Fontana Preseason Thunder - Day one notes

Home Track, Home State: Kevin Harvick "Happy" With California Speedway Test Results * Reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion Jimmie Johnson Has California Work To Do * Denny Hamlin Fastest In Thursday's Morning Session DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.

Home Track, Home State: Kevin Harvick "Happy" With California Speedway Test Results

* Reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion Jimmie Johnson Has California Work To Do
* Denny Hamlin Fastest In Thursday's Morning Session

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 31, 2008) -- Perhaps it was the West Coast air or proximity to his hometown of Bakersfield, but Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet) was happy to go to work Thursday at California Speedway.

"I think everybody has figured out why everybody likes to live in California -- because of the weather today," he said during a lunch-break visit to the track's infield media center.

Sunshine and a calm atmosphere aside, the fit and feel of his car during the first session of a two-day NASCAR Sprint Cup Series test at California also had Harvick -- the defending Daytona 500 champion whose nickname is "Happy" -- distributing verbal kudos.

Thursday's and Friday's California test was preceded by a two-day session earlier in the week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, all part of NASCAR Preseason Thunder -- NASCAR's annual January test sessions -- and all in preparation for the first fulltime season of competition for NASCAR's new race car.

With the snow-capped San Gabriel mountains overshadowing the backstretch and none of the wind that plagued drivers Monday in Las Vegas, Harvick said positive results from earlier in the week in Nevada seem to have crossed state borders. He was 13th-fastest during Thursday's morning session -- 180.180 mph (39.960 seconds) while Richard Childress Racing teammate Clint Bowyer (No. 07 Jack Daniel's Chevrolet) was ninth-quickest at 180.537 mph (39.881 seconds)

"As we went to Las Vegas, I think everybody was surprised just how well the cars unloaded," Harvick said Thursday. "I think the most difficult thing we've experienced probably over the last few days is just the different mindsets coming into the different styles of racetracks.

"Las Vegas is very wide open, lots of grip. Here you slide around and there's a lot of fall-off on the tires. So just trying to understand the difference from the setup that you're going to take from Las Vegas to here was a good experience for us."

This week's West Coast test is yielding research crucial to early-season races. But regardless of data accumulated and lessons learned, Harvick says one reason for the new car's genesis should not be forgotten -- safety.

"You can get in and out of the cars no problem with your helmet on," he said. "You've got plenty of room. Your head's not resting against the window net. You don't have any problems getting the seats mounted in the cars.

"It has to be applauded just for the fact that the safety side of it is tremendously better just because the drivers are more comfortable in the cars, able to get in and out of them easier."

Johnson, Gilliland and Edwards Round Out Thursday Media Visits ... Two other California natives followed Harvick to the infield-media podium. One -- reigning and two-time series champion Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) -- admitted to some Thursday-morning challenges.

"If I had the answer, we'd fix it," he said of less-than-pleasing test laps. "We're working hard on it. The car has had a major push in it. It's early. We've got a lot of time to figure stuff out and teammates to lean on now that we're on break and try to figure out what's going on."

One thing the El Cajon native has figured out is that relying on past title momentum won't help him in his pursuit of a third NASCAR Sprint Cup crown.

"It does build more confidence in us that we're doing the right things, working the right areas, all the pieces are in place," Johnson said. "It does build confidence there. At the same time, we'd be foolish if we let it carry over much more than that. Last year was last year. January 1 we had to close the books on it and leave that there. This is a new year with new challenges."

David Gilliland (No. 38 Yates Racing Ford), the Riverside, Calif. native, who's part of the new Yates Racing team that succeeds its predecessor Roberts Yates Racing, says he's anticipating the 2008 season -- his second in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

"I feel like here at the end of practice we're real close to where we need to be," Gilliland said. "I'm very happy with the progress we made. I think we had a great test at Vegas. Really excited about my opportunities this year with Yates Racing. Feel really good about our chances to be able to be much more competitive than we were last year. Real excited about that."

And he didn't hesitate to name his biggest lessons learned.

"The biggest thing at the Cup level is the races are two to sometimes three times longer than anything I've done," Gilliland said. "You got to learn, when you're racing, you have to take chances and push the envelope.

"You just learn that sometimes taking that chance isn't worth it. Just patience is the biggest thing that I've learned and feel like that's going to help me the best this year."

Carl Edwards (No. 99 Office Depot Ford) was the final driver to visit with media on Thursday; he also reported positive California test results.

"I was surprised how well the car drove around here," Edwards said, citing the move from Las Vegas' 1.5-mile track to California's 2-mile layout. "It felt a lot like the other cars we've run here before. I'm really looking forward to testing some more. It's going to get warmer and slicker out there. We'll see how the cars are going to handle with low grip. I think it's going to be pretty fun."

Pit Stops ... Denny Hamlin (No. 1 FedEx Toyota) posted the two fastest laps in Thursday's morning session. His best was 182.523 mph (39.447 seconds); his second-fastest lap was 181.800 mph (39.604 seconds). Ryan Newman (No. 12 Alltel Dodge) was third at 181.511 mph (39.667 seconds). Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M's Toyota) was fourth at 181.470 mph (39.676 seconds). Mark Martin (No. 8 U.S. Army Chevrolet) was fifth at 181.456 mph (39.679 seconds).

Fast Facts

Session III: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams at California Speedway -- Thursday, Jan. 31 through Friday, Feb. 1

What: NASCAR Preseason Thunder testing

Track Layouts: Las Vegas (1.5-mile tri-oval); California (2-mile oval).

Times: Session I and II -- 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Session III -- 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. on Jan. 31; 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Feb. 1

Who: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers at Las Vegas and California; NASCAR Nationwide Series drivers at Las Vegas.

-credit: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Kevin Harvick , Ryan Newman , Jimmie Johnson , Carl Edwards , David Gilliland , Denny Hamlin , Kyle Busch , Mark Martin
Teams Richard Childress Racing , Yates Racing