Las Vegas Preseason Thunder - Day two notes

Leicht Excited About Opportunity With RCR * Hamilton Applauds Engine Changes Made For 2008 * Toyota Continues To Top Speed Chart at Preseason Thunder Testing DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 31, 2008) -- Although Stephen Leicht (No. 21 Richard ...

Leicht Excited About Opportunity With RCR

* Hamilton Applauds Engine Changes Made For 2008
* Toyota Continues To Top Speed Chart at Preseason Thunder Testing

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 31, 2008) -- Although Stephen Leicht (No. 21 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet) is currently scheduled to race in just two events this season for Richard Childress Racing in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, he looks at the opportunity with great anticipation.

"RCR is a great organization," Leicht said. "I've always wanted to be a part of it. I'm finally getting that opportunity with Richard. I can't thank him enough for that. I'm really excited, because the (No.) 21 car is one of the best cars out here in the series, if not the best car. To get to drive it, if only for a little bit, is going to be pretty neat."

Leicht was part of a contingent of NASCAR Nationwide Series drivers at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Thursday for the second of two days of NASCAR Preseason Thunder testing at the 1.5-mile track. As part of a team that won the championship in 2006 and tallied six wins in 2007, the 21-year-old from Asheville, N.C., hopes to capitalize on this chance by learning from teammate and former champion Bobby Labonte and the other drivers at RCR.

"Look at all the guys on the team, not just Bobby -- but Jeff Burton, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick," Leicht said. "To be able to talk to these guys and learn from them each week is going to be big. I'm looking forward to it."

Labonte -- who won the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship in 1991 and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship in 2000 -- downplays his role as a mentor to the younger driver, meanwhile. "I'd like to think if there are any questions he might have, I could possibly help him out," Labonte said. "Stephen's a very talented young man. I think he's got a lot of potential. He's already proven it on the race track. I don't think there's anything he can do, other than get experience, that I can tell him. Some of it just comes down to getting more laps."

Leicht joins RCR after spending the past three years at Robert Yates Racing. Although coming off his first full season in which he scored his first career win and finished seventh in the championship standings, changes within the Yates organization at the end of the season eliminated that entry and left him without a ride. RCR, which had previously named Labonte to drive 15 races in the No. 21 Chevrolet in 2008, opted to add Leicht to the lineup for at least two events.

Leicht, who was 15th-fastest on the speed charts for Thursday morning's testing session at Las Vegas, finished 18th in last year's NASCAR Nationwide Series race at LVMS. He went on to register his first career win at Kentucky Speedway in June. In addition to the victory, he recorded three top-five and seven top-10 finishes.

Testing Goes As Expected ... NASCAR Preseason Thunder testing went as planned, according to NASCAR Nationwide Series director Joe Balash. "We've got a number of teams here that have tested a lot of different things, trying to get a feel for the first time this year being on a mile-and-a-half track," Balash said. "The temperatures have been a little cool (so) we've had a lot of grip in the tires. The teams are all talking about the speed in the turns this year -- it seems to be up a little bit. As far as our engine package goes, everything with that whole program is as we had expected it to be. I think we're right on target with our RPMs and everything we're looking at with the program."

Hamilton Happy With New Car Package ... Veteran driver Bobby Hamilton Jr. (No. 25 Smithfield Foods Ford) was pleased with his testing, while applauding this year's engine package. The Nashville, Tenn., native -- who turned 30 earlier this month -- was second-quickest in Thursday morning's session at Las Vegas. "I'm tickled to death with our testing," he said during the lunch break. "We were a little bit worried, because of the smaller motor. But right now, we're second." He praised this year's engine change with providing a great car. "The way they've done the motors -- the way the cars are used to almost a hundred more horsepower -- they took that away and they just drive awesome," Hamilton said. "I can't wait for the race, because the car is going to be so comfortable to drive that you'll be able to pass more. You should be able to go under a guy and not worry about getting loose and stuff like that. I applaud NASCAR 100 percent as far as what they've done with the motors and leaving the bodies like they have. It gives us something to drive. When we can drive them, it makes for a better show for the fans."

Keselowski Picking Up The Pace ... After struggling a bit on Wednesday morning, Brad Keselowski (No. 88 Navy Chevrolet) was able to capitalize on teamwork to gain information that in turn helped him gain speed, thanks to the merger between JR Motorsports and the Hendrick Motorsports NASCAR Nationwide programs. Subsequent changes moved Keselowski from 40th and 47th on the speed charts in the morning session for the two cars JRM was testing to 13th and 22nd in the afternoon. "The Navy Chevy wasn't very fast off the truck yesterday," Keselowski said. "Mark [Martin] and the guys on the No. 5 team were a lot faster. So, we all got together during the break and went over what they were running versus what we were trying. We made some changes and picked up a good bit in the afternoon. We're still not 100 percent where we'd like to be, but we'll keep working on it. I'm sure we'll be even better when we come back in March." Lap times for Keselowski's two cars continued to improve on Thursday morning, meanwhile, moving to fifth and 16th on the charts.

Bright And Sunny Las Vegas ... Sunny skies greeted NASCAR Nationwide Series teams participating in the NASCAR Preseason Thunder testing at Las Vegas on Wednesday and Thursday. While temperatures that dipped into the low 30s at night made for a brisk early morning, it reached into the low 50s during the day. Winds were light, although gusting at times.

Toyota Continues To Set The Pace ... Toyota continued to top the speed charts during NASCAR Preseason Thunder at Las Vegas. Johnny Benson (No. 20 Z-Line/Old Spice Toyota) joined Kyle Busch (No. 18 Farm Bureau/Z-Line Designs/Interstate Batteries Toyota) and David Reutimann (No. 99 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota) atop the speed charts -- turning the fast lap of 182.729 mph (29.552 seconds) during Thursday morning's session. Reutimann had recorded the fastest lap of 180.675 mph (29.888 seconds) in Wednesday morning's session and Busch had the fastest lap of 181.757 mph (29.710 seconds) on Wednesday afternoon.

-credit: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR XFINITY
Drivers Jeff Burton , Bobby Labonte , Kevin Harvick , Bobby Hamilton Jr. , Johnny Benson , David Reutimann , Robert Yates , Brad Keselowski , Stephen Leicht , Kyle Busch
Teams Richard Childress Racing , Hendrick Motorsports , Yates Racing , JRM Racing , JR Motorsports