The new track surface at Charlotte Motor Speedway continued to receive rave reviews Wednesday as NASCAR NEXTEL Cup drivers and teams made final preparations for the May 20 NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge and the May 28 Coca-Cola 600.

Faced with a repaved racing surface, a harder Goodyear tire compound and a smaller 13-gallon fuel cell, crew chiefs and engineers worked feverishly throughout the two-day session to find a set-up best suited for the new combination.

Rookie David Stremme's crew proved best at solving the mechanical puzzle as the South Bend, Ind., native was tops among the 48 drivers on the final speed chart at 186.929 mph in the No. 40 Dodge.

NASCAR Busch Series regular Johnny Sauter was another surprise in the final rundown as the second-generation racer was second fastest in the No. 70 Haas CNC Racing Chevrolet at 185.179 mph.

Ken Schrader was among the top-five for the second consecutive night as his lap of 185.058 mph in the No. 21 Ford placed him third on the speed chart. Sophomore Travis Kvapil was fourth fastest at 183.874 mph in the No. 32 Chevrolet and tyro Denny Hamlin completed the top-five at 183.237 mph in the No. 11 Chevrolet.

"When I came here I was expecting the speeds to be ridiculously high and to have problems with tires, but this has been a pleasure," said veteran Jeff Burton. "The race track is in great shape and it's going to have multiple grooves fairly quickly. Goodyear's done the right thing by bringing a tire that a lot of drivers will complain about, but, at the end of the day, you're better off having a tire that's too conservative, but won't blow out. So, I give kudos to Goodyear, 'Humpy' and whoever did the race track."

"I'm incredibly pleased with where the speeds are," said H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler, president and general manager of Charlotte Motor Speedway. "I'm also very impressed with how well the rookie drivers are running. Their performance speaks volumes about the quality of drivers we have in NEXTEL Cup racing today. It's definitely something we wouldn't have seen 10 years ago.

"Several drivers have expressed concerns about the smaller fuel cells (13 gallons instead of the standard 22), but I believe NASCAR made the right decision," Wheeler continued. "The more a driver pits, the more chances his crew will have to adjust the chassis and get it handling right for the end of the race."

Jimmie Johnson, who has won three consecutive Coca-Cola 600s, says what advantage his No. 48 Lowe's team may have had has been erased by the numerous changes.

"New surface, new tire, the fuel cell situation.-we're all here learning," Johnson said. "I think a lot of us will still be coming back to the All-Star event, experimenting a little bit, trying to work things out.

"We're honing in on the setup," Johnson continued. "Since they started grinding the track, I've come in and I haven't had the same expectations. I came in and knew we're starting all over again. I feel that way again this year.

"Obviously, I hope I can come back and win another 600, but it's too early and too difficult right now to name a favorite. After tonight, I think we can form some opinions by looking at the speed charts and go from there. I don't think we have an advantage like we may have had before."

"Everyone's talking about the tires and I think that's our only issue right now," said three-time Coca-Cola 600 winner Jeff Gordon. "I think if we had a little bit softer tire, everyone would be so pleased with the job that was done here at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Really the last couple days have been just trying to get a feel and get some grip. As we lay some rubber down, it's gotten better and better."

"They did a tremendous job paving this place. It's really smooth," said Greg Biffle. "The tires, obviously Goodyear is on the safe side. They're pretty hard tires. It takes a little bit to get them to get some grip, although guys have gone out and run fast laps, like the first or second lap on the race track. We haven't been able to do that yet. Maybe I don't have the guts to do that yet. I wrecked twice here last year testing.

"New pavement has that kind of oil that comes up out of it," continued Biffle. "I don't know a lot about the technical stuff, but it seems to be taking rubber and the cars seem to be drivable. The All-Star race is going to help us the most. That's probably going to be closer to the track conditions we're going to be facing. The more laps they put on the race track, the better it's going to get."

Reed Sorenson slammed the wall early in the seven-hour session, Carl Long crashed just before the dinner break and Chad Chaffin crashed with just over one hour remaining. All three cars were heavily damaged, but each driver walked away without injury.

Ryan Newman also spun, but did not hit the wall.

Next up is three days of NASCAR Busch Series testing with teams hitting the track Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in preparation for the May 27 CARQUEST Auto Parts 300. Nearly 20 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup drivers are expected to participate in the Busch Series test which runs from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. each day. Charlotte Motor Speedway's main grandstand will be open free of charge and spectators should enter through Gate 5A at the base of Smith Tower.

Tickets for all May events, including the May 20 NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge and the May 28 Coca-Cola 600, can be purchased by calling 1-800-455-FANS or online at www.charlottemotorspeedway.com.

Wednesday testing speeds:

Showing driver and fastest lap: 1. David Stremme, 186.929; 2. Johnny Sauter, 185.179; 3. Ken Schrader, 185.058; 4. Travis Kvapil, 183.875; 5. Denny Hamlin, 183.237; 6. Mike Garvey, 183.082; 7. Jeff Burton, 182.945; 8. Carl Edward, 182.803; 9. Kyle Petty, 182.334; 10. Tony Stewart, 182.322; 11. Dave Blaney, 182.322; 12. Elliott Sadler, 182.285; 13. Clint Bowyer, 182.229; 14. Bobby Labonte, 182.223; 15. Kenny Wallace, 182.131; 16. J.J. Yeley, 182.113; 17. Scott Riggs, 182.076; 18. Casey Mears, 182.020; 19. Kevin Harvick, 181.959; 20. Kevin Lepage, 181.788; 21. Reed Sorenson, 181.781; 22. Greg Biffle, 181.690; 23. Kasey Kahne, 181.568; 24. Chad Chaffin, 181.458; 25. Jimmie Johnson, 181.336; 26. Scott Wimmer, 181.324; 27. Brian Vickers, 181.232; 28. Kyle Busch, 181.184; 29. Mark Martin, 181.099; 30. Jeff Gordon, 181.087; 31. Dale Jarrett, 181.087; 32. Joe Nemechek, 181.074; 33. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 180.892; 34. Martin Truex Jr., 180.880; 35. Jamie McMurray, 180.747; 36. Jeff Green, 180.596; 37. Robby Gordon, 180.572; 38. Matt Kenseth, 180.367; 39. Kurt Busch, 180.325; 40. Ryan Newman, 180.144; 41. Terry Labonte, 180.120; 42. Jeremy Mayfield, 179.946; 43. Sterling Marlin, 179.940; 44. Michael Waltrip/Bill Elliott (00), 179.802; 45. Tony Raines, 179.736; 46. Michael Waltrip (55), 178.580; 47. Paul Menard, 179.420; 48. Carl Long/Kerry Earnhardt (37), 178.042.