BUSCH: Preseason Thunder: Daytona day one report

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., (Jan. 17, 2004) - Two drivers with a strong history of success in NASCAR Busch Series events at Daytona International Speedway led the way after the first day of Busch Series testing in preparation for the Hershey's Kisses 300...

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., (Jan. 17, 2004) - Two drivers with a strong history of success in NASCAR Busch Series events at Daytona International Speedway led the way after the first day of Busch Series testing in preparation for the Hershey's Kisses 300 on Saturday, Feb. 14.

Joe Nemechek, who has two Daytona Busch Series victories and three straight Hershey's Kisses 300 poles, posted the fastest speed after the first day of testing with a lap of 181.097 mph in his No. 87 CellularOne Chevrolet. Dale Earnhardt Jr., driving the No. 8 Chance 2 Motorsports Chevrolet that he owns along with his stepmother Teresa, posted the second fastest speed with a lap of 180.756 mph.

Earnhardt Jr., who is shooting for his third straight Hershey's Kisses 300 and fourth straight Busch Series victory at the "World Center of Racing," is excited about his prospects in the 120-lap season-opening race.

"We might not have as many tricks up our sleeve as some of them guys in qualifying but when it comes to the race, we hope to be one of the top five cars," said Earnhardt Jr., who'll kick off his Speedweeks by racing in the Rolex 24 At Daytona.

Earnhardt Jr., who led every lap of last summer's Winn-Dixie 250 presented by PepsiCo, is scheduled to compete in three Busch Series events this season - the Feb. 14 Hershey's Kisses 300, the Aaron's 312 on April 24 at Talladega Superspeedway and the Winn-Dixie 250 presented by PepsiCo at Daytona on Friday night, July 2.

While Earnhardt Jr. has experienced a tremendous amount of success at Daytona, he says his fellow competitors work that much harder to beat him.

"I think it makes everybody work real hard," Earnhardt Jr. said. "I think it's a big motivation factor for a lot of these teams. When I use to race in the Busch Series and Mark Martin would win just about every race he started, it wouldn't bother me that much. It's just a level of success you try to achieve yourself. It made your team better. I don't think it bothers them too bad."

Earnhardt Jr. will have a teammate in the Hershey's Kisses 300. Martin Truex Jr. will wheel the No. 81 Chevrolet for Chance 2 Motorsports in a full Busch Series schedule.

"It's awesome when you've got somebody in a plate race that can help you," Earnhardt Jr. said.

Earnhardt Jr. is schooling him on drafting skills.

"All I know to tell them," Earnhardt Jr. said. "There are some little things that drivers think work or don't work. He seems to pick it up real fast."

Said Truex: "There's not a better person to follow. We'll get in the race and see what happens."

Daytona Mystic: During Saturday's lunch break, Mike Wallace, driver of the No. 4 Geico Ford, reflected on a trip he made to historic Daytona International Speedway when he was a youngster.

"We were just watching (movies) over Christmas time," Wallace said. "My mom use to have these Super 8 movies. We lived in St. Louis, Mo. We all came down here for a family vacation because my dad raced as a hobby in St. Louis. We loaded up in this Cadillac -- Rusty, Kenny and myself and my mom and dad. Kenny laid in the rear window and looked like a dog bobbing his head.

"I remember clear as it can be. I had this Super 8 movie camera hanging over the side of me and we're up here on pit road but we were not on pit road but outside on the fence. It's like, 'How do we get over there?' I snuck in to pit road and Rusty's like, 'How did you get in there?' I was looking like a camera man.

"We replayed some of that footage from that weekend. That was when David Pearson and Richard Petty crashed coming to the line (in 1976). That was my first experience (at Daytona). Coming here, this was the biggest race track. There was no way you would have ever seen something this big in your life. It's just a special place, always has and always will be."

Testing open: All the test sessions during Preseason Thunder are free and open to the public with access to the Oldfield Grandstand through the lobby of DAYTONA USA.

FanFest Continues: The next Preseason Thunder FanFest is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 20 with NASCAR Busch Series drivers. Included in the $5 admission are fan forums that feature question and answer sessions between fans and drivers, DAYTONA USA's Pit Stop Challenge, show cars and a silent auction of autographed items. All of the proceeds from FanFest benefit the Brenners Children's Hospital (in Winston-Salem, N.C.), Speediatrics, Victory Junction Gang Camp and the Ladies Auxiliary of Stock Car Racing.

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Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Joe Nemechek , Mike Wallace , Richard Petty , Mark Martin