craftsman Truck Series title.

***

Earnhardt Jr. Eager to Start Season ... It's been just five weeks since NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series teams and drivers gathered in New York for the season-ending awards ceremony, but Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet) says he's never been more ready to race. "I feel like we're very capable of winning the championship," Earnhardt said. "I know more each year, about what to do to win the championship and how to better position myself to make the Chase.

"When I'm out of the car in the off season, I miss it. I'm ready to go back to the track the day after Christmas. I love racing; I love racing against people in this sport."

***

Note: Monday's session was shortened due to rain. An additional half-day session has been added Thursday, to provide teams a full schedule this week. For a complete listing of testing speeds, visit www.nascarmedia.com.

***

New Team for Nemechek ... Joe Nemechek (No. 13 Ginn Racing Chevrolet) arrived at Daytona to begin his 15th season in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series. His team has no points in the owners' standings, meaning Nemechek isn't locked in the field for any of the first five races. Qualifying has never been an issue for Nemechek, who has nine poles in his career, but the driver of the No. 13 Chevrolet says his team isn't taking anything for granted.

"It's about having horsepower and having great aerodynamics here," Nemechek said. "The number one goal is to have a great qualifying effort. We're starting this deal with no points this year, so we've got to be on our toes in qualifying."

Regardless, Nemechek is rested and ready for the season. He spent his off-season with friends and family, including a ski trip and one other unique trip -- Nemechek took his son to visit and ride with motocross legend Ricky Carmichael. "That was cool," Nemechek said. "It's like any kid's dream right there."

***

Kahne Down Under ... Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge) was far from home over the holiday season, but not far from racing. He traveled to Australia to compete in a series of Sprint Car races, where he placed third and fourth, respectively, in two races.

"I grew up wanting to race there because they race during the wintertime which is their summer," Kahne said. "It was great. I finally had the opportunity to go and do it."

Kahne reported a positive experience abroad, but added that he'd missed his family and friends during Christmas. "From now on if I go to Australia or anywhere else, I'll go maybe on the 26th instead of the 20th and stay at home for Christmas," he joked.

***

Fan Fest Opens Doors to Daytona Fans on Tuesday ... Daytona International Speedway offers something special for the fans during NASCAR Jackson Hewitt Preseason Thunder testing. at Tuesday's Fan Fest event, fans will have opportunities to ask questions of their favorite drivers and enjoy Daytona International Speedway's NEXTEL FANZONE. Among the Fan Fest opportunities: driver question and answer sessions, show cars, bands, a silent auction, displays and pit-stop demonstrations. Cost is $15 for each session. Fans can watch each day's test at no cost, beginning at 9 a.m.

Drivers scheduled to appear Tuesday include Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kasey Kahne, Greg Biffle, Kevin Harvick, Dale Jarrett, Casey Mears, Jamie McMurray, Bobby Labonte, Reed Sorenson, Scott Riggs, Dave Blaney, Martin Truex Jr., Sterling Marlin, Tony Raines, Brian Vickers, Jeff Green, Joe Nemechek, Robby Gordon and Ricky Rudd.

*   Jan. 9: NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Fan Fest

* Jan 13: NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Fan Fest
* Jan. 16: NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Fan Fest
* Jan. 20 and 21: NASCAR Busch Series Fan Fest

Fast Facts Session I:

NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series teams in odd positions in car owner standings as of July 12, 2006

What: NASCAR Jackson Hewitt Preseason Thunder testing for the 2007 Daytona 500

Where: Daytona International Speedway Track Layout: 2.5-mile tri-oval.

When: Monday, Jan. 8 through Thursday, Jan. 11. Times: 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.; 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. Thursday.

Who: Reed Sorenson, Casey Mears, Joe Nemechek, Sterling Marlin, Dave Blaney, P.J. Jones, Eric McClure, Brian Vickers, Ricky Rudd, Morgan Shepherd, Jeff Green, Tony Raines, Kirk Shelmerdine, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Jarrett Jamie McMurray, Scott Riggs, Scott Wimmer, Kasey Kahne, Bobby Labonte, Martin Truex Jr., Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Greg Biffle and Mike McLaughlin.

-credit: nascar

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Bobby Hamilton , Dale Jarrett , Bobby Labonte , Kevin Harvick , Joe Nemechek , Greg Biffle , Jeff Green , Sterling Marlin , Robby Gordon , Casey Mears , Mike McLaughlin , Tony Raines , Jimmie Johnson , Jamie McMurray , Scott Riggs , Kirk Shelmerdine , Richard Petty , Kasey Kahne , Ricky Carmichael , Scott Wimmer , P.J. Jones , Martin Truex Jr. , Morgan Shepherd , Brian Vickers , Eric McClure , Reed Sorenson , Dave Blaney