At the service for her late husband Bill France Junior, Betty Jane France stepped up to the microphone and said, “Bill France loved Daytona Beach, and today, the city returns that love to him.” In front of 2,000 people at Bethune-Cookman University, the life of the visionary who transformed NASCAR from a regional sport to a worldwide phenomenon was celebrated in the same city where the sport got its start. It was 60 years ago that his father, William H.G. France, called the first meeting at the Streamline Hotel and set up NASCAR, an idea that Bill Junior helped develop into a multi-billion dollar industry.
With Preseason Thunder testing winding down, the first of two Nationwide Series sessions began Friday at Daytona International Speedway under damp and cloudy skies. The morning session was delayed by 45 minutes, but as soon as the cars hit the track for their first single-car runs of the year, it was Johnny Sauter who shot to the top of the charts after spending a year in the Sprint Cup Series. Like the first day of testing, teams are racing the weather with rain in the forecast each of the next two days. While the cars are on the track, however, a mix of past champions and phenoms are trying to get as much of their cars before Speedweeks roles around in February.
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.
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.
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.