O'QUINN JR. GETS CLEAN, TOP 20 FINISH IN FIRST START AT DAYTONA
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (February 18, 2006)- Danny O'Quinn, Jr. and the No. 50 World Financial Group team started out the weekend with reasonable expectations. Knowing they had no points to get them into the race and it was a must to qualify the car on time, the team set the car up to be fast in qualifying.
Throughout the practice sessions, crew chief Drew Blickensderfer led the team in working on qualifying runs. O'Quinn Jr. ran fast laps in practice, not comparable to many of the other drivers because many of the teams were working on race set-ups and drafting.
O'Quinn's best lap in practice was 49.32 seconds, which Blickensderfer and crew were happy to see out of the car. He backed it up in qualifying, running a tick faster with a lap of 49.30 seconds, giving O'Quinn Jr. a great top-10 starting spot, setting himself up to roll off in the eighth position.
The team's goals going into the race were to get a good, clean finish, not get caught up in a wreck, and allow O'Quinn Jr. to learn as much as he could about the draft and about Daytona.
The plan from the beginning was to gain positions from their eight place starting position if the car felt good to O'Quinn Jr., if not, to lay back in the field, adjust on the car and get it right for the last few laps of the race. One of O'Quinn Jr.'s teammates, Carl Edwards, had discussed the same strategy, and planned to work together if they found themselves at the back of the pack together at the same time.
O'Quinn Jr. started out the race in the eighth position with the qualifying setup under the car, as the Hershey's Kissables 300 was an impound race. Immediately, O'Quinn Jr. communicated to the crew that the car was pushing, meaning that the car was feeling tight all the way through the corners.
At the start of the race, O'Quinn Jr. got shuffled to the middle, and fell to the back of the pack.
In the opening laps of the race there was a caution for an incident involving the No. 66 car of Ken Schrader, and O'Quinn Jr. radioed the crew and told them he had gotten stuck in the middle and just lifted off the gas pedal to be careful and avoid a wreck.
Also knowing the car's tight condition, it was in O'Quinn Jr.'s best interest to go ahead and drop to the back of the pack, get a better feel for the car, and get some adjustments on the next pit stop.
At the restart on lap six, O'Quinn Jr. was sitting in the 27th position. He gained and lost a few positions in the next 10 or 12 laps, then found himself settled in around the 39th position.
The caution flew again on lap 29. It was a timely one for the No. 50 World Financial Group Ford Fusion, since O'Quinn Jr. was feeling incredibly tight and was worried of blowing a tire if he didn't get the chance to pit.
On the pit stop following the caution, Blickensderfer called for wholesale changes to the Ford Fusion. They put a spring rubber in both sides of the car in order to loosen it up, and took one pound of air out of both right side tires, in addition to a full tank of fuel and four fresh Goodyear tires.
Halfway through the race, the No. 50 World Financial Group team found themselves in the 23rd position. O'Quinn Jr. and team fought a tight condition all day, and made considerable adjustments throughout the race in order to make it better.
After the caution on lap 107, O'Quinn Jr. expressed to the crew in a few choice words his feelings on the condition of the car.
"We got us a hot rod now," O'Quinn Jr. said to the crew over the radio.
Spotter Ross Shattuck said the car looked the best it had looked all day through the corners, and that the No. 50 World Financial Group Ford Fusion team was sitting pretty.
O'Quinn Jr. restarted in the 14th position, and was making headway toward the front, getting some good drafting practice and running well with the lead pack of cars when the caution flag flew again on lap 111.
In O'Quinn Jr.'s efforts to avoid the wreck on the last lap of the race, he got into the wall a little bit and lost a couple of positions. The damage was not enough to keep O'Quinn Jr. from the finish, but it was enough to beat up the side of the car pretty well and damage a right front tire immensely.
After a lengthy post-race discussion, NASCAR concluded the finishing order. The No. 50 World Financial Group team ended their first race with an 18th place finish. Not bad for a rookie driver, a rookie crew chief and a rookie team at Daytona in a race with a record number of cautions.
Crew chief Drew Blickensderfer and O'Quinn Jr. were happy with the finish, and took note of ways to make their car better for the July race at Daytona later this year.
Not all of O'Quinn Jr.'s Roush Racing teammates had as good a day, with the bright spot being Todd Kluever and his notable seventh place finish. Carl Edwards and his No. 60 Ameriquest Ford Fusion wound up in an accident not of his own making on lap 39, and ended up with a disappointing 39th place finish. Greg Biffle was involved in a wreck as well, and also finished outside of the top 30.
Danny O'Quinn, Jr. and the rest of the No. 50 World Financial Group team head to the California Raceway next weekend for the Stater Brothers 300.