Fast off the truck and fast on the track. It didn't take Michael Waltrip long to make a statement yesterday [Tuesday], the opening day of NASCAR Preseason Thunder, the annual preseason test sessions at Daytona International Speedway.

Waltrip, the reigning and two-time Daytona 500 champion and driver of the #15 NAPA Chevrolet, was fastest during Tuesday's morning and afternoon sessions. He turned the top lap of 186.834 mph in the morning session and also claimed the third-fastest lap of 185.820 mph. In the afternoon, Waltrip's session-high lap was 185.755 mph.

Teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., (#8 Budweiser Chevrolet) turned the morning's fifth-fastest lap of 184.926 mph, giving Dale Earnhardt Incorporated three of the opening session's top five times. Earnhardt Jr. was also fifth-fasted in the afternoon session at 184.536 mph.

"It's the pinnacle of our sport," said Waltrip of the Daytona 500. "It's quite an honour. I don't take it lightly."

Even a morning setback couldn't stop the #15 team. An oil line broke during one of Waltrip's runs, causing him to graze a wall. With that car suddenly unavailable, he switched to his second car and turned the fastest lap during the afternoon session.

"It happened so fast I didn't really know what went on," said Waltrip, who explained the problem and added, "We had a pretty major oil event under the hood that really messed that car up."

The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series teams testing this week are the first to begin 2004 on-track preparations. They are teams which finished in odd-number positions in 2003 car owner points. Teams which finished in even-number positions in 2003 car owner points will test next week (January 13- 15).

Defending series champion Matt Kenseth (#17 DeWALT Ford) was eighth-fastest in the morning at 184.038 mph. Jeff Green, starting his first season in the #43 Cheerios/Betty Crocker Dodge, was second fastest at 185.835 mph and also seventh-fastest at 184.170 mph. In the afternoon, Green dropped to third-fastest (184.885 mph). Joe Nemechek (#01 U.S. Army Chevrolet) was second fastest at 185.494 mph.

 

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