Preseason Thunder: Daytona day two report

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Looks Forward To Busy Speedweeks Second Day Of Testing And Daytona 500 Champ Michael Waltrip Still Fastest ~ 40 Days Until The Daytona 500 ~ DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., (Jan. 7, 2004) -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. is looking forward to a...

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Looks Forward To Busy Speedweeks
Second Day Of Testing And Daytona 500 Champ Michael Waltrip Still Fastest
~ 40 Days Until The Daytona 500 ~

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., (Jan. 7, 2004) -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. is looking forward to a busy Speedweeks 2004 at historic Daytona International Speedway.

Dale Earnhardt Jr..
Photo by Daytona International Speedway.
Not only has Earnhardt Jr. been busy testing his No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet during this week's NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series test session in preparation for the Feb. 15 Daytona 500, but he's also looking forward to the Rolex 24 At Daytona on Jan. 31-Feb. 1, the Budweiser Shootout on Saturday night, Feb. 7 and the Hershey's Kisses 300 NASCAR Busch Series race on Saturday, Feb. 14.

Earnhardt Jr., who won three races during Speedweeks 2003, was ninth fastest on Wednesday with a lap of 184.858 mph.

"We've got two cars that we brought," Earnhardt Jr. said. "One is a new car and the other is a car we've ran over the last two or three years at all the (restrictor) plate tracks. It's always been a good car. We've won so many races with it at Talladega and we've run good here in the (Daytona) 500 with it."

Before Earnhardt Jr. started testing his NEXTEL Cup Series car, he participated in the Rolex 24 At Daytona test session last weekend. Among the drivers Earnhardt Jr. will share the driving seat include fellow NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series driver Tony Stewart.

"We're running the 24-hour event so we have to concentrate on doing well there," Earnhardt Jr. said. "I drove the car the second day and it was 100 percent better than it was the first day. The first day it was really all over the place. I thought, 'Man, if I have to drive that thing with three drivers in a 24-hour race I was definitely going to do some damage to it.' But we got it driving a lot better and it's a new car."

Earnhardt Jr. enters Speedweeks 2004 still seeking his first career Daytona 500 victory, an achievement that's at the top of his to-do list.

"This is a real important race and one of the top two goals of my career -- and probably a lot of the other guys in the garage," Earnhardt Jr. said. "We put a lot of emphasis on winning this race. We test here. We spend probably 25 percent of our company revenue or income on (restrictor)-plate stuff. So a lot goes into this and it's pretty important to all of us."

Waltrip Continues Testing Domination: Michael Waltrip, the 2003 Daytona 500 champion, was fastest overall for the second day in a row. Waltrip, driving the No. 15 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, turned a lap of 186.590 mph to lead the 17 drivers participating in the first NEXTEL Cup Series testing session of the 2004 season.

Gibbs Returns to NFL: Making big news during Wednesday's test session was the announcement that Joe Gibbs will return as head coach of the Washington Redskins. He returns to the team after leading them to three Super Bowl victories during his tenure between 1981-1992. Gibbs is the owner of two NEXTEL Cup Series teams that are driven by 2000 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series champion Bobby Labonte and 2002 NEXTEL Cup Series champion Tony Stewart.

Stewart took time out from testing at Daytona International Speedway to comment on his reaction to the announcement.

"I'm very happy for him," Stewart said. "He's always been a coach and football has always been very close to him. After working with Joe for a number of years, I know his commitment to winning is unmatched. Fans of the Redskins should be very happy."

Hershey's Kisses Tie the Knot Contest Winners: Teri Lewis and Gene Konzen, Indianapolis, Ind., beat out four other couples for the opportunity to "Tie the Knot" prior to the start of the Hershey's Kisses 300 NASCAR Busch Series race on Valentine's Day, February 14 at Daytona International Speedway.

Lewis, 36, a registered nurse, and Konzen, 39, a firefighter, scored the most points in a Race-off with four other couples at Daytona International Speedway. Judges selected the couple during a Race-off, which pitted couple against couple in a number of fun and challenging events, including a simulated race game; a newlywed and trivia game, and individual couple interviews with the judges.

The Grand Prize winning couple will "Tie the Knot" prior to the Hershey's Kisses 300 NASCAR Busch Series race at "The World Center of Racing" on Valentine's Day, February 14. The wedding will take place live before thousands of spectators prior to the start of the race.

"It's wonderful," Konzen said. "We appreciate everything that you guys have to offer. Hershey's and Daytona, they were wonderful. We couldn't ask for anything else; this was a spectacular trip. It was going to be wonderful no matter what, even if we didn't win. We already said it was great to come down here."

Being the chosen couple in this contest was a dream come true for Lewis and Konzen, who are both die-hard race fans.

"When we got engaged and as (Teri) was telling people about that, someone told her about the contest and we thought that would be neat because we were having a really difficult time picking the date because we are so into NASCAR racing," Konzen said. "We have so many races we go to we couldn't figure out what month to have it so we had to pick the off-season anyway. This is the ultimate of all three things: Valentine's Day, Hershey's and Daytona and their grand hoopla of all races (the Daytona 500)."

Childress Discusses Trip to Iraq: Richard Childress took time out of his holiday season to visit the troops in Iraq. Childress was joined by fellow car owner Jack Roush, NASCAR drivers Ron Hornaday, Johnny Sauter, Rick Crawford and Brendan Gaughan and former NASCAR crew chief Jeff Hammond in thanking our troops for their hard work.

"We were there about five or six days," Childress said. "We met a lot of the troops. We spent a lot of time just visiting different bases and different places they had set-up for the troops. We went into some really unique places. But to see the troops, the young men and women who were over there, and the morale that they still have, is really unbelievable. To see what they're doing for us, to give us the opportunity to do what we love to do, was a great feeling."

<pre> Wednesday's overall test speeds 1. Michael Waltrip Chevrolet 186.590 mph 2. Dale Jarrett Ford 186.058 3. Joe Nemechek Chevrolet 185.510 4. Jeremy Mayfield Dodge 185.303 5. Brendan Gaughan Dodge 185.155 6. Ricky Craven Chevrolet 185.147 7. Jamie McMurray Dodge 185.086 8. Jeff Green Dodge 184.987 9. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet 184.858 10. Matt Kenseth Ford 184.703 11. Mark Martin Ford 184.551 12. Tony Stewart Chevrolet 184.230 13. Kurt Busch Ford 184.207 14. Dave Blaney Dodge 184.143 15. Kasey Kahne Dodge 184.128 16. Ward Burton Chevrolet 183.951 17. Kevin Harvick Chevrolet 183.595

Speedweeks 2004 tickets are available online at www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP.

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Ward Burton , Dale Jarrett , Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Jeremy Mayfield , Tony Stewart , Michael Waltrip , Kevin Harvick , Joe Nemechek , Jeff Green , Kurt Busch , Ron Hornaday Jr. , Ricky Craven , Rick Crawford , Jamie McMurray , Johnny Sauter , Kasey Kahne , Brendan Gaughan , Jack Roush , Dave Blaney , Mark Martin