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* Cinderella Story: Underdog Shelmerdine captures career-high finish * Rookie Watch: Bowyer takes early lead in rookie battle NEWS AND NOTES Shelmerdine Beats Odds, Finishes 20th ... As Kirk Shelmerdine (No. 27 Shelmerdine Racing Ford)...

* Cinderella Story: Underdog Shelmerdine captures career-high finish

* Rookie Watch: Bowyer takes early lead in rookie battle

NEWS AND NOTES

Shelmerdine Beats Odds, Finishes 20th ... As Kirk Shelmerdine (No. 27 Shelmerdine Racing Ford) pulled back into the garage after completing the Gatorade Duel at Daytona last Thursday, he lamented the fact that he had once again just missed qualifying for the Daytona 500 -- or so he thought. Shelmerdine, who had posted the seventh quickest qualifying lap of the drivers needing to qualify for the race on time, figured he had missed his shot when he failed to race his way into "The Great American Race" during the Duel. When three drivers ahead of him on the time trial sheet captured starting spots as a result of the Duel, Shelmerdine was able to secure the final position on the grid.

That accomplishment alone was enough to validate Shelmerdine's tireless efforts. The 47-year old owner-driver has two full-time employees working for him and did most of the work on the car himself.

Best known as the crew chief for four of Dale Earnhardt's championship seasons, Shelmerdine gave up his job on top of the pit box to pursue a career behind the wheel. Although he had made 23 career starts as a driver prior to Sunday's race, he had finished higher than 37th place only once.

That changed Sunday when Shelmerdine finished on the lead lap in 20th place. Although he didn't have the fastest car on the track, he was able to hang with the pack and avoid any trouble. Shelmerdine was the sixth best closer in the race, picking up 12 positions over the last 20 laps.

"It will all sink in eventually," Shelmerdine said. "Just being here has meant a lot to me, and it hasn't sunk in yet, I've been too busy."

Shelmerdine will not make the trip to California and is unsure when his team will return to the track.

Grubb Steps Up to Lead Lowe's Team ... Before the Daytona 500, Darian Grubb was better known as the guy sitting next to crew chief Chad Knaus on top of the No. 48 pit box. With Knaus sent home after a rule violation during qualifying, Grubb was thrust into the role of temporary crew chief on less than a week's notice. After guiding the team to a victory in NASCAR's most prestigious race, it appears he adjusted easily.

"I was just two seats over is what it basically boils down to," Grubb said. "I was just trying to do the same job I had always done. I always try to gather all of that information to help Chad make his decisions for the pit calls. This just gave me the opportunity to make those calls myself instead of just feeding that information to Chad and having him make the call, I was the guy."

Grubb, who normally serves as the team's lead engineer, had a cool demeanor throughout the race and didn't flinch when being interviewed by the NBC crew during a caution toward the end of the race.

"Everybody made comments about how calm our pit crew was and how calm our pit box was," Grubb said. "The patience paid off Sunday, so if we can carry that lesson through the entire season, we're gonna be shooting for the championship."

And how has the win affected the popularity of the Floyd, Va. native?

"I just have to say sorry to all the folks back home who are calling, because my voicemail is full on both of my phones," he said. "I appreciate all the support, it's not gonna sink in for the rest of my life. It's one of those things that is only going to grow more and more special as I look back on it. The opportunity I was given to help out and being asked to step up is great, and all the support I've gotten from my teammates, I can't ask for anything more."

Field Full of California Drivers ... Seven of the 51 drivers attempting to qualify for the Auto Club 500 hail from the Golden State. That total is the highest of any state, not surprising considering California is tied with North Carolina for most full-time NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series drivers with five. Full-time drivers Robby Gordon (No. 7 Jim Beam Chevrolet), Bellflower, Kevin Harvick (No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet), Bakersfield, Casey Mears, Bakersfield, and Jimmie Johnson, El Cajon, all grew up less than 150 miles from California Speedway in Fontana. Jeff Gordon, Vallejo, and part-time NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series drivers Mike Skinner (No. 37 R&J Racing Dodge), Susanville, and Stanton Barrett (No. 95 Barrett Motorsports Chevrolet), Bishop, are from Northern California.

TV Timeout ... The 48th running of the Daytona 500 was the highest rated, most viewed NASCAR event in broadcast history. Data from Nielsen Media Research showed a total of 37 million unduplicated viewers tuning in to NBC's coverage of the event. This year 12.5 million households tuned into the race, up 4% from 11.9 million households last year.

In the Loop ... Several new statistics have been rolled out by NASCAR and STATS LLC to provide in-depth insight to the action on the track. The new stats, which utilize timing loops embedded in the track, help tell the story of what transpired during the race. One of the most telling stats is the driver rating which measures a driver's performance throughout the race. The driver rating, like the quarterback rating in football, takes several categories into account including finish, average running position and fastest laps, among others. Winner Jimmie Johnson had the top driver rating of 118.4 followed by second-place finisher Ryan Newman (No. 12 Alltel Dodge) with 114.2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet) had the third-highest driver rating of 103.5 after leading 32 laps, a race high.

Looking ahead to California Speedway, Greg Biffle (No. 16 National Guard Ford), Mark Martin (No. 6 AAA Ford) and Johnson appear to be the drivers to beat. In the two races held at the track last year, Martin had the highest average running position of 5.6, nearly three positions better than the next driver, Johnson. Biffle had the highest driver rating, averaging 116.6 over the two races.

Bowyer Top Daytona Rookie ... Clint Bowyer (No. 07 Jack Daniel's Chevrolet) improved 10 positions over the last 20 laps of the Daytona 500 to finish sixth and secure the top spot in the Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings. Bowyer, making his second career NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series start, has 16 points, six more then defending NASCAR Busch Series champion Martin Truex Jr. (No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet) who has 10. Brent Sherman (No. 49 Serta Dodge) is in third place with nine points. Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates teammates David Stremme (No. 40 Coors Light/Lone Star Steakhouse & Saloon Dodge) and Reed Sorenson (No. 41 Target Dodge) are fourth and fifth with eight and seven points, respectively. Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Chevrolet), the only rookie to win the Budweiser Shootout, is sixth with six points. J.J. Yeley (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet) rounds out the group in seventh place, with five points.

Pit Crew Spotlight: Lowe's Crew Wins Award ... Jimmie Johnson and Darian Grubb would not have won the Daytona 500 without the efficient work of the entire No. 48 team. In addition to bringing home the checkered flag, the team also earned the Checkers/Rally's Double Drive-Thru Challenge Award for least amount of time spent on pit road. Gas Man Rich Gutierrez is one of several NASCAR crew members who hail from California. He grew up in Yorba Linda, less than 45 miles from California Speedway.

Chevrolet Leads Manufacturers Standings ... Jimmie Johnson's Daytona 500 win gave Chevrolet an early lead in the 2006 Manufacturers Championship. Chevrolet, which won the 2005 Manufacturers Championship, has nine points and one win. Dodge has six points and Ford has four. Ford holds the edge in victories at California Speedway with six. Chevrolet has five.

The NASCAR Leaderboard ... While Jimmie Johnson sits atop the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup standings, he also leads the field in several key categories. Johnson leads in winnings and victories and shares the lead for top-five finishes, top-10 finishes and races led. Dale Earnhardt Jr. leads in laps led and miles led.

From the Archives: California Racing Roots Run Deep ... The state of California has a long and proud history in the sport of auto racing dating back to the early 20th century. The state's involvement in NASCAR racing dates back to the sanctioning body's early days with several important historic moments taking place on California tracks.

One of the more interesting moments deals with the first NASCAR-sanctioned superspeedway race to be held in the Golden State. The event took place at Marchbanks Speedway in Hanford, Calif. on March 12, 1961. It was a 250-mile affair on the 1.4 mile high-banked superspeedway. Bob Ross from Lakewood, Calif. was the fastest of the 36 starters with Fireball Roberts starting on the outside of the front row.

Most of the field was made up of West Coast drivers. However, a contingent of East Coast competitors came west for the event. Among them were Roberts, 1960 NASCAR champion Rex White and Banjo Matthews. Roberts jumped into the lead at the green flag and led all 178 laps for the 25th win of his career. It was the first time a driver led flag-to-flag in a NASCAR superspeedway race. The mark would stand alone for nearly 40 years until Jeff Burton led all laps at New Hampshire International Speedway in 2000.

On Deck: Las Vegas Motor Speedway ... The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series will take a week off while the NASCAR Busch Series travels to Mexico City. Action resumes when the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series heads to Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 12. ... Jimmie Johnson won last year's UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400. Ryan Newman sat on the pole.

Fast Facts

The race: Auto Club 500 (Race No. 2 of the 36-race NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season)

The track: California Speedway, Fontana, Calif.

The date/time: Sunday, Feb. 26, 4 p.m. (ET).

TV: FOX, 3:30 p.m. (ET).
Radio: MRN/XM Satellite

Posted awards: $5,934,504

Race length: 500 miles, 250 laps
Track layout: 2-mile oval.

2005 winner: Greg Biffle.
2005 polesitter: Kyle Busch

NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10: 1. Jimmie Johnson 185. 2. Casey Mears 170. 3. Ryan Newman 170. 4. Elliott Sadler 165. 5. Tony Stewart 160. 6. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 152. 7. Brian Vickers 151. 8. Clint Bowyer 150. 9. Ken Schrader 138. 10. Dale Jarrett 134.

-nascar-

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