* Gatorade Duel at Daytona to set 500 grid * Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. want fast start * Elliott looks awesome again, as part of veteran MB2 trio * Shootout fallout: Rookie Hamlin emerges quickly as 500 threat NEWS AND NOTES The...
* Gatorade Duel at Daytona to set 500 grid
* Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. want fast start
* Elliott looks awesome again, as part of veteran MB2 trio
* Shootout fallout: Rookie Hamlin emerges quickly as 500 threat
NEWS AND NOTES
The Duel Is On: Qualifiers to Set 500 Field ... It's the tale of two Jeffs: Jeff Burton and Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) have the respective pole positions for Thursday's Gatorade Duel at Daytona, the back-to-back 150-mile qualifying races that set the field for the Daytona 500.
• The Duel, which evolved from the former "Twin 125s" qualifiers, is part of the 500's varied qualification process. Here's how it works:
• The top-two qualifiers from "Pole Day" this past Sunday -- Burton and Gordon -- are locked in for the front row.
• In addition, the top 35 teams from the final 2005 car owner points are also guaranteed spots, a group that in this case includes the front row.
• The top two "non-top 35" finishers in each of Thursday's qualifiers are assured spots.
• The final four spots in the 500's field of 43 are based on original Pole Day qualifying speeds -- unless the past series champion's provisional is used for the 43rd spot, which would leave only positions 40-42 to be filled based on qualifying results.
The Gatorade Duel at Daytona begins at 2:10 p.m. (ET). TNT's broadcast of the races starts at 2 p.m.
Quality Qualifier: Bowyer Best in Rookie Class ... The optimism this week in the Richard Childress Racing camp isn't confined to Jeff Burton and the No. 31 team. Clint Bowyer (No. 07 Jack Daniel's Chevrolet) qualified sixth-best overall, making him the fastest among the seven-driver Raybestos Rookie of the Year class. Bowyer will start fourth in the first Gatorade Duel event.
Gentlemen, Start Your Comebacks ... This past weekend's action at Daytona seemed to show that Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet) -- who have won the last two Daytona 500s -- appear ready to rebound from disappointing 2005 seasons, with Gordon the No. 2 500 qualifier and Earnhardt finishing second in the Budweiser Shootout. They finished 11th and 19th respectively, in last year's final NASCAR NEXTEL Cup standings.
For Gordon, that was the first time he finished out of the final NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 since his rookie season in 1993, when he was 14th. For Earnhardt, it was his worst points finish in six full-time seasons and comes on the heels of 2003's third-place points finish and 2004's fifth-place result.
"Sometimes it takes some beatings before you really get things turned around," said Gordon, the defending and three-time 500 champion, who also has four series championships to his credit. "It puts you in a position to make changes and be humbled and really want it that much more. I would say right now we're as hungry and fired up as we've ever been. We've got youthfulness and excitement back in the team and it's all about chemistry. We've been talking about chemistry since we missed the Chase last year. And I'm seeing that chemistry back."
Earnhardt, the 500 winner in 2004, also sounded confident, saying, "I feel like we still have one of the top restrictor-plate programs, because even when we're not at our best, we're still in the top two or three. Even last year, we had some strong superspeedway cars. I should have won the Daytona 500 last year.
"It means everything [to win the 500]. It means you don't have to go your whole career answering why you haven't won the biggest race. It was certainly one of my greatest accomplishments, and I'm hungry to do it again."
Gordon, via his second-best qualifying effort, is locked into the outside pole for the 500. He'll start on the pole in Thursday's second Gatorade Duel race. Earnhardt, 37th-fastest in qualifying, will start 20th in the first Duel race.
Awesome Again: Bill Elliott Part of Impressive Veteran MB2 Lineup ... Granted, Bill Elliott (No. 36 Ginn Clubs and Resorts Chevrolet) hasn't raced in the Daytona 500 since 2003. And granted, his two Daytona 500 victories came in 1985 and '87 when cars, sans restrictor plates, rocketed around DIS at well over 200 mph. Thing is, while times have changed, here's something that hasn't: "Awesome Bill from Dawsonville" remains completely comfortable -- and highly capable -- at Daytona International Speedway. Elliott, who for the third-straight season is running a part-time schedule, is part of an intriguing veteran trio assembled by MB2 Racing, joining another two-time (1994 and '95) 500 winner, Sterling Marlin (No. 14 Waste Management Chevrolet), and the usually-tough-at-Daytona Joe Nemechek (No. 01 U.S. Army Chevrolet).
Elliott and Marlin were teammates for legendary car owner Junior Johnson in 1992. Marlin started on the Daytona 500 pole, with Elliott on the outside pole.
Elliott was extremely fast during last month's testing sessions at DIS. In last Sunday's qualifying, he was eighth-fastest overall out of 58 drivers (187.715 mph) -- and the fastest of those drivers not assured 500 berths because of top-35 owner points finishes in 2005. Thus, he assured himself a 500 starting spot, no matter what happens in the qualifying races on Thursday.
Shootout Fallout: Remarkable Rookie Looks Like 500 Contender ... Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Express Chevrolet) lived a rookie's dream this past Sunday, winning his first race at Daytona International Speedway. Hamlin won the Budweiser Shootout and immediately established himself as a credible contender to win the Daytona 500.
Unreal ... surreal ... it was all of that as Hamlin, drafting and darting, outdueled his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate and reigning NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series champion Tony Stewart, who finished third, and the current king of restrictor-plate racing, Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished second.
Hamlin hit the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series late last season, in a big way. He ran seven races with three top-10 finishes -- and a pole at Phoenix, which earned him a surprise Shootout berth.
Hamlin, from Tampa, Fla., had managed his expectations coming into the Shootout.
"All I wanted to do was just gain respect from these guys for the 500," he said.
"Hopefully we did that."
Actually, the respect-building started a couple of hours prior to the Shootout, when Hamlin was 11th-fastest in the Daytona 500 qualifying session. He was second-fastest among the Raybestos Rookie of the Year contenders, behind Clint Bowyer. Hamlin will start seventh on Thursday in the first Gatorade Duel race. He is assured a spot in the 500, as the No. 11 entry finished 33rd in the 2005 car owner points standings.
Three Crew Chiefs Looking For Second 500 Victory ... NASCAR NEXTEL Cup drivers aren't the only ones who share a special bond once they capture their sport's marquee event. Crew chiefs who win a Daytona 500 also join an elite NASCAR NEXTEL Cup garage fraternity, and several have an opportunity to win another "Great American Race" this Sunday.
Todd Parrott, who oversaw Dale Jarrett's (No. 88 UPS Ford) victories in 1996 and 2000, is the dean of that group. He's beginning his first season as crew chief for Bobby Labonte (No. 43 Cheerios/Betty Crocker Dodge) at Petty Enterprises.
Richard "Slugger" Labbe and Tommy Baldwin Jr., could win their second Daytona 500. Labbe guided Michael Waltrip (No. 55 NAPA Dodge) to the 2003 Daytona 500 win when both were with Dale Earnhardt Inc. Baldwin won the 2002 Daytona 500 with Ward Burton. Both Labbe and Baldwin are in their first season at Robert Yates Racing. Labbe is the crew chief for Jarrett and Baldwin is the crew chief for Elliott Sadler (No. 38 M&M's Ford).
Seven Former Champions in 2006 Field ... One Daytona 500 win is monumental enough for a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup driver. Multiple wins can turn one into Hall of Fame material. This year, seven former 500 champions are entered.
Jeff Gordon and Dale Jarrett each have three Daytona 500 wins. Gordon is the defending champion. His other Daytona 500 triumphs came in 1997 and '98. Jarrett won in '93, '96 and 2000. Two-time winners include Michael Waltrip (2001 and '03), Bill Elliott ('85 and '97) and Sterling Marlin ('94 and '95). Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2004) and Derrike Cope (1990) are seeking repeat wins.
Richard Petty holds the NASCAR record for most Daytona 500 victories with seven. Cale Yarborough is second with four victories, and Bobby Allison is tied with Gordon and Jarrett with three.
From the Archives: Top 5 Daytona 500 Moments Announced ... The Daytona 500, also known as "The Great American Race," is rich in history, producing highlights from its inception in 1959. Looking back over the past 47 runnings of the event, the Daytona 500 has hosted some of NASCAR's most memorable moments.
From Feb. 9-13, NASCAR announced a "top 5" rundown of 500 moments. A recap follows.
• Daytona 500 Moment No. 5: "The Fight". It was the first live flag-to-flag television broadcast of the event. The national audience was huge due to a blizzard which blanketed most of the Eastern half of the country. Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison waged a stirring battle for the lead culminating with a third-turn incident on the last lap. A verbal exchange escalated into a brawl as Allison's brother Bobby got into the fray.
• Daytona 500 Moment No. 4: "DW's Victory Dance". Darrell Waltrip had three series championships under his belt but still had not won the Daytona 500. He entered the 1989 race driving car No. 17, was pitted in stall No. 17, the race's purse was approximately $1.7 million and it was Waltrip's 17th attempt at a win. The numbers seemed to line up as Waltrip finally won the Daytona 500, cruised to Victory Lane and broke into an impromptu "Icky Shuffle," the celebration dance popularized in the 1980s by Cincinnati Bengals running back Icky Woods.
• Daytona 500 Moment No. 3: Lee Petty's Controversial Win. Lee Petty and Johnny Beauchamp battled wheel-to-wheel for the lead during the final 50 laps of the inaugural Daytona 500. There were no finish line cameras set up that day. NASCAR president and founder Bill France Sr., anticipating a close finish, positioned himself under the flag stand at the finish line to determine a winner. Unfortunately, the lapped car of Joe Weatherly blocked France's view and the win was tentatively given to Beauchamp. Immediately, Petty protested the decision. A plea was sent out to anyone who had photos or film of the finish and after three days of studying the submitted images, the win was given to Petty. Cameras were installed at Daytona's finish line soon after.
• Daytona 500 Moment No. 2: Pearson and Petty in 1976. Richard Petty had won the Daytona 500 on four occasions going into the 1976 Daytona 500 while David Pearson had yet to conquer racing's crown jewel. Both drivers were in contention during most of the race and it came down to the two of them for the win. Petty led at the white flag but Pearson took the lead on the backstretch. Petty dove under Pearson in Turn 3 and drifted toward the outside wall coming off Turn 4. The cars touched and spun into the wall with Petty stopping just short of the checkered flag, unable to restart his Dodge. Pearson kept his crumpled Mercury running as it crossed the finish line at 20 mph for his only Daytona 500 victory.
• Daytona 500 Moment No. 1: Earnhardt Finally Wins. Dale Earnhardt, like Darrell Waltrip, had won numerous championships -- a record seven to be exact -- but a victory in the Daytona 500 had eluded him. The race of 1998 was Earnhardt's 20th attempt to win the great event. The race also fell on the 50th Anniversary of NASCAR's first race held in 1948. Earnhardt was the class of the field in 1998, leading the final 60 laps of the event. The day will long be remembered for Earnhardt's slow trip down pit road toward Victory Lane as every member of every crew came out to congratulate "The Intimidator" on the biggest win of his career.
On Deck: California Speedway ... The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series' biggest race is followed on the schedule by an event in the country's second-largest market. The Auto Club 500 on Sunday, Feb. 26 will be held at California Speedway in Fontana, Calif., approximately 50 miles east of Los Angeles. ... Greg Biffle won last year's Auto Club 500, to get started on a career-best season.
The race: 48th Annual Daytona 500
The track: Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, Fla.
The date/time: Sunday, Feb. 19, 2:30 p.m. (ET).
TV: NBC, 1:30 p.m. (ET).
Radio: MRN/XM Satellite
Posted awards: $18,029,052
Race length: 500 miles, 200 laps
Track layout: 2.5-mile tri-oval.
2005 winner: Jeff Gordon.
2005 polesitter: Dale Jarrett
2006 polesitter: Jeff Burton
Final 2005 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10: 1. Tony Stewart. 2. Greg Biffle. 3. Carl Edwards. 4. Mark Martin. 5. Jimmie Johnson. 6. Ryan Newman. 7. Matt Kenseth. 8. Rusty Wallace. 9. Jeremy Mayfield. 10. Kurt Busch.
Schedule: Wednesday -- Practice, 12-12:55 p.m. and 2:05-2:55 p.m. Thursday -- Gatorade Duel at Daytona races, 2:10 p.m. Friday -- Practice, 1:40-2:40 p.m. Saturday -- Final practice, 10:40-11:40 a.m. Sunday -- Daytona 500, 2:30 p.m..