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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Down in Daytona 2008: A Rundown of Sprint Cup Testing

The Sprint Cup Series has officially finished Preseason Thunder testing at Daytona, and after six days of action featuring 56 drivers, it was Kasey Kahne who left the famed 2.5-mile superspeedway as the fastest. The 27-year-old from Gillett Evernham Motorsports shined on the third and final day of the second session, besting all competitors with a speed of 189.111 mph.

Now, the next time the Cup cars come to Daytona will be Speedweeks in February, leaving many fans wondering how testing speeds will translate when it really matters. But if early results prove any indication, it looks like Hendrick Motorsports and Toyota should be labeled the early favorites for strong runs in the Great American Race.

Here is a rundown of what happened during Preseason Thunder:

The debut of Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Easily the sport’s most popular driver, Junior surprised many by showing up simply to support his three Hendrick Motorsports teammates during the first round of testing last week. Then, he climbed into his No. 88 Chevrolet for the first time and didn’t disappoint; on his second day, he ran the fastest single-car speed of the month at 185.820 mph.

“There is peace of mind (now),” described a reflective Junior as he began his 2008 duties with his new ride. “I’m a good driver with a good team, and if we don’t make mistakes on a Sunday, we should have great finishes and win some races.”

Toyota quick as second season looms

Although Dale Jr. posted the fastest single-car run of the month in a Chevy, Toyota made its presence felt, claiming the next five top speeds behind Earnhardt. Only three Toyotas cracked the top 10 in drafting speeds, however Рall of which were cars from the Joe Gibbs Racing stable. Of course, none of the JGR cars need to worry about qualifying to make the field, while Michael Waltrip, Dale Jarrett, Brian Vickers and several others posting top speeds will be forced to rely on speed or the Duel 150s to make the race in their Camrys.

Dodge quick in the draft

The Charger seemed to struggle by itself throughout testing – only two Dodges finished in the top 20 in single-car runs. However, in the all-important restrictor-plate draft, it was a whole different story altogether; Kahne claimed the fastest speed of the month in practice, and Dodge took five of the top 10 spots in cumulative drafting speeds. Two of those cars were the rookies of Sam Hornish Jr. and Dario Franchitti – making strong impressions around their peers after difficult debuts in stock cars last year.

What’s all of this mean?

Absolutely nothing! Testing is just that, testing. Teams can “bend” the rules with minimal tech inspection – meaning fast doesn’t necessarily mean legal – and several teams at the bottom of the charts aren’t showing their full hand.

However, for those needing to qualify into the race on speed, a strong test session can provide the momentum they need heading into February. Speedweeks is unique because of the Duel 150 qualifying races, an interesting wildcard that amounts to a second chance for those outside the Top 35 in points to make the field – if their qualifying speed won’t get the job done, at least they have a chance to race their way in. Testing is the first step towards success in that process, and landing towards the top of the charts can only increase confidence over a nervewracking next few weeks.

Daytona Testing – Session Two, Day Three

Top-Three Speeds – Drafting Practice

  1. Kasey Kahne (No. 9) — 189.111 mph
  2. Denny Hamlin (No. 11) — 188.818
  3. Dario Franchitti (No. 40) — 188.723

Daytona Testing – Best Cumulative Speeds

Top Three – Single-Car Runs

  1. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88) — 185.820 mph
  2. Dave Blaney (No. 22) — 185.445
  3. Michael Waltrip (No. 55) — 185.357

Top Three – Drafting Speeds

  1. Kasey Kahne (No. 9) — 189.111 mph
  2. Kyle Busch (No. 18) — 188.830
  3. Denny Hamlin (No. 11) — 188.818

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