Fontana West test, day one report

NASCAR Preseason Thunder Day 15: Windy Weather: NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Tackles California Test FONTANA, Calif. (Feb. 2, 2005) -- Test sessions are for shaking down new cars, adjusting to new rules and building season-long data bases.

NASCAR Preseason Thunder Day 15: Windy Weather: NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Tackles California Test

FONTANA, Calif. (Feb. 2, 2005) -- Test sessions are for shaking down new cars, adjusting to new rules and building season-long data bases. Battling Mother Nature usually doesn't make the to-do list, but Wednesday at California Speedway, many NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series teams had to figure wind resistance into their test plans.

Strong Santa Ana winds -- seasonal gusts that whip thru West Coast mountains and desert -- sent garbage cans flying in the garage. They also played havoc with spoilers, bumpers and handling as the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series embarked on the next-to-last day of NASCAR Preseason Thunder.

The annual preseason test sessions that began Jan. 11 at Daytona International Speedway, NASCAR Preseason Thunder moved west this week for the final four days. On Monday and Tuesday, the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series tested at Las Vegas while the NASCAR Busch Series tested at California Speedway. The series switched tracks for Wednesday's and Thursday's sessions, and what was the occasional nuisance gust in Las Vegas became a steady gale in Fontana.

"The wind's very tough today," said Elliott Sadler (No. 38 M&M's Ford), who visited the California media center during Wednesday's lunch break. "How much are we going to learn? Because chances are it's not going to be like that when we come back."

Wind or not, California native -- El Cajon, to be exact -- Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) was just happy to be back in the Golden State. As far as he's concerned, the Santa Ana blew a welcome his way.

"What I like most is being in my home state," Johnson said. "I like coming home. I'm excited NASCAR is in California and excited that it has come to west coast."

When the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series does comes back to California, it will do so Sunday, Feb. 27 for the second race of the season. The Auto Club 500 is one week after the season-opening Daytona 500. The defending race champion is Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet), another Wednesday visitor to the media center, and although he'd love to repeat -- plus win a third career Daytona 500 -- he admitted his immediate attention is on the on-track knowledge he and his team are accumulating this week.

"Right now we're just focused on here and Las Vegas and seeing what we have at the downforce tracks," said Gordon, referring to Las Vegas' 1.5-mile and California's 2-mile lengths. And he acknowledged Mother Nature's challenge.

"We are really struggling right now with the wind," Gordon said. "I don't know how much valuable information we are going to get out of this test if the wind keeps up like this and I think it is supposed to."

Still, the No. 24 team has a considerable bank of knowledge it can withdraw from should the wind skew test results. Gordon is a three-time winner at California, and comfort factors can't be overestimated.

"I don't know why we have had such good success here," he said Wednesday. "I mean I think it is like anywhere else. I think it is a combination of just really well prepared race cars, good horsepower and giving me a comfort. On the first lap on the track today, I did, I felt really comfortable. Is that the cars or me? It's hard to say. We are always looking for good results and we continue to get them out here and we want to keep that going."

So does Sadler, who won last year's Labor Day weekend event at California and would like a second consecutive victory at the track -- wind or not.

"It's great to come back to a track you won at because your confidence is unbelievable," Sadler said.

"We're kind of picking up where we left off. We're comfortable. I feel like I could pack it up, come back here and have a good shot at winning."

NEWS OF NOTE

On tap for Thursday ... Media covering Day 16 of NASCAR Preseason Thunder at Las Vegas and California will have plenty of interview options. During Thursday's lunch break at Las Vegas, Martin Truex Jr. (No. 8 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet), the 2004 NASCAR Busch Series champion, will visit the media center. At California, Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Goodwrench Chevrolet) will visit the media center at 8:30 a.m. During the lunch break, Roush Racing teammates Kurt Busch (No. 97 IRWIN Industrial Tools/Sharpie Ford) and Mark Martin (No. 6 Viagra Ford) will visit the media center at noon and 12:30 p.m. PT, respectively.

Learning California, the breezy way ... Even though Wednesday's winds proved a headache and occasional frustration, they didn't affect teams' work ethics.

"We can at least compare ourselves to everybody else," said Ryan Newman (No. 12 ALLTEL Dodge). "You can still learn some things. It's not ideal. The conditions are definitely less than ideal, but it's still basically a free opportunity to get some information while we're already out here." But, yes, sometimes drivers did feel a bit buffeted.

"You enter the corner and the left front will be turning," said Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge). "The next thing you know you feel a gust of wind and it won't turn as good. Going down the straightaway you hit wind and the car will slow down and it pushes you off into turn three. You get off the gas but you're going faster than you want it to go and you miss the corner. It's been a tough test so far battling the wind and race track."

Fast Facts

What: NASCAR Preseason Thunder -- NASCAR Busch Series.
Where: Las Vegas Motor Speedway and California Speedway.
When: Jan. 31-Feb. 3.

Track layout: 1.5-mile tri-oval (Las Vegas) and 2-mile tri-oval (California).

Test schedule: Jan. 31-Feb. 2 -- NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series at Las Vegas, NASCAR Busch Series at California; Feb. 1-3 -- NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series at California, NASCAR Busch Series at Las Vegas.

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Kevin Harvick , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Jimmie Johnson , Kasey Kahne , Martin Truex Jr. , Elliott Sadler