- Mark Ashenfelter, NASCAR
- 0 Shares
The Sprint Cup haulers have left Daytona International Speedway behind, as have the Craftsman Truck Series teams. That leaves the Nationwide Series to round out what's dubbed as Preseason Thunder.
And while the series formerly known as the Busch Series has a new name, the cars have stayed the same -- if only for one more year. The Nationwide Series is expected to feature cars built on a chassis similar to the one now being used in the Sprint Cup Series starting in 2009.
The Nationwide cars, though, aren't expected to mirror the Cup cars in terms of body style, though NASCAR has yet to make an official announcement as to exactly what's on tap for the series.
But it will be business as usual when five days of testing begin Friday morning. The testing is split into two sessions, with teams testing from either Friday to Sunday, or Sunday until Tuesday.
Among the questions on tap will be whether Kevin Harvick can defend his win in last year's season opener at Daytona. If so, it'll be a return to Victory Lane for Kevin Harvick Inc., which won the race in 2005 and '06 with Tony Stewart behind the wheel.
Harvick broke KHI's streak last year, as he won the race in a Richard Childress Racing entry as he split time between RCR's Chevrolets and the ones he owns along with wife DeLana. This year, though, Harvick's focus in the Nationwide Series will be on his own team.
KHI won the Craftsman Truck Series title with Ron Hornaday last year, but has yet to challenge for the championship in the Nationwide Series. Part of that is the fact the team has rotated a mix of drivers in the past, but even then the team wasn't in the hunt for the owner's title.
Naturally, Harvick would like to change that this season. But even if the team's not in the championship hunt, he clearly wants to win races with his own team. Harvick will drive 22 races in the No. 33 Chevy, with Cale Gale driving 11 events and Hornaday two.
"In the [Nationwide] car, I needed a different challenge. I'm a person that has to have challenges, so I wanted to drive my own [Nationwide] car, and to be able to do that week in and week out is something that I'm really looking forward to," said Harvick, who quickly apologized for calling it a Busch car. "The 21 car [fielded by RCR] was a lot of fun to go out and win races, but I didn't have my hand in everything to feel like it was something that would give you that fulfillment of an accomplishment from the start to finish, and if we could do that with my [Nationwide] car, it's something that -- it's just a different reward in the end.
"After realizing that with Ron and the truck team, being able to start that team from scratch was something that just -- it's a different reward, and it's hard to explain the feeling that you get from that. I was not bored in the 21 car, but I just needed more of a challenge in the Nationwide car.
"To do that, I think, is going to be pretty exciting for me personally."
Other focal points during testing will be Carl Edwards as he looks to repeat his championship and Clint Bowyer, who will be a preseason favorite since he's running the entire schedule in RCR's No. 2 entry this season.
While there will be plenty of Cup drivers in many of the races, there will also be people looking to see how drivers such as Marcos Ambrose can do with a full year's experience in the series behind them.
The answers clearly won't come during a test session, but after a brief hiatus, the Nationwide Series teams are ready to take to the track.
Mark Ashenfelter is an associate editor at ESPN.
Nationwide Series testing begins Friday at Daytona, and the questions are plentiful: Will Kevin Harvick defend his win in last year's opener? Will Carl Edwards run away with another series title? Stay tuned.