BUSCH: Preseason Thunder to roar into Daytona

NASCAR Preseason Thunder to roar into Daytona International Speedway during January. DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 3, 2003) -- Major League Baseball rolls out its new season annually with Spring Training. The NFL preps for its upcoming season with...

NASCAR Preseason Thunder to roar into Daytona International Speedway during January.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 3, 2003) -- Major League Baseball rolls out its new season annually with Spring Training. The NFL preps for its upcoming season with training camps and a slate of preseason games. College basketball debuts with "Midnight Madness."

Now NASCAR is packaging its own version of preseason to fuel the anticipation of another season of excitement and unpredictability that opens with the most prestigious event in the world, the Daytona 500.

NASCAR and Daytona International Speedway will play host to NASCAR Preseason Thunder through the month of January as the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, NASCAR Busch Series, NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and Goody's Dash Series converge on the world center of racing's 2.5-mile superspeedway for the first official preseason test sessions of the new year.

"With the holiday season finally over, I'm getting my annual case of cabin fever," NASCAR Winston Cup Series Director John Darby said. "I can't wait to get back in the mix with the owners, drivers and teams as we prep for another NASCAR Winston Cup season."

"Daytona's test days are a vital part of the recipe for success at the World Center of Racing," Daytona International Speedway President Robin Braig said. "For fans, the NASCAR Winston Cup season kicks off with the Daytona 500, but for teams and their drivers, everything starts with testing in Daytona."

NASCAR Preseason Thunder will offer some special features for fans and media. All the sessions, which routinely run from 9 a.m.-5 p.m., are free of charge to fans, which will be able to access the Oldfield Grandstand through the lobby of Daytona USA.

Fan Forums with NASCAR drivers, which will be part of the regular admission to Daytona USA, will be held at various times during the testing, allowing fans to engage in a question-and-answer session with several of the series' stars. The first Fan Forum will be held Tuesday, Jan. 7, beginning at 6:15 p.m., with NASCAR Winston Cup star Rusty Wallace.

"Preseason Thunder will signal to media and fans that our season is just around the corner," NASCAR Vice President of Corporate Communications Jim Hunter said. "And similar to Spring Training for baseball and training camps for the NFL, this period is the first peek of our athletes with new teams, new equipment as well as which teams may have the edge heading into the new season. The additional accessibility and structure we are adding to the format will make this event a valuable tool for all the major media markets across the country."

The NASCAR Winston Cup Series officially opens NASCAR Preseason Thunder with its first of two three-day preseason sessions, beginning Tuesday, Jan. 7 and concluding Jan. 9 (with Jan. 10 as a rain date). The first session will consist of the drivers whose owners finished in the odd-number positions in the 2002 owners point standings. The group will feature reigning series champion Tony Stewart along with Wallace, Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Bobby Labonte, Jeff Burton, Michael Waltrip, Kyle Petty and Terry Labonte.

The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series will follow the NASCAR Winston Cup stars with a three-day preseason session, beginning Saturday Jan. 11 and concluding Monday, Jan. 13.

The other half of the NASCAR Winston Cup contingent -- the drivers whose car owners finished in the even-numbered positions in the owners standings -- will arrive for their three-day preseason, which runs from Tuesday, Jan. 14 through Thursday, Jan. 16 (with Friday, Jan. 17 serving as a rain date). Among those scheduled for their preseason run will be Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Mark Martin, Ryan Newman, Sterling Marlin, Bill Elliott, Kevin Harvick, Ricky Rudd and Ward Burton.

The Goody's Dash Series follows with a two-day preseason test Saturday, Jan. 18 and Sunday, Jan. 19.

The NASCAR Busch Series will close out NASCAR Preseason Thunder with a pair of two-day preseason sessions. Drivers whose owners finished in the odd-numbered positions in the 2002 owners points standings will run Monday, Jan. 20 and Tuesday, Jan. 21, with Wednesday, Jan. 22 as a rain date. Drivers whose owners were in the even-numbered positions will run Thursday, Jan. 23 and Friday, Jan. 24, with Saturday, Jan. 25 serving as the rain date.

The NASCAR Winston Cup drivers open with the Budweiser Shootout all-star event, which will be run under the lights for the first time in history on Saturday, Feb. 8, beginning at 8 p.m. ET, and pole qualifying for the Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 9. Speedweeks culminate with the Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 16. Tickets for the Daytona 500 and other Speedweeks events are available and can be purchased by calling (386) 253-7223 or online at daytonainternationalspeedway.com.

Test schedule:
Jan. 7-9 -- NASCAR Winston Cup Series (Odd car owner 2002 point standings finishing positions)
Jan. 11-13 -- NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series
Jan. 14-16 -- NASCAR Winston Cup (Even car owner 2002 point standings finishing positions)
Jan. 18-19 -- Goody's Dash Series, NASCAR Touring
Jan. 20-21 -- NASCAR Busch Series (odd)
Jan. 23-24 -- NASCAR Busch Series (even).

Rain dates:
Jan. 10 -- NASCAR Winston Cup (odd)
Jan. 17 -- NASCAR Winston Cup (even)
Jan. 22 -- NASCAR Busch Series (odd);
Jan. 25 -- NASCAR Busch Series (even)


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Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Burton , Bill Elliott , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Terry Labonte , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Kyle Petty , Kevin Harvick , Sterling Marlin , Jimmie Johnson , Jim Hunter , Mark Martin