02/21/12 02:16PM Daytona 500, NASCAR, Old School Racing, Rookies, Speedweek, Trevor Bayne

Biggest Race Culminates Retro-Fitted Speedweeks
Speedweeks 2012 has gone back to school – old school




Daytona International Speedway’s signature competition, pack racing, returned with a vengeance during last weekend’s Shootout at Daytona.

The race ended with another Daytona cornerstone, Kyle Busch’s slingshot pass of Tony Stewart at the start-finish line.
It also marked the end of a format. The Shootout returns to its roots in 2013, primarily a battle among Coors Light Pole winners. Carl Edwards, set to start on the pole for Sunday’s 54th Daytona 500, is the first to punch his ticket to next year’s Speedweeks curtain-raiser.
Speed also made its reappearance. Edwards qualified at over 194 mph, fastest in more than a decade. Thirty-nine drivers taking part in time trials posted speeds faster than Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s pole run of 2011.

Also announced: Next year’s Speedweeks will dip into its past for a special, non-points race for NASCAR’s roots racers from its touring divisions and Whelen All American Series. A 0.4-mile track will be set up on Daytona’s Super Stretch, evoking memories of days when drivers like NASCAR Hall of Famer Richie Evans converged on the World Center of Racing to race their modifieds and sportsman stock cars.

Stewart, an old-school racer, is looking forward to Sunday’s Daytona 500 with greater enthusiasm than in seasons past. A three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion, Stewart hopes to fill one of his few missing career achievements on Sunday: a Daytona 500 victory.
He, as well as the other 42 starters, recognizes that a Daytona 500 win is a career-maker, as it was for Trevor Bayne, the surprise winner of last year’s Great American race.
Questions, as always, abound:
•    Can Bayne repeat in the iconic Wood Brothers No. 21 Ford?
•    Can Danica Patrick, the first female driver to compete in the Daytona 500 since 2002 and just third in history, become this year’s surprise winner?
•    Will there be a seventh consecutive first-time Daytona 500 winner of NASCAR’s biggest race?
•    Will Hendrick Motorsports score its 200th victory on the sport’s largest stage?
The answers to these and other intriguing storylines can be found at 1 p.m. ET on FOX. The race also will be broadcast by MRN Radio and NASCAR Sirius Radio.

Gatorade Duel Fulfills Dreams But Also Breaks Hearts

For 10 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers, Thursday’s Gatorade Duel at Daytona defines the term working without a net. The Duel is a pair of 60-lap, 150-mile last-chance races from which the final four Daytona 500 starters will be chosen. They’re a race within a race; the top two finishers in each among those drivers outside the top 35 will move on to Sunday’s Great American race. The others go home.
Yet to qualify are former Daytona 500 winners Michael Waltrip and Bill Elliott. Also on the outside looking in are Dave Blaney, Michael McDowell, Robbie Gordon, Kenny Wallace, Mike Wallace, Joe Nemechek, Robert Richardson Jr. and JJ Yeley.
Four drivers locked themselves into the race in Sunday’s qualifying session. Defending Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne, Tony Raines and David Stremme recorded the fastest laps among teams outside last season’s top-35 owners’ standings. As the most recent past NSCS champion, Terry Labonte also has an insurance policy.

Any or all of the four can improve their Daytona 500 starting positions by finishing among the top two unqualified drivers in their Duel. That would pass the "on speed" position(s) to the next fastest in time trials. Elliott would receive the past champion’s provisional if Labonte transfers out of his Duel.

SPEED’s live coverage of the Gatorade Duel at Daytona begins at 2 p.m. ET.

A World of Bayne: Repeat a Statistical Longshot

Trevor Bayne hopes to repeat as Daytona 500 champion, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished in nearly two decades. In fact, only three drivers, Richard Petty (1973-74), Cale Yarborough (1983-84) and Sterling Marlin (1994-95) have won back-to-back Daytona 500s.
Bayne, like Marlin, is a Tennessee native. He is the youngest Daytona 500 winner, last year’s victory coming a day after his 20th birthday. Bayne turned 21 on Feb. 19.

A win would extend 2012 NASCAR Hall of Famer Glen Wood’s win record at Daytona to 16, giving him five more than Petty Enterprises and six ahead of Rick Hendrick. They are the only owners with double-digit victories at the track. The Wood Brothers have won the Daytona 500 five times.

•    Perhaps more likely is a continuation of a streak of first-time Daytona 500 winners, which reached six a year ago. Jeff Gordon was the last repeat winner posting his third victory in 2005.
•    The first and second starting position have accounted for the most wins in Daytona 500 history with nine and seven respectively, combining for 30 percent of the victories in the 53 previous events. Jarrett was the last to win the Daytona 500 from the pole in 2000. The winner’s average start since then is 17.6.
•    Jimmie Johnson was the last winner of the Daytona 500 in a championship season (2006). Petty used the race as a title springboard a record four times in 1964, 1971, 1974 and 1979.

March to 200: Hendrick Stable Vying for Milestone Win

With three Daytona 500 winners in the fold, this Sunday’s race could mark the 200th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory for Hendrick Motorsports. HMS has been 199 and counting since Jimmie Johnson went to Victory Lane at Kansas Speedway on Oct. 9, 2011.
•    Jeff Gordon is a three-time Daytona 500 winner. Should he win Sunday, he’ll match NASCAR Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough for second-most 500 wins.
•    Johnson won the Daytona 500 in 2006. Richard Petty tops that list with seven wins.
•    Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a master of restrictor plate racing, winning seven NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Daytona and Talladega.
•    Kasey Kahne will make his debut for Hendrick Motorsports at Daytona, hopeful of recording his first victory on the 2.5-mile track.
"I feel pretty good. I’m frustrated that we didn’t win last year; we came close. I’m ready to get back to that. I’m ready to get chances again," said Earnhardt, eager to break a 129-race winless streak that dates to the 2008 season.

EFI’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Debut a Coup for Roush Yates

Roush Fenway Racing, by admission, started out behind the curve with introduction of NASCAR’s "new car" in 2007. Such isn’t the case with Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI), which made its debut in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in last weekend’s Shootout at Daytona and Coors Light Pole qualifying.

Roush Fenway’s Carl Edwards won the pole at 194.738 mph – the fastest pole winner for the Daytona 500 since 1999. Teammate Greg Biffle will start alongside Edwards on the front row.

Six of the top-10 qualifiers were powered by Roush Yates engines.

"Doug Yates and Ford Motor Company have set the curve," said Jack Roush of EFI. "The fuel injection thing has been a boon for us based on our support and partnership with Ford [and] the insight and inspiration that Doug and the guys have had."
Edwards agreed. "Those guys have done an unbelievable job of working through the transition to EFI. It’s just amazing," he said.
Edwards finished second a year ago and was ninth in 2010.
"We have been very pleased with the performance of the Electronic Fuel Injection system and what we have on the track so far at Daytona International Speedway," said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president for competition. "As we have said all along, the manufacturers, teams and engine builders have worked very closely with our partners Freescale and McLaren to ensure that the transition to EFI would be seamless."

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Etc.

The biggest race attracts the biggest celebrities. Here’s the roster for Sunday’s Daytona 500: Pat Monahan, lead singer of the three-time Grammy-winning group Train, will sing the national anthem for the 54th running of the Daytona 500. To kick the day off, four-time Grammy-award winner Lenny Kravitz will perform at NASCAR’s Daytona 500 Pre-Race Show (FOX, noon ET). Actress Jane Lynch, best known for her Emmy and Golden Globe Award-winning role as the sarcastic villain on FOX’s hit show Glee, and new Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover model and actress Kate Upton, will serve as Grand Marshals, delivering the four most famous words in motorsports – "Drivers, start your engines." Lynch and Upton co-star in the upcoming remake film The Three Stooges. WWE Superstar John Cena will wave the green flag as Honorary Starter. … Brad Keselowski will pull triple-duty this weekend, participating in all three series at Daytona. … Roush Fenway Racing’s next win – be it in the NASCAR Nationwide or NASCAR Sprint Cup Series – will be its 300th in NASCAR national series competition. … Juan Pablo Montoya aims for his milestone 50th top-10 finish this weekend. He’d tie Charlie Glotzbach at 114th on the all-time list.

2012 Nationwide Season Has All the Ingredients for a Masterpiece

This season boasts big names with the likes of former NASCAR national series champions, open wheel stars, veterans and rookies – all of them are contending for the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship. The season kicks off Saturday, Feb. 25, at Daytona International Speedway for the DRIVE4COPD 300.

Roush Fenway Racing is bringing another stout lineup to the series this season. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., the reigning series champion, returns to defend his title as the favorite. In a pre-season media poll, NASCAR’s media corps voted him to repeat in 2012. Stenhouse will be joined by 2011 Daytona 500 champion Trevor Bayne under the RFR umbrella.

Stenhouse has made four series starts at Daytona, posting two top-10 finishes. Stenhouse’s pre-race Driver Rating is 87.0 and Average Running Position is 15.035 for this event. Bayne also has made four series starts at Daytona, posting a best finish of 10th in this race last season. Bayne’s pre-race Daytona Driver Rating is 80.5.

Not to be outshined, JR Motorsports has assembled the most talked about driver roster of the season. Danica Patrick will compete full-time in 2012 with teammate and former NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Cole Whitt. The tandem will have the spotlight fixed on them due to popularity of the two drivers, but also their car owner Dale Earnhardt Jr.

"I’ve raced here [Daytona] more than any other track, and I did that on purpose because I want to do well in the big races and Daytona is a big race," Danica Patrick said.  "The more experience I have at a place like this the better off I am."

Patrick started fourth and finished 14th in last season’s February race at Daytona. Her pre-race Daytona Driver Rating is 81.4.
Coming off a strong championship season in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Austin Dillon has graduated to the NASCAR Nationwide Series full-time for Richard Childress Racing. Dillon’s teammate, and runner-up in the 2011 NASCAR Nationwide Series championship, Elliott Sadler joins RCR after the closing of Kevin Harvick Inc. at the end of last season.
Sam Hornish Jr., Justin Allgaier, Brian Scott, Michael Annett and Kenny Wallace are also in the discussion as championship contenders.

What’s In a Number: Nos. 3 and 43 Have Something Special
Every sport has famous or iconic numbers that symbolize a driver/athlete that connects the fan to that athlete on another level. It’s almost like a badge in some cases, or a coat of arms for the athletes. Some could argue the number can become even more famous than the athlete.

In NASCAR, numbers are adorned everywhere – the cars, pit boxes, team hats – and none are more recognized than the No. 3 and No. 43 made famous by NASCAR Hall of Famers and seven-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champions Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty.
This season, NASCAR Nationwide Series fans will see both iconic numbers affixed to the side of two title contending hotrods.

Richard Childress Racing will be fielding the No. 3 with driver (and grandson) Austin Dillon, the reigning NCWTS champion.
Michael Annett has the distinction of bringing the No. 43 Ford Mustang into the series for the first time on a full-time basis. Annett finished a career-best ninth in the driver standings last year.

The culmination of Bayne’s comeback came at Texas when he claimed his first career series victory in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

Double-Duty Field Packed for Daytona

Fifty cars are on the entry list for the 2012 DRIVE4COPD 300 at Daytona International Speedway, which includes nine full-time NSCS drivers and four full-time NCWTS drivers.

Heading that list is three-time and defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart, who has won six out of the last seven NASCAR Nationwide Series season openers, including the last four.  Stewart leads the series in pre-race Driver Rating with 114.6 heading to Daytona.

Also entered is two-time series champion and current team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr., who dominated this event for three successive years from 2002-04. His pre-race Driver Rating is 106.0.

NASCAR Nationwide Series champions Brad Keselowski (2010) and Kyle Busch (2009) are also on the list with Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Joey Logano, David Ragan and Kasey Kahne. None of these seven drivers have won the NASCAR Nationwide Series season opener at Daytona before.
Erik Darnell, Johnny Sauter, Josh Wise and James Buescher make up the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series drivers entered in Saturday’s race.

NASCAR Nationwide Series, Etc.
Austin Dillon and Cole Whitt will be joined by three other Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidates at Daytona – Jason Bowles, Joey Gase and Johanna Long. Timmy Hill, the 2011 Sunoco Rookie of the Year, will run at Daytona but soon after will make the jump to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, where he’ll attempt to lock up consecutive rookie of the year awards. Blake Koch, runner-up to Hill in the 2011 rookie race and now his teammate at Rick Ware Racing, will be the lone full-time NASCAR Nationwide Series car for the organization in 2012.
… Ford won the manufacturers’ championship last season for the first time in eight years. Can it do it again? Chevrolet leads the series in Manufacturers’ championships with 14, Ford and Toyota are tied with three each and Oldsmobile has one.
 
Experts Tap Sauter in David vs. Goliath Championship Battle

Statistically speaking, Thorsport Racing vs. Richard Childress Racing would hardly seem a fair fight – a classic case of David and Goliath.
RCR has won 180 NASCAR national series races and 11 owner championships. ThorSport, the longest continuously competing NASCAR Camping World Truck Series team, has visited Victory Lane just seven times with a pair of runner-up points finishes.

Media members, however, say David will dethrone Goliath perhaps because the battle will pit veteran – Johnny Sauter, last year’s championship runner-up – against RCR Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Ty Dillon. Dillon, 19, won the 2012 Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) title and hopes to follow his older brother Austin as a NASCAR Camping World Truck champion.

Sauter came close to winning his first NASCAR national series championship a year ago, finishing just six points behind the elder Dillon, who moves to the NNS this season. He held the points lead after 10 of 25 races and finished strong, winning the 2012 finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

ThorSport, based near Sandusky, Ohio, will field a truck in its 348th consecutive series race – one fewer than the record held by Roush Fenway Racing. Sauter will have a pair of teammates in 2012: veteran Matt Crafton, the NCWTS runner-up finisher in 2009 and Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Dakoda Armstrong. Thorsport made its first of a record 365 starts in 1996 and has been a full-time team since 1997.

RCR won the inaugural series title with Mike Skinner in 1995. The team counts 24 victories.

Glory Rather Than Points Makes These Veterans Dangerous
Not every competitor hoping to win Friday night’s NextEra Energy Resources 250 has sights set on a NASCAR Camping World Truck title. Some – like last year’s winner Michael Waltrip – have elected to chase points in another national series or plan a part-time schedule.
And that makes them doubly dangerous: chasing the prize with no driver points on the line (owner points will still be earned). Among them are:
•    Brad Keselowski, who needs a NCWTS victory to complete a sweep of all three national series. He’ll run all three races this weekend.
•    Ward Burton, the 2002 Daytona 500 winner
•    David Reutimann, a former series rookie of the year
•    Travis Kvapil, who won the series championship in 2003
•    Brendan Gaughan, a regular in 2011 who’s set to run partial schedules in trucks, the NASCAR Sprint Cup and NASCAR Nationwide Series for Richard Childress Racing.
Two former champions – one a two-time Daytona winner – may or may not fit into that category. Todd Bodine has confirmed this week’s race on his ’12 schedule but hopes a third victory to go with wins in 2008-09 will bring a full-time schedule. In the same category is Skinner, the ’97 Daytona 500 pole winner.

Sunoco Rookie Class Faces Daytona Challenge

Rookies, rookies, we’ve got rookies.
After a half-dozen freshman candidates chased the Sunoco Rookie of the Year title in 2011, a whopping 11 drivers have filed for official status – most of the three NASCAR national series this season. The award is based upon a contender’s best 17 finishes under a point system separate from overall NASCAR Camping World Truck points.

Among them are the aforementioned Dillon, the ARCA champion; 2012 K&N Pro Series East champion Max Gresham and Paulie Harraka, a Whelen All-American Series track champion, K&N Pro Series West rookie of the year and graduating senior at Duke University. Armstrong and Cale Gale both have top-10 finishes in abbreviated previous competition in the series.

No rookie ever has won the series championship, although 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kurt Busch came close in 2000 as the runner-up to teammate Greg Biffle. Other series rookies of note include Biffle, Kvapil, Daytona 500 pole winner Carl Edwards and Austin Dillon.
J.R. Fitzpatrick has the most recent top-five finish at Daytona by a rookie, fourth in 2009.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Etc.
No Daytona winner in the race’s 11 years has gone on to capture that season’s championship. …
 Former NextEra Energy Resources 250 winners among the 44-competitor entry list: Bodine, Rick Crawford (2003) and Timothy Peters (2010). …
A Chevrolet has never won a NCWTS race at Daytona. Neither has Ron Hornaday Jr., a 51-time series winner who opens his bid for a record-extending fifth series championship. …
Jason Leffler returns to the series in the Kyle Busch Motorsports No. 18 Toyota. Busch finished second in 2009. …
Crafton, who finished a disappointing eighth in points a year ago, will have former engine specialist Carl Joiner Jr. calling the shots on pit road in 2012.