DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Forget all the talk about NASCAR's Young Guns; 2006 is looking like the year of the Old Dogs.
A trio of veteran drivers assembled by MB2 Motorsports for this year's Daytona 500 has managed to steal the spotlight during both weeks of testing.
All three have been at or near the top of the speed charts during the two weeks of preseason testing here at the 2½-mile Daytona International Speedway. Marlin's 187.110 mph speed, recorded during Monday's afternoon session with a strong headwind on the back straight, topped charts for this week's first day of testing. Meanwhile, Elliott was at or near the top of the speed charts for all three days of testing last week.
The MB2 trio has accumulated some impressive statistics at Daytona, including:
Four Daytona 500 victories – Elliott in 1985 and '87, and Marlin in '94 and '95.
Ten pole starts – Elliott (five), Marlin (four) and Nemechek.
Marlin is one of only three drivers to win back-to-back Daytona 500s (Richard Petty and Cale Yarborough are the others).
When both Marlin and Nemechek were asked if either man had any advice for this year's bumper crop of rookies, Nemechek joked, "I don't think we're going to give them any. It's fair game, isn't it? Go out there and learn, right?"
Nearly everyone picked up speed in Monday's afternoon session.
Other notable drivers in the afternoon session's top 10 included: Nemechek, who was fourth fastest at 186.405 mph; David Green, who was sixth fastest at 186.278 mph while subbing for Brian Vickers, who is recovering from minor surgery; and rookies Clint Bowyer (186.020 mph) and Denny Hamlin (185.954 mph), who were ninth and 10th fastest, respectively.
Single-car practice resumes Tuesday while drafting practice begins Wednesday.
Chevy vs. Ford vs. Dodge
Chevys are dominating the top of the speed charts, as there was just one lone Ford in Monday's top 10: the Fusion of Jamie McMurray with a speed of 186.494 mph.
There has been a lot of talk around the Cup garage about how good the Fusion race car is, fueling speculation that perhaps the Ford drivers have been sandbagging so as to not show their full hand until next month's Daytona 500.
One Ford crew chief said the new Fusion definitely is a much better race car than last year's Taurus, but he added that the new Monte Carlo SS being campaigned by the Chevrolet teams simply hasn't yet been worked on enough.
"We're good now, but they'll be even better next month," he said, pointing out that the fastest cars in practice are Chevys.
The only Dodge in the top 10 was driven by Riggs (186.776 mph). Riggs also was very quick during preseason testing last year at Daytona, but he was driving a Chevrolet in '05.
"I like this place, I guess," said Riggs, who now is with Evernham Motorsports. "Our Dodge is fast and we keep working on it."
Dodge teams have struggled with aerodynamic balance since changing to the new Charger last season, but Evernham seems to have done the best in dealing with the handling problems suffered by other Dodge teams like Ganassi and Penske.
Gordon back to his day job
With the deserts of northwestern Africa in his rearview mirror, Robby Gordon is glad to be back behind the wheel of his Nextel Cup Chevy Monte Carlo.
Gordon's ill-fated attempt at the Dakar Rally ended in the middle of the Mauritanian desert when his Hummer struck a large sandy mound called "camel grass" due to its resemblance to a camel's hump.
"Yeah, it was in the middle of nowhere," Gordon said. "To tell you how empty that place is, we left Atar and I was flat out for 2½ hours without seeing anything. Then, we go flying over this hill and land on the grass.
"It's disappointing, but that's what that race is all about."
Gordon's focus now turns to his second-year Cup team, which he expects to be stronger this season.
"We're a year older. We've got more cars built and I'd like to think we're better prepared at this point in the season," said Gordon, who was 37th in points last year. "We learned a lot last year as a team, and I learned as a driver. We'll be much better this year."
Despite his difficulties last season, Gordon's team retains primary sponsorship from Jim Beam and Menards.
Having horsepower from DEI has helped, as Gordon switched to DEI engines late last season. But Gordon's practice speeds on Monday were nearly a second off the leaders, showing the team still needs to do some additional aerodynamic work on the bodies of its race cars.
Carl Edwards, last year's NASCAR Cinderella story, admitted he had to lie to his mother in order to keep his dreams of being a NASCAR driver alive.
As a short track racer in his native Missouri and neighboring Illinois in the late 1990s, Edwards relied on borrowing money from his mother, but he vowed to pay her back.
"'I swear, Mom, someday I'll make millions of dollars and I will pay you back. I swear,'" Edwards said he told his mother.
"I felt bad for lying to her because I thought the chances of this happening are like zero, but it was all fun. I did not expect to be in this position. I'm very fortunate."
Despite not being very religious, Edwards acknowledged that there has been some kind of divine intervention – along with some really good luck – along the way that has resulted in him being where he is today.
"I expected to be working my tail off right now and still chasing it," he said. "I never thought I'd be here."
Edwards did add that he's working on paying his mother back.
Car of Tomorrow
Rumors exist that the Car of Tomorrow is dead in the water or that NASCAR and the sport's manufacturers are at odds on which direction the next generation race car is to take.
The reality is quite the contrary, as the ongoing development of the new car has seen an unprecedented level of cooperation between the sanctioning body and Ford, GM and Dodge, according to a source with one of the manufacturers.
The Car of Tomorrow has undergone major changes since it was first introduced, the most recent being the introduction of a fixed wing on the rear deck of the car, replacing the customary spoiler. Results from the initial test of a single-element wing last week at Daytona have been extremely positive.
"What we know is that the wing is a very efficient aerodynamic device ... because it is so adjustable," said John Darby, NASCAR's Nextel Cup series director.
Darby said that reaction to the wing has been favorable and that despite the initial impression that the wing might make the new car seem less stock, more and more new vehicles are showing up on showroom floors with wings as part of their accessory package.
Darby added that the primary focus of current tests is to establish a balance on the new car, which also includes a new aerodynamic device: a splitter, which is attached to the bottom of the nose of the car and helps keep the front of the car on the ground.
Toyota officials were present for last week's Car of Tomorrow tests at Daytona, marking the first time they were officially invited by NASCAR to attend a CoT test.
Although the manufacturer hasn't officially announced its intention to enter both the Busch and Nextel Cup Series in '07, there should be something official from the Toyota camp soon, possibly as early as the weekend of the Feb. 26 Cup race at California Speedway.