Richmond Test Day One: Drivers Agree Testing Crucial to Success DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 11, 2006) -- Test laps at any track add up in a hurry, but for NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series teams, a championship could lurk in the sum of this week's...
Richmond Test Day One: Drivers Agree Testing Crucial to Success
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 11, 2006) -- Test laps at any track add up in a hurry, but for NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series teams, a championship could lurk in the sum of this week's session at Richmond International Raceway.
"It's early, but still, it's Richmond," said Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet), articulating one of the major reasons 48 teams will gather during the Easter off-week at the Virginia track.
Tuesday marked the first day of a three-day session at the three-quarters-mile surface, which hosts two events -- the Richmond 400 on May 6, and the Chevy Rock & Roll 400 on Sept. 9. Teams may test on two of the three days.
The latter event is race No. 26, the cutoff event that sets the field for the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup. Following the season's first 26 events, the top 10 drivers and any within 400 points of the leader will battle for the series title over the final 10 races. So all track time -- particularly in April and May -- is vital.
"That's why we're here testing at Richmond," said Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge), the 2004 series champion and defending winner of Richmond's fall event. "That's the cutoff for the Chase. They want to make it an equal opportunity for everybody when it comes down to the wire whether you're in or out. There are no excuses."
Johnson -- the current standing leader after seven events -- and Busch were among the drivers who visited the Richmond media center Tuesday. This week's Richmond test marks the third of six designated 2006 tests for NASCAR NEXTEL Cup teams. This year, NASCAR has scheduled those tests as a cost-containment measure at tracks that host series events, and those dates are the only test opportunities at those tracks.
Mark Martin (No. 6 AAA Ford), who joined Busch and Johnson in the media center during Tuesday's lunch break, says the policy presents an important opportunity.
"If there was no testing, then it would probably be 95 percent the same for everyone like it has at a lot of the other race tracks we've gone to," Martin said. "The good thing for all of us about testing here is we're not able to look at new and different things extensively because there's no testing. This gives us all a chance to step back, catch our breath and explore new avenues."
Martin explained that most NASCAR NEXTEL Cup teams would prepare for an event using base setups if no testing opportunities existed.
"It gives you a chance to veer off the path," Martin said, "but if no one gets to test here, it's the same for everyone."
With clear skies and spring temperatures forecast all week in Richmond, drivers said they anticipated testing under the lights. All sessions begin at 9 a.m., and end at 9 p.m. (ET), weather permitting, with a lunch break from noon until 1 p.m., and a dinner break from 5-6 p.m.
"As the day wears on and we get into the evening, we'll hone in on some things," Johnson said. "Hopefully we'll try and get some speed here. It hasn't been one of the best tracks for myself and Hendrick Motorsports."
"It's great to have the chance to practice under the lights, especially when both of our races are here at night," Busch said.
Still, the former series champion -- in his first season with Penske Racing South -- admitted a bit of wistfulness about the crowded Richmond garage.
"It's a good and a bad thing we're here testing at Richmond," Busch said. "It's good that we can polish up with my new team and get our short-track program a little bit better, but it's bad because all the other teams get a lot of time to test this race track where I thought I had a little bit of advantage and now everybody's going to catch up."
Kahne Celebrates Birthday With a Victory ... Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge) had something else to celebrate this week aside from Sunday's victory at Texas Motor Speedway. He turned 26 on Monday.
"I had some stuff to do in the morning, a couple of meetings, and after that I hung out at the sprint car shop with the guys that work on that car," Kahne said. "We ended up out on the lake about four o'clock wake boarding. I'm a little bit sore today. I haven't wake boarded in four or five months."
However, he has won -- twice this season -- at Atlanta before Texas, and both from the Budweiser Pole. Kahne also is third in the series standings. He's the defending winner of Richmond's May event -- his first career win -- and hopes to end the September event firmly entrenched in his first Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup.
"That brings a lot of attention, and it makes for a fun race," Kahne said. "Everybody gets pretty nervous at that point in time. It's that time of the year, and hopefully we can prepare and get in that final 10."
Kurt Busch, Casey Mears Fastest in Morning Session ... A pair of Dodges topped the charts following Tuesday's morning session. Kurt Busch led all drivers with a top speed of 125.360 mph (21.538 seconds). Casey Mears (No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge) was second at 125.302 mph (21.548 seconds). Speed charts for all sessions are at www.nascarmedia.com.