Preseason Thunder: Daytona day three report

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.

Practice action.
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"We have had a terrific test even though it got off to a rocky start when we crashed one of our cars on Tuesday, but it just shows you how prepared this team was and is," Waltrip said. "They had two cars here that were going to be strong, but we'll go home and fix the other one and go to Talladega with it.

"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

-dis-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Ward Burton , Dale Jarrett , Matt Kenseth , Jeremy Mayfield , Tony Stewart , Michael Waltrip , Kevin Harvick , Joe Nemechek , Jeff Green , Kurt Busch , Mike McLaughlin , Ricky Craven , Jamie McMurray , Kasey Kahne , Scott Wimmer , Brendan Gaughan , Chip Ganassi , Dave Blaney , Mark Martin
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing