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Teams already preparing for 2004 season

Posted: Wednesday, December 31, 2003

ATLANTA Dan Shaver got the 2004 racing season up to full speed last weekend by posting the fastest lap at Daytona International Speedway in preparation for the Feb. 7 Advance Discount Auto Parts 200 for the ARCA Re/Max Series.

Teams participating in a month of racing at Daytona will spend the next month testing at the 2.5-mile track, and the ARCA Series was first on the busy off-season schedule with a three-day session.

Shaver was clocked at 184.075 mph to be the quickest among the ARCA teams.

Ron Cox was second-fastest at 183.981 mph, followed by A.J. Henriksen at 183.359, Kyle Busch at 182.497 and Paul Menard at 182.419.

Busch, the younger brother to NASCAR Nextel Cup Series driver Kurt Busch, will drive in the ARCA race to gain experience for his rookie of the year campaign on the NASCAR Busch Series.

''I get experience with the ARCA race the weekend before,'' Busch said. ''I think that will definitely help out. Maybe we'll make our Busch car somewhat like this (ARCA) car if it runs good.''

Although the racing season doesn't officially start for another month, teams will be busy in January with test sessions. Half of the Nextel Cup Series will test at Daytona in the first week of January; the other half will test during the second week.

Busch Series cars, NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series pickups and sports cars for the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona also will practice at Daytona.

NASCAR limits the number of test sessions to five for each team at speedways that play host to Nextel Cup races, so teams often visit other tracks to gain valuable information. For that reason, Kentucky Speedway, Nashville Superspeedway and USA International Speedway in Lakeland, Fla., are used in January as well.

EVERNHAM TEAM TESTS: Kasey Kahne joined his Evernham Motorsports teammates Jeremy Mayfield and Bill Elliott in a test session this week at Nashville Superspeedway.

For Kahne, it was the first time he's worked in one of Evernham's Dodges and with new crew chief Tommy Baldwin.

''I really liked driving the Dodge,'' Kahne said. ''It's got a lot more power than what I'm used to (on the Busch Series); it's a lot heavier and the brakes and throttle are a lot different. My focus right now is to get comfortable in the car and with the team.''

Elliott, who announced his retirement from full-time racing, also tested a Dodge. He will drive in selected races this year and lead driver development as he transitions out of the driver's seat.

Kahne said he knows replacing Elliott will be difficult.

''It's a pretty big deal,'' he said. ''A lot of great things have happened in that No. 9 race car. This is a big opportunity, not just to run for Ray Evernham but to have Bill Elliott and Jeremy Mayfield coaching you.''

KENSETH RETURNS TO ROOTS: Newly-crowned NASCAR Nextel Cup Series champion Matt Kenseth will return to the American Speed Association for that group's season-opener at Madison International Speedway in Oregon, Wis., on May 8.

Kenseth drove on the ASA circuit before getting a call from Busch Series car owner Robbie Reiser.

Kenseth grew up not far from Oregon in Cambridge, Wis.

CART PROBLEMS CONTINUE: Already mired in bankruptcy, CART was notified by Road America it was in breach of contract by trying to assign its nontransferable contract with the legendary road course to the Open Wheel Racing Series, a group trying to buy the beleaguered racing organization.

CART, once the premier racing series in America, filed for bankruptcy Dec. 16. The series' opening race at St. Petersburg, Fla., already has been canceled, and most of the top teams have abandoned the open-wheel circuit to join the rival Indy Racing League.

PIT STOPS: The U.S. Coast Guard will sponsor Justin Labonte in a 15-race schedule on the NASCAR Busch Series circuit in 2004. Labonte is the son of two-time champion Terry Labonte and nephew to former champion Bobby Labonte. The team will use Dodges. ...A final report on the crash that killed IRL driver Tony Renna was completed by the Indy Racing League and concluded his spin in the third turn of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was likely the result of driver error. His car spun wildly in the turn, then became airborne and crashed into the catch fence. The driver's compartment hit one of the support beams and Renna apparently died instantly.

Reach Don Coble at doncoble@bellsouth.net.



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