Editor’s Note: Mike Lovecchio will be covering testing news and information in a variety of ways for us this January at Daytona. To read his reports from earlier in the week, be sure to click the links below:
Ever since the announcement was made, NASCAR fans everywhere have waited to see Dale Earnhardt Jr. take his brand new Hendrick Motorsports ride to the track. After a tease last week – when Junior showed up at Preseason Thunder testing in Daytona one week early to cheer on new teammates Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Casey Mears – anticipation was at a fever pitch.
Well, NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver didn’t disappoint; but neither did a manufacturer who looks well on their way to avoiding a sophomore slump, surprising once again as the second session of Daytona testing got underway for the Sprint Cup Series.
The No. 88 driven by Junior finally took to the Speedway Monday morning, and – just like his teammates last week – was quick off the truck. In fact, Earnhardt was second fastest in both sessions; however, it was a pair of Toyotas that had a stranglehold on the leaderboard when Day 1 was all said and done.
Perhaps it was the addition of Joe Gibbs Racing to the stable – or perhaps it was a much-needed offseason – but the entire fleet of Camrys made their presence felt in both the AM and PM sessions. Dale Jarrett came out strong, picking up the fastest speed in a morning session that had Toyotas holding down eight of the top-10 times. However, the PM session was even more impressive for the manufacturer, with 11 of the top 13 speeds belonging to Toyota. Dave Blaney was quickest during those runs, clocking in with the fastest single-car lap since testing began – 185.445 mph.
Cooler weather and notes taken from the first Sprint Cup session seemed to play in favor of the second group of cars. Monday featured only single-car runs, but by the afternoon session, nine cars had bested Johnson’s lap of 184.763 mph last week. Speeds should only continue to increase tomorrow, and it will be interesting to see by just how much as drafting practice returns to Daytona.
Who’s Hot/Who’s Not
- Hendrick Motorsports: Earnhardt Jr. picked up where his teammates left off last week – near the top of the charts. Second in both sessions, he was calm, cool and collected while handling the media horde following his every move.
- Toyota: Fastest in each of the drafting sessions last week, their cars composed 11 of the top 13 in single-car runs Monday. Seeing as three of those cars – Michael Waltrip‘s No. 55, Jarrett’s No. 44, and Brian Vickers‘s No. 83 – will likely have to make the field on speed, that’s very good news.
- Dario Franchitti: One week after rookie Jacques Villeneuve had an impressive test, fellow open-wheeler turned stock car newbie Franchitti tried to best his performance. Third in the AM session, he was by far the fastest Dodge on the day.
- Ford: The top Ford was 14th-fastest in both sessions Monday, as unsponsored David Gilliland pushed up the charts in his No. 38 Yates Racing Ford. Neither of Roush Fenway Racing’s two drivers here – Jamie McMurray and David Ragan – were able to crack the top 20.
“Over Christmas, I went to (brother) Ward’s house and his Daytona 500 trophy was in his house there. You know, I don’t know what it was about it, but I saw that trophy and it was like it was the first I had ever seen it. My son was down there – he’s seven – and I said, ‘You know what that is?’ He’s like, ‘Yeah, that’s the Daytona 500 trophy.’ It was pretty special seeing that trophy.” – Jeff Burton, on what winning the Daytona 500 would mean to him.
“I don’t think you could build any more hype. And then, to have our biggest race fall first falls right into all the hype from all the race teams. I don’t know that you could build it up any more. I don’t know that you could put it last and have the same prestige and hype that comes around this race.” – Defending 500 champion Kevin Harvick on whether on not the 500 should be run at the beginning or the end of the year.
Testing Summary – Day 1
Top-Three Speeds – AM session (Single-Car Runs)
- Dale Jarrett (No. 44) — 184.987 mph
- Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88) — 184.646
- Dario Franchitti (No. 40) — 184.305
Top-Three Speeds – PM session (Single-Car Runs)
- Dave Blaney (No. 22) — 185.445 mph
- Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88) — 185.426
- Brian Vickers (No. 83) — 185.307
Editor’s Note: The 2007 season is over, and even the Final Chase exam has come to a close – which means it’s time to give each driver their annual year-end evaluation. For the second straight year, the Frontstretch staff are giving driver reviews for every full-time wheelman on the circuit, providing insight into the seasons of anyone from AJ Allmendinger to JJ Yeley. Be sure to keep coming in every weekday this offseason for even more original content on Frontstretch!