BUSCH: Earnhardt Jr blisters Daytona with fast laps

Earnhardt Jr. blisters DIS sith fast laps during Preseason Thunder. DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., (Jan. 23, 2003) -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. quickly reminded everybody why he dominated and won last year's Koolerz 300 as the second wave of NASCAR Busch Series...

Earnhardt Jr. blisters DIS sith fast laps during Preseason Thunder.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., (Jan. 23, 2003) -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. quickly reminded everybody why he dominated and won last year's Koolerz 300 as the second wave of NASCAR Busch Series testing got underway at Daytona International Speedway.

Both of Earnhardt Jr.'s No. 8 Oreo/Ritz Crackers Chevrolets were atop the speed chart after the completion of Thursday's test session, which helps teams prepare for the season opening Koolerz 300 on Feb. 15. The No. 8N Chevrolet was the fastest with a speed of 183.658 mph while the No. 8 Chevrolet was second with a speed of 183.441 mph.

"I'm pretty happy about it," Earnhardt Jr. said. "I'm real happy that we worked real good today. The guys that we've put into place to work on that team have done a great job building the cars. They're real clean, real good. They're no problem or bugs to work as of yet. Hopefully, it'll be fast on race day."

The team, named Chance 2, was formed by Earnhardt Jr. and his stepmother Teresa Earnhardt. Earnhardt Jr. will compete in both Busch Series events at Daytona International Speedway and one at Talladega Superspeedway while Steve Park and rookie Martin Truex Jr. will also compete in selected events.

Earnhardt Jr. is right at home at Daytona. Along with last year's Koolerz 300 victory, he has also won the 2001 Pepsi 400. He has made it no secret that he enjoys racing around the 2.5-mile tri-oval and his Busch Series schedule reflects those feelings.

"I just like plate racing," Earnhardt Jr. said. "I like racing on the restrictor-plate tracks. I like the tracks. I like the speed. I like racing in the close packs, bumper to bumper. It's a little bit different than what we normally do throughout the year. I don't feel like I get enough of it. I'm going to get the opportunity to do some more of it this year."

Rounding out the top five in testing on Thursday were Shane Hmiel (181.958), Joe Ruttman (181.792), Coy Gibbs (181.616) and Kenny Wallace (181.547).

Wallace is filling in for Scott Wimmer, who was absent from the test attending a funeral.

Jason Keller has high hopes: After finishing second to Greg Biffle in the 2002 NASCAR Busch Series points standings, Jason Keller is thinking championship in 2003 for his No. 57 Albertson's Ford fielded by ppc Racing.

Keller, a native of Greenville, S.C., posted four victories in 2002 and finished 246 points behind Biffle. He reports that his team has had an excellent offseason and addressed their weaknesses.

"What's different for me mentally is that I expect to contend where as before I ws the wild-card guy," said Keller, who posted four wins in 2003. "I expect to contend for the championship. I expect to win some races and not just a one-race win season. Once you have those things, you begin to expect them.

"Hopefully, everything we've done in the off-season will make us better and we'll come out of the box and run strong. We have to put the whole season together. We had a real good half a season last year. It takes a whole season to win a championship. Hopefully we've learned form our mistakes."

Keller is also optimistic about the season-opening Koolerz 300 at Daytona. Last year, Keller posted top-five finishes in both the Koolerz 300 and the 250-mile nighttime summer race during Summer Speedweek.

Both he has also looked Thursday's test speeds and knows how stout Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be.

"It concerns me because I want to beat him," Keller said. "We knew coming down here he was going to have a fast race car. He doesn't just win in the Busch Series on restrictor-plate races, he wins in the Cup Series too. You've got the best in the business on restrictor-plate racing.

''He's going to be fast in the Busch car and he's going to be fast in the Cup car. We know that coming in. It concerns us. It gives us something to shoot for. I don't know if we have enough time between now and February to catch up."

-dis-

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About this article
Series NASCAR XFINITY
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Steve Park , Jason Keller , Kenny Wallace , Greg Biffle , Coy Gibbs , Joe Ruttman , Shane Hmiel , Scott Wimmer , Martin Truex Jr.