Cup cars hit the new pavement at Daytona for the first time Wednesday.

For the first time since Kevin Harvick took the checkered flag in the Coke Zero 400 on July 3, race cars were back on track at Daytona International Speedway.

Eighteen NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers kicked off the first day of a two-day Goodyear tire test on the new racing surface in advance of the 53rd annual Daytona 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race on Sunday, Feb. 20.

The test was the first time race cars turned laps on the new asphalt of Daytona, which was repaved for only the second time in its history.

Among the drivers in attendance included:

· Hendrick Motorsports drivers Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Mark Martin

· Penske Racing’s Brad Keselowski and Kurt Busch

· Roush Fenway’s Matt Kenseth and David Ragan

· Richard Childress Racing’s Jeff Burton and Paul Menard

·  Earnhardt Ganassi Racing’s Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya

· JTG Daugherty Racing’s Bobby Labonte

“It’s amazing the job that they did here,” said Gordon, a three-time Daytona 500 champion. “It’s really smooth. It’s got a lot of grip. I think we learned a tremendous amount by being here. Not only did we get a chance to really see what we’re going to be dealing with here in February for the Daytona 500, but it gets us prepared for the test coming up in January.”

“They smoothed out all the bumps,” said Earnhardt Jr., the 2004 Daytona 500 champion. “The track is real smooth. It’s got a lot of grip. The track reminds me a lot like Talladega was like when they first finished it.

“The racing during the drafting was exciting and I think it is going to be a good show, a more exciting show for the fans because the cars are going to stay real tight on each other throughout entire runs.”

The Goodyear tire test will wrap up Thursday and is open to the public with free access to the Oldfield Grandstands through the lobby of the Daytona International Speedway ticket office.