BUSCH: Western Swing of NASCAR Preseason Thunder first day

42 drivers scheduled to test over four days at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. LAS VEGAS (Jan. 27, 2003) -- Four-time NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon and defending Daytona 500 champion Ward Burton were among 18 drivers that kicked off...

42 drivers scheduled to test over four days at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

LAS VEGAS (Jan. 27, 2003) -- Four-time NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon and defending Daytona 500 champion Ward Burton were among 18 drivers that kicked off the western swing of NASCAR Preseason Thunder on Monday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The western swing of NASCAR Preseason Thunder is scheduled to draw 42 drivers from the NASCAR Winston Cup Series and NASCAR Busch Series during the four days of private testing at the 1.5-mile oval. Joining Gordon and Burton on Monday were Jimmie Johnson, Joe Nemechek, Jeremy Mayfield, Greg Biffle, Kurt Busch, Ken Schrader, Steve Park, Johnny Benson, Mike Skinner, Jack Sprague, Jeff Green, Matt Kenseth, Stanton Barrett Jr., Kevin Grubb, Bobby Hamilton Jr. and Scott Lynch.

Judging from the amount of teams scheduled to test over the four-day period, Las Vegas provides ideal weather conditions while the track provides valuable information that can carry over to other tracks similar in size.

"A lot of it is just that this is a great track because you need a lot of downforce," Gordon said. "The car goes through a lot of transitions and some of the same characteristics that we find at a lot of these mile-and-a-half racetracks now.

"Plus, the weather. I think we'd all rather be in Kentucky, testing at a non-Winston Cup track that everybody loves to, but with all the snow and ice and everything that has been going on back East, you can't do it. There are a lot of things that you can learn here that apply to a lot of different race tracks."

Added his teammate Johnson: "At Vegas, we know we'll get a good environment, there will be a lot of cars out here to gauge off of and see where we're at. It's a great place to come out and get some consistent data and get a couple good days on the race track."

With the weeklong sessions being a private test for teams, no official timing and scoring is available. However, unofficial top lap times and speeds were provided by the teams.

Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) posted the fastest unofficial lap of the 13 drivers who tested NASCAR Winston Cup cars in race trim at 168.161 miles per hour (32.112 secs.).

"It's so early that with all the changes that happen each year, this (track) is a true test of what you have for your downforce package," Johnson said. "Rockingham is hard to tell because the track is so rough, and there's so much mechanical grip involved, when we get to Vegas it's a lot more aero-dependant track so it's our first real try at seeing what we have for our downforce cars. With that in mind, a lot of people come here and test."

"Our test sessions are so valuable -- we only have five now in the (NASCAR) Winston Cup Series," Johnson continued. "Coming from our rookie year last year where we had 12 (tests), we tested a lot more and had a lot more opportunities to figure out our race car. Now, we have to make the most of every test that we have."

Johnson was followed by Gordon (No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet) at 167.162 mph (32.304 secs.); Ken Schrader (No. 49 BAM Racing Dodge) at 166.564 mph (32.420); Greg Biffle (No. 16 Grainger Ford) at 166.461 mph (32.44); and Las Vegas native Kurt Busch (No. 97 Rubbermaid Ford) at 165.899 mph (32.55).

"The times aren't bad, the track has good grip and the car has good grip so you can be pretty aggressive," Gordon said. "I think it's really interesting that this is the first time that I can ever remember where all the manufacturers were this close as far as wind tunnel numbers, templates, all that and I think it's great."

Todd Bodine (No. 54 National Guard Ford) had the fastest lap in qualifying trim. The defending polesitter of this race posted a lap of 169.758 mph (31.81 secs.). Kenseth (Bayer Consumer Care Ford), a NASCAR Winston Cup regular who will run a partial NASCAR Busch Series schedule, paced the way among the NASCAR Busch Series cars with a lap of 162.489 mph (33.233 secs.)

Gordon and his opening-day group will close out their testing with Tuesday's session, where he will be joined by two more series champions. Reigning NASCAR Winston Cup champion Tony Stewart and 2000 series champ Bobby Labonte will pace the group of 13 new drivers scheduled to open their test session Tuesday. Stewart and Labonte will be joined by John Andretti, Jamie McMurray, Casey Mears, Michael Waltrip, Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick, Scott Riggs, Coy Gibbs, Mike Bliss, Mark Green and Scott Wimmer. NASCAR Winston Cup regulars Waltrip, Burton and Harvick are scheduled to test their NASCAR Busch Series cars in the sessions.

NASCAR Preseason Thunder, Western Swing.
Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Track layout: 1.5-mile oval.

Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

24 NASCAR Winston Cup Series and 18 NASCAR Busch Series drivers.

The stands will be open to fans free of charge each day.


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Drivers John Andretti , Jeff Burton , Ward Burton , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Michael Waltrip , Todd Bodine , Steve Park , Mike Skinner , Ken Schrader , Kevin Harvick , Joe Nemechek , Greg Biffle , Jeff Green , Kurt Busch , Bobby Hamilton Jr. , Casey Mears , Jimmie Johnson , Jack Sprague , Coy Gibbs , Jamie McMurray , Kevin Grubb , Scott Riggs , Scott Wimmer , Mike Bliss , Scott Lynch