Elliott Tops Testing Opener

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Two-time Daytona 500 winner Bill Elliott opened Jackson Hewitt Preseason Thunder at Daytona Int'l Speedway on Monday by posting the fastest lap at 187.219 mph in the afternoon session.

Elliott placed his MB2 Motorsports Chevrolet with Dale Earnhardt Jr. as the only two drivers to post times in the top 10 with both of their test cars in the two sessions.

"I'm stepping in to an already good deal -- MB2 has a history of fast superspeedway cars," said Elliott, who has not driven a General Motors car since October of 1979. "We got by the first hurdle by having a fast car as soon as it was unloaded. If you're not fast off the trailer, it's then difficult to find that extra speed. We're in good shape after the first day of testing."

Elliott, who also will drive the No. 36 in the Bud Shootout, will be making his first Daytona 500 attempt since 2003.

Defending Daytona 500 champion Jeff Gordon tied his teammate Jimmie Johnson for the second fastest time. Gordon's time came in the morning session while Johnson turned his lap in the afternoon. Johnson, who along with Gordon is carrying a special flame design for testing, also recorded another fast time (186.928 mph) with the same car earlier in the day.

Elliott Sadler was fourth overall and led the charge among the 2006 Ford Fusions present at testing.

"We think the Fusion is going to give us a better chance of winning the 500," said Sadler, who registered a lap of 186.908 mph in the p.m. session. "I've been very happy with the way my racecar has been on the track this morning. I can't wait to get it into drafting practice to see the full effects on it."

Sadler was sporting his usual off-season hairdo after letting it grow out during a month of hunting.

"I've been in the woods for seven weeks so I haven't had time to get a haircut," said Sadler. "Once the season starts I'll go get cleaned up."

Matt Kenseth rounded out the top five in another Ford with a lap of 186.023 mph in the afternoon.

Mike McLaughlin, who is testing the No. 20 for 2005 NEXTEL Cup champion Tony Stewart, used his morning time to put him seventh on the day. Stewart skipped the test session to prepare for the 20th annual Chili Bowl Midget Nationals in Tulsa, Okla.

2004 Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr's speed of 185.628 mph was good enough for eighth best, while his "b" car also ran well setting the 10th overall best time of both sessions.

"We have two cars here today, obviously," said Earnhardt Jr. "One of them is a lot better on acceleration. I am real pleased with what I felt under the hood of that car. It's only a tenth faster (morning session), but it has a little bit more acceleration."

Scott Wimmer was ninth overall (185.376 mph) in his first run in the No. 4 Chevrolet.

Jeremy Mayfield led the Dodge's, who have yet to find much success on the restrctor-plate tracks, with a speed of 184.923 mph (12th overall). Bobby Labonte, in another Dodge, was 15th in his first ride behind the wheel of the famous No. 43.

Reed Sorenson was the fastest among the three Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidates in attendance.

Testing will continue on Tuesday.

Tomorrow fans will be able to enter the NEXTEL FANZONE at Daytona. The day will feature a Fan Fest with displays and driver question and answer sessions. The cost is $15 to enter. Fans also can watch each day's test session for free in the grandstands by Daytona USA, beginning at 9 a.m.

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