DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- If the final two hours of a three-day test session at Daytona International Speedway is any indication, Ford's strength will be found in numbers.
After failing to post a single-lap speed among the top 10 during more than 18 hours of testing, the Ford camp found some solace late Wednesday when it ran in multi-car packs.
While they still weren't the fastest, Fords driven by Kurt Busch, Dale Jarrett and Mark Martin shot up the speed charts once traffic started stirring the air around the 212-mile raceway.
Busch improved to 183.948 mph in traffic, up from 181.638 mph during solo runs, while Jarrett was clocked at 183.902 mph (up from 181.925 mph) and Martin ran 183.793 mph (up from 181.649 mph).
Busch was third-quickest in the draft, while Jarrett was fourth and Martin was fifth. In single-car runs, none were among the top 13.
''If you're not going to win the pole, and we're certainly not with the kind of speeds we're able to post in qualifying trim, then we need to be ready to go racing, and that's what we did,'' Martin said.
Traditionally, the draft is quicker than qualifying speeds. In the past, a group of cars usually runs more than 5 mph quicker in a pack than alone. But in Wednesday's session, the speeds increased by only about 2 mph.
RUDD ON THE MEND: Ricky Rudd will skip his scheduled test next week at Daytona and the following week at the Atlanta Motor Speedway while he recovers from back surgery.
Andy Hillenburg will drive for Rudd during the three-day test next week, and car owner Robert Yates said he will have another substitute driver working the car at Atlanta.
Rudd is expected to be ready to drive in the season-opening Daytona 500 on Feb. 17.
DOUBLE VISION: Driver Steve Park, who was injured during a NASCAR Busch Series race at Darlington, S.C., on Sept. 1, still suffers from double vision, his crew chief said.
Paul Andrews said Park is recovering from head injuries, but his progress is slower than the team expected.
Kenny Wallace will drive for Park until he returns. After that, Wallace is expected to make selected appearances in a fourth Dale Earnhardt Inc. car throughout the season.
CREW RETURNS: All three crew members from Robert Yates Racing who were injured during a pit stop at the Homestead-Miami Speedway have returned to work, Yates said. John Bryan, Bobby Burrell and Kevin Hall also are expected to be part of Ricky Rudd's pit crew at the Daytona 500.
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