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OPINON: Season has begun

Testing and preparations are well under way for the start of the 2007 NASCAR season.

All this week, teams have been in Daytona testing various car set-ups and configurations. The usual suspects have topped the list of speeds, but don’t pick your race winner based on these speeds.

There are so many variables involved in these tests, you will see some different names and speeds pop up as we get closer to the Budweiser Shootout on February 10.

Kurt Busch ran the fastest lap, in a Car of Tomorrow, of the week-long testing session. Busch rang up a 191 mph lap driving an Avenger, Dodge’s model choice for the Car of Tomorrow. 

Paul Menard, Kyle Busch, and Jeff Green followed Busch, all almost five seconds slower than the no. 2 car. A fact to note, Busch’s time in his regular car was also five miles per hour slower than his speed in the COT.

The hole in the restrictor plates for these cars will be substantially larger than the current car.

Many eyes are on the Toyota teams and their performance. Dale Jarrett topped the list of Toyota drivers and seventh overall during these tests. Toyota front-man Michael Waltrip ran the 59th best time, four miles an hour slower than Paul Menard’s speed of 187 mph.

One interesting entry into the Daytona field is James Hylton. Who is that, you ask? Hylton is a 72-year-old driver who ran his first NASCAR race in 1964.

Richard Childress is entering the no. 58 Chevy into the Daytona field for Hylton to driver. It is doubtful that Hylton will qualify for the race, but I hope he does. Wouldn’t that be a great story?

Over the past 10 days, the NASCAR world lost two champions. Bobby Hamilton died on January 7 and Benny Parsons died on January 16, both died of cancer.

Hamilton won the Craftsman Truck series championship in 2004 after a long and successful career driving on the Cup circuit. What made Hamilton’s championship even more gratifying was that he was also the team owner. Bobby Jr. can hopefully follow in the Dad’s footsteps and continue to be competitive for the team that bears his name.

Many NASCAR fans remember Benny Parsons only as the quick-witted big guy in the booth announcing races for ESPN and NBC. 

Because Benny retired from active competition almost 20 years ago, after the 1988 season, many younger fans don’t know that BP won 21 races in his career. He also won the 1973 championship.

Both of these guys will be missed and here’s hoping that we continue to research and find a cure to this awful disease that took the life of both of these men.

Here’s hoping that 2007 will be a great year. By this time next week, we should know what changes Brian France has cooked up for the fourth installment of the Chase for the Championship. I will also give you my first shot at the 10 (or 12) chase entrants.