NASCAR Preseason Thunder Day 15: A Learning Experience LAS VEGAS (Jan. 26, 2004) -- Most people don't mistake racetracks for laboratories, but this week, Las Vegas Motor Speedway is providing quite a stage for experimentation. Numerous NASCAR...
NASCAR Preseason Thunder Day 15: A Learning Experience
LAS VEGAS (Jan. 26, 2004) -- Most people don't mistake racetracks for laboratories, but this week, Las Vegas Motor Speedway is providing quite a stage for experimentation.
Numerous NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series and NASCAR Busch Series teams continued their 2004 on-track preparations Monday, using the 1.5-mile Las Vegas track as a literal proving ground. Those teams opened the western installment of NASCAR Preseason Thunder, the annual preseason test sessions that began at Daytona International Speedway in early January, and will end after four days out west this week.
A total of 45 drivers -- 32 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series drivers and 13 NASCAR Busch Series drivers -- will test at Las Vegas, beginning with Monday's morning and afternoon sessions, and ending after Thursday's afternoon session. Several drivers, including reigning and two-time Daytona 500 champion Michael Waltrip (No. 15 NAPA Chevrolet) and the reigning champion of NASCAR's premiere series, Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DeWALT Ford), are testing cars for both series.
Since the western edition of NASCAR Preseason Thunder isn't a NASCAR-run test, official speeds aren't compiled. But at the top of everyone's list is gathering feedback about new tire compounds and new template changes for 2004 -- research that Waltrip doesn't mind conducting.
"I think change is great," said Waltrip, who tested his NASCAR Busch Series car (No. 99 Aaron's Sales & Lease Chevrolet) on Monday. "Especially with the way our sport has historically addressed change, which is methodically."
The Las Vegas test represents teams' first look at the new tire compounds, which will be used at several different tracks and are designed for quicker wear. The new templates represent the latest aerodynamic adjustments.
"I didn't really know what to expect from the tires," said Waltrip after the morning test session, adding that, "From what I can tell, there will definitely be less gas-and-gos. The tire is good in the beginning, and by the end it goes away."
Tommy Baldwin, the crew chief for 2004 Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate Kasey Kahne (Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge), said his crew was concentrating more on "driver feel." But Baldwin saw enough during Monday's morning session to voice some observations.
"The tires are going to help us in the beginning," Baldwin said. "I'm sure you're not going to really know anything until we get back in March in race conditions and run all the long runs, 40 or 50 laps, and see what happens."
NEWS OF NOTE
* On tap for Tuesday ... Media covering Tuesday's western edition of NASCAR Preseason Thunder will have the opportunity to visit with Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet), who finished second last season in the NASCAR Top 10. Both Kenseth and Johnson will meet with media during Tuesday's lunch break.
* Ready to race ... Among the drivers testing NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series cars on Monday was Kyle Busch (No. 84 CARQUEST Chevrolet), the younger brother of NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series regular Kurt Busch (No. 97 Sharpie IRWIN Ford). Kyle Busch, who will drive Hendrick Motorsports' No. 5 Lowe's Chevrolet fulltime in the NASCAR Busch Series, will attempt to qualify for the March 7 UAW- DaimlerChrysler 400 at Las Vegas, the third race of the season. If he succeeds, he'll make his NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series debut.
"So far, so good," Kyle Busch said after Monday's morning session. "I think it went pretty well. We've got a lot of work to do."
Busch knows he's facing a bright spotlight early in 2004. The 18-year-old is succeeding current NASCAR Busch Series champion Brian Vickers in the No. 5, and if he succeeds in making his NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series debut in March, he'll likely do so with brother Kurt in the field -- before their hometown Las Vegas fans.
"Hopefully I can do the best job I can with that and have some fun," said Kyle Busch, who hopes to qualify for seven NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series races along with his fulltime NASCAR Busch Series schedule.
And even though the Busch family now makes its home in North Carolina, Kyle Busch knows making his NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series debut in Las Vegas -- with Kurt in the same field -- would rank as a dream come true.
"Of course we've got the family from here," he said. "So we'd like to put on a good show for them."
* Etc. ... Johnny Sauter (No. 30 AOL Chevrolet) was the first driver on the track Monday. Sauter, also a candidate for 2004 Raybestos Rookie of the Year, kicked off the western edition of NASCAR Preseason Thunder at approximately 9:10 a.m. (PST).
What: NASCAR Preseason Thunder.
Where: Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
When: Jan. 26-29.
Track layout: 1.5-mile tri-oval speedway.
Jan. 26-29 -- NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series teams and NASCAR Busch Series teams.