Matt Kenseth
Preparations for Budweiser Speedweeks and the 55th annual Daytona 500 kicked into high gear as Preseason Thunder, the three-day test session for NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams, began on Thursday at Daytona International Speedway.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Preparations for Budweiser Speedweeks and the 55th annual Daytona 500 kicked into high gear as Preseason Thunder, the three-day test session for NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams, began on Thursday at Daytona International Speedway.

In attendance were 18 teams with 35 cars testing the 2.5-mile tri-oval in advance of NASCAR’s prestigious season-opening event scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 24.

“It is obviously great to be back at the track,” said 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski during the lunch break on Thursday. “I am sure you guys (the media) have all heard the same answers there. At the end of the day we are all racers and want to get back to doing what we love and racing is a passion we share.

“We have a lot of work to be done for Penske Racing to make the conversion over from Dodge to Ford and a lot of that work was done at the shop and then you come to the track and test and you verify it.”

The test is highlighted by the Daytona debut of the “Gen 6,” the new-look sixth generation NASCAR Sprint Cup Series cars which highlight greater brand identity for the manufacturers.

The new car will make its race debut in The Sprint Unlimited, the star-studded non-points event on Saturday night, Feb. 16 that will feature the previous season’s pole winners and past champions of The Sprint Unlimited.

“There are a lot of things going on including the new car that will get a lot of buzz here, deservedly so,” Keselowski said. “We are all working hard to figure out things together. Track time helps us to work through that and so far we are getting track time in. We might not be as fast as we want but somebody told me that Ford stands for “first on race day” and it isn’t race day so we don’t have to worry about that yet.”

Fastest of the day: 2012 Daytona 500 champion Matt Kenseth, who kicking off his first season with Joe Gibbs Racing after a long tenure with Roush Fenway, topped the morning speed charts with a lap of 192.757 mph.

Rounding out the top five were Marcos Ambrose (192.736), Danica Patrick (192.583), Jeff Burton (192.526) and Paul Menard (192.460).

In the afternoon session, Denny Hamlin posted the fastest lap of the day with a lap of 195.712 mph and was followed by his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kenseth (195.385) and Kyle Busch (195.329).

Excited for the new season: If there’s one driver geared up for the new NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, it is Carl Edwards.

The Roush Fenway driver missed the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup in 2012 and finished a career-worst 15th in the points standings after being edged out for the 2011 championship by Tony Stewart.

He will kick off his 2013 title campaign with new chief Jimmy Fennig, who was the winning Daytona 500 crew chief in 2012 with Matt Kenseth.

“I couldn’t be looking forward to it more,” Edwards said. “I think it will be an exciting year for me. I would like to put last year out of my memory and not think about it too much. Not in the last few years have I been this excited to go racing. I think it is probably because my off-season has been a little longer than most. I didn’t go to Vegas so I have been ready to go.

“It seems like we have everyone in positions now where we can use them to their maximum potential and hopefully we will have a good solid year. I know Jimmy wants to come right out of the box with a couple wins and get locked in the Chase and so do I. That is the first thing on our minds, to get a couple wins and get in the Chase. It is nice to have the Daytona 500 championship winning crew chief in our corner here. I am glad to be here.”

Waltrip secures ride for Daytona 500: Two-time Daytona 500 champion Michael Waltrip announced that he will attempt to qualify for his 26th Daytona 500 driving in the No. 30 Toyota for Swan Racing. David Stremme will wheel the car the reminder of the season.

Waltrip, who won both of his Daytona 500s driving for Dale Earnhardt Inc. in 2001 and 2003, will have some familiar faces to work with in the garage.  Former DEI employees Tony Eury Jr. will serve as crew chief and Steve Hmiel is the team’s competition director.

“We're looking forward to Daytona,” Waltrip said. “It's my favorite time of the year every year, to come down here and get to participate in the greatest race in the world, in my opinion.  To have won it before just makes coming back that much more special.”

Quotable: Carl Edwards on the new NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car: “First of all, it looks good. Jimmy (Fennig) and I were talking this morning and he is kind of a hot-rod guy. Sometimes we forget that we all got into racing because we like cars. The cars are supposed to be neat and fun to look at and get your blood pumping. I think these cars look good and that what NASCAR is doing and the fact that NASCAR has an open mind on what will make the racing better tells me we have people in charge that want to do what is best about the sport.”

Preseason Thunder continues on Friday and Saturday. Tickets to view the testing from the Sprint FANZONE inside Daytona International Speedway are $10 and are available by calling 1-800-PITSHOP or online at Children 12 and under with a paid adult will receive free admission.

A section of the Oldfield Grandstands is open with free access through the lobby of the Daytona International Speedway Ticket and Tours Building.

Budweiser Speedweeks At Daytona tickets are available online at or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP.

Fans can also stay connected with Daytona International Speedway on Twitter, FacebookGoogle+ and Pinterest for the latest news all season long.

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