Preseason Thunder Day 4: Roush drivers fastest at Daytona

NASCAR Preseason Thunder Day 4: Roush Drivers fastest at Daytona DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 10, 2004) -- Last season's NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Raybestos Rookie of the Year Carl Edwards (No. 99 Superchips Ford) challenged himself to step...

NASCAR Preseason Thunder Day 4: Roush Drivers fastest at Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 10, 2004) -- Last season's NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Raybestos Rookie of the Year Carl Edwards (No. 99 Superchips Ford) challenged himself to step up to the series championship in 2004.

Edwards, a three-time winner in 2003, won't settle for anything less.

"I can't quite describe to you guys how seriously I take this and how much effort I put in it," said the native of Columbia, Mo. as he met with members of the media Saturday. "I will feel let down if I didn't do my very best and try my hardest in every way to be the best driver I can be.

"I feel with a little bit of experience, anything less than championship hopes is out of the question."

Edwards came to Daytona International Speedway in 2003 seated in his first truly competitive truck, a Ford owned by Jack Roush and previously driven to the 2000 rookie title by now NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series star Kurt Busch.

He immediately impressed, although Edwards didn't seal the deal.

Leading the Florida Dodge Dealers 250 at lap 77, Edwards instead lost the handle exiting the 2.5-mile superspeedway's tri-oval and hit the outside wall. The accident ended the then 23-year-old competitor's day.

Edwards struggled until June but closed spectacularly to record 13 top-five finishes and an eighth-place championship record. This year, instead of being a rookie, Edwards likely will mentor the 2004 freshman class.

His up-and-down season will serve as good examples of how-to and how-not-to.

"Just don't get over your head, don't put too much pressure on yourself and let the truck do the work; that's one of the hardest things for a driver to learn -- a driver like myself," said Edwards.

Edwards' ascent coincided with that of his teammate Jon Wood (No. 50 Ford), a double winner a year ago. Neither driver previously had enjoyed the luxury of a team member; both return with the same crew chiefs, Kevin Starland and John Monsam, respectively.

The duo represents a double-barreled headache -- for its competition. Edwards and Wood topped the first day of NASCAR Preseason Thunder with lap speeds of 181.218 and 180.292 respectively.

"Jon and I both have a year together and all of the teams are able to work really well together," said Edwards. "We said last year we planned on having two trucks in the top 10 and getting some wins and that's what we did.

"So this year we plan on winning the championship out of the shop and that's our goal."

Which Roush teammate comes out on top is something Edwards doesn't want to predict, noting he finished second in both of Wood's victories, at Kansas and Martinsville Speedways.

Those afternoons, however, created more than enough incentive to come out on the long end of the pair's friendly rivalry.

"I'm telling you those are two of the most painful post-race situations I've ever been in," said Edwards. "We have a great rivalry between us and I think that stems from everything being so outwardly appearing the same. We have the same resources, we are close to the same age and experience level, so you get that."

NEWS OF NOTE

* Hamilton likes stepped up level of competition ... With more than half the drivers testing Saturday either new to the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series or having changed teams, the 2004 season figures to be one in which fans must buy a program. Veteran competitor and team owner Bobby Hamilton (No. 4 Square D Dodge), however, looks at a rival's level of experience on the series to gauge the competition.

"I pay attention to a couple of past champions coming back in the series (Mike Skinner and Jack Sprague)," said Hamilton, whose BHR Dodges won the 2001-02 editions of the Florida Dodge Dealers 250. "That makes it tougher than (having) seven former NASCAR NEXTEL Cup drivers being back in the series. (Those) guys that have never driven a truck before will have a learning process. I was a little ahead because I had driven a truck before. It's just different."

Skinner (No. 42 Bang! Racing Toyota), the 1995 champion and Sprague (No. 16 Chevy Trucks Chevrolet), whose 1997, 1999 and 2001 titles rank first in series history, will accelerate both level of competition and interest as they return to the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, said Hamilton.

"I'm looking at Skinner and Sprague putting the series back where it was," said last season's sixth-place championship finisher. "We've been pretty polite the last couple of years. A bunch of us in here probably won't put up with what Skinner and Sprague used to do, either.

"It will all work out but it will take the series back to the rough-tough deal it's been labeled."

Hamilton, fourth during the morning's first practice session at 180.162 mph, doubted that he would test his Dodge Ram too much during NASCAR Preseason Thunder.

"We've run 1,300 miles with that truck the last couple of weeks at Talladega," he said, adding that he'll remain at the speedway the remainder of the weekend to oversee the progress of teammates Chad Chaffin (No. 18 Dickies Dodge) and Chase Montgomery (No. 8 Dodge). "I'm an owner (and) I've got two other trucks here. My truck has been to Daytona for three years now. It's got a good record, two wins and a fourth and two poles."

* NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series veteran Park Joins Orleans Racing ... Orleans Racing on Jan. 9 made it official that Steve Park will succeed Brendan Gaughan in the No. 62 Dodge. Park, whose last series appearance came in 1997, has big shoes to fill. Gaughan won eight times on the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, including six races a year ago en route to a fourth-place championship finish.

New Englander Park said he's up to the challenge.

"Orleans Racing in the past has shown they can pretty much develop a truck to run up front and win races," Park said. "I'm looking forward to just being involved in that. We're hoping that we can move towards winning races and giving them a championship."

Park's best series finish is fourth, at New Hampshire International Speedway in 1996. He won a Bud Pole at Watkins Glen International -- but handed over the truck to owner Joe Nemechek, who could not qualify because of a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series conflict at Bristol Motor Speedway.

"You always look to the future but the main thing now is that it's not a step back," said the veteran of 161 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series starts, a record that includes two victories. "This is a step forward to me. I'm used to running good and winning races. I really want to get back to that."

* Night racing at Daytona suits Crawford just fine ... Defending Florida Dodge Dealers 250 champion Rick Crawford (No. 14 Circle Bar RV Park Ford) isn't displeased that the Feb. 13 race has been switched from daytime to under the lights (SPEED Channel, 8 p.m. ET). "Everybody wants to see the smoke and the fire and the sparks on the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and how better is it than Daytona Beach at night?" asked Crawford. "We're trying to sign a contract deal now with a paint company that can make the truck glitter Friday night."

* ETC. ... Edwards Ford F-150 was the first truck on the track as NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series testing began. Veteran Bill Lester (No. 22 Toyota) became the first driver of a Toyota Tundra truck to make an official NASCAR testing lap. ...Steve Grissom, 10th-place finisher in 2000 series championship points, tested the No. 59 Harris Trucking Dodge in which Robert Pressley finished third in last year's Florida Dodge Dealers 250. ... While Roush Fords topped Saturday's speed charts, Dodge claimed five of the top 10 laps recorded. Dennis Setzer (No. 46 Chevrolet Silverado Chevrolet) was fastest of the GM trucks at 178.834. David Reutimann (No. 17 Toyota) had the best Toyota lap at 176.672.

* The NASCAR Preseason Thunder Media website is online at http://www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com/media. Speeds, quotes, daily test reports and hi-res photos from all NASCAR Preseason Thunder test sessions are available for download.

-nascar-

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Series NASCAR Truck
Drivers Bobby Hamilton , Steve Park , Mike Skinner , Joe Nemechek , Kurt Busch , Robert Pressley , Jack Sprague , Dennis Setzer , Rick Crawford , Bill Lester , Brendan Gaughan , Chad Chaffin , Steve Grissom , David Reutimann , Carl Edwards , Jack Roush