NASCAR Jackson Hewitt Preseason Thunder at Daytona - Day Two * Defending Champion Jimmie Johnson Finished Reflecting On 2006; Looking Ahead To 2007 * Dodge Announces Plans For Avenger Model To Debut At Bristol Motor Speedway * Ricky Rudd ...
NASCAR Jackson Hewitt Preseason Thunder at Daytona - Day Two
* Defending Champion Jimmie Johnson Finished Reflecting On 2006; Looking Ahead To 2007
* Dodge Announces Plans For Avenger Model To Debut At Bristol Motor Speedway
* Ricky Rudd Begins Career Comeback And Finds New Role At Robert Yates Racing
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 9, 2007) -- Day two of NASCAR Jackson Hewitt Preseason Thunder testing at Daytona International Speedway brought clear skies and high speeds.
In the midst of Tuesday's schedule, reigning NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series and Daytona 500 champion Jimmie Johnson (right, No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) reflected on his place in the sport.
"I'm glad it's here," he said. "I'm happy to be back at the race track. I rolled in thinking 'man, I won here last time we were here for this race!' At the same time I thought, 'I'm also the champion!' It's been a great, emotional ride for myself [and] for the team.
"We've always been confident, but winning the championship, I feel, will really change the way we approach the year. We know it's time to get back to work.
"We learned more about ourselves through all of that and we're excited to get into '07," Johnson said. "We feel like the Car of Tomorrow, what it brings and the challenges for that car; it's going to help the No. 48 team and help Hendrick Motorsports. And, with the current car that we have, we feel like we're on top of things there, as well."
Johnson arrives in Daytona as one of the more dominant drivers over the past five seasons at this race track.
In five Daytona 500 starts, Johnson has four top-five finishes, including his victory last season. Johnson also has three top-10 finishes in the Pepsi 400. In 10 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series races at Daytona, he's finished off the lead lap only once -- in his first Daytona 500 in 2002, when he was one lap down. He won the 2005 Budweiser Shootout exhibition race and finished fifth in his only NASCAR Busch Series start here, in 2001.
"It's time to look forward to 2007," Johnson said. "[We'll] fall back on the confidence of 2006, but we have a whole new set of circumstances to deal with and a whole new year to worry about."
After a morning session of single car runs, the track was opened up for drafting in the afternoon. Just as they'll do in the Daytona 500, drivers bunched together to take advantage of the aerodynamic draft created by multiple cars running together.
New Role as Rudd Returns ... After taking a break from full-time competition in 2006, Ricky Rudd (No. 88 Snickers Ford) has re-joined Robert Yates Racing and began his comeback at NASCAR Jackson Hewitt Preseason Thunder at Daytona.
"[Last year] I got a chance to clear my head and I found out what I really wanted to do is race," Rudd said. "I wanted to be in competitive cars and the opportunity sort of presented itself. Robert is bound and determined to try to build this thing back up to where it was and he's there every morning, opening the doors of the shop."
Along with resurrecting his own career, Rudd has an opportunity to serve as a mentor to teammate David Gilliland (No. 38 M&Ms Ford), who joined the organization in 2006. Gilliland has shown flashes of potential that bring newfound motivation to Rudd, a 31-year veteran of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series.
"David Gilliland can drive as good as anybody out there, but he has not seen these race tracks, so I can help him on that," Rudd said. "There are many positives there, and I was kind of excited about the challenge and I'm back.
"[David] needs to learn how to race a 500-mile race, and I'm sure he's come a long way since he first stepped in the car in the middle of the season," Rudd said. "He's got some ways to go, but I think those are mental things you go through as a driver to put a 500 mile race together, and I think he's definitely going to come into his own this coming season."
Gilliland, who began his career on the West Coast in Super Late Models and the NASCAR Grand National Division, won the 2005 NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown at Irwindale Speedway before embarking on a partial NASCAR Busch Series schedule in 2006.
Following a dramatic upset victory at Kentucky Speedway, Gilliland made 15 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series starts and won the pole for the fall race at Talladega Superspeedway.
Rudd owns the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series record for consecutive starts, with 788 starts from 1981-2005. Robert Yates Racing, meanwhile, won at least one race every year from 1989 to 2005, including three Daytona 500 victories -- in 1992 with Davey Allison, and 1996 and 2000 with Dale Jarrett.
Avenger is Dodge's Choice for Car of Tomorrow Model ... The Car of Tomorrow brings many exciting changes to the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series, including a new model from the Chrysler Group. The manufacturer announced plans today for the Dodge Avenger to compete in the 16 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series events in 2007 that will feature the Car of Tomorrow. The Avenger is scheduled to debut at Bristol Motor Speedway in March, when the Car of Tomorrow will be raced for the first time.
Numbers Game ... Cars bearing No. 88 have appeared in 1,237 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series races and been driven to 65 victories.
This year, Robert Yates Racing retains the number as Ricky Rudd returns to the organization. Rudd drove a No. 88 car earlier in his career, while driving for DiGard Racing, and nearly picked it up again when he owned his own team during the mid 1990's.
"We kind of hoped for the 28 [in 2007] but I guess it didn't really work out," said Rudd. "When I had my own car, the Tide car, we rolled it out of the paint shop and we had the choice of 88 and 10. We didn't know which one we were going to use and we actually stuck both of the numbers on the car when we had the photo shoot. We shot it both ways, but we liked the 10 on it because of the looks of it -- we liked it a little better but it could have been either the 88 or 10."
As an owner-driver in the No. 10 car, Rudd won six races and recorded 31 top-five finishes during the 1994-99 seasons.
On Deck: NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Testing Jan. 12-14 ... The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series will hold its test at Daytona International Speedway Jan. 12-14, in preparation for the Feb. 16 Chevy Silverado HD 250. The three-day session will include all teams and more than 40 competitors are expected to participate.
Fast Facts Session I:
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series teams in odd positions in car owner standings as of July 12, 2006
What: NASCAR Jackson Hewitt Preseason Thunder testing for the 2007 Daytona 500
Where: Daytona International Speedway
Track Layout: 2.5-mile tri-oval.
When: Monday, Jan. 8 through Thursday, Jan. 11.
Times: 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.; 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. Thursday.
Who: Reed Sorenson, Casey Mears, Joe Nemechek, Sterling Marlin, Dave Blaney, P.J. Jones, Eric McClure, Brian Vickers, Ricky Rudd, Morgan Shepherd, Jeff Green, Tony Raines, Kirk Shelmerdine, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Jarrett Jamie McMurray, Scott Riggs, Scott Wimmer, Kasey Kahne, Bobby Labonte, Martin Truex Jr., Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Greg Biffle and Mike McLaughlin.