Mike Wallace raises bar for Preseason Thunder at Daytona

Driver of No. 09 Dodge leads Wednesday tests at Daytona, posts week's fastest lap DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 8, 2003) * Mike Wallace may be an unproven driver in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, and his car may belong to a relatively small team....

Driver of No. 09 Dodge leads Wednesday tests at Daytona, posts week's fastest lap

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 8, 2003) * Mike Wallace may be an unproven driver in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, and his car may belong to a relatively small team. But this is one combination that must be taken seriously when the Daytona 500 rolls around on Feb. 16.

Wallace is driving the No. 09 Dodge owned by James Finch. It's a new body and new engine, but it's set atop the same chassis that Geoffrey Bodine used in two great Daytona International Speedway efforts in 2002. Bodine finished third last season's Daytona 500 and qualified second for the Pepsi 400.

More of the same occurred Wednesday, the second day of NASCAR Preseason Thunder, the annual preseason test sessions at Daytona International Speedway. Wallace had the fastest lap of the day * and the week * at 184.053 mph.

"We're a small team but very dedicated," said Wallace, brother of NASCAR Winston Cup Series drivers Rusty and Kenny Wallace. "Every team out there in that garage has a lot of pride.

"This is not a fluke."

Wallace discounted the notion that sandbagging * historically so prevalent during Daytona's tests * is obscuring the true meaning of posted times this time. Wallace said he thinks that while most teams may return to the Daytona 500 with more horsepower, so might the No. 09.

"We're not showing all we have either," Wallace said slyly. "But our car is extremely legal; that is the positive thing about it."

Wallace has 128 career NASCAR Winston Cup Series starts, with no victories and nine top-10 finishes. He said Wednesday that he has a five-race deal with Finch, sponsored by Miccosukee Resort in Miami * both Daytona races, both Talladega Superspeedway races and the season-finale at Homestead. The Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is also a possibility, he said.

Mike Skinner (No. 4 Kodak Max Pontiac), the fastest in Tuesday's first testing day, was second-fastest Wednesday at 183.786. Michael Waltrip (No. 15 NAPA Chevrolet), the 2001 Daytona 500 champion, was third-fastest at 183.572.

NEWS OF NOTE

On Tap Tomorrow. * Media covering Day 3 of NASCAR Preseason Thunder on Thursday will meet with the Roush Racing trio of Jeff Burton (8 a.m.), Matt Kenseth (8:15 a.m.) and Kurt Busch (8:30 a.m.); Elliott Sadler (12:10-12:30 p.m.); Rusty Wallace (12:30-12:50 p.m.); and the fastest driver of the day.

Conservation society. * Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) came storming out of the box last season as a NASCAR Winston Cup rookie, leading the way in winter testing and then going on to capture the Daytona 500 pole. Wednesday, Johnson was 32nd fastest in the morning and 30th in the afternoon session, but there is no cause for alarm for the team at NASCAR Preseason Thunder. "Last year coming down here we had to come out of the box with everything we had and play our game up front to make sure that we honestly knew where we were at," Johnson said. "We led the way in testing and were able to get the pole. We came here (this year) a little bit more conservative. We've got a little bit more room to go, but I feel everyone in the garage does as well. We're really not sandbagging or doing anything like that in that respect. The biggest challenge we have right now is we're learning a brand new car. This is the first time for Chad (Knaus, crew chief) and myself to work with on this new body style and it's just taking us a while to figure out the sweet spot that it likes."

Stewart relaxed, ready * Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet) had his first visit with the media at Daytona as the 2002 NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion before the start of Wednesday's morning session. Stewart said winning the championship has sunk in; now he's ready to win another one.

"I think it sunk in when I got home [after the banquet] and got to be around my friends that I hadn't seen in a while," Stewart said. "When I got back to Indiana for the holidays is probably when it sunk in the most * seeing what the local newspaper had done and just seeing the enthusiasm of the town."

Stewart, who has switched from Pontiac to Chevrolet this season, has set some new goals for this season.

"I think the goal that I've set for myself - and I told a couple of guys yesterday when we were talking about it - I said, 'My goal is to have fun this year - strictly to have fun.' If we win another championship, great."

Labonte adjusting to new ride * Bobby Labonte (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet), like his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Stewart, has switched from Pontiacs from Chevrolet. Labonte had the fastest car in a postseason November test of new Chevrolet bodies at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Accompanied by new crew chief Michael "Fatback" McSwain, he showed up at Preseason Thunder especially optimistic that he can regain the form that produced a NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship in 2000.

"I was excited, obviously, after that [Homestead] test was over," Labonte said. "I was ready to get down here [to Daytona] skip the tests and just go racing. Usually, you want a few days off but I was ready to go racing then. I feel good about starting off, hopefully, on the right foot."

ETC. * Daytona International Speedway has an online media center available. The Speedway's online media center is your best source for Speedweeks testing and events, photos, time and scoring information, quotes, video news release schedules and much more. Go to http://www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com/media. * DAYTONA USA will host another fan forum during this weekend's NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series tests, as NASCAR Preseason Thunder continues. On Saturday, Jan. 11, Bobby Hamilton, Bill Lester, Terry Cook and Jon Wood will participate in a question and answer session at noon inside the "Official Attraction of NASCAR." * All NASCAR Preseason Thunder testing sessions are open and free to the public with access to a section of the Oldfield Grandstand available through the lobby of DAYTONA USA. * Tickets to Speedweeks 2003 events are available online at www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or by calling the Speedway ticket office at (386) 253-7223.

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Bobby Hamilton , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Mike Skinner , Kenny Wallace , Mike Wallace , Kurt Busch , Jimmie Johnson , Terry Cook , Jon Wood , Bill Lester , Elliott Sadler
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing