tampabay.com

Old winners step up in 500 testing

By BRANT JAMES
Published January 19, 2006


DAYTONA BEACH - The second of split NASCAR Nextel Cup preseason testing sessions concluded on Wednesday at Daytona International Speedway with teams focusing on drafting a month and a day before the season-opening Daytona 500.

Three-time Daytona 500 winner Dale Jarrett, 49, led the morning session with a lap of 189.25 mph, while rookie of the year Kyle Busch paced the afternoon at 190.251.

Another three-time 500 winner Jeff Gordon, who tested last week with the other half of the Nextel Cup field, had the swiftest non-drafting lap of the preseason at 188.199.

RECOGNIZE ME: The Dodge Charger, Chevrolet Monte Carlo and new Ford Fusion are incredibly similar, distinguishable mostly by their stickers and noses, because of common template rules that govern competition.

But Dodge director of motorsports operations John Fernandez thinks the boxier, ostensibly safer "car of tomorrow," will enhance brand identity. That's important for a series that needs to keep manufacturers content with their level of exposure, considering the millions they spend each year.

The new version of the "car of tomorrow" tested at Daytona last week used splitters and rear wings for aerodynamic balance, taking the car body out of the equation. That, said Fernandez, is a good thing for companies that use race cars to sell passenger cars.

"It allows us a lot more flexibility with the body because you're not using the body to do your aero work," he said. "Today the templates tend to mirror each other. We have more common templates than we do unique templates, so I think the car of tomorrow might be better for us for an identity standpoint."

Toyota could join the three American manufacturers within two years. NASCAR is expected to address the issue Monday when it holds its state of the sport address on the annual media tour. Toyota, which already competes in the NASCAR truck series, has a press announcement scheduled Tuesday.