NASCAR Preseason Thunder: Las Vegas, California

Soon, NASCAR team transporters will embark on their late-January trek across plains, mountains and deserts – an annual cross-country pilgrimage crucial to a fast start.

For NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and NASCAR Nationwide Series teams, the western swing of NASCAR Preseason Thunder – the sport’s annual preseason test sessions – extends some recent learning curves.

Next week, both series test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, with the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series also testing at California Speedway. Both series are fresh off preseason sessions at Daytona International Speedway; now they head west.

“It’s another test that the teams weighed in on as one of the six NASCAR-sanction tests,” said NASCAR Sprint Cup Director John Darby of next week’s schedule. “Yes, they’re in preparation for the start of the season, but this is plain-old, let-the-teams-go-test.

Such normalcy is heartening, Darby adds, since NASCAR’s new car debuts fulltime with the 50th Daytona 500 on Feb. 17. NASCAR Sprint Cup teams ran 16 of 36 events in 2007 with the new car – NASCAR now-generation race car – and next week’s tests represent some of its final preparations for fulltime competition.

“The good part of it is we’re not all worried about it,” Darby said, citing extensive new-car testing in the past. “All that’s behind us.

NASCAR Sprint Cup teams will test Monday, Jan. 28 and Tuesday, Jan. 29 at Las Vegas, and Thursday, Jan. 31 and Friday, Feb. 1 at California. NASCAR Nationwide Series teams will test Wednesday, Jan. 30 and Thursday, Jan. 31 at Las Vegas. Times are 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., with a noon-1 p.m. lunch break each day, except for Thursday, Jan. 31 at California, when NASCAR Sprint Cup teams test from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. That day’s schedule includes a dinner break from 5-6 p.m.

“I’m not aware of anybody that’s going to switch out the cars,” Darby said, between West Coast sessions. “I think everybody’s gearing-up to bring two cars to Las Vegas and California. And that is a good part about the new car.

According to Darby, teams can adjust their schedules at California, running two sessions on Thursday and Friday, or three Thursday and one Friday, if they prefer.

“They can mix and match it any way they want as long as they run four of the five sessions,” he said.

NASCAR Sprint Cup teams also can use Wednesday’s travel day as a garage work day at California, prior to taking the track Thursday morning.

“The garage at California will be open to the teams for maintenance and prepping the cars,” Darby said. “If someone needs to change an engine and fix shocks and things like that, the garage will be open for them to work.

NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES INTERVIEW SCHEDULES (Tentative and subject to change)

The schedule for each day’s media availability at Las Vegas and California follows. All interviews will take place in both tracks’ infield media centers. All times are Pacific (PT). Teleconference capability and transcripts will be available for each midday interview session. Audio will be available at NASCAR’s media-only web site – www.nascarmedia.com.

Monday, Jan. 28 (at Las Vegas)

Lunch – Dale Earnhardt Jr., noon-12:15 p.m.; Sam Hornish, 12:15-12:30 p.m.; Denny Hamlin, 12:30-12:45 p.m., and Carl Edwards, 12:45-1 p.m.

Tuesday, Jan. 29 (at Las Vegas)

Lunch – Patrick Carpentier, noon-12:15 p.m.; Jimmie Johnson, 12:15-12:30 p.m.; Kasey Kahne, 12:30-12:45 p.m., and Kyle Busch, 12:45-1 p.m.

Thursday, Jan. 31 (at California)

Lunch – Kevin Harvick, noon-12:15 p.m.; Jimmie Johnson, 12:15-12:30 p.m.; David Gilliland 12:30-12:45 p.m., and TBD, 12:45-1 p.m.

Friday, Feb. 1 (at California)

Lunch – Matt Kenseth, noon-12:15 p.m.; Dario Franchitti, 12:15-12:30 p.m.; Clint Bowyer, 12:30-12:45 p.m., and Martin Truex Jr., 12:45-1 p.m.

NOTE: Jeff Gordon will be available at 5:30 p.m. (PT) Monday, Jan. 28 in the Las Vegas infield media center; also at 5:30 p.m. (PT) Thursday, Jan. 31 in the California infield media center. Neither is a teleconference availability.

Fast Facts

Session I: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams at Las Vegas Motor Speedway – Monday, Jan. 28 through Tuesday, Jan. 29

Session II: NASCAR Nationwide Series teams at Las Vegas – Wednesday, Jan. 30 through Thursday, Jan. 31

Session III: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams at California Speedway – Thursday, Jan. 31 through Friday, Feb. 1

What: NASCAR Preseason Thunder testing

Track Layouts: Las Vegas (1.5-mile tri-oval); California (2-mile oval).

Times: Session I and II – 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Session III – 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. on Jan. 31; 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Feb. 1