BUSCH: Daytona: News of note, schedule

* New year features strongest group of competitors in series history * Former champs Ingram, Ellis, Pearson and Bown at Feb. 17 press conference NEWS & NOTES Powerful field ready for season-opener at Daytona ... Four former race winners and...

* New year features strongest group of competitors in series history

* Former champs Ingram, Ellis, Pearson and Bown at Feb. 17 press conference


Powerful field ready for season-opener at Daytona ... Four former race winners and six Busch Pole winners are among the drivers entered in the Hershey's Kissables 300. Tony Stewart (No. 33 Old Spice Chevrolet) is back to defend his 2005 victory -- his first career series win. Dale Earnhardt Jr., whose three season-opening wins at Daytona from 2002-04 lead active drivers, also is entered. Other former winners entered are 1993 series champion Steve Grissom (No. 49 Advil Ford), who won in 1996 and Joe Nemechek, the 1998 winner. Nemechek is a clear favorite to capture the pole on Friday; he is the all-time series leader in poles at Daytona with five; four have come for the season-opening races including last year's top starting spot on the grid. Michael Waltrip (No. 99 Aaron's Sales & Lease Chevrolet) is second to Nemechek having won three poles for this event, while Kenny Wallace, David Green and Elliott Sadler (No. 90 CitiFinancial Ford) also have sat on the pole at Daytona in February. Johnny Sauter (No. 00 Yellow Transportation Chevrolet) was one of the fastest drivers in single-car and draft practice at Daytona testing last month.

Another competitive rookie class expected ... Another strong Raybestos Rookie of the Year class debuts this weekend. Following in the footsteps of Edwards, Todd Kluever (No. 06 3M Ford), the 2005 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Raybestos Rookie of the Year, headlines a class that includes his Roush Racing teammate Danny O'Quinn (No. 50 World Financial Group Ford), John Andretti (No. 10 FreedomRoads Ford), Burney Lamar (No. 77 Dollar General Chevrolet), A.J. Foyt IV (No. 38 Great Clips Dodge), Mark McFarland (No. 88 U.S. Navy Dodge) and Chris Wimmer (No. 23 Keith Coleman Racing Chevrolet). Other rookie candidates expected to compete this year are Joel Kauffman and David Gilliland.

Open-wheel drivers taking their shot in the NASCAR Busch Series ... Former open wheel driver John Andretti is aiming to make his second NASCAR Busch Series start in nine years Saturday at Daytona. Andretti, a veteran of NASCAR NEXTEL Cup competition, will team with Kenny Wallace in a second car for ppc Racing this season. His first series start also was at the season-opener at Daytona, where he finished 13th in 1998. A. J. Foyt IV will be competing in his first full time NASCAR Busch Series season. Foyt, the grandson of racing legend A.J. Foyt, ran in four races last year for Akins Motorsports (now Braun-Akins Racing). In addition to Andretti and Foyt, another open-wheel driver will compete in the NASCAR Busch Series this year. Paul Tracy (No. 34 SportClips Chevrolet) will make his NASCAR debut Saturday in a car owned by Frank Cicci and NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly. 2006 Competition Changes ... New manufacturer models, the Ford Fusion and the Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS, are new in both the NASCAR Busch Series and NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series. The weight of the car remains at a minimum of 3,400 pounds without a driver. However, this season, the weight will be redistributed with 25 pounds to the right side of the car. Another new element for 2006 is the testing policy. NASCAR has scheduled dates and sites for testing at tracks that host NASCAR-sanctioned events. The five tracks that host NASCAR Busch Series tests are Daytona International Speedway, Lowe's Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Richmond International Raceway and Martinsville Speedway (during the race weekend). Additionally, NASCAR Busch Series Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidates or rookie drivers at that track will be given an additional 30 minute "rookie only" practice at each track the series visits. ... A new tire leasing program is in effect for all three national series in 2006. Teams will lease their tires instead of purchasing them as they have done in the past. Goodyear will distribute tires prior to the start of each NASCAR test session and NASCAR-sanctioned events, and all tires must be returned to Goodyear at the end of the test or event.

Former series champions kick off 25th season with Friday press conference ... With the 25th NASCAR Busch Series season kicking off this weekend, four former series champions - Jack Ingram, Larry Pearson, Tommy Ellis and Chuck Bown -- are returning to Daytona International Speedway. Ingram won the series' first title in 1982 and won his second title in 1985. Known as a short track ace, Ingram won 29 races on short tracks, which is still a series record, and is tied with Dale Earnhardt for most consecutive wins at one track (five at South Boston Speedway). Pearson, who won back-to-back titles in 1986 and 1987, was the third different champion in series history. He was involved in the second-closest championship battle (20 points over Brett Bodine) and the fourth largest margin, 382 points over Jimmy Hensley. Ellis, the 1988 champion, had 22 career wins and 28 poles. He is tied with Mark Martin for the most career poles. The 1990 champion, Bown competed in the series for 11 years and had 11 career wins. Bown's championship season included six wins and 18 top 10s.


Tony Stewart had his only NASCAR Busch Series win at Daytona last year. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has four wins at the track, with his most recent being in 2004. Joe Nemechek has five poles, including four straight. Nemechek's July 2002 win was the first series race won from the pole.


Paul Menard and Kenny Wallace made qualifying runs for Sunday's Daytona 500; both must earn their way in on time and will compete in Thursday's Gatorade Duel at Daytona -- the pair of 150-mile qualifying races that set the Daytona 500 field. ... Chevrolet has the most season-opening series wins at Daytona (18). ... No current fulltime NASCAR Busch Series driver has won at Daytona. ... Eight drivers entered in Saturday's race have won a pole at Daytona. ... NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driver David Reutimann will attempt to qualify for Saturday's race in the No. 12 Supercuts Dodge.


"Every year, we're seeing more and more [NASCAR NEXTEL] Cup drivers [come] and [run] those [NASCAR] Busch [Series] races to get more experience. What that's done is given us experience racing against those guys and a chance to earn their respect. Now when we get over on the other side of the fence, on their ball field, I think for the most part I've gained some of their respect and hopefully I can keep it." -- Clint Bowyer

"Everyone at ppc Racing has worked hard during the off-season to make our teams stronger, and the #22 AutoZone team is ready to contend for the 2006 NASCAR Busch Series Championship from the time the green flag flies at Daytona." -- Kenny Wallace

"Daytona is always special because it's our first race after a long winter and it's a race that every driver needs on his resume as being a winner there, so I am hungry for a Daytona win. Daytona will not lock you in as a championship contender, but a good solid run is what everyone shoots for and can propel a team toward a solid foundation for the year." -- David Green

"I really like Daytona. It's a place where you have to walk in with the right attitude. Anything can happen on that track." -- John Andretti


The first NASCAR Busch Series event was staged at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday, Feb. 13, 1982. A field of 34 cars took the green flag for the 120-lap event with polesitter Mike Porter leading the pack. Included in that first event were NASCAR NEXTEL Cup drivers Dale Earnhardt, Harry Gant, Dale Jarrett and Geoff Bodine. Northeastern modified driver Bob Park was there and his son, Steve Park, would go on to win three series events in later years. Earnhardt took the checkered flag. He won by a margin of one car length over short-track ace Jody Ridley. Five cars finished on the lead lap. Jack Ingram, who would win the first series title, dropped out after 24 laps due to engine failure. He finished 31st.

Fast Facts

What: Hershey's Kissables 300 (Race No. 1 of 35 in the NASCAR Busch Series).

Where: Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, Fla.

When: 1:20 p.m. ET, Saturday, Feb. 18.

Track Layout: 2.5-mile tri-oval.
Race Length: 300 miles/120 laps.

Posted Awards: $2,629,362.

TV: TNT, 1:00 p.m., ET.
Radio: MRN, XM Satellite.

2005 Winner: Tony Stewart.
2005 Polesitter: Joe Nemechek.

Final 2005 NASCAR Busch Series Top 10: 1. Martin Truex Jr. 4,937. 2. Clint Bowyer 4,869. 3. Carl Edwards 4,601. 4. Reed Sorenson 4,453. 5. Denny Hamlin 4,143. 6. Paul Menard 4,101. 7. Kenny Wallace 4,068. 8. David Green 3,908. 9. Jason Keller 3,866. 10. Greg Biffle 3,865.

Pre-race schedule (all times local): Wed., Feb. 15 -- Practice, 3 -- 4:00 p.m. Thur., Feb. 16 -- "Rookie Practice," 11 -- 11:30 a.m.; Final Practice 11:30 a.m. -- 1:00 p.m. Fri., Feb. 16 -- Qualifying, 3:05 p.m. (Impound).


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Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , John Andretti , Brett Bodine , Dale Jarrett , Tony Stewart , Michael Waltrip , Steve Park , Jason Keller , Joe Nemechek , Kenny Wallace , Greg Biffle , A.J. Foyt IV , Paul Tracy , David Green , Jimmy Hensley , Johnny Sauter , David Reutimann , Martin Truex Jr. , Paul Menard , Carl Edwards , Clint Bowyer , David Gilliland , Burney Lamar , Mark McFarland , Chris Wimmer , Elliott Sadler , Denny Hamlin , Reed Sorenson , Todd Kluever , Danny O'Quinn , A.J. Foyt , Mark Martin