Daytona 500 Champion Michael Waltrip Caps 'Terrific Test' ~39 Days Until The Daytona 500 ~ DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., (Jan. 8, 2004) -- Michael Waltrip finished the first NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series test session the same way he finished last year's...
Daytona 500 Champion Michael Waltrip Caps 'Terrific Test'
~39 Days Until The Daytona 500 ~
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., (Jan. 8, 2004) -- Michael Waltrip finished the first NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series test session the same way he finished last year's Daytona 500 - at the top of the score sheet.
Waltrip, the two-time and defending Daytona 500 champion, capped off the final day of odd-numbered NEXTEL Cup Series testing for the Feb. 15 "Great American Race" as the fastest driver with a speed of 187.731 mph.
"We still have a lot of stuff we are scratching our heads about, trying to diagnose what the data on the computer says combined with what the stop watch says and how it feels to me. We take in so much it takes a while to dissect exactly what changes were good and what package to come back to Daytona with in a few weeks."
In the late afternoon, teams were permitted to draft. Among the drivers drafting were Mark Martin, Brendan Gaughan, Matt Kenseth, Ricky Craven and Ward Burton.
Cars and pucks: Evernham Motorsports, the National Hockey League and Action Performance Companies, Inc. unveiled a new NHL All-Star paint scheme for the No. 19 Dodge Dealers-UAW Intrepid driven by NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series driver Jeremy Mayfield.
Mayfield will replace the Dodge Dealers logo with the official logo of the 2004 NHL All-Star Game in the Budweiser Shootout under the lights on Saturday, Feb. 7. The Budweiser Shootout is a 70-lap non-points race comprised of the previous season's pole sitters as well as past Budweiser Shootout champions. The NHL will drop the puck for the NHL All-Star Game the following night on Sunday, Feb. 8 in Minnesota.
"It's an honor for me to be a part of that," Mayfield said. "I think this is neat you can combine these two sports together and share the ice. To have the NHL on the car will be extra special. Hopefully I don't have to ice skate because I'm not very good at that.
"Most of the players were on ice skates as soon as they learned to walk. Drivers share that mentality. Most of us have been working at (racing) since we were kids too. The NHL All-Star Game is a showcase of the best players in the league. They deserve recognition in the Budweiser Shootout, a race where NASCAR's best are competing."
Drivers, Fans Chat During FanFest: Wednesday night's inaugural NASCAR Preseason Thunder FanFest, held outside of the historic Daytona International Speedway in the Daytona Club, was highlighted by fan forums that featured question and answer sessions between fans and drivers who were participating in the first NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series test session. Also included in the FanFest were DAYTONA USA's Pit Stop Challenge, show cars and silent auction of autographed items.
"It surprised me how many people were there," Mayfield said during his Thursday morning interview session with the media. "I couldn't believe it. It was pretty cool to go in and sit on the stage and answer questions so the fans could get to know you. I think that was pretty neat."
All of the proceeds from FanFest benefit the Brenners Children's Hospital (in Winston-Salem, N.C.), Speediatrics, Victory Junction Gang and the NASCAR Wives Auxiliaries.
Daytona International Speedway seemed the perfect venue for the FanFest as the drivers discussed their favorite racetracks.
"You have to say Daytona," Mayfield said during his FanFest session. "This is one you want to win - the Daytona 500. I love this place and can't wait to get back here."
Fans were able to get different perspectives of the importance of winning the biggest race in motorsports from two-time and defending Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip and rookie Kasey Kahne.
"It's what we're all about," said Waltrip. "Ever since I've been old enough to understand what life is all about, life has been, for the Waltrip family, centered around the Daytona 500. The stories that are played out in the Daytona 500 are unmatched and unparalleled in our sport. It's the biggest race. You win it once and it's amazing. I just want to try to win my third one. It'd mean a lot."
"I would have never expected to be in the Daytona 500," Kahne said. "Not that I'm in it yet - that's going to be an accomplishment in itself. Just to be here and be part of it - it's the most prestigious race that there is."
The next NASCAR Preseason Thunder FanFest is scheduled on Saturday, Jan. 10 with NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series drivers in the Daytona Club. Admission is $5 and can be purchased at the gate.
McMurray ready for sophomore season: Jamie McMurray, the 2003 Raybestos Rookie of the Year, is optimistic about his chances coming into his sophomore year driving the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Texaco/Havoline Dodge. He's looking forward to Speedweeks and his second Daytona 500 start.
"I really like coming here," McMurray said. "Just the town, I don't why, but there's something about. You've been to all these restaurants. It's a fun place to hang out."
Daytona Beach may be a fun city for McMurray now, but he would enjoy it even more if he could get a win in the Daytona 500.
"If there's any one race that you can put on your resume, that would definitely be the No. 1," McMurray said. "It blows me away when I look at Michael Waltrip's car and right now it says 'two-time champion' on it because he's won this race twice. There's no other race that we run that they classify it as a championship inside of itself. It's a huge deal to win this race with the history of this racetrack and when you look at the people that have won this race."
Filling in: Dave Blaney filled in for Scott Wimmer in the No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge for two days of this week's NEXTEL Cup Series test session and Mike McLaughlin subbed for Tony Stewart on Thursday.
Speedweeks 2004 tickets are available online at www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP.
<pre> Thursday's overall non-drafting speeds
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., * The fastest overall speeds on Thursday in non-drafting sessions on the final day of NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series testing in preparation for the Feb. 15 Daytona 500:
1. Michael Waltrip Chevrolet 187.731 mph 2. Dale Jarrett Ford 187.426 3. Brendan Gaughan Dodge 187.398 4. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet 187.009 5. Jeremy Mayfield Dodge 186.827 6. Jamie McMurray Dodge 186.827 7. Joe Nemechek Chevrolet 186.753 8. Jeff Green Dodge 186.699 9. Kevin Harvick Chevrolet 186.416 10. Ricky Craven Chevrolet 186.166 11. Ward Burton Chevrolet 185.498 12. Dave Blaney Dodge 185.448 13. Mark Martin Ford 185.330 14. Kasey Kahne Dodge 185.178 15. Kurt Busch Ford 185.143 16. Mike McLaughlin Chevrolet 185.109 17. Matt Kenseth Ford 184.961