Daytona Beach,FL – Thirty-four Sprint Cup Series teams began a three-day test session on Thursday at Daytona International Speedway.
Teams are familiarizing themselves with the new sixth generation or "G6" race cars for the upcoming season. It's the first time the car has turned laps around this 2.5-mile superspeedway. The season-opening Daytona 500 is scheduled for February 24.
The most recent test with the new Sprint Cup car occurred last month at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Several teams did not participate in that two-day test session there. Michael Waltrip Racing driver Clint Bowyer, who finished second in the championship Chase point standings this past season, turned his first laps in the car.
"Everybody is super excited about this race car and what it brings to our sport and the identity that it brings back to the passenger cars you see on the roads," Bowyer said. "This is my first time I've been in it. I didn't do the Charlotte test, so it was fun to get out there and see what it was all about. They're certainly cool looking to see everybody's cars down here and be back to racing."
Matt Kenseth, who is now the driver of the No. 20 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, was fastest in the morning session with a lap at 192.757 mph. Kenseth won last year's Daytona 500 in his final season with Roush Fenway Racing.
Marcos Ambrose, in his No. 9 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford, was second quickest at 192.736 mph, followed by Danica Patrick, who is running a full schedule in Sprint Cup this season after a partial schedule in the series last year. Patrick's top lap in her No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet came in at 192.583 mph. Richard Childress Racing teammates Jeff Burton and Paul Menard rounded out the top-five.
Reigning series champion Brad Keselowski was 31st on the speed chart.
Most drivers did single-car runs while some did two-car drafts during the session.
Driver/owner Tony Stewart said he was impressed with the car after his first time in it.
"We have a lot of work to do to get all three teams ready for the year with the new body changes, so far so good," Stewart said. "The big thing is just getting here and seeing the new look of the cars. I think it really looks good. It's nice to see."
Patrick confirmed during a press conference on Thursday at Daytona that she will not compete in the Indianapolis 500 for the second year in a row. Scheduled for May 26, the Indy 500 takes place on the same day as the 600-mile Sprint Cup race at Charlotte.
"I can confirm to you today that I will not be doing the Indy 500," Patrick said. "I am just going to do the Coke 600. The team and I decided to focus on Cup. It's going to be plenty of work as it is. It's going to be important for me running for the championship full-time for the first time to really keep myself focused with the Cup car. But if I do the Indy 500 moving forward it will be with (sponsor) GoDaddy."
While Patrick is expected to compete in Sprint Cup full-time, she is working on plans to run a partial schedule in the Nationwide Series this season. Last year, she finished 10th in Nationwide points, driving the No. 7 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports. There has been recent speculation that Patrick will compete in select races for Turner Motorsports.
"I know there have been some reports that have come out about running for Turner," she said. "We are definitely talking to them trying to figure it out and we are definitely working on that, but there has been nothing signed yet. The exact dates, the races and the sponsor have yet to be confirmed for all that."
The afternoon session featured more multi-car packs. JGR driver Denny Hamlin had the fastest lap of the day at 195.712 mph, followed by Kenseth (195.385), Kyle Busch (195.329) and Mark Martin (195.063). All four Toyota drivers were hooked up in a draft during the closing minutes of the session.
NASCAR officials were pleased with the outcome of day one at Daytona.
"It was a pretty smooth day," NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton said. "I think as many single-car runs were going on out there, it was more important for the teams to just get time. But you know, actually really looking forward to getting some drafting practice on (Friday) afternoon. But today was relatively uneventful.
"I think that we anticipated the speeds to be as good as they were, probably a little bit quicker than what we were the first practice down here last year on the test, and everything looks like it's fine."
Sprint Cup teams resume testing at Daytona on Friday and conclude on Saturday.