24 Hours Fun For NASCAR Drivers

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Time off? Who needs it?

Some NASCAR Winston Cup Series drivers are having too much fun testing for the Feb. 2-3 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona to think about having much time off between seasons. Thursday was the first day of the three-day test session, run on Daytona International Speedway’s 3.56-mile road course.

Five Winston Cup drivers – Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart, John Andretti, Kyle Petty, Robby Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr., were present for the test. This year marks the 40th anniversary for the prestigious event, but only recently have NASCAR drivers begun to take a stronger interest in it.

The Top 5 Rolex Sports Car Series Speeds for Friday were: 1. No. 27 Doran Lista Racing Judd Dallara – Fredy Lienhard, Didier Theys, Max Papis, 127.120 mph; 2. No. 36 Jim Matthews Racing Ford Riley & Scott – Jim Matthews, Scott Sharp, Robby Gordon, Guy Smith, 125.181 mph; 3. No. 16 Dyson Racing Ford Riley & Scott – James Weaver, Butch Leitzinger, Oliver Gavin, 125.054 mph; 4. No. 37 Intersport Racing Judd Lola – Clint Field, Jon Field, Joe Field, Rick Sutherland, 124.700 mph; 5. No. 38 Champion Racing Porsche Lola – Hurley Haywood, Sascha Maassen, Andy Wallace, Lucas Luhr, 124.348 mph.

Other notables included: 8. No. 2 Judd Crawford, Jan Lammers, Tony Stewart, Johnny Mowlem, 122.190 mph; 29. No. 90 Flis Motorsports Corvette – Dave Liniger, Rick Carelli, Metcalf, Kevin Harvick, 110.466 mph; 31. No. 43 Orbit Racing GT3 R – Leo Hindery, Kyle Petty, Peter Baron, 110.229 mph.

Harvick, who drives the No. 29 GM Goodwrench Service Plus Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing in the Winston Cup Series, will compete in the American GT class in the Rolex 24 with Liniger, Carelli and Metcalf. Harvick said he’s enjoying himself immensely in a venture he’s never tried before.

“There’s no pressure," Harvick said. “The whole goal here is to have a fun with Dave Liniger, Rick Carelli and John Metcalf and just have a good time with it and try to finish the race. We still want to do good, but the main objective is to have a good time and relax and get into the groove for the (Winston Cup) season.”

Harvick, who won the 2001 Busch Series championship and the Winston Cup Raybestos Rookie of the Year, said he’s not worrying about points or a championship, he’s just trying to get a handle on his Corvette.

In the morning session Thursday on his first lap, Harvick did spin out the Corvette in the infield portion of the Speedway when his tires weren’t warmed up. In the afternoon session, he fared better and turned a fast lap of 107.171 mph.

“Man, that thing is fun,” Harvick said. “You get the tires warmed up on that Corvette and it really sticks going through the turns. It drives a lot different than a Cup car. The acceleration in that car is incredible.”

Harvick, who resides in the Daytona Beach, Fla., area, thinks any track time he can get will be helpful. He hopes by competing in the Feb. 2-3 Rolex 24, he'll be loosened up for his first stock car activity on Feb. 9 when he makes his Bud Pole Qualifying run for the Daytona 500.

“There’s no reason that we shouldn’t start a week earlier,” Harvick said. “You don’t have to work the jitters out in the Winston Cup car. When you get done with this race, you will have been in the car for quite awhile hopefully working the kinks out. All the jitterbugs should be worked out by the time we get to the Winston Cup car.”

Stewart, driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Pontiac for Joe Gibbs Racing, will compete in the Rolex 24 with the Crawford Race Cars’ factory team. He’ll race a V10 Judd-powered Crawford in the SportsRacing Prototype class.

When he was 15-years-old, Stewart turned laps on the 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway in a go-kart. Now at age 30, he’s back there turning laps in preparation for the Rolex 24.

“We didn’t run the chicane on the back straight, but it was pretty much the same course we run now,” Stewart said during a break in testing on Friday. “It’s been a long time, gosh, 15 years ago. A lot has happened in those 15 years. But it’s neat to come back to run the same track that I ran in go-karts.”

Stewart said he’s looking forward to starting his Speedweeks 2002 activities a week earlier with the Feb. 2-3 Rolex 24 At Daytona.

“It’s good to do something different,” Stewart said. “I’ve always driven so many different race cars in my career, it’s nice to add this to the list. From the time I was a little kid, when you watch this stuff on TV, I’d say, ‘Hey, I want to do that someday.’ Same thing I did with Indy-cars and Winston Cup cars – I said, ‘Hey, I want to do that someday.’”Petty and Andretti will compete for Orbit Racing. Petty finished seventh in the 2001 Rolex 24 with the same outfit.

Robby Gordon, who drives the No. 31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing, will partner with 1996 IRL champion Scott Sharp in the factory-backed Riley & Scott Mark III-C of Jim Matthews Racing. Gordon posted four straight class victories in the Rolex 24 between 1990-93. He was absent from the test on Thursday.

Not testing on Thursday but still competing in the race is Winston Cup driver turned NBC commentator Wally Dallenbach, who will pair up with IRL driver Steve Knapp, George Robinson and Jack Baldwin in Robinson Racing's No. 74 Riley & Scott Mark III-C in the SportsRacing Prototype class. Dallenbach has posted four class victories in the Rolex 24.

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2002

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