Despite having only recently inked a one-off deal with the team, Bill Elliott got off to a fast start with MB2 Motorsports, piloting its #36 Chevrolet to the quickest lap on the first of three days of testing for the Daytona 500.

The former Cup champion will drive the car in both the Bud Shootout and Daytona 500, having spent the last two seasons making occasional appearances for Evernham Motorsports. The early season outings will also mark a rare appearance in a General Motors car for Elliott, as he takes the wheel of the Centrix-sponsored Chevy instead of his more recent Dodges.

Elliott earns an automatic berth in the Bud Shootout by virtue of winning the event in 1987 and, as a former Cup champion, also has a guaranteed place in the starting line-up for the 500, despite last contesting the race in 2003. Under the watchful eye of crew chief Frank Stoddard, Elliott posted Monday's fastest speed at 187.219mph to fend off the challenge of fellow Chevy runners Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, who recorded equal laps at 187.029mph. Gordon had earlier topped the morning charts, ahead of team-mate Johnson and Elliott.

"I'm stepping in to an already good deal - MB2 has a history of fast superspeedway cars," Elliott, who has not driven a GM car since October 1979, admitted, " We're in good shape after the first day of testing, but we got by the first hurdle by having a fast car as soon as it was unloaded - if you're not fast off the trailer, it's then difficult to find that extra speed.

"Everything went smoothly today," explained the four-time 500 polewinner, "This team is so connected, we've got a strong baseline and that will allow us to experiment more over the next two days. I just mashed the pedal and took off for a very fast ride but, while it's nice to be on top of the speed charts, I'd rather be at the top in another month."

Monday also marked the first day of Cup Series testing for the new Ford Fusion, with Matt Kenseth and Elliot Sadler getting the first taste of the new Blue Oval contender. Sadler, running with Robert Yates, was third quickest in the afternoon session, ahead of Gordon.

"Anytime you bring a new body type to a race track or open a season with it, you're going to have different things that you've got to do to massage on it and get it right, get it close," Sadler told, "But, from a team standpoint, we've been so lucky how much testing Ford has done in the wind tunnel before we got it. They ran it through the tunnel time and time again, and massaged on it for us, and really got it great. By the time the actual teams got the car, the Fusion was pretty much in race-ready trim."

Kenseth was fourth fastest in the morning session, with Sadler fifth, although the former Cup champion was classified sixth in the afternoon, behind Elliott's back-up MB2 machine.

Three rookies received their first taste of pre-season Cup testing, with Reed Sorenson opening with 20th place on the morning speedchart, before improving five places after the mid-day break. Defending Busch Series champion Martin Truex Jr recorded bests of 26th and David Stremme 33rd.

Ryan Newman, a constant polesitter in the regular season, was only 17th fastest in the morning session, having swapped his Intrepid-nosed #12 Dodge back to full Charger-spec ahead of the test.

Defending Cup Series champion Tony Stewart was not present at the test, and had Mike McLaughlin subbing in the #20 Home Depot Chevy, The replacement was sixth fastest in the morning session, at 185.927mph, before posting the seventh best time of the afternoon, both in the Joe Gibbs team's back-up car.

Only half of the Cup teams are at Daytona this week, with the other half due to appear next week, including Elliott's MB2 team-mates Joe Nemechek and Sterling Marlin.



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