Some winners, losers emerged from testing
What can you really glean from the first round of testing at Daytona? It's early and perhaps meaningless, but there were still clear winners and losers, writes Terry Blount.
Four days of Daytona testing are in the books for half of the Nextel Cup teams.
So what have we learned?
Trying to read too much into initial test sessions is similar to attempting to predict the Super Bowl champion from the first week of preseason games.
But we'll bravely make an effort to point out a few key observations from the first week of track time for the 2007 season:
Biggest Winner Of The Week
Tony Stewart. And he wasn't even there! Mike McLaughlin, who filled in for Stewart in the No. 20 Chevrolets, was consistently fast in both cars. No wonder Stewart elected to skip it.
McLaughlin posted speeds in the top five in three of the five sessions he ran. He topped the speed charts on the first session Wednesday and was second in the first session Tuesday. And McLaughlin placed both cars in the top 10 of three sessions.
Tony Raines. Hey, check that carburetor.
Raines posted top-five speeds in four of the five sessions he raced. He topped the first session Monday with a lap of 183.974 mph in the No. 96 DLP Chevy.
That brought a few jokes around the garage that the DLP boys must have gone back to the carburetor they used during Daytona qualifying last year.
Someone at Joe Gibbs Racing inadvertently grabbed a carburetor out of the wrong bin and placed it on the engine. The illegal part was discovered in a post-qualifying inspection.
So the new Hall of Fame Racing team of Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach debuted in the penalty box. But the team looked darn good this week with a regulation carburetor.
"We have one car in qualifying trim and one car we've been drafting with," Raines said. "The car in qualifying trim seems to be driving better. I hope we bring that one for the race. It's stacking up pretty well against some of the other good cars. We're excited about that."
Remember, Raines wasn't driving the car in the Daytona 500 last year. Terry Labonte -- with his past champion's provisional -- drove the first five races while Raines watched from the pit box.
Joe Gibbs Racing. The two winners above make this a no-brainer. Hall of Fame Racing leases its equipment from JGR. A Gibbs-built car placed in the top 10 of all five test sessions it had a driver on the track, and posted the top speed in two test sessions.
Biggest Loser Of The Week
Kasey Kahne. Maybe they were sandbagging. If not, the folks at Evernham Motorsports have some work to do.
Kahne posted the slowest speed in four of the six sessions. Things finally improved on Wednesday when Kahne had the 10th-quickest lap at 186.316 in the No. 9 Dodge Dealers Charger.
Kahne won a series-best six races last year and made the Chase for the first time.
Maybe it's just this track. Kahne has yet to post a top-10 finish in six Daytona starts.
Ricky Rudd and Robert Yates Racing. Rudd has not forgotten how to wheel a race car. He led the final test session Thursday and posted top-10 speeds in the first three sessions.
Rudd placed the No. 88 Ford in the top 15 in all six outings. He didn't show any rust after his one-year layoff. But the best news is RYR's cars ran near the front all week.
Toyota not so hot (yet). The new Toyotas had some good moments this week, but overall, nothing to brag about.
But Toyota teams failed to place a car in the top 10 in three of the sessions. None of the six Camrys was better than 34th in the first session.
"All of it is a learning process for us," said Brian Vickers. "We've just got to have smooth tests, nothing go wrong, get laps on the car, try stuff and learn to communicate."
The Cruising Champ
Jimmie Johnson. His broken wrist still is healing, but it didn't stop Johnson from taking up where he left off at Daytona. The 2006 Cup champion and defending Daytona 500 winner was near the top of the speed charts out of the gate.
Johnson ranked in the top five in three of the first four sessions, including second in the first outing Monday.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Earnhardt felt so good about how things were going in the No. 8 Chevy that he decided to blow off the third day and go home.
Earnhardt turned laps in the top 10 in the first two test sessions before leading the afternoon session on Tuesday. He decided to call it quits while he was on top.
Junior returned to North Carolina and handed the driving duties over to half brother Kerry on Wednesday.
Faster Than Expected
Jeff Green. Green and the No. 66 Chevy ranked in the top six in three of the five sessions he turned laps. He also posted the fastest lap of the week at 186.772 mph in the afternoon session on Wednesday.
Chevrolet. Chevy drivers led four of the six sessions. Ford took the other two. But Chevys occupied nine of the top 10 spots in the first session Wednesday and seven out of the top 10 in the morning session on Tuesday.
Dodge. The Dodge teams didn't have a car in the top 10 in three of the six sessions. No Charger driver made it into the top three all week.
Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.