Jeremy Mayfield makes his way through the garage area during Nascar Nextel Cup testing on January 11, 2005 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona, Florida.
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Im
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. Construction crews inside the Daytona International Speedway painted new walls and built new signs as part of a massive renovation project.
Signs warned of newly planted sod and saw horses blocked off hard-hat areas scheduled to be fan-friendly by the time the speedway opens for official business next month with the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, Budweiser Shootout and the Daytona 500.
Inside the new garage area, race cars also were in various stages of construction. Most where colored in crude gray and tan primer paint. Some had car numbers made of masking tape. All had strange antennas used to measure air pressure and wind resistance.
"Testing, especially at a place like Daytona, isn't too exciting," said Bobby Labonte. "You go out, run a few laps, bring the car back and the guys throw something new at (the setup). Then you go out and do it all over again."
Drivers bemoan their roles during three days of testing at the Daytona International Speedway, but race teams feel the information learned during the sessions could mean the difference between winning the biggest race of the year and not making the starting lineup.
Testing started for half of the Nextel Cup Series teams Tuesday. It will conclude on Thursday when NASCAR probably will wave its single-car format to allow several cars on the track to see how they react in traffic.
The other half of the circuit teams that finished in even-numbered positions in last year's standings will return next Tuesday for three more days of testing.
The Busch and Craftsman Truck series also have sessions scheduled at Daytona in the next couple weeks.
NASCAR doesn't allow any testing at its tracks during December, but that doesn't keep teams from testing at non-NASCAR tracks. Roush Racing, for example, spent a few days at the Kentucky Speedway last month with drivers Greg Biffle and Mark Martin.
Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne were scheduled to test at the Atlanta Motor Speedway on Wednesday. Joe Ruttman, Keith Segars and Eric McClure tested Tuesday and Wednesday at the Talladega Superspeedway.
Daytona officials opened the grandstands during testing, but there wasn't much to see on the track. Since only one car is allowed on the track at a time and with more than 25 teams participating at each session the wait on pit road often was more than a half hour.
For some, it was worth the wait.
"We had the cars built in early December and they are all ready to roll for the Daytona test," said Tony Eury Jr., the crew chief for Michael Waltrip. "We're pretty much dealing with the same aero packaged we had last year, so that saves a lot of time."
Jeff Gordon hates the mundane routine of testing, but he has an appreciation of what it accomplishes.
"I think preseason testing is crucial," he said. "The first three or four years we'd do Cup testing, I'd look forward to it. Then there was a period where I dreaded it. I just realized how important it is to be behind the wheel of the car, getting laps and getting the team information. These days, the information you get is so important. We might not make big changes, but the fine tuning can affect how you do in the race."
While Eury Jr. already knows every aspect of his Chevrolet, the session will give him the chance to get used to his new driver, Waltrip. Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Waltrip flip-flopped their crew chiefs during the off-season, so Eury Jr. will be able to bring some of the tricks he used a year ago to help Earnhardt Jr. win the Daytona 500.
The Dodge teams, meanwhile, will use the test to get used to a new car. The Dodge Charger hit the track for the first time Tuesday, replacing the Intrepid model no longer in production.
"We won't know a lot about the car until we run a few races," said Dodge driver Jeremy Mayfield. "We know there's going to be a little bit of a learning curve. The trick is going to be how fast we can adapt to all the changes. I think it's going to be a good car. It looks racy."
Even in primer paint.
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