DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Preparations for Budweiser Speedweeks and the 55th annual Daytona 500 kicked into high gear as Preseason Thunder, the three-day test session for NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams, began on Thursday at Daytona Int’l Speedway.
In attendance were 18 teams with 35 cars testing the 2.5-mile tri-oval in advance of NASCAR’s prestigious season-opening event scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 24.
“It is obviously great to be back at the track,” said 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski during the lunch break on Thursday. “I am sure you guys (the media) have all heard the same answers there. At the end of the day we are all racers and want to get back to doing what we love and racing is a passion we share.
“We have a lot of work to be done for Penske Racing to make the conversion over from Dodge to Ford and a lot of that work was done at the shop and then you come to the track and test and you verify it.”
The test is highlighted by the Daytona debut of the “Gen 6,” the new-look sixth generation NASCAR Sprint Cup Series cars which highlight greater brand identity for the manufacturers.
The new car will make its race debut in The Sprint Unlimited, the star-studded non-points event on Saturday night, Feb. 16 that will feature the previous season’s pole winners and past champions of The Sprint Unlimited.
“There are a lot of things going on including the new car that will get a lot of buzz here, deservedly so,” Keselowski said. “We are all working hard to figure out things together. Track time helps us to work through that and so far we are getting track time in. We might not be as fast as we want but somebody told me that Ford stands for “first on race day” and it isn’t race day so we don’t have to worry about that yet.”
2012 Daytona 500 champion Matt Kenseth, who kicking off his first season with Joe Gibbs Racing after a long tenure with Roush Fenway, topped the morning speed charts with a lap of 192.757 mph.
Rounding out the top five were Marcos Ambrose (192.736), Danica Patrick (192.583), Jeff Burton (192.526) and Paul Menard (192.460).
In the afternoon session, Denny Hamlin posted the fastest lap of the day with a lap of 195.712 mph and was followed by his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kenseth (195.385) and Kyle Busch (195.329).