Day: February 22, 2014

Budweiser Duel 2

The 2014 Daytona 500 Starting Grid, in full

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So, today will mark the 2014 running of the Daytona 500. Here’s the starting grid, and a brief outlook for each of the 43 drivers competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season opener:

  • 1. Austin Dillon, No. 3 Chevrolet. Rookie and big media story, but a simple top-10 will more than suffice as a realistic result for his debut. Anything more is a bonus.
  • 2. Martin Truex Jr., No. 78 Chevrolet. Will drop to rear with a backup car. Has never won a restrictor-plate race but will enjoy a methodical race as he comes through the field in his Furniture Row Racing debut.
  • 3. Matt Kenseth, No. 20 Toyota. Could well have won his Joe Gibbs Racing debut here last year, and could very easily win his third Daytona 500 on Sunday. If he does, it would be the first under normal race circumstances (2009 rain-shortened, 2012 rain-delayed til Monday).

    source: AP
    Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Hamlin. Photo: AP
  • 4. Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Toyota. The only thing holding him back from a Daytona Speedweeks sweep is history. Otherwise, the FedEx driver is odds-on favorite.
  • 5. Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Chevrolet. Consistent and under-the-radar, with few true “wow” moments thus far in his Hendrick career. Could make a statement with standout effort.
  • 6. Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Chevrolet. It hasn’t been 10 years since his third and most recent Daytona 500 win, but he could well pull off number four Sunday if he avoids the likely, inevitable “big one” that he’s been caught up in in recent restrictor-plate races.
  • 7. Marcos Ambrose, No. 9 Ford. Wouldn’t it be nice if we were talking about Richard Petty’s race team rather than his comments? If Ambrose runs well Sunday, we might.
  • 8. Kurt Busch, No. 41 Chevrolet. A win on his Stewart-Haas Racing debut would be a mild surprise, given it’s a new fourth team. But Busch is another who’s been too good to have not won the ‘500, and should be in contention until the waning stages.
  • 9. Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 Chevrolet. Big name. Ten years since his last Daytona 500 win. Winless in 2013. A win would provide a nice book-end to Speedweeks after the 3 took pole.
  • 10. Paul Menard, No. 27 Chevrolet. Solid sleeper pick, with RCR engines and a tendency to hang around the lead pack if he avoids being caught up in an accident.
  • 11. Josh Wise, No. 98 Ford. Underfunded Phil Parsons Racing team actually scored a top-10 here with Michael McDowell in 2013, and an encore with Wise would be a great story.
  • 12. Brian Scott, No. 33 Chevrolet. Like Menard, a good sleeper for RCR. But likely to lose fractions of time on pit lane, and it’s only his second career Cup start. Although that worked out rather well for Trevor Bayne in 2011…
  • 13. Aric Almirola, No. 43 Ford. Like Ambrose, would shift the conversation away from Petty’s mouth to his iconic number. But does he have the aggressiveness to contend if he’s in the frame late? Doubtful.
  • 14. Trevor Bayne, No. 21 Ford. The 2011 ‘500 winner is unlikely to repeat. He hasn’t done much in Cup since, and really could just use a solid top-10 or top-15 finish.
  • 15. AJ Allmendinger, No. 47 Chevrolet. New team, new engines, new motivation for the driver who finished third here in 2009. Another sleeper who could overachieve.
  • 16. Kyle Larson, No. 42 Chevrolet. A superstar-in-waiting, but this won’t be his breakout.
  • 17. David Gilliland, No. 38 Ford. Team and driver are sneaky good on restrictor-plate tracks. He could end up in the top-10 late and you’ll ask yourself “where’d he come from?”
  • 18. Landon Cassill, No. 40 Chevrolet. He got hit by a bike, then made the race. Small team seeks to complete the race first, then go from there.
  • source: Getty Images
    Newman and Dillon. Photo: Getty Images

    19. Ryan Newman, No. 31 Chevrolet. Of RCR’s four cars, my likeliest contender. Knows his way to victory lane in the race, has the equipment, has the motivation.

  • 20. Clint Bowyer, No. 15 Toyota. The definite favorite to win if a big one happens off Turn 4 on the last lap, because he’ll somersault or flip his way to victory.
  • 21. Tony Stewart, No. 14 Chevrolet. Would be a sentimental favorite if he pulls it off. Starts from the rear after an engine change.
  • 22. Jamie McMurray, No. 1 Chevrolet. Backup car set for the 2010 ‘500 winner, who has always run well on restrictor-plate tracks.
  • 23. Cole Whitt, No. 26 Toyota. Making the field was his victory, with no owner points on offer.
  • 24. Terry Labonte, No. 32 Ford. Happy to be in for his final ‘500 start, but will only score a result if he stays out of trouble.
  • 25. Greg Biffle, No. 16 Ford. Has had chance to win this race before, but needs that last little bit of luck and/or movement to actually pull it off.
  • 26. Bobby Labonte, No. 52 Chevrolet. Engine change means he’ll go to the rear. James Finch’s team has punched above its weight in restrictor-plate races, so that bodes well for the 2000 Cup champion.
  • source: Getty Images
    Stenhouse Jr. and Danica. Photo: Getty Images

    27. Danica Patrick, No. 10 Chevrolet. Engine change, and will go to the back. Always a story line, and we’re preparing in advance for the Internet exploding if a last-to-first race happens. Still, restrictor-plate races are her strong suit, and a top-10 is very possible.

  • 28. Casey Mears, No. 13 Chevrolet. Famous name, but little else in the way of luck or past success that portends a big run on Sunday.
  • 29. Alex Bowman, No. 23 Toyota. Literally nothing to lose for the 20-year-old in his Cup debut, in the sport’s biggest race. Bring it home on four wheels, and a possible top-20 beckons.
  • 30. Carl Edwards, No. 99 Ford. Like Roush Fenway teammate Biffle, close but no cigar in terms of Daytona victories. Has had a quiet Speedweeks thus far.
  • 31. Brian Vickers, No. 55 Toyota. A practice crash and bad Duel result have not been what Vickers needed in his return to a full-time Cup ride. Here’s hoping bad luck doesn’t come in threes.
  • 32. Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Chevrolet. The defending race and series champ has had a miserable Speedweeks, and it doesn’t matter. He’ll be coming on through the field.
  • 33. Brad Keselowski, No. 2 Ford. Like JJ in the spot ahead of him, you’d be a fool to bet against hearing from Brad on Sunday. Whether it’s the lead pack or not is still to be determined.
  • 34. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., No. 17 Ford. Danica’s boyfriend needs something else to be remembered for this Speedweeks, other than him crashing into her at the Sprint Unlimited.
  • 35. Joey Logano, No. 22 Ford. Two wrecks thus far this Speedweeks haven’t endeared Logano to the competition. Another case of “here’s to avoiding three.”
  • 36. Michael Annett, No. 7 Chevrolet. He’ll make his Cup debut, and has had thus far an anonymous Speedweeks. Not expecting that to change on Sunday.
  • 37. Kyle Busch, No. 18 Toyota. The lead of the most dangerous late-grid row on the grid. The Truck race winner Friday night hasn’t yet had the marquee win of his 100-plus in his NASCAR career, and is going to factor into win contention.
  • source: Getty Images
    Harvick and son Keelan. Photo: Getty Images

    38. Kevin Harvick, No. 4 Chevrolet. Stewart-Haas debut plus extra motivation after RCR’s hogged the headlines in qualifying equals a hungry, hungry Harvick.

  • 39. Reed Sorenson, No. 36 Chevrolet. He’s back in Cup and he’s with likeable team owner Tommy Baldwin. Otherwise, not much to report here.
  • 40. Justin Allgaier, No. 51 Chevrolet. Like the other rookies, just wants to complete laps and potentially steal a result if he avoids trouble.
  • 41. Parker Kligerman, No. 30 Toyota. Great story, a great interview and due for a bit of luck after his crazy Wednesday and Thursday.
  • 42. Michael Waltrip, No. 66 Toyota. He doesn’t race often, but when he does, he’s the most interesting man to watch in the world of restrictor-plate racing.
  • 43. David Ragan, No. 34 Ford. He won Talladega last year – really! And he almost won the ‘500 a few years ago! You wouldn’t know it by the fact he hasn’t gotten much coverage this month, but another of those “sneaky good spoilers” if his car stays upright.

Austin Dillon in the No. 3: A successor to, not a replacement for Dale Earnhardt

Richard Childress

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The late Dale Earnhardt wrote the book on driving the No. 3.

Austin Dillon begins writing the sequel in Sunday’s 56th Daytona 500.

For 13 years, NASCAR fans vigorously debated the merits of the No. 3. Loyal Earnhardt fans felt his memory and legacy would best be remembered by never racing that number again, an everlasting memorial to what Earnhardt meant to them and the sport.

Others felt that if the No. 43 of NASCAR’s winningest driver, Richard Petty, wasn’t retired, than the No. 3 shouldn’t be either. To them, it was just a number.

As Dillon began his racing career in his teens, the No. 3 was the number he chose to adorn the side of every vehicle he would race across several different racing series, from go-karts to legend cars to the K&N Pro Series East, and ultimately to winning championships in the Camping World Trucks Series and the Nationwide Series.

Not only was it an homage to Earnhardt, it was also an homage to his grandfather, Richard Childress. Dillon saw the sadness and grief the man he called “Pop Pop” went through for days, weeks and years after Earnhardt died in the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.

Grief is supposed to lessen in time, but Childress was so close to Earnhardt that even 10 years later, during the 2011 NASCAR Media Tour, RC still broke up emotionally when asked about The Intimidator.

Earnhardt was more than just a driver or employee to Childress. He was more than a guy who won six of his seven Sprint Cup championships while racing under the RCR banner.

Rather, Earnhardt was kin to Childress, even if there wasn’t a direct blood connection. The two men raced, hunted, fished, hung out … hell, call them what they were: best friends through and through.

When Earnhardt died, a bit of Childress died. Scratch that – a lot of Childress died. It was as if he lost the combination of a brother and son. There was even a point early on after Earnhardt died that Childress questioned whether he should continue in racing.

Austin, Richard’s first grandchild, had a front-row seat to what his Pop Pop went through. Perhaps he was just being an impressionable kid, but Dillon wanted to do whatever he could to help Childress get over his grief, to rekindle his love and excitement of the sport, to bring back that famous Childress smile.

Dillon chose the one thing that he hoped could reignite and reinvigorate Childress’ spirit – not to mention continue the next generation of what has become a family business.

Namely, racing.

Dillon was a gifted prep athlete in a variety of other sports who probably could have played any sport he wanted in college. Maybe even make it to the pros.

But he chose to become a racer.

And now, seven years after he first climbed into a K&N car, Dillon is at the pinnacle of what he’s dreamed about for most of his 23 years:

To race in NASCAR’s premier series for his grandfather.

You couldn’t write a better script: Dillon isn’t just bringing back the No. 3 for the first time in 13 years, he’ll lead the pack to the green flag for Sunday’s Great American Race as its pole sitter.

The Earnhardt legacy will essentially come full-circle when the race starts. It’s likely that most of the sell-out crowd at Daytona International Speedway will not only applaud Dillon when he crosses the start-finish line to start the race, they’ll also likely stand and hold up three fingers at the third lap unfolds as a tribute to Earnhardt – hopefully with Dillon still in the lead.

It’ll be the final passing of the torch, the changing of the guard.

Whether you’re a fan of the No. 3 coming back or not, Dillon has gone to great pain and effort to honor Earnhardt’s memory in the best way possible, while at the same time very subtly making folks aware there’s a new driver in the legendary numbered car.

There’s been no pomposity on Dillon’s part that the No. 3 is now “his” number.

“I’m not a kid that says, ‘Hey, this is what I want, this is what I’m going to get,'” Dillon said. “I’ve never been that way. Hopefully I’m never portrayed that way.”

There’s been no attempt by Dillon to say he’s going to fill Earnhardt’s shoes.

And there’s been absolutely no reference whatsoever that Dillon will ever be as good as Earnhardt.

Dillon has quickly become known in the NASCAR world as a young man who is very respectful to everyone he comes into contact with. He welcomes contact with fans, constantly says “yes, sir” or “yes, ma’am,” and is about as sincere as they come.

He obviously was raised right by his mother and father, and of course, his Pop Pop.

“I’m a very respectful person and look to the history of the sport,” Dillon said with significant humility. “I feel fortunate I’m getting this opportunity.”

Dillon and his grandfather both know they’re going out on a big limb by not only bringing the No. 3 back, but also having Austin drive what so many consider “Dale’s car.” It would likely have been much simpler to come into the Sprint Cup series with another number.

Dillon knows that there will likely be more eyes upon him – especially in Sunday’s race – than on any other driver since Earhardt died.

He also knows that he wants to win lots of races and championships over the next 20-plus years. He never has been or ever will be Earnhardt, but you can’t fault Dillon if he wants to aspire to be the kind of driver The Intimidator was.

So for those of you who feel it’s sacrilegious that Dillon is going to be racing “Dale’s number,” consider this: other than one of Earnhardt’s own children or grandchildren, would you rather see Dillon in the No. 3, someone who was essentially part of Earnhardt’s extended family, or would you rather see someone who has no clue what that number and Earnhardt’s legacy means?

“I feel like hopefully we can win them over as time goes on,” Dillon said. “That’s all you can do.

“The legend of Dale has lived on for a long time and is going to continue to live on forever. Dale Earnhardt is not just famous because of the number. He is Dale Earnhardt. He was a hero in everybody’s mind, including myself.

“… We’re trying to continue the legacy of the No. 3.  I think we’ve done a good job of that so far.”

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Much different finish than last year: Regan Smith holds off Brad Keselowski to win Nationwide Series race at Daytona

Regan Smith holds on to beat Brad Keselowski in Saturday's DRIVE4COPD 300 Nationwide Series race at Daytona International Speedway.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – A year ago, Regan Smith and Brad Keselowski were running 1-2, heading to the checkered flag in the season-opening Nationwide Series race.

With the finish line only a few hundred feet away, Keselowski accidentally turned Smith’s car into the outside retaining wall, triggering a massive wreck that injured more than two dozen fans when debris went through and above the catchfence.

Fast forward a year to Saturday and it again came down to Smith and Keselowski closing in on the checkered flag. This time, the duo raced clean and Smith emerged to win the DRIVE4COPD 300.

“After last season with what happened at the finish line, I felt terrible,” Smith said. “I wanted to see the checkered flag in the right way. It’s going to be a good year.”

Smith beat Keselowski by .013 (second-closest NNS finish in Daytona history), followed by Trevor Bayne in third, Kyle Busch fourth and Elliott Sadler rounded out the top-five.

“We were real close, just came up a bit short,” Keselowski said. “We fought real hard and had a great car. That last restart, we just didn’t have enough.”

Keselowski said he didn’t have a flashback to the way last year’s race wound up.

“No, not really, maybe it should have. I’m not that smart, I have a terrible memory,” Keselowski said. “I’m glad there wasn’t an aftermath again.”

By finishing fourth, Busch was prevented from his overall weekend goal of a sweep. He won Friday night’s Camping World Truck Series event and hopes to capture his first Daytona 500 Sprint Cup race on Sunday.

“It was good early, I led a lot (race-high 44 laps), but wasn’t able to make the best of it at the end,” Busch said. “(I) just kind of got boxed in there late.”

Sixth through 10th were Brendan Gaughan, Ty Dillon, Dylan Kwasniewski, Ryan Sieg and Kyle Larson.

“It’s good to come out of the blocks strong like this,” Smith said. “This is Daytona, it’s always tough to win here. We were close last year but it didn’t happen.”

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Sons make sure Eddie Wood, patriarch of Wood Brothers team, extends streak of attending every Daytona 500

The legendary Wood family in victory lane after Trevor Bayne won the 2011 Daytona 500. From left to right, Len Wood, crew chief Donnie Wingo, Bayne, Eddie Wood, Glen Wood and Leonard Wood. (Photo courtesy of Wood Brothers/Ford Racing)
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – One of the most impressive streaks of consistency in NASCAR history will remain intact in Sunday’s 56th Daytona 500.

Glen Wood, patriarch of the legendary Wood Brothers race team along with younger brother Leonard, will be in attendance for the race.

There had been concern that Wood’s 55-year streak of his pilgrimage to the Great American Race would come to an end, but sons Eddie and Len made sure that their father would continue his history-setting mark.

“I knew I needed to come in a sense, but when (wife) Bernice said she wasn’t gonna come, I had made up my mind that I would stay home,” Glen Wood said in a Ford media release.

Extrapolated more, Glen Wood has been coming to Daytona actually since 1947, racing on the beaches. He was the last driver to win in a beach race in 1958 as the predecessor to the Daytona 500, which began in 1959 when Daytona International Speedway opened.

“I think it means more to my family, or at least Len and Eddie, because I’ve been here so many times,” Glen Wood said. “I’ve been to every one since 1947, so this makes 68 (straight years that he’s been coming to Daytona). They didn’t want me to stop that.

“I told them I’m getting old and it has to stop before long, but they told me it wasn’t going to be this time.  Eddie called up and said he had it all figured out, so how could I refuse?”

Eddie Wood said returning to Daytona every year is a family affair, and it just wasn’t the same without Dad being there.

“It was like something didn’t feel right all week,” Ed Wood said. “He and my mom both said early on in the winter that they didn’t think they were gonna come so far, and then they had the snow and that kind of finished it right there because we had 12-14 inches in Virginia.

“They usually come down early like we do, but I kept having it in the back of my mind that if everything plays out Len and I wanted to get him here.”

Eddie and Len hatched an impromptu plan, deciding Thursday that Eddie would fly back to Concord, N.C., pick up his father and make the eight-hour drive together to Daytona in a, what else, brand new high-horsepower Ford Taurus SHO.

“On midday Thursday I got to thinking about it and decided I was gonna get him either way because we were going to be here even if we didn’t make the race,” Eddie Wood said. “When I called dad and told him I was gonna fly home and pick him up, I could tell he got excited.

“The key thing that told me he really wanted to come was when he asked what time the plane was going to leave in the morning. I told him that we were gonna drive his car and he said OK. He hasn’t flown in years. He doesn’t like to fly and never has, except for Curtis Turner. He loved to fly with him, but I knew that if he was willing to fly back down here, he really wanted to come.

“So we went to dinner last night with Mr. (Edsel) Ford and it was just like everything was like it was supposed to be. It was like a piece was missing and things weren’t going right, and then all of a sudden Trevor (Bayne) runs a great race (in the Budweiser Duels), dad is here and everything is complete.

“Daytona from the first week of February to the third week is where we’re supposed to be. Any way you cut it, that’s where we’re supposed to be.”

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Kurt Busch fastest in final Daytona 500 practice session

Daytona 500 - Practice
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Over a third of the field for Sunday’s Daytona 500 decided to forego Saturday’s final practice for the Great American Race.

Only 27 cars took to Daytona International Speedway for the 1 ½ hour session.

Kurt Busch was the fastest driver, turning in a top speed of 197.624 mph, one of six drivers to crack the 197 mph mark.

Kasey Kahne (197.490), Jamie McMurray (197.472), Carl Edwards (197.070) and Martin Truex Jr. (197.057) rounded out the top five fastest drivers.

Truex’s speed was notable in that he had to go with a backup car after wrecking at the end of the second Budweiser Duel on Thursday.

“I was definitely relieved to get some time in the car,” Truex said. “Honestly, I am really excited about this race car. Without a shadow of a doubt this car is better than the one we ran the other night in the qualifying race. The Furniture Row guys did another good job. I even hate to call this car a backup because of how good it felt.”

Slowest was Parker Kligerman, who virtually crawled, over 10 mph slower than the leaders, at 187.025 mph.

All four Richard Childress Racing cars were conspicuous by their absence in Saturday’s practice, including pole-sitter Austin Dillon, Paul Menard, Ryan Newman and Brian Scott.

Others missing were: Danica Patrick and Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin, Marcos Ambrose, Dale Earnhardt Jr., David Gilliland, Landon Cassell, Cole Whitt, Alex Bowman, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Kyle Busch.

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