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Drivers stay busy with practice runs during off-season

Posted: Sunday, January 06, 2002

ATLANTA -- The span between the final lap of the 2001 NASCAR Winston Cup Series season and the first lap in 2002 is 79 days. That's more vacation time than most get in five years, but hardly enough time for the sport to catch its breath.

Although there are no events scheduled between November's New Hampshire 300 and

the season-opening Budweiser Shoot out all-star race, it doesn't mean the stock cars won't roar to life.

Off-season practice some official, many unofficial means the sport now makes laps all year long, including vacation.

''During the season you're so busy preparing to go to races you really don't have time to do the things you do in the off-season,'' said car owner Junie Donlavey. ''We've been revamping the cars to the new rules, getting everything back together, rebuilding everything. We've stayed busy.''

On top of rebuilding a fleet of cars to withstand the demands of a 10-month, 38-race season, race teams also have to schedule time for the wind tunnel and test sessions.

For example, every team expected at the Daytona 500 will test at the Daytona Interna tional Speed way during one of two two-day sessions starting Monday.

And if that wasn't enough, many will test at tracks that aren't hosts to Winston Cup Series events.

NASCAR only allows seven test sessions a year for every veteran race team and 10 sessions for a rookie driver, but practice conducted at a non-NASCAR facility doesn't count toward the seven official dates.

That makes a place like the USA International Speedway in Lakeland, Fla., a busy place in the off-season.

The 34-mile oval located be tween Orlando and Tampa has been booked for more than 20 days of testing by NACAR teams, according to operations manager Barry Williams.

Richard Childress Racing, which will have three Winston Cup teams with drivers Jeff Green, Kevin Harvick and Robby Gordon, will test Monday and Tuesday at Daytona, then at Lakeland on Wednesday, then back at Daytona on Jan. 14-15.

Race teams that finished in the odd-numbered positions in last year's standings will test Mon day and Tuesday. Even-num bered teams in the final stand ings will test Jan. 14-15. Other raceways used in the off-season include Greenville-Pick ens Speedway near Green ville, S.C., and Caraway Speed way in Asheboro, N.C.

PEMBERTON TO PETTY: Rob in Pemberton, who resigned last month from Rusty Wallace's team, is the new vice president and general manager of Petty Enterprises.

Less than three weeks after leaving Wallace because he was ''burned out,'' Pemberton now becomes the boss of three race teams.

''Bringing Robin to our race teams is another important move in taking Petty Enter prises to where we want to be,'' said Kyle Petty, one of the team drivers and chief operating officer of the organization. ''One of the winningest crew chiefs in Winston Cup history will be joining one of the best engine builders with Mike Ege and bringing them together with all three of our race teams under one roof, we think these moves are going to be big for us.''

Buckshot Jones and John Andretti are the other two Petty Enterprises drivers.

PIT STOPS: Robert Pressley will drive the No. 92 Dodge Intrepid for Melling Racing at the Daytona 500. Melling is looking for sponsorship, so the deal might last for only the season-opener. ... Todd Bodine will test a sports car at Daytona this weekend so he can make a decision whether he will drive in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona on Feb. 2-3.



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