January 16, 2007 | 9:21 A.M. EST
The second group of NEXTEL Cup teams have invaded Daytona International Speedway for week number two of Jackson Hewitt Preseason Thunder testing.
It's a larger gathering than last week with several interesting storylines, among them: Juan Pablo Montoya's progression as a NEXTEL Cup driver continues this week with is first full-fledged test session. Montoya continues to be impressive, staying near the top of the speed charts. "It was cool," Montoya said after Monday's session. "It was a great experience. It was a little bit of a challenge with all the bumps and getting used to again running close to the wall. That's pretty tough." He'll be under the spotlight all season, but Montoya will no doubt handle the pressure with all of his big game experience from other racing initiatives.
Another celebrated rookie didn't fare very well in his first day of testing. A.J. Allmendinger languished near the bottom of the charts with his Red Bull Racing Toyota. The former Champ Car star will have a tougher time adapting - and succeeding in the Cup Series than Montoya, who has the advantage of being with an established team rather than a start-up operation like Allmendinger.
Fan favorite Ward Burton was back in Daytona and happy to have a full-time NEXTEL Cup seat. The 2002 Daytona 500 winner knows things won't be easy for the small budget Morgan-McClure team this year. "We've got an uphill battle ahead of us," Burton said. "Guys have been working really hard, and hopefully their hard work is going to pay off. It certainly is somewhat of a mountain to climb." Despite being away for so long, Burton said he felt right at home in Monday's test session. "I guess we all can get rusty in some way or another," he said. "I know when I got back in the car the first time, it was a lot of fun. My first instinct was, 'Where the hell have I been?' because it just felt that natural."
James Hylton is trying to become this year's Kirk Shelmerdine, beating the odds as an independent to make the Daytona 500 - and at the tender age of 72 no less. Hylton, who won the 1966 Daytona 500 rookie title, feels as if he's on a quest for his age group. "I am doing this for seniors to show that at 70 years old, you don’t have to go hunting for an old-folks home. You can go race for a little bit," Hylton said. "A lot of the old drivers want to come out here and hang out in the pits and see if I can do it." I'm not sure if having a 72-year-old driver racing nearly 190 mph is in NASCAR's best interest from a safety standpoint.
Somewhat surprised more teams haven't tested their "Car of Tomorrow" models, but since the new edition won't run on superspeedways for a while, most thought it a waste of time.
Tony Stewart had to be smiling twice as wide on Saturday night, knowing he won the Chili Bowl indoor midget race and missed Daytona testing all in the same week.