BUSCH: Daytona test, News of Note 2003-01-23

Earnhardt Jr. dominant at NASCAR Preseason Thunder for NASCAR Busch Series teams. DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 23, 2003) -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. continued to show his dominance on restrictor-plate tracks by leading the field Thursday at Daytona ...

Earnhardt Jr. dominant at NASCAR Preseason Thunder for NASCAR Busch Series teams.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 23, 2003) -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. continued to show his dominance on restrictor-plate tracks by leading the field Thursday at Daytona International Speedway as NASCAR Preseason Thunder continued for NASCAR Busch Series teams.

Earnhardt Jr. was quick from the start, which was delayed until 11 a.m. due to early morning rain. Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Oreo/Ritz Cracker Chevrolet) was a half-second ahead of the field after the morning practice and finished with the day's best lap at 183.658 mph.

"I'm pretty happy about it," said Earnhardt Jr., who will be defending his crown in the Koolerz 300 on Feb. 15 at DIS. "We've worked real hard and the guys we've put into place did a great job of building the cars. They're real clean, real good and there are no bugs to work out as of yet. Hopefully it will be fast on race day."

Innovative Motorsports driver Shane Hmiel (No. 48 Dark Dog Pontiac) was second fastest at 181.958 mph. Hmiel, who finished 16th in series points during his rookie season last year, will compete in Chevrolets at non restrictor-plate tracks this season.

Joe Ruttman (No. 1 Yellow Racing Dodge) was third quickest at 181.792 mph while Coy Gibbs (No. 18 MBNA Pontiac) was fourth fastest at 181.161. Kenny Wallace -- filling in Thursday for Scott Wimmer -- rounded out the top five with a lap of 181.547 mph in the No. 23 Stacker 2/Stamina RX Chevrolet.

NEWS OF NOTE

* On tap ... NASCAR Preseason Thunder concludes Friday at Daytona International Speedway. Media interview opportunities at the DIS media center include Scott Wimmer, a four-time winner last season, and two-time NASCAR Busch Series champion Randy LaJoie (1996-'97).

* Keller no longer a "wild card" ... After finishing second in the NASCAR Busch Series point standings two of the past three seasons, Jason Keller (No. 57 Albertson's Ford) is confident that he will again be a contender for the series title. The South Carolina native is hoping off-season changes will prove to be the difference in 2003. "What's different for me (mentally) this year is I expect to contend for the championship," Keller said. "Before I was the wild card guy. (I was) coming on and doing O.K. We feel like we've made our race team better than it was. Our pit stops were our weakness and we really studied those over the off-season. Hopefully everything we've done in the off-season will make us better. We have to put the whole season together. We had a real good half a season last year, but it takes a whole season to win a championship. Hopefully we've learned from our mistakes." Keller, who finished fourth in both Daytona starts last year, was 20th fastest with a lap of 179.641 mph.

* Earnhardt looking to keep momentum ... After finishing 22nd in the NASCAR Busch Series standings following his first full season in 2002, Kerry Earnhardt (No. 12 Supercuts Chevrolet) hopes to continue the momentum the first-year team built last season. "Last season we started good and got better," said Earnhardt, who was 10th quickest in Thursday's afternoon session at 181.283 mph. "Our team started working better and we got more comfortable with each other. With all the changes going on in the series right now, I think some wins and a top-five finish in points should be a reality." Earnhardt also is aiming to pick up his performance at the superspeedways, if he can avoid trouble. "We're always getting involved in accidents at the (restrictor) plate tracks," Earnhardt said. "Our performance was getting better. I'm excited about coming back (to Daytona) and maybe getting a better start in the field and getting to the front quicker to avoid any accidents."

-nascar-

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About this article
Series NASCAR XFINITY
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jason Keller , Kenny Wallace , Coy Gibbs , Joe Ruttman , Kerry Earnhardt , Shane Hmiel , Scott Wimmer