Busch runs fastest lap of Daytona testing
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- It didn't take Kyle Busch long to settle into his new ride with Joe Gibbs Racing -- just three days, in fact.
Busch paced the field on the final day of testing at Daytona International Speedway, and his lap of 188.830 mph was fastest of all 26 cars that participated in the three-day session.
The showing was a relief to the talented 22-year-old, who despite two appearances in the Chase for the championship, lost his seat at elite Hendrick Motorsports when the team signed Dale Earnhardt Jr.
"It's been a big deal to be able to come out here and run strong," Busch said after Wednesday's final session. "It's easy. Everything's going great. You know, being back at the shop, working with the guys a little bit, getting seats all squared away, everybody's been real helpful, real eager, have been telling me about how excited they are."
Few would have blamed Busch if he'd been nervous about the test session, which also came in a new car. Signed as an 18-year-old at Hendrick, he grew up in that organization and found all of his success driving a Chevrolet.
When he signed with JGR, that team also fielded Chevys. But the team later switched to Toyota, and heads into this year expected to help the automaker find success in NASCAR. Toyota teams struggled last season, its first at the elite Cup level, and the burden is on JGR to raise the performance.
So Busch's showing at testing was an exciting sign for Toyota, which saw decent performances from most of its teams -- particularly J.J. Yeley of Hall of Fame Racing and A.J. Allmendinger of Red Bull Racing. Even newcomer Jacques Villeneuve in a Camry for Bill Davis Racing spent time at the front of the field.
"Overall, we're happy with how things went here the past three days," said Lee White, general manager of Toyota Racing Development. "I think all of the Toyota teams participating in this session were relatively pleased with the performance of their cars."
"We want to make sure we give [Stewart] and [Hamlin] everything that we've learned, so then they're coming back here the way we leave, so they can keep going on the same path that we were," Busch said. "Everybody's excited about the tandem that we have here with myself, Tony and Denny. You know, everybody's pretty pumped up and ready to get the season rolling."
That's especially true at Toyota, which had a rocky first season at the Cup level. Dave Blaney's third-place finish at Talladega in October was Toyota's best finish of the season, and its only other top-five came from Brian Vickers at Lowe's Motor Speedway in May.
But there was little consistency, as the teams struggled to make races and never sniffed Victory Lane.
Busch expects that to change in 2008.
"I'm confident enough in Toyota -- because we're talking about Toyota here -- that they're going to make it to Victory Lane," he said. "I feel like the Gibbs organization is ultimately going to be the telltale story of how good Toyota is going to be.
"You still have Red Bull, who has been a strong effort. Obviously, they came down here prepared and ready to go. They've been pretty fast, as well as Bill Davis. Villeneuve has been good. It's not a stretch at all to say that Toyota's going to be in Victory Lane."
That confidence has made this switch easier for Busch, who had a dream situation at Hendrick and saw it all taken away when the team let him go for Earnhardt. After four Cup wins, solid improvement in the standings every season and two berths in the Chase, he's now starting over with a No. 18 team that hasn't found consistent success since Bobby Labonte won the title in 2000.
"No regrets, no nothing," he said. "I'm fortunate enough to be with another great organization, with Joe Gibbs. The team that I'm with, the 18 team, has struggled a little bit the past couple years. I'm excited about the way all the guys are working, really digging in deep, making changes really fast in order to get out there and just get more track time."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press