Daytona Preseason Thunder, day 7 report

NASCAR JACKSON HEWITT PRESEASON THUNDER AT DAYTONA -- DAY SEVEN * Edwards set for increased exposure, expectations * Martin prepares for final Daytona 500 start * New teams and driver combinations getting acquainted DAYTONA BEACH, Fla....

NASCAR JACKSON HEWITT PRESEASON THUNDER AT DAYTONA -- DAY SEVEN

* Edwards set for increased exposure, expectations

* Martin prepares for final Daytona 500 start

* New teams and driver combinations getting acquainted

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 16, 2006) -- Carl Edwards (No. 99 Office Depot Ford) entered the 2005 season as a rookie with few expectations. Just one year later he is a favorite to win the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series championship.

But don't expect the upbeat Edwards to be intimidated. He hit the track for NASCAR Jackson Hewitt Preseason Thunder at Daytona with his usual optimism. Monday was the first day for teams ranked in the even-numbered positions in the 2005 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series car owner point standings (as of July 13, 2005) to test for the Daytona 500.

"I think the chances of us performing like last year are really good," Edwards assured the media on Monday. "I'm not thinking of this as a new season, I'm just trying to think of it as a break from Homestead to Daytona and we're just continuing with exactly what we were doing last year."

A continuation would make Edwards and team owner Jack Roush favorites not only to make the 2006 Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup, but also bring home the trophy.

The 26 year-old finished last season as one of the series' hottest drivers. He had eight top-10 finishes in last year's Chase, including four top fives. He also finished in the top six in the final four races and had back-to-back victories at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway.

But now Edwards has to adjust to his new-found fame.

"You get recognized a lot more, which is a lot of fun," Edwards said. "I pulled up to a stoplight the other day and people were staring at me. I was like, 'Why are they staring at me?' That's kind of wild to me. I've had a lot more calls about going to run dirt races or going to make appearances, so it's a little different. I'm having to prioritize things because there was definitely a time, not too long ago, when I just wished I had something to do related to racing." After fighting the odds and reaching the level he has, Edwards knows he cannot lose focus on the reason he is here.

"The number one thing to me is to be the fastest race car driver I can be," he said. As for finding the right balance between on-track performance and off-track commitments, Edwards is confident he is up to the task.

"I truly believe that if we run poorly this season that it won't be because my head is not in the right place," he said. "I think that it would be naïve to think that I would let something go that I've worked so hard for."

"But if there is one thing I think I excel at, it is being single minded and focused. And I'll be damned if I let anything get in the way of having a good year."

Martin gears up for final NASCAR NEXTEL Cup season ... At this time last year, Mark Martin (No. 6 AAA Ford) was preparing for his final season in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series. After 17 seasons with owner Jack Roush and the No. 6 team, Martin was planning the next phase of his career -- a full season in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.His plans were soon squashed when Roush Racing was affected by several driver changes. When Roush realized he needed Martin back for one more season to ease the transition, Martin was quick to assist the owner who had stuck by him from the start.And now, preparing for his final season in NASCAR's top circuit -- again -- Martin will get one more chance to win the Daytona 500 and the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup title, two prizes he has yet to capture."I'm feeling good about the team," Martin said. "There is no reason why we shouldn't have as good a year as last year. There's no reason. I mean, we've got it all. If anything, we've improved on things. I'll certainly drive my heart out, and these guys will have my undivided attention when it comes time to get ready for these races and to focus and to go racing."Before focusing on a championship run, Martin knows he needs a strong performance at Daytona."It's the biggest race of the year and I need to win it," Martin said. "This is my last chance. We'll just try to get in front on the last lap and hog the track." Second NASCAR NEXTEL Cup session has full roster ... A total of 33 NASCAR

NEXTEL Cup Series teams made the trip to Daytona International Speedway to test for the 2006 Daytona 500. Four participants in the 2005 Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup are in attendance. Joining Mark Martin and Carl Edwards are Greg Biffle (No. 16 National Guard/Subway Ford) and Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge). Three former Daytona 500 champions -- three-time champion Dale Jarrett (No. 88 UPS Ford), two-time champion Sterling Marlin (No. 14 Waste Management Chevrolet) and two-time champion Michael Waltrip (No. 55 NAPA Dodge) -- are on hand.

Several veterans taking part in the session include Robby Gordon (No. 7 Jim Beam/Harrah's/Menards Chevrolet), Kyle Petty (No. 45 Dodge), Joe Nemechek (No. 01 U.S. Army Chevrolet), Kevin Harvick (No. 29 GM Goodwrench) and 2005 Raybestos Rookie of the Year Kyle Busch (No. 5 Kellogg's Chevrolet) who return with the same team as last season. Scott Riggs (No. 10 Valvoline Dodge), Dave Blaney (No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge), Terry Labonte (No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevrolet), Casey Mears (No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge), Jeff Green (No. 66 Best Buy Chevrolet), Jamie McMurray (No. 26 IRWIN Industrial Tools/Sharpie Ford), and Travis Kvapil (No. 32 Tide/Downy Chevrolet) all are testing with their new teams.

Raybestos Rookie of the Year Award candidates Clint Bowyer (No. 07 Jack Daniel's Chevrolet), Denny Hamlin (No. 11 Fed Ex Chevrolet), J.J. Yeley (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet) and Brent Sherman (No. 49 Schwan's Dodge) are also present, preparing for their first Daytona 500 starts. Fan Fest offers fans Q&As with drivers, entertainment ... Select days during NASCAR Jackson Hewitt Preseason Thunder at Daytona, fans have the opportunity for an afternoon and evening of fun at Daytona International Speedway's NEXTEL FANZONE. Fan Fest will feature driver question and answer sessions, bands, show cars, pit-stop demonstrations, a silent auction and displays. The cost is $15 for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Fan Fest and $10 for the NASCAR Busch Series Fan Fest. Fans also can watch each day's test session for free, beginning at 9 a.m.


Jan. 17: NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Fan Fest
Jan. 21: NASCAR Busch Series Fan Fest

Kyle Busch leads Monday morning session ... The 2005 Raybestos Rookie of the Year, Kyle Busch, posted the fastest time of the first test session on Monday morning. Busch's fastest lap of 48.224 seconds (186.629 mph) led the pack. Sterling Marlin posted the second and fourth fast times of 48.232 seconds (186.598 mph) and 48.280 seconds (186.413 mph) respectively.

Preseason testing continues ... NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series testing continues at Daytona on Jan. 17 and 18. The NASCAR Busch Series wraps up preseason testing from Jan. 20-22.

Fast Facts

Session I: All NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series teams in even positions in car owner point standings as of July 13, 2005.

What: NASCAR Jackson Hewitt Preseason Thunder testing for the 2006 Daytona 500.

Where: Daytona International Speedway.

Track Layout: 2.5-mile tri-oval superspeedway.

When: Monday, Jan. 16 through Wednesday, Jan. 18.

Times: 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Includes one-hour lunch break from noon until 1 p.m.

Who: Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, Mark Martin, Kurt Busch, Jamie McMurray, Kevin Harvick, Dale Jarrett, Joe Nemechek, Kyle Busch, Casey Mears, Michael Waltrip, Dave Blaney, Kyle Petty, Jeff Green, Sterling Marlin, Travis Kvapil, Scott Riggs, Robby Gordon, Denny Hamlin, J.J. Yeley, Clint Bowyer, Brent Sherman.

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Jarrett , Terry Labonte , Michael Waltrip , Kyle Petty , Kevin Harvick , Joe Nemechek , Greg Biffle , Jeff Green , Sterling Marlin , Robby Gordon , Kurt Busch , Casey Mears , Jamie McMurray , Scott Riggs , Brent Sherman , J.J. Yeley , Carl Edwards , Clint Bowyer , Jack Roush , Denny Hamlin , Dave Blaney , Kyle Busch , Mark Martin , Travis Kvapil