FORT WORTH, Texas — Chase Elliott took the new Chevrolet Camaro for its inaugural NASCAR Cup laps on Tuesday and Martin Truex Jr. climbed into his Toyota for the first time since becoming series champion. Soon-to-be clean-shaven Ryan Blaney and Aric Almirola, both with new teams, ran laps at Texas Motor Speedway in their Fords.
A month before every driver will be at Daytona for the start of the new season, the four drivers took part in the first test of 2018 as a two-day Goodyear tire test began on the 1 1/2-mile, high-banked track in Texas.
The highlight was Elliott getting in the Camaro ZL1, though it was hard for him to judge how much different Chevy’s new Cup entry will be when driving laps alone.
“I have a hard time feeling much of anything I’m going so fast,” Elliott said. “But, the car looks great. From the public eyes standpoint, I don’t know how you could not identify the Camaro with the Camaro on the street. It looks the same. I think that is something to be very proud of from Chevrolet. … Job well done from that standpoint.”
The Chevy Camaro has only two Cup Series victories to its credit, both by Tiny Lund in 1971. More recently, the Camaro SS has been Chevrolet’s entry in the Xfinity Series since 2013.
Along with a new car, Elliott sported a new number. After following four-time champion Jeff Gordon in the No. 24, Hendrick Motorsport this year is putting the 22-year-old Elliott in No. 9 — the car number of his father, Hall of Famer Bill Elliott.
“Is it my favorite number? Yes, it is. Has it always been my favorite number? Yes, it has been,” Elliott said.
Elliott was sporting a Georgia cap a day after being at the College Football Playoff championship game where his beloved Bulldogs lost to Alabama in overtime. He said the game “was fun for a little while.”
Truex said he had a lot fewer off days this offseason than usual after becoming a first-time champion, but said it has been a lot of fun celebrating the championship by visiting different places and different people. The testing provided the first chance for the Furniture Row Racing driver to wear his firesuit that now has a champion’s logo .
“I feel the same now as I did at the first time I got in the car last year,” Truex said. “We’re all at zero points again right now. The goal remains the same, and the pressure is still going to be there, but definitely optimistic and feel like we’re in a good place and hopefully we can be competitive for years to come.”
Blaney, now driving the No. 12 Ford for Team Penske after making the playoff chase last year with the one-car Wood Brothers organization, planned Wednesday to have lunch with fans who attend the second day of the test. The speedway was providing the pizza.
It will be the last chance for fans to see Blaney with his throwback mustache and long hair. He has an appointment Friday to get the mustache shaved and his hair cut.
“That will definitely let me know that the season is about here and you’ve got to start looking like a professional,” he said. “It will be a lot less work. … It’s almost gotten too much for me.”
After the past six Cup seasons at Richard Petty Motorsports, Almirola moves over to Stewart-Haas Racing and replaces Danica Patrick in the No. 10 Ford .
“I haven’t really put much thought about getting in the 10 car and it being somebody else’s car,” Almirola said. “I drove the sport’s most iconic car for the last six years, so if you want to talk about it from that aspect, there’s been more pressure driving that Petty blue 43 car than I think I’ll ever have driving a black-and-white 10 car.”
— Associated Press —