Daytona Preseason Thunder, day 3 report

NASCAR JACKSON HEWITT PRESEASON THUNDER AT DAYTONA -- DAY THREE * Draft day: NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series teams push speed limits * Bill Elliott shows strength in preparation for 26th Daytona 500 start * NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series testing...

NASCAR JACKSON HEWITT PRESEASON THUNDER AT DAYTONA -- DAY THREE

* Draft day: NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series teams push speed limits

* Bill Elliott shows strength in preparation for 26th Daytona 500 start

* NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series testing resumes January 16

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 11, 2006) -- The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series teams participating in this week's NASCAR Jackson Hewitt Preseason Thunder at Daytona test session turned up the intensity on the track Wednesday at Daytona International Speedway.

Instead of circling the 2.5-mile tri-oval alone, the drivers ran together in packs, simulating the high-speed aerodynamic drafting they'll experience on race day. Today's faster sessions were the final chance for these drivers to fine-tune their cars under realistic racing conditions.

Drafting or not, one of the biggest stories of the entire week's session has been the speed and success of Bill Elliott (No. 36 MB2 Motorsports Chevrolet).

Elliott, a two-time Daytona 500 champion, last ran the "Great American Race" in 2003, when he finished 32nd. He's returning to the field in a one-race deal with MB2 Motorsports. Elliott also is scheduled to compete in the Feb. 11 Budweiser Shootout at Daytona.

During this week's test, Elliott has routinely been at the top of the speed charts. With over 30 years of experience in NASCAR NEXTEL Cup racing, a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series title, two Daytona 500 wins and four Daytona poles to his credit, this week's success came as no surprise to Elliott.

"It's still the same," Elliott said. "You've got to do well in the draft and you've got to have a car that's handling. That's what makes Daytona so much fun -- you've got to handle and you've got to run 'wide open.' That's the only way you can win.

"I've been around [Daytona] so many times. Nothing's changed. As far as the race track is concerned, it's just the same as I remember it. If you get everything right, it's a pretty neat race track. It's a lot of fun to go around the place."

Elliott's Daytona 500 bid has begun on a high note. He was the quickest driver of the day on Monday and kept his Chevrolet among the fastest cars over the next two days.

Although his test session has gone well, Elliott says his chances for winning this year's Daytona 500 will be determined on race day.

"All the things have got to go right on Sunday afternoon," Elliott said. "I feel like [MB2 Motorsports] has the equipment to do it."

Jeff Burton, RCR, aiming for improvement in 2006 ... Jeff Burton (No. 31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet) begins his second full season with Richard Childress Racing (RCR) with a tremendous sense of optimism. After finishing 18th in the 2005 point standings, Burton predicts his team could make a big improvement this season. "I think we come into this year with much better engines; we come into this year with much better cars; we come into the year with much better engineering support," said Burton. "I honestly believe that you will see an increase in performance on the racetrack."

Fastest solo times ... Prior to today's drafting sessions, defending Daytona 500 champion Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) posted the fastest solo lap, at 47.754 seconds (188.466 mph) on Tuesday afternoon. Bill Elliott recorded two of the five fastest solo times during the first two days of testing. Gordon and Elliott were the only drivers to break the 188 mph barrier during their solo runs.

<pre> Top five solo lap times (Jan. 9-10): 1. Jeff Gordon No. 24 47.754 seconds 188.466 mph 2. Bill Elliott No. 36a 47.866 seconds 188.025 mph 3. Elliott Sadler No. 38a 47.676 seconds 187.594 mph 4. Jimmie Johnson No. 48 47.979 seconds 187.582 mph 5. Bill Elliott No. 36a 48.072 seconds 187.219

</pre> Wednesday morning momentum: Kenseth shows gains in draft ... Once drivers began drafting Wednesday, Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DeWALT Power Tools Ford) moved to the front of the pack. Kenseth posted a fast lap of 47.770 seconds (188.403 mph) Wednesday morning. Prior to the drafting session, Kenseth's fastest lap was 48.133 seconds (186.982 mph) Tuesday afternoon. Complete times and speeds for each day's test sessions are available to media members at www.nascarmedia.com.

Fan Fest offers fans Q&As with drivers, entertainment ... During each NASCAR Jackson Hewitt Preseason Thunder at Daytona series session, fans have the opportunity for an afternoon and evening of fun at Daytona International Speedway's NEXTEL FANZONE. Fan Fest will feature driver question and answer sessions, bands, show cars, pit-stop demonstrations, a silent auction and displays. The cost is $15 for each Fan Fest. Fans also can watch each day's test session for free, beginning at 9 a.m.

Jan. 13: NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Fan Fest
Jan. 17: NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Fan Fest
Jan. 21: NASCAR Busch Series Fan Fest

Preseason testing continues at Daytona ... NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series testing resumes Jan. 16-18 at Daytona International Speedway, with the even-ranked teams in the 2005 car owner point standings. The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series tests from Jan. 13-Jan. 15 while the NASCAR Busch Series tests from Jan. 20- 22.

Fast Facts

Session I: All NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series teams in odd positions in car owner point standings as of July 13, 2005

What: NASCAR Jackson Hewitt Preseason Thunder testing for the 2006 Daytona 500

Where: Daytona International Speedway.

Track Layout: 2.5-mile tri-oval superspeedway.

When: Monday, Jan. 9 through Wednesday, Jan. 11.

Times: 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Includes one-hour lunch break from noon until 1 p.m.

Who: Jimmie Johnson, Mike McLaughlin, Elliott Sadler, Ryan Newman, Jeremy Mayfield, Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Martin Truex Jr., Jeff Burton, Kasey Kahne, David Stremme, Reed Sorenson, Ken Schrader, Bobby Labonte, Bill Elliott, Jeff Fuller, Mike Skinner, Kenny Wallace and Scott Wimmer.

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Burton , Bill Elliott , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Mike Skinner , Ken Schrader , Jeff Fuller , Kenny Wallace , Ryan Newman , Mike McLaughlin , Jimmie Johnson , Kasey Kahne , Martin Truex Jr. , David Stremme , Elliott Sadler , Reed Sorenson