BUSCH: Preseason Thunder wraps up with Dale Jr fastest

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., (Jan. 24, 2003) -- NASCAR Preseason Thunder concluded on Friday at Daytona International Speedway with a final day of NASCAR Busch Series testing for the season-opening Feb. 15 Koolerz 300. Dale Earnhardt Jr., last year's ...

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., (Jan. 24, 2003) -- NASCAR Preseason Thunder concluded on Friday at Daytona International Speedway with a final day of NASCAR Busch Series testing for the season-opening Feb. 15 Koolerz 300.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., last year's Koolerz 300 winner, topped the speed charts with both of his No. 8 Oreo/Ritz Crackers Chevrolet Monte Carlos for the second consecutive day.

Earnhardt Jr.'s No. 8N Chevrolet was fastest with a lap of 183.520 mph around the famed 2.5-mile tri-oval while the No. 8 Chevrolet was second fastest with a lap of 182.589.

Rounding out the top-five drivers on Friday was Shane Hmiel (182.146), three-time Koolerz 300 winner Randy LaJoie (182.013), Mike McLaughlin (181.936) and Jason Keller (181.594).

Hmiel doesn't have any problems being second to Earnhardt Jr. in the test session. In fact, Hmiel is grateful to Earnhardt Jr. for speedy up his learning curve on the restrictor-plate tracks like Daytona.

"I've only know Dale Jr. for about four years, since my dad's been working at DEI," Hmiel said. "We've just become good friends right of the bat. We like to do the same things. We both like video games, we both like fast cars, girls. We've both had dads that have been pretty successful in racing.

"He told me some stuff last year that has carried on this year and it's made us as fast as where we are. The last two days we've been second to both his cars and it doesn't get much better than that."

Jimmy Vasser turned the fastest lap of NASCAR Busch Series testing at Daytona with a lap 184.158 mph in the No. 19 Braun Racing Dodge earlier this week. Beginning with the Koolerz 300, the former CART champ will run a limited NASCAR Busch Series schedule this season with Braun Racing.

Teams testing on Friday at the Speedway were permitted a one-hour drafting session in the final hour of the day.

NEWS AND NOTES

LaJoie's odd streak: Randy LaJoie, driver of the No. 7 Kleenex Pontiac, has an odd streak going in the Koolerz 300. In odd years - 1997, 1999 and 2001 - LaJoie has been able to pull off victories in the Koolerz 300. LaJoie thinks this could be his year to win the Koolerz 300 a fourth time.

"'97, '99 and 2001 were very good years for me," LaJoie said. "We didn't have a good 2002, so we're going to bring back the car that we won with in 2001."

Cold day: Temperatures during Friday's test session hovered in the low 30s. Crews kept the garage doors closed and had their heaters working overtime while drivers found comfort in their cars.

Said Joe Ruttman: "When someone says it's going to be cold out down there, you don't say anything but you think to yourself, 'That's going to be great for me.' You don't tell (the crew). All the mechanics are wearing gloves and hats. You're just perfect and you're going to stay in the car. I don't ever get out. I just sit there like a mannequin. You don't want to jump out and freeze your fanny off."

Ruttman was testing the No. 1 Yellow Freight Dodge for James Finch's Phoenix Racing. Jamie McMurray is scheduled to drive the car in the Feb. 15 Koolerz 300.

Said LaJoie: "It's a whole lot warmer in the cars than it is on top of a (hauler)."

-dis-

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About this article
Series NASCAR XFINITY
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jason Keller , Jimmy Vasser , Mike McLaughlin , Jamie McMurray , Joe Ruttman , Shane Hmiel
Teams Phoenix Racing