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Feb 20

NASCAR National Series News and Notes (+ Fast facts)

Danica Patrick, Gen-6 Car Share Daytona 500 Spotlight, Danica Patrick has made history

Danica Patrick pole Daytona 500 2013Daytona 500 new logoNow the challenges for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ first female Coors Light Pole winner – and 44 other drivers – become incrementally greater as the clock ticks ever closer to Sunday’s running of the 55th Daytona 500 (1 p.m. ET on FOX, FOX Deportes, Motor Racing Network Radio, Sirius XM Satellite Radio).

Patrick, Gen-6 Car Share Daytona 500 Spotlight

Danica Patrick has made history.

Now the challenges for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ first female Coors Light Pole winner – and 44 other drivers – become incrementally greater as the clock ticks ever closer to Sunday’s running of the 55th Daytona 500 (1 p.m. ET on FOX, FOX Deportes, Motor Racing Network Radio, Sirius XM Satellite Radio).

Only Patrick and No. 2 qualifier Jeff Gordon know where they’ll start “The Great American Race.” The remainder of the 43-car starting lineup will be determined in Thursday’s Duel at Daytona, a pair of 150-mile races (see page 2 for how the Daytona 500 field is set).

Will Patrick go on to become the first pole starter since Dale Jarrett in 2000 to win the Daytona 500? Time will tell. Meanwhile, there are other storylines as Daytona Speedweeks continues:

  • The Daytona 500 marks the first points race for NASCAR’s new Gen-6 race car.
  • Reigning Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth looks to become the race’s first back-to-back champion of the 21st Century.
  • Penske Racing returns to Ford a season after Brad Keselowski won the 2012 championship in a Dodge.
  • Two-time-reigning NASCAR Nationwide Series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. opens his bid for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year title.

Patrick’s pole isn’t her first at Daytona. She was the fastest qualifier for last year’s NASCAR Nationwide Series DRIVE4COPD 300.

Sunday’s lap of 196.434 mph (45.817 seconds) was third-fastest of the restrictor plate era. Janet Guthrie owned the previous best Daytona 500 start of 18th in 1980. Guthrie held the record for a NASCAR Sprint Cup female driver with a pair of ninth-place performances in 1977.

Front row starts, however, are no guarantee of a trip to Victory Lane. Numbers one or two qualifiers have won “The Great American Race” just 16 times in the past 54-year history of the Daytona 500.

The Gen-6 car made its competitive debut in last weekend’s Sprint Unlimited and received positive reviews from drivers. The Chevrolet SS, Ford Fusion and Toyota Camry models appear nearly identical to their production versions, putting the “stock” back in stock car racing.

Thursday’s Duel will provide further clues as to how the Gen-6 will race, but Sprint Unlimited winner Kevin Harvick predicted the Daytona 500 will be an “old school” affair.

“It’s going to be a pack, absolutely,” Harvick said. “If you turn on a [year] 2000 race, one of those races, it’s going to be very similar.”

Kenseth goes to the post for a new owner – Joe Gibbs Racing – after winning the Daytona 500 for Roush Fenway Racing in 2012 and 2009. The No. 20 Toyota appeared the car to beat in last weekend’s Sprint Unlimited until Kenseth lost track position in the non-points race’s third segment.

Kenseth enjoyed a phenomenal season on plate tracks a year ago, winning at Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway with a season average finish of 2.5. 

Sterling Marlin (1994-95) is the most recent driver to win the Daytona 500 in back-to-back seasons.

Penske Racing last fielded a Ford – a Taurus – in the 2002 Daytona 500 with drivers Ryan Newman and NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace. Newman finished seventh; Wallace 21st.

Keselowski was 23rd in Sunday’s qualifying with Penske newcomer Joey Logano ninth. They’ll both be in Duel No. 1, along with NASCAR Sprint Cup champions Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch.

Logano, who finished third in the Sprint Unlimited, begins his fifth fulltime NASCAR Sprint Cup season with a new team. He won twice with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Stenhouse has big shoes to fill as he takes over controls of Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 17 Ford vacated at the conclusion of 2012 by 2003 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Kenseth. Fact of the matter is, the only thing that’s the same is the car number, which should alleviate much of the pressure as he chases rookie of the year honors.

“I think it is a cool opportunity for me to come into Matt’s [Kenseth] number with a totally different team, and because of the story, people don’t realize it is a different crew chief, team and over the wall guys,” Stenhouse said. “I think we have accomplished a lot in NASCAR in the Nationwide series and to think that is going to translate right over to the Sprint Cup Series the first year is a little difficult. I think we are capable of doing that, though, and that is the plan.”

 

Duel At Daytona: A Race Within A Race

Here are the guarantees for Sunday’s Daytona 500: Danica Patrick starting position will be No. 1 and Jeff Gordon starting position will be No. 2. That’s it.

A few other drivers, thanks to either their results in Sunday’s Coors Light Pole qualifying or 2012 owner points – or, in the case of Kurt Busch, his 2004 championship – know they’re in the show. They just don’t know where they’ll start. Yet.

That’s where Thursday’s Duel at Daytona comes in. 

The top 15 finishers in each Duel – not including Patrick or Gordon – will fill spots 3-32 in the starting lineup. The top 15 from the first Duel will make up the inside row; the top 15 from the second Duel will fill the outside row.

Spots 33-36 will go to those drivers not already locked-in who earned the top four speeds during Sunday’s Coors Light Pole qualifying.

Spots 37-42 will go to the top six cars in 2012 owner points that are not already locked in. The 43rd position goes to the most recent past champion. If there is no eligible past champion, it reverts back to 2012 owner points. 

For Mike Bliss and Brian Keselowski, the Duel at Daytona is vital. Because of their owner points and qualifying results (speeds were 44th and 45th, respectively), the only way they can make the Daytona 500 is via their Duel races. Keselowski is in the first Duel; Bliss is in the second.

Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth won last year’s two Duel races.

 

Johnson’s Milestone Start Could Rekindle Hendrick’s 500 Fortunes

Sunday’s Daytona 500 marks the 400th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start for Jimmie Johnson.

Perhaps that milestone celebration will change his luck – and that of Hendrick Motorsports.

Since winning back-to-back Daytona 500s in 2005-06, HMS has seen its fortunes sag in “The Great American Race.”

Johnson hasn’t finished higher than 27th since his 2006 victory. His average finish, post-“500” victory, is 33.5. A year ago, the five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion hit rock-bottom: 40th after a second-lap accident.

It’s early but so far the calendar’s turn hasn’t seemed to help. Both Johnson and teammate Jeff Gordon, a three-time Daytona 500 winner, were collected in a first-segment crash in last weekend’s Sprint Unlimited.

Johnson, however, remains optimistic, especially with the performance of the No. 48 Gen-6 Chevrolet SS. 

“I was encouraged by the speed of my car and the way the cars raced on the track,” he said of his brief drive in the Sprint Unlimited. “I’m looking forward to the Daytona 500.” Johnson has reached his milestone with the same sponsor throughout – Lowe’s. In NASCAR history, only Johnson and teammate Gordon (DuPont) have had the same sponsor for each of their first 400 starts.

Gordon’s Daytona 500 performances since his most recent victory in 2005 mirror that of Johnson. In seven subsequent starts, the four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion counts a single top 10 and four finishes of 26th or worse, including 40th in 2012.

The organization’s bright spot is Dale Earnhardt Jr., second twice as an HMS driver, including last year’s runner-up finish to Kenseth.

Kasey Kahne will make his second Daytona 500 start as a Hendrick team member – and 325th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series – hoping to improve on last year’s 29th-place performance. Kahne’s best in the season opener is seventh in 2007-08.

 

Waltrip’s Newtown Salute Highlights Bevy Of Former 500 Winners

Michael Waltrip, two-time Daytona 500 champion (2001, ’03), is part of a stout list of nine former winners of “The Great American Race” who are entered in the 55th running this Sunday at 1 p.m. on FOX.

Last week, NASCAR, Swan Racing and Waltrip announced that the No. 30 Lean1 Swan Racing Toyota will instead garner the No. 26 Sandy Hook School Support Fund Toyota. Honoring the 26 victims of Sandy Hook Elementary School, fans are encouraged to make $10 donations by texting NEWTOWN to 80888.

Among the other Daytona 500 winners in the field: Matt Kenseth (2009, ’12), Trevor Bayne (2011), Jamie McMurray (2010), Ryan Newman (2008), Kevin Harvick (2007), Jimmie Johnson (2006), Jeff Gordon (1997, ’99, 2005), and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2004).

 

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Etc.

Milestone Watch: A trio of drivers, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth, will each be looking for their 25th series win in this weekend’s Daytona 500. … A win in the 2013 Daytona 500 by any of the Toyota drivers would give the manufacturer its 50th series win as it begins its seventh season in the series. … Jimmie Johnson will make his 400th series start in the Daytona 500, while Kenseth will pilot the No. 20 in its 950th series start. … Reigning NSCS champion Brad Keselowski could capture his 25th career top-five finish and Jamie McMurray could pocket his 100th top-10 finish this weekend. … Grammy-award winning musicians Zac Brown Band will perform during the Daytona 500 pre-race show on Sunday, Feb. 24. Shortly thereafter, they will be joined by recording artist Clay Cook to sing the National Anthem. … Actor and star of the upcoming Oz the Great and Powerful James Franco will serve as the Grand Marshal. … Other musical guests appearing on Sunday in various locations around the speedway include Justin Moore, Chelsea Bain and Greg Bates. … Kyle Busch will pull triple-duty this weekend by driving in all three national series races.

 

Stenhouse’s Departure Leaves Nationwide Championship Wide Open

As a new season dawns, high expectations and title aspirations abound throughout the NASCAR Nationwide Series garage.

With Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s ascension to a full-time ride in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, the reigning two-time series champion has left the door of opportunity open for a handful of series hopefuls.

Of the drivers looking to capitalize on the title race, Elliott Sadler is considered one of the early favorites. Sadler, who finished runner-up to Stenhouse the past two years, moves from the No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet to the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. In 2012, he finished with four wins, just 23 points behind Stenhouse. 

Last year, his first in the series, Austin Dillon won both events at Kentucky Speedway, finished third in the overall points standings and captured Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors. This year, he returns in the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet looking to celebrate more than just two victories.   

Sam Hornish Jr. finds himself once again piloting the No. 12 for Penske Racing. However, this year he’ll be in a Ford instead of a Dodge. Last year he finished fourth in the points, but failed to find Victory Lane. In 2013, he could find himself more of a player in the title hunt and add more victories to his only series win, which came in 2011 at Phoenix. 

After winning the championship in 2003 with Hendrick Motorsports, Brian Vickers returns to the series at the helm of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. In 11 seasons in the series, only one of those full-time, he won three times, all coming in 2003. In his time away, he competed in the premier series, where he won twice. 

Other full-time drivers that could be in the conversation come November are Justin Allgaier, Michael Annett, Trevor Bayne and Brian Scott.

 

DRIVE4COPD 300 To Feature Plethora Of Star Power

When the green flag waves at the start of the DRIVE4COPD 300 at Daytona International Speedway this Saturday at 1:15 p.m. ET, there will be plenty of star power on hand to welcome the new NASCAR Nationwide season.

The series regulars will be joined on-track by some of NASCAR’s biggest names, including Danica Patrick, who heads to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this year after one full and two partial seasons in NASCAR Nationwide. She will drive the No. 34 Chevrolet for Turner Scott Motorsports.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who won back-to-back titles in 1998 and 1999, will also suit up for the race. In 16 seasons, he’s captured 23 checkered flags, the most recent coming in the July Daytona race while driving the No. 3 Wrangler Chevrolet. 

The reigning 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski will also compete in the season-opening race. Keselowski brought owner Roger Penske his first NASCAR national series title in 2010, when he won the NASCAR Nationwide championship. 

Other big names include former NASCAR Sprint Cup champions Tony Stewart, who has won the event six times, Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch, as well as Kyle Busch, who won the 2009 NASCAR Nationwide title.

 

Future Looks Bright With Strong Rookie Class

As drivers jockey from team to team or move to the premier series, full-time opportunities often open up for aspiring race car drivers in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. This season is no exception, as evidenced by the solid rookie class of drivers who have secured full-time rides.

Kyle Larson, the 2012 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East champion, will appear in his first Nationwide race Saturday at Daytona. He’ll drive a full season in the No. 32 Turner Scott Motorsports Chevrolet. In four NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races, he had a runner-up finish at Phoenix last year. 

Parker Kligerman will drive the No. 77 Toyota for Kyle Busch Motorsports. In 18 series races, his best finish was a seventh at Chicagoland in 2012. He has one win in the truck series, coming last year at Talladega. 

After only nine starts in the NASCAR Nationwide Series in 2012, Travis Pastrana turns his attention to a full-time ride in the No. 60 Ford with Roush Fenway Racing. The extreme sports star’s best finish was 13th at Indianapolis.

Although only appearing in four NASCAR Nationwide events prior to 2013, Nelson Piquet Jr. already has a victory on his résumé. Last year in only his third career series start, he won by more than two seconds at Road America.

 

NASCAR Nationwide Series, Etc.

Wayne Auton, who had been the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series director since its inaugural 1995 season, assumes the role of NASCAR Nationwide Series director this season. Chad Little, former NASCAR Whelen Modified director, takes the reins as NASCAR Camping World Truck Series director. … Scott Lagasse Jr. will give a lucky Boy Scout a ride of a lifetime on Wednesday, Feb. 20, as he is transported to school in the No. 8 Hybridlight / Boy Scouts of America Nationwide Series Chevrolet Camaro. The scout will be picked up at his home by Lagasse and will be given a ride along with a police escort to school at Orangewood Christian School in Maitland, near Daytona Beach.

 

Darrell Wallace Jr. Leads Truck Series Youth Movement

For much of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series’ first 16 years of existence, the division was viewed as the property of seasoned veterans – many with significant NASCAR Sprint Cup experience.

No longer.

Generation Y has arrived with a vengeance. Austin Dillon became the series’ youngest champion at age 21 in 2010, followed by 22-year-old James Buescher a year ago. Millennials comprised seven of last season’s top 10 and were winners of 14 of 22 races. That trend figures to continue in 2013.

Young drivers to watch this year include Darrell Wallace Jr., 19, a graduate of NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program and a six-time NASCAR K&N Pro Series East winner; Ryan Blaney, 19, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series’ youngest winner (18) last summer at Iowa Speedway; and Jeb Burton, 20, son of Daytona 500 winner Ward Burton.

 

Four Previous Winners Among NextEra Energy Resources 250 Entries

No one was more surprised by John King’s 2012 Daytona victory than King himself. The Kingsport, Tenn., native’s season pretty much went downhill from there – just one additional top-10 finish in a seven-race, abbreviated campaign.

King returns Friday to defend his NextEra Energy Resources 250 victory and become just the second repeat winner of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series’ season-opening event. Todd Bodine captured the 250-mile, 150-lap race in 2008-09.

King is one of four former Daytona winners expected to compete. The others are Bodine, Timothy Peters (2010) and Rick Crawford (2003). King will drive the No. 33 Chevrolet for Eddie Sharp Racing.

“They have great equipment and more importantly a great team, which I believe are the keys to success in this sport,” said the 24-year-old King, who had competed in just seven NCWTS events prior to winning the year’s biggest race.

Peters is the only one of the four to return to Daytona with the same team – Red Horse Racing – with which he won on the 2.5-mile speedway and finished second in 2012. King also won in a truck fielded by the Tom DeLoach/Jeff Hammond-owned organization.

“We have a win and a second at Daytona so I know we have a good speedway program and it gives you confidence heading into the first race of the season,” said Peters, who finished runner-up in last year’s championship to James Buescher. “It’s always cool to go to Daytona and kick off the new year, especially after the season we had last year. I feel like that’s a ton of motivation for our team to improve one spot in the championship standings.”

 

Back-To-Back Titles Remain Elusive Goal 

James Buescher’s 2013 goal is to defend last year’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title. The odds, however, are against that happening.

Since Mike Skinner won the inaugural championship in 1995, no driver has been able to fashion back-to-back titles. Two have come close: Jack Sprague won the championship in 1997 and finished second to Ron Hornaday Jr. by just three points the following season. In 2008, Hornaday’s defense fell seven points short to Johnny Benson.

Buescher, who’ll return in the No. 31 Turner Scott Chevrolet, will face many of last year’s rivals. At least seven of last year’s top 10 will be back, including numbers two through four Timothy Peters, Joey Coulter and Ty Dillon. Veterans Matt Crafton and Johnny Sauter, teammates at ThorSport Racing, also are in the mix – each having finished second in points in past seasons.

Hornaday continues to seek a fifth championship, putting behind him a season in which he failed to win as a fulltime driver for the first time in 13 campaigns. The 51-time NCWTS winner will drive the No. 9 NTS Motorsports Chevrolet, jointly owned by Bob Newberry and Joe Denette.

 

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Etc.

Only one driver, David Starr, has competed in all 13 NASCAR Camping World Truck races held at Daytona International Speedway. Starr, driving the No. 60 Chevrolet, bids to extend his record to 14. The Texan’s best finish is fourth in 2008. … John Wes Townley goes for the Speedweeks “double” on Friday having won the Feb. 16 ARCA Lucas Oil 150. … One of the series’ most potent driver/crew chief combinations – Brendan Gaughan and Shane Wilson – reunites in 2013 at Richard Childress Racing. The tandem won eight times in 2002-03, including a series-leading six times in the latter season. … Toyota’s Tundra has won six consecutive Daytona races. … Chad Little this year becomes the third NCWTS series director, succeeding Wayne Auton, who assumes the same position with the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Little, a NASCAR K&N Pro Series champion, previously was series director for NASCAR’s Whelen Modified Tour and Mexico Series.

Fast Facts

NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES

  • The Race: Daytona 500
  • The Place: Daytona International Speedway
  • The Date: Sunday, Feb. 24
  • The Time: 1 p.m. (ET)
  • TV: FOX, 12 p.m. (ET)
  • Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
  • Distance: 500 miles (200 laps)

NASCAR NATIONWIDE SERIES

  • The Race: DRIVE4COPD 300
  • The Place: Daytona International Speedway
  • The Date: Saturday, Feb. 23
  • The Time: 1:15 p.m. (ET)
  • TV: ESPN, 12 p.m. (ET)
  • Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
  • Distance: 300 miles (120 laps)

NASCAR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES

  • The Race: NextEra Energy Resources 250
  • The Place: Daytona International Speedway
  • The Date: Friday, Feb. 22
  • The Time: 7:30 p.m. (ET)
  • TV: SPEED, 7 p.m. (ET)
  • Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
  • Distance: 250 miles (100 laps)

source: nascar.com



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