DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- For the first time since Kevin Harvick took the checkered flag in the Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola on July 3, race cars were back on track at Daytona International Speedway.

Eighteen NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers kicked off the first day of a two-day Goodyear tire test on the new racing surface in advance of the 53rd annual Daytona 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race on Sunday, Feb. 20.

The test was the first time race cars turned laps on the new asphalt of Daytona International Speedway, which was repaved for only the second time in its history.

Among the drivers in attendance included:

• Hendrick Motorsports drivers Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Mark Martin

• Penske Racing’s Brad Keselowski and Kurt Busch

• Roush Fenway’s Matt Kenseth and David Ragan

• Richard Childress Racing’s Jeff Burton and Paul Menard

• Earnhardt Ganassi Racing’s Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya

• JTG Daugherty Racing’s Bobby Labonte

“It’s amazing the job that they did here,” said Gordon, a three-time Daytona 500 champion. “It’s really smooth. It’s got a lot of grip. I think we learned a tremendous amount by being here. Not only did we get a chance to really see what we’re going to be dealing with here in February for the Daytona 500, but it gets us prepared for the test coming up in January.”

“They smoothed out all the bumps,” said Earnhardt Jr., the 2004 Daytona 500 champion. “The track is real smooth. It’s got a lot of grip. The track reminds me a lot like Talladega was like when they first finished it.

“The racing during the drafting was exciting and I think it is going to be a good show, a more exciting show for the fans because the cars are going to stay real tight on each other throughout entire runs.”

Drivers turned laps on the storied 2.5-mile-tri-oval in both single car and drafting sessions.

"The sound of cars on the racetrack today was music to my ears," said Daytona Speedway President Joie Chitwood III. "We are glad to have this project completed ahead of schedule so Goodyear can have a good opportunity to develop a tire for our events in 2011. We were also thrilled to see so many fans come out to watch the race cars turn the first laps on the new pavement. We can't wait for Speedweeks 2011 and the Daytona 500."

Said NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton: “It was a very good day. The teams came well prepared. Goodyear came well prepared. The race track has a lot of grip. The surface is very smooth. It appears in drafting practice they immediately went three wide.”

The Goodyear tire test will wrap up on Thursday and is open to the public with free access to the Oldfield Grandstands through the lobby of the Daytona International Speedway ticket office.

On Thursday at noon, fans will also be able to watch the Goodyear tire testing press conference via a web stream at

Four drivers –McMurray, Burton, Busch and Labonte – as well as Pemberton, Goodyear Director of Racing Greg Stucker and Chitwood will provide attending media an update on the two-day test.

The timing of the press conference may be adjusted to accommodate on-track delays.

For tickets and more information on Daytona International Speedway events, visit or call 1-800-PITSHOP.