Drivers Brave Cold To Break In 2005 Cup Package At Kentucky Speedway
Eight hundred ninety-five miles and 27 days away from the start of NASCAR Preseason Thunder at Daytona International Speedway, drivers Tony Stewart, Bobby Labonte, Jason Leffler, Jeff Burton, Dave Blaney, Mike Bliss and Justin Labonte braved morning temperatures in the teens to gain a feel for their 2005 NEXTEL Cup Series race packages at Kentucky Speedway today.
Former NEXTEL Cup Series Champions Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte worked with new Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Jason Leffler to test six 2005 cars.
"The reason we have so many cars here today is that we don't know what kind of package we're going have next year as far as what we want for the bodies," Labonte said. "I've gotten in two cars, Tony has his two and Jason has his two, so we have a lot of work to do."
Stewart, the 2002 series champion who finished sixth in the championship standings this past season, said he is taking the first steps toward improving on that finish in 2005.
"Everything is productive so far," Stewart said. "I think we'd all rather be home right now, but even with it being as cold as it is, we're learning something. We didn't bring a car here with last year's package and I've only run a total of about eight laps here, so I really don't have much data to back up what we're learning today. We're strictly working on next year's stuff. It's too early to tell if the new package will make a difference, we're just trying to gather data and working to make things better for next year."
After missing the first Chase for the NEXTEL Cup and finishing 12th in the 2004 standings with five top-five and 11 top-10 finishes last season, Labonte used the test to begin establishing a competitive foundation with new Crew Chief Steve Addington.
"We had a crew chief change halfway through the year and obviously it didn't work out like we wanted it to," Labonte said. "I think Steve's ability and expertise will bring a lot to our race team that we needed and lacked last year."
Bliss, who earned his full-time ride in the No. 0 NetZero Chevrolet for 2005 with a 10th-place finish in the car at Darlington Raceway last season, tested with new Crew Chief Robert "Bootie" Barker to prepare for his first run at the full NEXTEL Cup Series schedule since 2000. Bliss said the reduction in spoiler height made a difference when his car ran in traffic.
"It's going to be exciting," Bliss said of his upcoming season. "I know this Haas/CNC NetZero group. They're associated with Hendrick, so the motors, chassis and tech support come from there. 'Bootie' is great and he's one of the biggest reasons I wanted to come over and do this. We're doing a lot of winter testing because of the new rules with the spoilers. We're trying to see if we can gain back what we lost. I think we'll notice a lot, not by yourself, but in traffic with two cars there's a big difference. The car is more free. If you're deep in traffic, you're going have to your hands full."
Testing continues tomorrow at Kentucky Speedway when Roush Racing driver Greg Biffle joins the Gibbs teams.
Kentucky Speedway will pack 11 races and concerts with country music artists Travis Tritt, The Charlie Daniels Band, Billy Ray Cyrus, SHeDAISY and The Kentucky Headhunters into five weekends of entertainment in 2005. The new season begins May 14 and ends September 10.
Season ticket packages are on sale now and begin at $200. New and renewing members will be able to attend Outback Steakhouse Tailgate Parties during the June, July and August weekends and enjoy access to a VIP concert area. Members also will receive one general admission pole event voucher and one cold pit pass with each season ticket purchased, the opportunity to purchase pole event tickets at half price, one preferred parking pass that can be exchanged for free access to general camping areas. Season seat locations can be renewed each year.
Packages can be reserved and renewed online at www.kentuckyspeedway.com, by phone at 859-578-2300 or at the speedway ticket office located at 2216 Dixie Hwy., Ste. 200, in Ft. Mitchell, Ky. A mail in order form also is available on the tickets pages of the official track Web site.
Single event ticket sales will begin January 10, 2005.
~ Kentucky Speedway ~