Hamilton Jr. preseason favorite for championship Car count raises for season opener NEWS & NOTES * Hamilton Jr., Busch picked as preseason favorites ... Bobby Hamilton Jr. still has to race for this year's NASCAR Busch Series championship,...
Hamilton Jr. preseason favorite for championship
Car count raises for season opener
NEWS & NOTES
* Hamilton Jr., Busch picked as preseason favorites ... Bobby Hamilton Jr. still has to race for this year's NASCAR Busch Series championship, of course, but he's already been selected by a panel of experts as the preseason favorite for the title. Of the votes cast, only two picked him out of first place. David Green (No. 37 Timber Wolf Pontiac) was the only other person to receive a first-place vote. Hamilton Jr. was first in the poll, Green second, followed by Jason Keller (No. 22 Miller High Life Ford) in third, Ron Hornaday (No. 2 ACDelco Chevrolet) in fourth and Greg Biffle (No. 60 Charter Communications Ford) rounding out the top five. Kyle Busch (No. 5 Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse Chevrolet) was tabbed by a slim two-vote margin as the Raybestos Rookie of the Year favorite over Paul Menard (No. 33 Menards' Chevrolet). Busch received one vote to finish second in the standings behind Hamilton Jr. Also receiving votes to finish in the top five were David Stremme (No. 32 TrimSpa Dodge), Johnny Sauter (No. 27 Kleenex/Scott Brand Products Pontiac), Kasey Kahne (No. 38 Great Clips Dodge), Johnny Benson (No. 1 Yellow Freight Dodge) and Kenny Wallace (No. 23 Stacker 2 Chevrolet).
* Fifty-four cars on entry list ... The NASCAR Busch Series garage was near capacity when the teams checked in Wednesday. Fifty-four cars are entered, up four from the 50 that entered last year's event at Daytona. Only 43 cars will make the starting grid. NASCAR Busch Series Director Brian DeHart is pleased with the season-opening turnout. "This shows how strong the series is, how exciting it is, how fun it is," DeHart said. "It shows how good a job this group has done at promoting the NASCAR Busch Series. Potentially, we could have the best NASCAR Busch Series race ever at Daytona." Another reason for DeHart's bright outlook is a new aero package in place for Daytona, including a roof strip that's a half-inch tall in the middle and two inches on the sides; a 1½-inch wicker bill on the spoiler; a spoiler angle that's been increased to 70 degrees; and a spoiler width that's been increased to 59 inches. The restrictor plate has also been increased by 1/32nd of an inch, to 15/16ths.
ON THE RIGHT TRACK
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Bass Pro Shops/Yum Brands Inc./Kraft Nabisco Chevrolet) has won the last three NASCAR Busch Series races at Daytona. He led all 100 laps in the last race at the 2.5-mile facility, last season's Winn-Dixie 250 Presented By PepsiCo. in July ... The July 2002 win at Daytona by Joe Nemechek (No. 87 Cellular One Chevrolet) was the first NASCAR Busch Series race won from the pole at the track. Earnhardt Jr. accomplished the feat in July 2003. Nemechek's four Busch Poles at Daytona are the most of any driver, and came in consecutive races -- 2001, both 2002 races and the February 2003 event. Kenny Wallace and David Green both scored the first Busch Pole Awards of the NASCAR Busch Series careers at Daytona, Wallace in February 1989 and Green two years later. Johnny Sauter recorded two top-10 finishes last year at Daytona, a ninth in February and a fifth in July. ... Mike Wallace (No. 4 Geico Chevrolet) recorded his best finish of 2003 in last year's season opener at Daytona, by coming home fourth. ... Chevrolet has won 14 of the last 17 NASCAR Busch Series races at Daytona.
* "After working long hours all winter long, it's very exciting for everyone to head to Daytona Speed Weeks. Team Brewco has prepared a great car for this year's opening race. We had a great test last month, and we are pumped and ready to roll. With the new car (Chevrolet at most facilities) and new engine program (Wegner Automotive Research), we are confident we have a shot at the pole and race. As we looked back at the 2003 season, we thought we could have been better at the restrictor-plate races, and that's what my team did over the winter. Building new cars and getting Carl Wegner involved, we feel like we have made our whole program better. It's really exciting for me to see the commitment Brewco has made to polish up their program in 2004." -- David Green.
* "I'm excited about racing in the Busch car at Daytona for the first time. I've run the ARCA cars here and at Talladega, but I can't wait to get out there and draft for the first time in the Lowe's Chevy. I've already noticed a difference between the two tracks, other than the slight difference in length. It seems like it's much wider at Talladega. You can go four-wide there, but that doesn't seem to be the case here. We had a great test here a couple of weeks ago, so I feel good about our chances at a strong finish. You know that Dale [Earnhardt Jr.] and Martin Truex Jr. will be tough in the DEI cars, and we've got a lot of veterans like David Green, Bobby Hamilton Jr. and Jason Keller to contend with, so we're going to have our work cut out for us as far as trying to win. It's definitely going to be an exciting race, and I know I'll learn a lot." -- Kyle Busch.
* "This will be my first time competing in a restrictor-plate race, and I am looking forward to the new challenge. This is what I have worked hard over the years to get to, to race at the world center of racing -- Daytona International Speedway. I have a lot to learn in a short period of time as far as drafting goes, but I have always been a pretty quick learner in the seat of a race car. During the last couple of practice sessions, we'll try to get around some of the better cars and see how the No. 6 Hungry Drivers Dodge stacks up. If the test session is any indication, we have a good enough car to start up front and stay up front. Being comfortable in the draft and finding some drafting partners will be crucial." -- Paul Wolfe (No. 6 Hungry Drivers Dodge).
* "If the race goes anything like our test went a couple of weeks ago in Daytona, then I can't wait to get started. I know one thing for sure, everybody went back to their shops after the tests and made a lot of changes to their cars to find a little bit more speed, and we were no exception, even though we felt pretty good about the way our Haas Automation Chevys ran. Based on that, when we all get back to Daytona, it will be a different ballgame, but I feel pretty confident in what we have. Obviously, at these restrictor-plate races, qualifying at the front isn't all that important, but we'd still like to go out there and have a good qualifying run to start the season off right. As far as the race goes, it will be interesting to see what plays out throughout the day. There have been a couple of rule changes, and of course, we've got these new tires to figure out, so I think that will make for a great race." -- Jason Leffler (No. 00 Haas Automation Chevrolet), who was fastest in the NASCAR Busch Series portion of NASCAR Preseason Thunder testing at Daytona.
WHAT THEY'RE WRITING
* "This year, three other drivers are planning to compete full-time in NASCAR NEXTEL Cup and Busch without any special circumstances. Greg Biffle, Johnny Sauter and Kasey Kahne plan to drive in all 36 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup races and all 34 [NASCAR] Busch events. Some fellow drivers think they're nuts. ... Biffle, Sauter and Kahne say they shouldn't have to explain themselves. Each says he has the blessing of his car owner in both series and the desire to do the extra miles. All three are working on the conditioning and nutritional adjustments they will need to survive the grind." -- Tony Fabrizio, Tampa Tribune
* "Think of Richard Childress as a man who can make dreams come true. He did that for a driver named Dale Earnhardt, and he's done that for drivers like Ron Hornaday, Kevin Harvick and Johnny Sauter. Now, he's hoping to do the same for a kid named Clint Bowyer. The 24-year-old Bowyer, who was selling cars full-time at a Ford dealership in Emporia, Kan., last year, will get his 'dream' shot in NASCAR with Richard Childress Racing this season, driving the No. 21 Chevrolet in 14 races." -- Shawn Akers, Daytona Beach News-Journal
FROM THE ARCHIVES
Chad Little was the first NASCAR Busch Series regular to win at Daytona when he accomplished the feat in 1995. He started from the worst position of any winner in the history of the division -- 42nd. Little was the first, and to date, only, Ford driver to win a NASCAR Busch Series race at Daytona. Randy LaJoie is the only other NASCAR Busch Series regular to visit Daytona's victory lane. LaJoie won in 1997, 1999 and 2001.
What: Hershey's Kisses 300 (Race 1 of 34 in the NASCAR Busch
Where: Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, Fla.
When: 12:30 p.m. ET, Saturday, Feb. 14.
Track layout: 2.5-mile oval.
Race length: 120 laps/300 miles.
Posted awards: $2,197,278
TV: NBC, 12:30 p.m. ET.
Radio: MRN, XM Satellite.
Pre-race schedule (all times local): Thursday--Practice, 9:30-10:50 a.m., 11:15 a.m.-noon, 4-5:25 p.m. Friday--Qualifying, 10:15 a.m.; Practice, 2-2:45 p.m.; Final Practice, 3:45-4:30 p.m.