Next week's three-day NASCAR Sprint Cup Series test at Daytona International Speedway brings the first official engine firings of 2011.


Don’t think for a second that it represents the new year’s first official work.

"I don’t ever remember being this busy in my life," said Alan Gustafson, crew chief for Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet). "We are so full-speed ahead already."
 
Wide-open shops mean wide-open anticipation. Teams participating in the 2011 edition of NASCAR Preseason Thunder at Daytona will use the time to prepare for both the 53rd Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 20 and the track’s new asphalt surface.
 
The test – scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 20 through Saturday, Jan. 22 – runs from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. ET daily, weather permitting, with a noon-1 p.m. lunch break each day. Attending media will have interview opportunities in the infield media center.
 
"It’s a very demanding time of the year," Gustafson said, "but it’s very gratifying because you see projects get started and you see them come to fruition."
 
A successful Goodyear tire test on Dec. 15-16 set the stage for next week’s session.
 
Last year’s repave – only the second at 2.5-mile Daytona and the first since 1978 – began after the NASCAR Sprint Cup event on July 3 and ended in early December. During the tire test (open to all series teams), those attending validated Goodyear’s compound selection for the Daytona 500, the series’ traditional season-opener, plus drivers and crew chiefs provided the sport’s first on-track feedback about the new pavement to track and NASCAR officials.
 
"The upcoming test at Daytona should go a long way in helping the teams get their setups right for next month’s Speedweeks," said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR’s vice president of competition. "We received a lot of positive feedback from the competitors about the new racing surface at Daytona following the Goodyear tire test last month. We believe the 53rd running of the Daytona 500 has all the makings of being the most exciting one we’ve ever seen
 
Expect some re-affirmation next week, but NASCAR Preseason Thunder at Daytona means three days to shake down new equipment, personnel and strategies. And long, detailed checklists.
 
"It’s a huge race for everyone," Gustafson said of the Daytona 500. "A race that everybody wants to win; the biggest race of the year. Everybody had some reservations, so going down there with the tire test and coming back, it just confirms that Daytona is Daytona – it’s the track we all love. That’s wonderful to know. So going back there now, it’s trying to exploit what little nuances of speed we can."
 
Fans can join the fun by attending the NASCAR Preseason Thunder Fan Fest at Daytona – the companion event to on-track activity. Along with watching NASCAR Preseason Thunder testing, fans can enjoy three Fan Fest sessions in Daytona’s Sprint FANZONE – from 6-8 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 20 and from 5-7 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 21.
 
Among the offerings: Driver question-and-answer and autograph sessions. Fans also can watch each day’s testing at no cost, beginning at 9 a.m. Visit www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com for more information on NASCAR Preseason Thunder Fan Fest at Daytona.