A few items from the Speedweeks 2015 notebook…
|Truex (with Pollex) is on the rebound|
Truex Rebounds: 2014 was a year to forget for Martin Truex, Jr. Competitively, he struggled to mesh with a Furniture Row Racing team that had qualified for the Chase a year earlier with driver Kurt Busch, managing just one Top-5 and five Top-10 finishes in 36 starts. On the personal front, Truex dealt with longtime girlfriend Sherry Pollex’s ovarian cancer diagnosis, seeing her through surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments. If the opening week is any indication, 2015 will be a much better year.
Pollex returned to the track last week after completing her treatments, looking hale and hearty. Truex, meanwhile, guided the Furniture Row Chevrolet to a runner-up finish in the Sprint Unlimited and a strong, fifth-place showing in last night’s second Budweiser Duel.
"We have fast race cars and plenty of momentum as we head into Sunday," admitted the always understated Truex Thursday night. Expect him to contend in Sunday;s Daytona 500.
Hendrick Motorsports Will Be Strong: To the surprise of virtually no one, Hendrick Motorsports has performed flawlessly during Speedweeks. Jeff Gordon will start on the pole Sunday afternoon, with teammates Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt, Jr, filling the second and third starting slots. Kasey Kahne will roll off 13th for the Great American Race. Earnhardt and Johnson dominated their respective Budweiser Duel qualifiers, and all four HMS drivers appear to be contenders for the Harley J. Earl Trophy.
|Sorenson: The Slipper Fits|
Cinderella Lives: There has been no shortage of feel-good stories thus far in Speedweeks 2015. Journeyman Reed Sorenson powered Team Xtreme Racing into its first-ever Daytona 500 last night, finishing a solid seventh in the second of two Budweiser Duel qualifying races. After seeing his primary car demolished in a Sunday qualifying crash, Team Extreme owner Jon Cohen purchased Mike Wallace’s backup machine from Jay Robinson Racing. Two days of intensive labor prepared the car for last night’s Budweiser Duel, and Sorenson did the rest, threading his way smoothly through the pack. He will start 14th Sunday, giving Team Xtreme a much-needed infusion of racing capital.
Speaking of Wallace, the perennial big-track overachiever did it again last night, wheeling Robinson’s Crazy Vapors/X8 Energy Gum Toyota to an eighth-place finish in the second Budweiser Duel. Wallace’s ability to drive mediocre equipment to the front of the Daytona pack has been well documented over the years, and last night’s effort may have been his best ever.
|Whitt has impressed|
Front Row Dodges Its Own Bullet: These are happy times for Front Row Motorsports, as the Bob Jenkins-owned team saw all three of its Fords qualify for the Daytona 500. For a while, though, it appeared the team may have out-thunk itself. During the offseason, FRM elected to transfer Ragan’s 2014 owner points to Whitt, giving the young driver a Daytona safety net while trusting Ragan – a two-time winner at Daytona and Talladega – to drive his way into the Great American Race. Whitt didn’t need the help, running as high as fourth before bringing his SpeedStick-sponsored Ford home with a 10th-place finish that transferred him easily into Sunday’s main event. Ragan, meanwhile, suffered a mid-race spin that damaged his KFC-backed Fusion and put him in danger of not qualifying for a time. He eventually rebounded to finish 14th in Thursday’s second Bud Duel, one spot behind teammate David Gilliland.
Gibbs Shows Power: After struggling to find horsepower for much of last season, it appears that Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota have come to Daytona reloaded and ready to win. Matt Kenseth was the class of the field in last week’s Sprint Unlimited and also led his Budweiser Duel before getting shuffled out of the draft in the late going and finishing 17th. Kyle Busch contended for Victory Lane in his qualifier before settling for second, one spot better than new teammate Carl Edwards. Denny Hamlin was 18th after a late-race tangle with Danica Patrick, his second rumble of the week with the GoDaddy girl. Look for JGR to contend strongly for the Daytona 500 win.
Ulcer Outbreak In The Sprint Cup Garage: The Budweiser Duel is famous for producing anxious moments, with drivers sweating-out poor finishes and praying to make the Daytona 500 on qualifying speed or owners points. Casey Mears saw a solid Speedweeks go up in smoke (literally) when his engine expired in Budweiser Duel No. 1, then waiting more than two hours before earning a provisional starting that will place him 41st on Sunday’s grid. AJ Allmendinger, Sam Hornish, Trevor Bayne and Johnny Sauter all endured similar torture after crashing in their Duel races, before eventually making the Great American Race.
Oh, to have the Rolaids concession at Daytona…