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McMurray dislikes test drives

Jamie McMurray hates it. A lot. Jeff Gordon did, too, when he was 28. But at 33, the four-time Nextel Cup champion has come to appreciate the benefit of the high-speed tedium that is preseason testing at Daytona International Speedway.

"It could not get any worse," McMurray said. "Because there's nothing you can do as a driver. You just drive around. It's pretty effortless, and honestly, you make about two or three runs, that's about as fast as your car can go. Then you ride around all day not getting any faster."

True, on a high-banked, 2.5-mile track like Daytona, where aerodynamics are crucial, making a car go fast is achieved in the wind tunnel. But there is plenty for a driver to do, said Gordon, whose best lap of 188.448 mph led both the morning and afternoon sessions.

"I think it's crucial," he said. "I just realized how important it is to be behind the wheel of the car, getting laps, getting the team information. These days the information you get is so important."

CHARGE: Dodge unveiled the Charger as its 2005 racing trademark, reinstating a model that won 124 races and five championships (three by Richard Petty) from 1966-77.

The Charger bears a redesigned nose that Dodge officials hope will increase downforce _ which makes the car adhere to the track and improves handling _ and help win its first manufacturers' championship since 1975. The new nose is expected to be most effective on intermediate tracks. Any technological advance, however, is tempered by NASCAR's common template rules, which keep all cars within very similar specifications.

"Hopefully, they can do as good with the Charger this time as we did with the Charger before," said Petty, who owns a two-car Nextel Cup team.

BOWING OUT: Former Nextel Cup champion Terry Labonte, who will run partial schedules in 2005 and 2006 before retiring, announced his 10-race schedule. Labonte, 48, will race at California Speedway (Feb. 27), Bristol (April 3), Texas (April 17 and Nov. 6), the all-star (May 21) and points race (May 29) at Charlotte, Pocono (June 12), Chicago (July 10), Indianapolis (Aug. 7) and Kansas (Oct. 9).

SPARK PLUGS: Busch Series driver Mike McLaughlin tested both No. 20 Chevrolets when driver Tony Stewart did not show up.. Boris Said performed well, especially considering the veteran road racer has made just four Nextel Cup starts (three points races) on ovals. Said, who will run a 10-race Cup schedule for MB2 Motorsports this season, had the second- (185.181) and third-fastest (184.945) times in the morning and third-best in the afternoon (184.642). Office Depot was announced as the primary sponsor for Carl Edwards' No. 99 Ford in at least eight races.

_ BRANT JAMES, Times staff writer