DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Daytona Preseason Thunder, the annual three-day NASCAR Sprint Cup Series test session at Daytona International Speedway that preludes the 54th running of the Daytona 500, began Thursday at Daytona International Speedway. Throughout the day, drivers took a break from turning laps at the “World Center of Racing” to chat with media about the start of the upcoming NASCAR season.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew National Guard Chevrolet and 2004 Daytona 500 champion, discussed what winning again at Daytona would mean as he sat next to the Harley J. Earl trophy for the 2012 Daytona 500.
“Winning the 500 is the biggest race of the year,” said Earnhardt Jr. “It's the greatest feeling. When it comes to winning single events, you can't beat it. A lot of effort goes into this race.”
Danica Patrick, who will make her debut in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driving the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing in the 54th annual Daytona 500, focused on seeing how fast the car could go on Thursday and plans on working on bump drafting Friday.
“I’m really kind of glad that the first time that I’m in a Cup car is here at Daytona where I can get the fit right and get all the little things right,” Patrick said. “So that when we go to a track that’s a little bit more challenging from a driver’s perspective, that stuff is all good to go and there’s no concern or no distraction.”
In discussing her expectations for the Daytona 500, Patrick said “Obviously it’s the biggest race of the year. I’d really like to run well. I don’t just want to be here, I want to run well. I think at a place like Daytona there’s that opportunity. I think I’ll probably have slightly more realistic expectations for some of the other ones, but for this one, at Daytona, I think there’s a real opportunity.”
Greg Zipadelli, NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Tony Stewart’s former crew chief and recently announced competition director of Stewart-Haas, will serve as Patrick’s crew chief in the Sprint Cup Series.
“For us, from a company standpoint, it made sense to have him,” Stewart said. “To be able to apply him over there in a crew chief role and, at the same time, the practicality of it, of him having that experience of working with new drivers, makes it a smart decision for us to have somebody like him that can work with Danica and know how to go through those learning processes. So we get the best of both worlds with it.”
“We get along great,” said Patrick about her crew chief. “I feel really comfortable with him so far. I feel respected, and I feel like he’s been very patient.”
Next up: NASCAR Preseason Thunder continues on Friday and Saturday. All test sessions begin at 9 a.m. and end at 5 p.m., weather permitting. Along with watching Daytona Preseason Thunder track activity from the Sprint FANZONE, fans can enjoy Fan Fest driver sessions from 5-7 p.m. on Friday.
Tickets for the Daytona Preseason Thunder Fan Fest are available at the gate, online at http://wwwdaytonainternationalspeedway.com or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP.
Fans can also watch each day’s testing at no cost from a section of the Oldfield Grandstands.