Sunday, February 07, 2010

Dateline: Daytona

It’s already been a busy week at The World Center of Racing, as teams scramble to prepare for their portion of the annual motorized feeding frenzy known as SpeedWeek. And the best is yet to come.

Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt, Jr., swept front-row qualifying for Hendrick Motorsports, with Martin claiming the 52nd Daytona 500 pole with a fast lap of 47.074 seconds at 191.188 mph. That was the fastest pole-winning speed for the 500 since Jeff Gordon in 1999, and just enough to edge Earnhardt (190.913 mph), who will start on the outside of Row One Sunday.

Team owner Rick Hendrick said the effort was a direct result of the emphasis placed on getting the #5 and #88 teams on the same page of the playbook this season in terms of car preparations and setup, after a 2009 campaign that saw Martin challenge for the Sprint Cup title while Earnhardt languished in 25th place in championship points.

"The challenge was to run one team with two cars, and to have those two cars run almost identical times," said Hendrick. "I know this is just one race, but no one outside our company knows the effort (crewchiefs) Alan Gustafson and Lance McGrew put into this team and these two cars. I'm really proud of them."

Martin agreed, saying, “This is such a great accomplishment for the 5 and 88 teams. That was not an accomplishment of mine. It’s one (for) all our guys on this team. Having Dale Jr. on the outside of the front row means that we are doing stuff right."

Bill Elliott turned the fourth-fastest lap to lock his Wood Brothers Racing Ford into the Daytona 500 field, while Scott Speed (13th) and Joe Nemechek (16th) also leapt from the “Go Or Go Home” list into the 500 with fast time trial laps. Bobby Labonte is also guaranteed a spot in the field as the most recent former Sprint Cup champion.

In other Sprint Cup news, Toyota Racing Development President Lee White says financial losses associated with the automaker’s recent recall of 2.3 million passenger cars and trucks will not impact its support of NASCAR teams. White told, "Our program is pretty well set. (It) involves technical support more so than writing checks. TRD is very good at managing our budgets (and) I honestly don't think there will be any impact on the motorsports program.”

John Carter Racing is not taking part in this weekend’s Daytona 500, after being unable to secure sponsorship for former Sprint Cup Series champion Terry Labonte. The team had hoped to run both the 500 and the non-points Budweiser Shootout. Team owner John Carter said the team still plans to race this season, but is dependent on finding sponsorship.

"Right now we are actively looking for a sponsor, and it's really going to dictate how often we compete this season,” said a spokesman for the team. “We already have some things in place moving forward, but the timing for the Daytona 500 just wasn't going to happen. The #08 will be on the track this season. Its just a matter of when."

Michael McDowell will run the full Sprint Cup schedule in the Prism Motorsports #55 car, as a teammate to Dave Blaney’s #66 machine. Prism Motorsports attempted all 36 races last year with drivers Terry Labonte, Blaney and McDowell, often competing as a start-and-park team. There is no word on whether that will continue in 2010..

Nationwide News: Miccosukee Resort and Gaming has informed Phoenix Racing owner James Finch that they will no longer sponsor his NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series teams. Finch had a contract in hand for the complete Nationwide Series and 18 Sprint Cup races, but a recent change in tribal leadership resulted in a new, more conservative fiscal policy, leaving Finch without a sponsor. He said his only recourse is an appeal to the Tribal Council, but in his words, “that’s not a case I’m going to win.” The decision is also expected to affect the new Kyle Busch Motorsports Camping World Truck Series team, whose #18 Toyota (driven by Busch and Brian Ickler) were to have been sponsored by the tribe.

Brad Parrott will serve as crewchief for Brendan Gaughan’s #62 Rusty Wallace Racing NASCAR Nationwide Series Toyota this season. Parrott has sat atop the pitbox for drivers Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, Jeff Burton, Dale Jarrett and Juan Pablo Montoya in recent seasons, and once worked as a tire specialist for team owner Rusty Wallace during his days at Penske Racing in the early 1990’s. Parrott’s father, legendary former crewchief Buddy Parrott, will serve as Gaughan’s spotter in select 2010 events.

Kyle Busch says his plan to run the full NASCAR Nationwide Series this season has been vetoed by Joe Gibbs Racing President J.D. Gibbs. Last year’s Nationwide champion said at the start of the year that he hoped to talk Gibbs into letting him chase a second title, but he told the media last week, “"I think it's pretty much decided now that we're running the 25-26 races." Busch will also the full Sprint Cup Series schedule and approximately 15 Camping World Truck races.

Chrissy Wallace will make her NASCAR Nationwide Series debut at Daytona Saturday, running the Camping World 300 in Rick Ware Racing’s #41 Fuel Doctor Chevrolet. Not only will it be the first time a father and daughter have raced together in Nationwide competition, but Wallace will join father Mike, Uncle Kenny and cousin Steve in an on-track Wallace family reunion. In a related story, Blue Ox Products will serve as primary sponsor of Kenny Wallace’s Jay Robinson Racing #28 Chevrolet at Daytona. Blue Ox is a manufacturer of recreational vehicle and towing supplies and accessories.

ABF will expand its longtime sponsorship deal with Braun Racing, serving as primary sponsor of the #10 Toyota in seven races. Jason Leffler will drive the car in the season-opener at Daytona, as well as at Bristol in March, Darlington, Dover and Charlotte in May, the September race at Atlanta and the season finale at Homestead-Miami in November. Leffler will drive the team’s #38 Great Clips Toyota in the remainder of the events.

NASCAR Nationwide Series rookie Brian Scott will undergo surgery on the wrist he broke in a Camping World Truck Series crash at Michigan International Speedway last June. Scott said the wrist has not healed properly, and that surgery will be done after the Nationwide Series race in Las Vegas in a few weeks.

Mike Bliss will drive the #40 Key Motorsports NASCAR Nationwide Series Chevrolet in at least the first three races of the 2010 campaign. Bliss will run the the Camping World 300 at Daytona on February 13th, and at Auto Club and Las Vegas Motorsports Speedway in the opening month of the season. Spokesmen for the team say they are hopeful that sponsorship can be found to keep Bliss in the car for the full, 35-race schedule. He is also slated to drive for Tommy Baldwin Racing on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Jason Keller has signed an agreement with TriStar Motorsports to drive the team's #19 NASCAR Nationwide Series Chevrolet this season. Tri-Star owner Mark Smith said the team will return to the track for the first time since 1997 with intentions to run the full Nationwide schedule. In recent years, Smith has focused on building engines, including the powerplants that propelled Ron Hornaday Jr. to last year’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship. Unconfirmed reports have Tri-Star fielding two cars this season, with the second entry to be driven by Tony Raines.

Daisy Ramirez Motorsports will field a second entry in the Camping World Truck Series NextEra Energy 250 at Daytona for Mexican driver Carlos Contreras. Contreras will drive a #00 Silverado sponsored by Potencia Energy Blast and Alpina Bottled Water, as a teammate to Kerry Earnhardt.

Truck News: NASCAR will revise the way it awards starting spots on the Truck Series this season, cutting the number of guaranteed starters and opening up additional spots for teams to qualify on time. Since 2005, the Top-30 teams in owner’s points were guaranteed a spot in the 36-truck field. This season, the number of lock-in drivers will be reduced to 25, with 10 spots left open for fast time-trialers and the 36th position reserved for a past champion.

2005 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Champion Ted Musgrave will race in the season opening NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona, after all. Musgrave will drive Billy Ballew Motorsports’ #15 Hope for Haiti Toyota Tundra on Friday night, after sitting out last season due to lack of sponsorship. Associate sponsors on the truck will include Eco Clear Solutions, and Bee My Bear. Musgrave said there is a possibility for the deal to extend beyond Daytona, adding that the team continues to seek sponsorship for a full championship effort.

And Finally: Prayers are going up across NASCAR Nation for Lynda Petty, wife of seven-time Sprint Cup Series champion Richard Petty, who has been diagnosed with Central Nervous System Lymphoma. Mrs. Petty will undergo treatment at the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke University Medical Center, according to a statement released by the family last week. “We are thankful for the medical team at Duke,” said Richard Petty. “Lynda is in good hands. The doctors and our family are very optimistic that the treatment for this cancer will be successful.”

In happier news, it appears that NASCAR’s recent procreation boom will continue for at least a while longer. Jeff Gordon announced last week that he and his wife Ingrid are expecting their second child this summer. The new arrival will join daughter Ella, who is now two-years old.

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