When Dale Earnhardt Jr. took to the track for testing Monday in the new No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Mountain Dew/National Guard Chevrolet, his presence at Daytona officially ushered in a new era for fans hopeful for greater success in the coming years for stock car racing’s Most Popular Driver. On Tuesday, crew chief Tony Eury Jr. took that momentum and ran with it – he predicted the No. 88 would win no less than four races during its first year on the Sprint Cup tour.
Those inside the Top 35 in owner points following the final event at Homestead last year were guaranteed a starting spot for each of the first five races of 2008, and while the Gibbs cars did so under the Chevrolet banner, Blaney’s No. 22 team was the lone Toyota team to finish inside the bubble last season. With a starting spot assured, you might expect the team to take it easy; but they’ve done anything but, running strong in Preseason Thunder testing throughout the month of January. Recording the fastest time in Monday’s afternoon session, Blaney is pleased to know that he can relax while the other Toyota teams have to sweat out Daytona 500 Bud Pole Qualifying and the Duel 150 qualifying races.
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.
NASCAR testing may be going on all this month at Daytona International Speedway, but as teams headed back to their hotels Monday night, the racing was just beginning across the river at the Daytona Lagoon Water Park. Former Sprint Cup driver Steve Park, Jamie France, and SPEED TV analyst Dan Pardus were among those taking part in the Cypress Coquina Bank 100 charity go-kart race presented by the Rotary Club of Ormond Beach.
Raindrops came down late Sunday afternoon, signaling the end of Craftsman Truck Series testing at Daytona International Speedway around 2:00 p.m. The rain-shortened session was the series’ third and final day at the track before Speedweeks gets underway next month, as teams prepare for their 250-mile main event to be held on Friday, February 15th. A number of teams decided to head home after testing on Saturday, but those who stuck around encountered a late start because of a wet track in the morning and then showers early in the afternoon. Prior to the rain, it was accomplished road racer and Rookie of the Year candidate Justin Marks who posted the day’s fastest speed, mastering the historic tri-oval with a lap of 185.723 mph.
Jack Sprague and Ron Hornaday have long been friendly rivals with both drivers taking turns winning the Craftsman Truck Series’ title in four of the first five years. Driving for rival owners, Dale Earnhardt and Rick Hendrick, Sprague and Hornaday had a few run-ins between 1996 and 1999, but both are now competing for a record fourth title under the same banner at Kevin Harvick Inc.
Daytona testing has long been called boring and a waste of time, but don’t tell that to Roush Racing phenom Colin Braun. The 19-year-old driver began 2008 the way he has for each of the past four years, shaking down a sports car in preparation for the Rolex 24 at Daytona, but this year he was back one week later logging laps in his new full-time ride, the No. 6 Con-way Ford for Roush Fenway Racing in the Craftsman Truck Series. Unfortunately for Braun, an incident with Joey Clanton on the first day of practice in the afternoon drafting session has sent he and his team home early.
JJ Yeley’s spirits in an otherwise lackluster year had to soar after a second-place run at the Coca-Cola 600 this May. That bridesmaid’s finish in 54 Nextel Cup races driving for the respected Joe Gibbs Racing organization was Yeley’s career best to date.
Surprisingly enough, the second half of the season saw Michael Waltrip’s team begin to capture a small bit of momentum. In a 10-race stretch from August to November, he failed to qualify just twice, earning three top-15 finishes in the nine races he actually qualified for.
The first session of NASCAR Sprint Cup testing is over, and after Jimmie Johnson topped single-car runs each of the first two days, it was the Toyotas that were at the top of the chart in drafting practice. *J.J. Yeley* led the PM session Tuesday in the Hall of Fame Racing Toyota, then *Kyle Busch* put his Joe Gibbs Racing Camry at the top of the charts in both drafting sessions Wednesday.
Speeds jumped up considerably on the second day of drafting, with Busch posting the top speed of with 188.830 miles per hour. Yeley ran a 187.359 on Tuesday; with more rubber being laid down on the race track, speeds should continue to increase when the second wave of Cup drivers return on Jan. 14.