Paul Menard No. 27 PEAK/Menards Chevrolet Impala
This Week's PEAK/Menards Chevrolet at Daytona International Speedway ... Paul Menard will pilot Chassis No. 338 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable in the Daytona 500. This Chevrolet Impala was a new addition to the RCR fleet for the 2011 season and saw superspeedway competition as Menard's No. 27 in the Daytona 500, at Talladega Superspeedway in April and at Daytona International Speedway in the Coke Zero 400 in July. The car was last seen on track at Talladega in October, entered as the No. 33 Chevy 100 Years Chevrolet where the team started third and went on to claim RCR's 100th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory.
Change of Colors on the PEAK/Menards Chevrolet during Speedweeks ... The No. 27 PEAK/Menards Chevrolet will carry a special paint scheme during Speedweeks at Daytona. "PEAK blue" and "Menards yellow" will don the Impala as the Sprint Cup Series kicks off the 2012 season.
Time to Duel ... The Duels at Daytona features two 150-mile qualifying races that determine the starting lineup for the 54th running of the Daytona 500. On Thursday, Feb. 23 Menard will join RCR teammates Jeff Burton and Kevin Harvick in the first of the two qualifying shootouts and will start the 75-lap sprint from the eighth position.
New Faces on the No. 27 team ... Some new faces will sport the signature neon yellow this season, including Blythe, Calif., native Clint Almquist who was a member of the No. 29 RCR team in 2011. He joins the No. 27 crew as a road mechanic and works in RCR's fabricator shop during the week. Statesville, N.C.'s Josh Threatte joins the Slugger Labbe-led crew as an engineer. When he's not crunching numbers you can find this extreme athlete sky diving, rock climbing and mountain biking. On race day, newcomer Matt Kreuter will fuel the No. 27 Chevrolet Impala. Kreuter comes from the No. 33 RCR team and was named NASCAR Sprint Pit Crew Challenge Rear Tire Carrier Individual Champion in both 2010 and 2011. Tuning the ECR power under the hood of the PEAK/Menards machine this year is John Goodwin, who was on the No. 31 RCR team in 2011.
In the Rearview Mirror: Budweiser Shootout ... Menard and the PEAK/Menards team quickly catapulted from their 24th-place starting position into the top-10, only to be collected in the first multi-car accident when the bright blue and yellow No. 27 Chevrolet was turned from behind and into the outside retaining wall, ending their night early with a 23rd-place result.
PAUL MENARD QUOTES:
Were you comfortable with the two-car drafting? There's no arguing that it increased lead changes. What did you think of it? "We set records for lead changes and for the number of different leaders with the two-car draft. We had close finishes and I think it's safer. Honestly, I didn't see anything wrong with it. What's racing when you think about it? Lead changes, different leaders, close finishes and safety - we had all that covered. Also, there was enough of a gap that if two cars got into each other, they didn't collect everyone else."
Are the Duel 150's nerve-wracking in the sense that you're trying to accomplish two things: You want to see what your car can do in preparation for the Daytona 500, but you also want to take care of your primary car. "It is, especially if you don't qualify on the front row with the single-car qualifying. The biggest thing is to keep your primary car intact for the Daytona 500 on Sunday. To win a Duel 150 would be a huge deal. Even though we say that starting position isn't as important at a superspeedway, pit stall selection does mean a lot. Also, with starting up front you can dictate what you want to do a little bit more. So obviously we do want to finish well in the 150's but the biggest thing is to keep your car in one piece for the Daytona 500. You want to bring your fastest car to the race, and the race that counts is the one on Sunday."
You finished ninth last year in the Daytona 500. Before the race was over, you knew that Harvick and Burton had fast cars and they were out of the race with issues. When that happens, do you have to work to push those thoughts out of your mind so you can finish your race? "That was when the tandem drafting just started. We had a water temperature number that we said 'alright, don't get above this' and then when we saw that happen with Kevin and Jeff, we lowered that number and played it a lot more conservative trying to keep the motor cool. Honestly, I wasn't that worried. It's out of your control. If it happens, it happens. I knew that if we just kept it to the altered temperatures, we'd be just fine."
You finished in the top 10 in both races at Daytona International Speedway last year. Do you feel that you have a good shot at the Daytona 500 win this year? "The great thing about plate racing is that it's really anyone's game. David Gilliland ran third in the (Daytona) 500 last year and Dave Blaney had a top five at Talladega Superspeedway. It opens the door for a lot of guys and levels the playing field. It's a lot of fun from that perspective. We are coming off a great test at Daytona and two top 10s there, I think we have a great chance to be up front.
How big of a race is the Daytona 500 to you? With your family's history at the race track, you are one of the few drivers who can say that winning at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is bigger than winning at Daytona (International Speedway). Where does winning at Daytona fall for you?" "If Indianapolis is number one, winning the Daytona 500 is definitely number two. My history with Indianapolis goes beyond Indy cars versus stock cars. It's a place that is almost like home to me. When you think of stock cars you think of Daytona, and we race in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. This is the biggest race of the year for our series and would be huge to win."
Kevin Harvick No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet Impala
This Week's Budweiser Chevrolet at Daytona International Speedway ... The No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet team will utilize Chassis No. 387 from the Richard Childress Racing stable for this weekend's Daytona 500. This is a brand new race car that saw its first on-track activity at DIS during preseason testing in January.
Statistically Speaking ... Harvick has 21 prior starts at DIS, including 10 in the Daytona 500. In that time, he has scored two wins, highlighted by the 2007 Daytona 500 victory, and accumulated five top-five and nine top-10 finishes at the superspeedway. Harvick has led 178 laps at DIS and holds an average starting position of 16.1 and an average finish of 15.4. He has also completed 93 percent of the laps run in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition at DIS since July 2001 (3,407 of 3,663).
Dueling for a Spot ... Harvick and the No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet team posted the 20th-fastest lap in the Daytona 500 qualifying session on Sunday, earning the team a 12th-place starting spot in the first Duel 150 race on Thursday. SPEED will provide live television coverage of the twin qualifying races starting at 2 p.m. EST.
Last Time Around ... In last year's Daytona 500, Harvick started the race from the seventh position and led five laps before retiring from the race due to engine failure at lap 22.
KEVIN HARVICK QUOTES:
You're locked into the field for the Daytona 500. Looking at the Duel 150 qualifying race, is it nerve wracking in the sense that you want to see what you can do, but also want to make sure that your primary car is in one piece? "We approach those races the same way that we approach just about every other race. We try to win them and if you get tore up doing it, then that's just the way it goes. You want the best starting spot that you can get but anything can happen. It's another step in the process heading up to the Daytona 500. It's a unique process the whole week starting off with the Budweiser Shootout and qualifying. There are just so many things that usually happen during the week. Sometimes, there are some rule changes and plate changes. You have to be ready for anything. It's like your whole season all in one week. You can't let the highs be too high and the lows be too low. You have to stay very level minded about everything, let the week play out and be ready for the (Daytona) 500."
How do you think the Daytona 500 will play out? "(The Daytona 500) is just a wide open race. There is a lot of anticipation, a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of hype and build up and, usually, you see something crazy happen at the beginning of these races. You want to make it through the first part of the race and try to keep yourself from getting torn up. I think we made it 23 laps last year and had an engine failure. You never know what is going to happen."
Is preserving equipment paramount this week with all the carnage in the Budweiser Shootout? "I think so. I think (the Budweiser Shootout) was definitely an eye-opener as to who you want to race around and how you want to approach things. So, it's definitely something that you've got to think about."
Will there be a lot of discussions in the garage about who you want to run with and who you don't? "I think all the guys you don't want to run with will most likely eliminate themselves before you get to the end of the race. So, hopefully, it has a self-cleansing type of atmosphere on Sunday."
When you won the Daytona 500, how did that moment mesh with what you had been dreaming of? "When you are standing in Victory Lane and you look at that Harley J. Earl trophy and you see the names on that trophy, you start to see the recognition and the list of people you put yourself on there with. It is something that is pretty special. This is our sport's biggest race and everybody puts their biggest effort into this race because you have the most time. It has the most hype and it pays the most money. It has the most prestigious trophy and there is nothing about this race that is not the biggest or the best."
Jeff Burton No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet Impala
This Week's Caterpillar Chevrolet at Daytona International Speedway ... Jeff Burton will race Chassis No. 296 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable in the Daytona 500. This chassis, built in 2010 for RCR's No. 33 entry, competed in two superspeedway events in 2010 including the Talladega Superspeedway race in April (started-14th, finished-seventh) and the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway in July (started-15th, finished-17th).
Career Daytona Stats ... The Daytona 500 marks Burton's 36th start at the "World Center of Racing" and 620th-career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series entry. He has amassed one win, seven top-five and nine top-10 finishes along with one pole award at the 2.5-mile superspeedway.
No Stranger to Victory Lane ... Although he has yet to capture a victory in the "Great American Race," the South Boston, Va., native has two Daytona race trophies on his mantle. The first is from the 2000 Coke Zero 400 and most recently from last season's Duel 150 qualifying race.
Welcome Drew Blick ... During the offseason, RCR named Drew Blickensderfer as the crew chief on the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet for the 2012 Sprint Cup Series season. Blickensderfer spent the 2011 Sprint Cup Series season as crew chief of Roush Fenway Racing's flagship No. 6 team with driver David Ragan, winning two pole awards and bringing home the checkered flag in the Coke Zero 400 at DIS in July. The 35-year-old Decatur, Ill.native is best known for kicking off his Sprint Cup Series crew chief career in grand fashion in 2009 winning his first outing in the Daytona 500 with Matt Kenseth and the No. 17 team. The duo also won the following weekend at Auto Cub Speedway making Blickensderfer one of the only crew chiefs in history to win his first two races in NASCAR's elite division. Blickensderfer also enjoyed success in Roush Fenway's NASCAR Nationwide Series program with such drivers as: Carl Edwards, Danny O'Quinn and Kenseth.
Rewind to Last Week ... After drawing the 12th-place starting position at the annual Budweiser Shootout Draw Party, Burton ran in the top 10 until he was involved in a multi-car accident on lap 10. The No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet team's "never-give-up" attitude paid off and resulted in an 11th-place finish in the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona.
JEFF BURTON QUOTES:
Everything seemed to go right in the Duel 150 qualifying race last season. "Yes, we won last year's Duel 150 race. As close as we lost at Talladega Superspeedway to (Clint) Bowyer, we won it against him in the Duel 150 race by that same amount."
What was the feeling that day? Did it seem like Speedweeks 2011 had potential to be great? "We ran really fast in the Budweiser Shootout last year and ended up getting mixed up. Bowyer and I didn't draft well together in that race. (Kevin) Harvick and I didn't draft well together either. Clint and I sat down and had a long conversation about what we were doing wrong and how to fix it. We went out and applied that in the Duel 150 and won that race. That was really gratifying that we learned quickly and were able to adapt. Then in the Daytona 500, we were running well and lost an engine. I've paid close attention and a lot of guys who won the Duel 150 qualifying race have terrible years. Honestly, when we won the Duel 150 qualifying race, I crossed the finish line and thought, 'no one ever has a good season after they win this race.' Superstition, I guess."
Is the Duel 150 qualifying race nerve-racking because you want to see what you can do, but at the same time you don't want to screw up your primary race car? "It's a hard race because you want to take that primary car into the Daytona 500 and apply everything that you learned in the week leading up to it. Practice is stressful enough on Friday and Saturday because you put so much effort and energy into that one car. You want to race like there is no tomorrow, but you know that's not the smartest thing to do."
When you ran in the Daytona 500 last season, did you feel like you had a car to win it all? "We definitely had a car good enough to win. We were really fast, led a lot of laps and had a car fast enough to win. We had a car fast enough to win at every restrictor-plate race last season. We won the Duel 150 qualifying race, finished second at Talladega Superspeedway, but had fast enough cars to win at every one of those races."
Was the way the Daytona 500 ended indicative of how the season would go? "It immediately put us behind the eight ball. We knew we could recover from it, but we were afforded less mistakes. We also ran well the next weekend at Phoenix International Raceway and had the big wreck on the backstretch. I think there were 10 cars in it. So we had DNFs in the first two races and you're already playing catch up."
You have been running in the Daytona 500 since 1994. Does it frustrate you that you haven't won it yet? "Every year is a new year. Yes, of course, I do want to win the Daytona 500, but we haven't won for various reasons so we will go down there and try to learn from the mistakes we made and apply the things we've learned and move on."
Elliott Sadler No. 33 General Mills/Kroger ChevroletChevrolet Impala
This Week's General Mills/Kroger Chevrolet at Daytona International Speedway ... Elliott Sadler will pilot Chassis No. 238 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable. This former No. 31 racer received a new body over the season after competing in the 2010 and 2011 Budweiser Shootouts with driver Jeff Burton, posting 12th and eighth-place finishes, respectively.
Start Your Engine ... The 54th Daytona 500 will mark Sadler's 430th career start in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Of his 429 starts in NASCAR's premier division, Sadler has competed 24 times at Daytona International Speedway, accumulating four top-five and nine top-10 finishes, leading a total of 58 laps and completing 97 percent of the laps contested.
Daytona 500 Details ... After competing in the 'Great American Race' 12 consecutive times from 1999 - 2010, the Emporia, Va., native returns to Sprint Cup Series competition for the 2012 Daytona 500. With a secured a starting spot in the 43-car field at the 'World Center of Racing,' Sadler will look to add to his three top-five and six top-10 Daytona 500 finishes. His best finish of second came in 2002 before posting four consecutive top-six results from 2006 - 2009.
Calling the Shots ... Long-time RCR crew chief and Nationwide Series General Manager Gil Martin will call the shots for Sadler and the No. 33 General Mills/Kroger Chevrolet team in this weekend's 500-mile showdown. Martin has three restrictor-plate victories on his Sprint Cup Series resume with all of them coming in 2010 - Budweiser Shootout in February, Talladega Superspeedway in April and Daytona International Speedway in July.
ELLIOTT SADLER QUOTES:
During the offseason, Richard Childress offered you the opportunity to run the Daytona 500. What were your thoughts? "Richard calls me all the time. That's one thing I have learned - that he communicates and keeps everyone up to speed on what's going on. So, he called to see if I was interested in running in the Daytona 500. It was a really good phone call to get. I was excited but we knew we had to go to work and find partnership to make this work. I feel fortunate that everything came together."
As with all restrictor-plate races, tandem racing and the draft requires assistance from others. Will you be gearing up with a teammate? "A big reason we're putting this car in the Daytona 500 is to have an even number of RCR cars in the race in case the tandem racing works out, especially in the closing laps of the race. My fellow Virginia native teammate Jeff Burton will most likely be my partner. We've already talked and discussed a plan so we'll see how it goes."
You have a pretty good average finish at Daytona International Speedway. Do you go into this race thinking that this track owes you a win? "A track doesn't owe you anything. But, I do feel like I let one slip away in 2009 when I should've won the (Daytona) 500. I led almost the entire last half of the race before losing the lead in turn one when the rain started coming down on the backstretch. That's hard to swallow sometimes. I feel like I've been good there. I'm an under-the-radar restrictor-plate racer which is probably why my stats are good there. We're taking a fast car to Daytona this weekend and with the ECR engine, good package and good team, I think we'll be very competitive and my hope is finish strong."