Teams Complete Phoenix Test
By: Jeff Wackerlin - @JWackerlin Twitter and Instagram | MRN.com on February 1, 2017 | 9:30 P.M. EST
Kevin Harvick turned his first laps in a Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing during the test. (Photo: Getty Images)
Thirteen Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series teams completed an organizational test at Phoenix Raceway on Wednesday.
The four sessions over two days featured the 2017 rules package, the on-track return of Dale Earnhardt Jr., a trio of Rookie of the Year candidates and Stewart-Haas Racing's debut with Ford.
Earnhardt, who was sidelined with concussion-like symptoms halfway through last season, posted the fastest lap overall at 26.555 seconds (135.568 mph), coming in Wednesday's morning session. Earnhardt is a three-time winner at Phoenix and has finished eighth or better in six of his last seven races there.
"The last couple runs here, our car has been great," Earnhardt said. "I'm looking forward to getting back here knowing we have good speed and trying to build on that so we can win these races when we return." See Also: Earnhardt Jr. Back Behind the Wheel
Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez and Ty Dillon made up the rookies at the test, each debuting with new teams this season. Dillon, driving the No. 13 Chevrolet for Germain Racing, was second fastest (26.722 seconds) in the afternoon on the first day.
Jones, who ran three Cup races in 2015 subbing for Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth, made his on-track debut in the No. 77 Toyota for Furniture Row Racing. Jones, the 2015 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion, joins FRR after running full-time in the XFINITY Series with Joe Gibbs Racing last season.
"It’s quite a bit different in general and a little more challenging overall to drive than what the XFINITY cars are or what the previous package was in the Cup cars when I drove them," said Jones, who was third fastest (26.625 seconds) in the Wednesday a.m. session. "The biggest thing we've been working on is getting used to the new car and getting used to communicating again with (crew chief) Chris (Gayle) and the team in general."
Suarez, the 2016 XFINITY Series champion, turned his first laps in the a Cup car during the test as he moves up to NASCAR's Premiere Series to replace Carl Edwards in the No. 19 Toyota at Joe Gibbs Racing. Edwards was on hand at the test with his former team to help coach Suarez for his first test session.
Joey Logano (26.674 seconds) topped Tuesday's opening session while Kyle Larson was quickest in the afternoon sessions both days - 26.586 and 26.667 seconds, respectively.
Kevin Harvick made his debut in a Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing after the organization made a manufacturer switch in the off-season. Harvick was fourth fastest Wednesday morning (26.685 seconds) and second in the final session (26.698 seconds).
"The main thing is we have a starting point," Harvick said. "There’s not a lot of guessing. You know what’s going on and where you're at, and going around the racetrack is what we needed to be doing so that we knew where to work from."
Alex Bowman, who subbed for Earnhardt last fall at Phoenix and finished sixth after leading a race-high 194 laps, also took part in the test but was driving a Chevrolet with the wheel-force data-gathering device. J.J. Yeley (Toyota) and Landon Cassill (Ford) also tested with the wheel-force car.
"It's fun having Alex here to drive the wheel-force car for us," Earnhardt said. "I don’t have to drive the wheel-force car, which is awesome, because that’s not a lot of fun jumping in and out of the cars and the wheel-force car - it's a funky little machine."