The UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is still six weeks away, but the Evernham Motorsports team has served notice that it will be a force to be reckoned with on 7 March.

Evernham drivers Jeremy Mayfield and Kasey Kahne completed their two-day test on LVMS' 1.5-mile superspeedway and, by unofficial counts, were the class of the field. The duo turned identical unofficial fastest laps of 31.42secs (171.851mph) during Tuesday's test.

"You have to be careful about speeds during a test," team boss Ray Evernham said, "That being said, it's a lot better to be at the top of the speed chart than somewhere near the bottom. We still have a lot of work to do, but this is encouraging. Jeremy's team is really starting to gel, and Kasey and his guys are coming along very quickly."

For Kahne, who had never competed in a NASCAR Winston Cup event prior to the sponsor's handover to new-for-2004 backer Nextel, this is a big week of testing.

"These cars are so much different from the Busch cars," the rookie said, "It's good to come out here and put a good test together. This should help us for the entire season."

And, for Evernham, whose entire team is sponsored by Dodge and the UAW-DaimlerChrysler National Training Centre, the race in Las Vegas takes on added significance.

"One of the reasons we're going to run three cars, with Bill Elliott in the third one, is the importance of this race," he confirmed, "This is a race that we concentrate very hard on. It's important to run well everywhere, but this one is a little extra special."

A total of 23 Nextel Cup teams and 15 Busch Series teams participated in Tuesday's test.

In addition to Mayfield and Kahne, Kyle Busch, Robby Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Johnny Sauter, Jeff Green, Kyle Petty, Kevin Lepage, Ken Schrader, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Sterling Marlin, Jamie McMurray, Michael Waltrip, Tony Stewart, Bobby Labonte, Ward Burton, Brian Vickers, Ricky Craven, Scott Riggs, Joe Nemechek and Scott Wimmer all received track time in their Cup cars.

Busch teams in action on the day included those of Matt Kenseth, Ron Hornaday, Eric McClure, David Green, Paul Wolfe, Casey Atwood, JJ Yeley, Mike Bliss, Tim Fedewa, Jason Keller, David Reutimann, Martin Truex Jr and Kenny Wallace. Waltrip and Sauter turned double duty by running both Nextel Cup and Busch Series machines.

The day's only accident came in the first hour of practice when Cup rookie Wimmer spun and made contact with the wall in turn one. Wimmer was not injured, but had to use his back-up car for the remainder of the test.

The importance of Tuesday's test session was highlighted by the presence of NASCAR chairman Brian France, president Mike Helton, senior vice-president Paul Brooks and Nextel Cup series director John Darby.



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