NASCAR gears up for the start of the 2006 season

Published 2:19 pm Tuesday, January 10, 2006

By By SCOTT NOVAK / Niles Daily Star
NILES - There is no greater sound than the roar of an engine for NASCAR fans.
So when the motors fired up Monday morning at Daytona International Speedway you will have to forgive the fans if they got a little excited.
Whether or not you were at the opening season of Jackson Hewitt Preseason Thunder or not, your pulse couldn't help but begin to race as the countdown to the Daytona 500 officially got under way.
Among those testing on Monday, the first of three days of sessions this week, were South Bend's (Ind.) Ryan Newman and NASCAR's most popular driver - Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Also testing on Monday were Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmy Johnson.
Gordon is a four-time series champion and seems to be one of the early favorites to take this year's title.
But Earnhardt fans take heart.
After a season of frustration, Earnhardt has been rejoined by crew chief and cousin Tony Eury Jr.
That duo helped product back-to-back Busch Series championships and a third place finish in the NEXTEL Cup Series three years ago.
Earnhardt was fifth in the first “Chase for the Championship” in 2004.
But after switching teams around at Dale Earnhardt Inc. last season, the series' fan favorite finished a career worst 19th.
Earnhardt is back with a renewed sense of confidence and a desire to prove that he is truly among the best in this sport.
At a teleconference following Monday morning's test session, Earnhardt said that he was looking forward to testing.
Earnhardt said he was pleased with the way the motors responded during the season. He liked one of the two cars he tested in particularly.
Newman said that he was pleased as well with the testing session and feels that his team can build on the success of last year's finish in the Daytona 500.
When asked if the Dodge Charger will be improved from last year, Newman said that is still a question to be answered.
Newman was also questioned about having new teammates at Penske South in 2006.
Testing continues today and Wednesday, with Thursday reserved as a rain date.
The second testing session will be Jan. 16-18. Thursday, Jan. 19 is the rain date for the second session, which features teams who were in the even number positions in car owner points as of July 13, 2005.
In the morning session Gordon was the fastest car with a speed of 187.029.
Earnhardt was the only drive to put two cars in the top 10 in the first session.
Newman's Charger was the 17th fastest car with a speed of 184.525.
In the afternoon session, veteran Bill Elliott was the fastest with a speed of 187.219.
Elliott and Earnhardt both put two cars inside the top 10.
Newman was only 24th fastest with a speed of 184.370.
South Bend's David Stremme, who is in his first full-time season of NEXTEL Cup competition, was 33rd fastest in the morning session and 29th best in the afternoon.