It was a full two days of testing for the Orleans Racing team as they prepared to attack Daytona for the February 18th Florida Dodge Dealers 250 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series season opener.
The goals of the Orleans Racing’s two entries, the #62 which is driven by Steve Park and the #77 that’s driven by Brendan Gaughan, were diverse as the two entries will come to Florida in February under two completely different sets of circumstances.
Explaining the goals of the Orleans Daytona test session the team’s interim general manager and driver of the #77 Dodge, Brendan Gaughan said, “We’re testing with two teams and the two of them kind of have different philosophies. The 77 Dodge has no points, we’ve never run the number so we need to get in on time. Steve (Park, driver of the #62 Orleans Dodge) is guaranteed a starting spot but we don’t want him to be awful.
“The 77 came here looking to suck a little more speed out and the 62 Orleans Dodge came here to test race setups. I’m very confident that both the 62 and 77 will race well, we’ve just got to make sure we’ve got enough speed to get the 77 truck in the show. I know the Orleans team; I’m not too worried about it.”
Asked for his assessment of the test Gaughan replied, “We learned a lot. We got the 77 Dodge to draft better than my 2003 Dodge did. It really feels solid to me. My good buddies Rick Crawford and Ricky Craven, we spent about 15 laps running together. We moved it around pretty good running in the middle and in the front and in the back, working with each other trying to see what was happening.”
“Our truck felt pretty good underneath us,” added team driver, Steve Park. “There are some guys out there that look like their struggling. In the race it’s going to be the guy that handles the best here at Daytona that will be able to work their way up to the front after their tires wear out a little. You’ve got to have speed to get in in qualifying but you’ve got to handle good for the race. We just worked hard to get the truck driving good.
“Sunday night you earned your money as a driver,” Gaughan explained as he noted the progress of the Daytona test session. “The trucks were really loose; you’d really work the wheel when somebody got behind you. This morning the Penske Shocks guys came over and had a different shock for us to try. Then Billy Wilburn and Charlie Wilson got together overnight and tried a few things that made the truck just fantastic. We ran a full fuel load, 31 laps, and according to our head engineer my steering wheel, everything, didn’t vary from lap one to lap four to lap 31. That shows you that the truck’s handling good and handling solid. I’m very pleased with the results.”
The test was not without incident for the Las Vegas based NASCAR racing powerhouse as both trucks were involved in incidents on the second day of the test. One truck, Gaughan’s #77 Dodge, sustained no damage in his incident, but Steve Park’s #62 was damaged in a collision with the wall.
Park’s incident, which took place at the west end of the track, resulted in nose and tail damage to the Orleans Racing Dodge.
“We cut a tire and slid up into the wall, now we’re fixing that,” Park noted as he watched the repairs being affected to his Dodge truck. “I’m disappointed with that, but we got enough data to be able to go back and get the truck back in shape again.”
Gaughan’s incident was minor in nature, or as minor as a spin in the grass at 180 mph can get.
“It was no big deal,” Gaughan said with a smile and a shrug of the shoulders. “Todd Kluever got a little tight out of turn two. The 99 (Ricky Craven) came down and Todd went to get right back behind his buddy. Unfortunately the 77 Dodge was there. I’m not into wrecking anyone, or myself, so I went to the bottom. Unfortunately I ran out of pavement and turned into grass. I kept it straight, been there before. You don’t get anxious, you don’t get nervous. It’s a sight you’ve seen before but I tried to save it. I got two tires on the pavement and two on the grass and started to go up the track. I knew that wasn’t where I wanted to go so I just turned it towards the grass and let it spin out. Daytona’s got a lot of room to stop yourself.
“Todd (Kluever) has two great people in Ricky Craven and John Monsam helping him along. Monsam’s the king at training the kids in this series. They both came down to say sorry.”