Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Driver Notes & Quotes for Phoenix Subway Fresh Fit 500

Carl Edwards won at Phoenix in the fall of 2010 (Getty)
CARL EDWARDS ON PHOENIX: “I love going to Phoenix. The weather looks like it’s going to be great, and I’m really excited to see how the track has aged over the winter. I thought the surface was very racy last time we were there and I think everyone is excited to see if it gets even better for the race this weekend. This is a huge race for us being the Subway Fresh Fit 500 and we’re racing the Subway Ford so a win would be huge. A year ago we felt like we had the fastest car and got it torn up early in the race, so it would be wonderful to go back there again and be able to win this thing.”

EDWARDS CHASSIS CHOICE: The No. 99 crew will unload RK-801 at Phoenix. This is a brand new car and the first of six races where Subway will be the primary sponsor.

JIMMIE JOHNSON ON HIS APPROACH TO PHOENIX AND THE NEW CONFIGURATION: “We have a rule about putting the previous week’s race behind us by a certain time the next day. It doesn’t do any good to rehash what went wrong all week long. That’s certainly the case for us this week. We have a short turnaround, so that obviously helps. But I’m really focused on getting on track and putting up a better finish in the Kobalt Tools Chevy this weekend. It’s obviously a good place for us, so I’m looking forward to getting on track in a few days.”

“I don’t think much will be different. We’ve obviously already raced once on the surface and all the test sessions, so that always helps get more rubber down on the track surface. We started to get a second groove going during the race weekend in November and I think that will be even better this time around. Phoenix is a great track and I think the new configuration is fun to drive. I think, like with any new track surface, you will see the racing evolve and we will have that again this weekend. It’s going to be a good race.”

JOHNSON CHASSIS CHOICE: Johnson will pilot chassis No. 689. This car finished 14th at Phoenix last fall and 18th at New Hampshire in September. Chassis No. 590 will serve as the backup.

DALE EARNHARDT JR ON PHOENIX: “When we were at Phoenix last year, the track was too smooth. Hopefully it has aged some over the winter, but we’ll go to Phoenix with a good attitude. We feel like we can go to Phoenix and run well, so we’ll see how it goes.”

In 19 Sprint Cup starts at Phoenix International Raceway, Earnhardt has earned two wins, four top-five finishes and eight top-10s. He also has led 460 laps at the short track. He earned his two wins there back-to-back, going to Victory Lane in November 2003 and November 2004 when Phoenix hosted one Cup event a season.

EARNHARDT JR CHASSIS CHOICE: This weekend, crew chief Steve Letarte and the No. 88 crew will unload Hendrick Motorsports Chassis No. 88-709. This is a brand new, untested chassis.

CLINT BOWYER ON PHOENIX: “Phoenix has always been kind of unique to itself. I think it always will be. I think the repaving and reconfiguring made it all that much better. Short track racing is always a lot of fun. I wish we had five more tracks just like Phoenix.”

BOWYER CHASSIS CHOICE: The No. 15 5-hour ENERGY team will race chassis No. 712 at Phoenix. The backup is No. 718 – both are new.

MARTIN TRUEX JR. ON RETURNING TO PHOENIX: “This track is one of my favorites. Last race, we raced in the top 10 all day until we got put down a lap when the caution came out when we were in the pits. I am anxious to get back out there with our new chassis. I think we have a car that can win this race. Chad has a good idea of what our NAPA Toyota needs for me to run well. Our focus is on Turns 3 and 4, but we also need a strong throttle off of Turn 2 so I can carry the momentum into the final corners.”

MARK MARTIN CHASSIS CHOICE: Primary- 714, Backup- 715 – Both are new cars. Martin will race the No. 55 in 24 races plus the All Star race in 2012. Michael Waltrip will drive the No. 55 in six races. MWR will fill the remaining races with a driver to be named later.

GREG BIFFLE ON PHOENIX: “I think we showed in Daytona that we have a team capable of competing for wins and I can’t tell you how excited I am about the team we’ve assembled for the 2012 season. I am ready to get on the track in Phoenix and I think the fans are going to love our paint scheme. After Phoenix I get to spend a little time at the sand dunes on my way to Vegas, which is always fun.”

BIFFLE CHASSIS CHOICE: Primary: RK-778 - Last ran New Hampshire – finished third; Backup: RK-759 - Last ran Phoenix as the No. 6 – finished 33rd.

MARCOS AMBROSE ON PHOENIX: “I love short track racing and I really enjoy going to Phoenix. I feel like my Stanley team and I made big improvements on our short-track program last year and we are going to be a force to be reckoned with this season. I had an awesome car in Phoenix last fall and I know my crew has worked really hard to give me another fast car this weekend. It’s been a short week at home with the postponement of the Daytona 500, but I’m really looking forward to heading out west and getting my No. 9 Stanley Ford unloaded and on the track.”

AMBROSE CHASSIS CHOICE: The No. 9 RPM team has prepared chassis No. 805 for this weekend’s race at Phoenix International Raceway. This Stanley Ford is brand new and has never been run before.

Stewart has raced USAC, IRL and NASCAR at Phoenix
TONY STEWART ON HOW LONG HE'S BEEN RACING AT PHOENIX: “I started racing there in ’93 when I ran a USAC Silver Crown car. And since then, I’ve run USAC Midgets, Indy cars, Supermodifieds, Nationwide Series cars and, of course, Sprint Cup. So, I’ve logged a bunch of laps there. To think that it all kind of started at Phoenix, I guess you could say it’s the place where my career came full-circle.”

“When we ran the USAC cars out there, it was pretty cool because I had never gone that fast before. It’s just one of those tracks where, to run a Midget and a Silver Crown car there, it definitely got your attention. It was pretty fast.”

STEWART CHASSIS CHOICE: This car made its debut in April 2011 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, where it experienced some teething problems, qualifying 28th and Finishing 34th with a broken rear-end gear. Prior to Martinsville, Chassis No. 14-637 was tested March 14 at the half-mile Little Rock Speedway in Rockingham,

The July race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon marked the car’s second career start, where it qualified second and led twice for 48 laps around the 1.058-mile oval before finishing .773 of a second behind its sister car, piloted by Ryan Newman. It saw track time again during a Goodyear Tire Test at Phoenix International Raceway Aug. 29-30 before returning to New Hampshire in September for its third career start and first of the Chase. The car carried Stewart to his second straight Chase win, leading only the final two laps after previous leader Clint Bowyer ran out of fuel just before taking the white flag in the 300-lap race.

Chassis No. 14-637 returned to action and another flat, 1-mile oval for the 2011 season’s penultimate race at Phoenix. It again performed well by leading five times for a race-high 160 laps to deliver its third straight top three finish. The car returns to Phoenix with fresh sheet metal to make its first start of 2012 and its fifth overall with Sunday’s Subway Fresh Fit 500k.

Ryan Newman won at Phoenix in spring of 2010 (Getty)
RYAN NEWMAN ON WHY HE'S SO GOOD AT PHOENIX: “We go to Phoenix with a good setup, and that shows by our finishes there. And luckily the changes to the track didn’t change that for us last fall. It’s hard to say why we’ve done so well there, but it’s one of my favorite tracks, and that definitely is a factor. I guess I would kind of lump Phoenix into the success that we’ve had on short tracks. The combination of Tony Gibson (crew chief), the No. 39 team and me have really been able to hit on something at the tracks a mile and under – like Martinsville and Bristol. And Phoenix is flat like New Hampshire, which is another track where we’ve had success. In my opinion, the driver has a little more of an impact on the end result at short tracks than some of the bigger racetracks, and I like that. The more the drivers are involved, the more I think you get to race and, from that standpoint, I think it’s more fun. Tony Gibson has some great setups with our short-track program. I enjoy them, he enjoys them, and we just go out there and have some fun."

"We’ve had a good car each time we’ve been to Phoenix. Gibson is a great fan of Phoenix and short-track racing, and he’s got a great understanding of the racecar there and what I like, and that makes a big difference, obviously, for me. We’ve been able to get four top-five finishes in our last four trips to Phoenix. So I’m really looking forward to getting back there this weekend after a really long Speedweeks.”

NEWMAN CHASSIS CHOICE: Two starts, two top-10 finishes. That was the story for Chassis No. 39-691 last season as it competed in the fall races at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway and Phoenix International Raceway. At Richmond, Newman started 18th and fought his way into the top-10 near lap 100 and virtually stayed there for the remainder of the 400-lap event. Newman finished eighth.

After a test session on the newly paved Phoenix track in October, Newman and Co., returned there in late November for the penultimate race of the 2011 season. Despite a poor starting position on a tricky, newly paved track surface, Newman's savvy driving skills came into play as he managed to aggressively gain track
position without any incidents on the mile oval. Newman moved into the top-10 shortly after lap 100 and never looked back, finishing a solid fifth. This weekend at Phoenix will be Chassis No. 39-691’s first appearance in 2012.

JOEY LOGANO ON PHOENIX: “Phoenix is a unique track and it will be interesting to go back now a second time since they reconfigured the track and repaved it. The place was always racey before, but like any track when you put new pavement on it, it takes a little time for it to come back around and get back to the way it was. The one thing that stands out about Phoenix though is the fact that you think it’s just a one-mile track, but it is so much different. The way you enter the corners, how it is relatively flat and the kink in the backstretch just make it a unique place. It’s actually a lot of fun to race."

LOGANO CHASSIS CHOICE: Chassis #336 will ride with Logano and the Home Depot team at Phoenix this weekend. The car was used at Phoenix last season. Chassis #339 will serve at the team’s backup for Phoenix.

DENNY HAMLIN ON PHOENIX: “What I liked the most about it in the winter was the weather. It’s 75 (degrees) there every day. For me, it was just kind of like a vacation spot, but I just stayed out there an extended period of time. They have some great golf courses, great shopping and dining. It’s just really got everything because it’s a relatively new town and city. For me, of all the places I would want to go on vacation, I would pick there. I just spent my off season there because of that.”

Kyle Busch won at Phoenix in driving No. 5 car (Getty)
KYLE BUSCH ON PHOENIX: "You’ve got to have a good car, but you’ve got to have good brakes. You’ve got to have a good-turning car, and you’ve got to have a good car that can accelerate off of turn two and go fast down the backstretch. There’s a lot involved at Phoenix, but being only the second race on the new surface, it could make it interesting.”

KYLE BUSCH CHASSIS CHOICE: No. 326 will make its fourth-ever start in Sunday’s Subway Fresh Fit 500k at Phoenix International Raceway. This chassis made its debut in the first race of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup last September at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill. After qualifying a solid ninth and running within the top-10 all race long, Busch ran out of gas with just two laps remaining, forcing him to come to pit road for a splash of gas, which led to a disappointing 22nd-place finish.

Up next, Busch qualified third and finished 11th in the Hollywood Casino 400 last October at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City. Most recently, the No. 18 team brought No. 326 to Phoenix last November. After qualifying 34th, Busch was forced to start at the rear of the field after the team changed an engine during the first practice session of the weekend. Despite the setback, Busch picked his way to the front and led 23 laps before more engine issues forced him to the sidelines after only completing 188 laps, relegating him to a disappointing 38th-place finish.

BRAD KESELOWSKI ON THE NEW PHOENIX CONFIGURATION: “I like the new Phoenix. They did an outstanding job in making a good racetrack better. It’s obviously going to take a few years before the track is in optimal condition, but with it being in the desert that process can sometimes be accelerated. I’m anxious to see how much it has aged over the winter. We saw last year that guys, myself included, were making passes through the dog leg. I don’t think anyone expected that going into the race. And the run you get off of Turn 4, down the frontstretch, has stayed the same. Those are the best places to pass.”

KESELOWSKI CHASSIS CHOICE: The No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge Charger team will race chassis PRS-810 during Sunday’s Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway (PIR). This is a new chassis to the No. 2 fleet.

KURT BUSCH ON PHOENIX: “It’s a place where I grew up watching Cup races. When I was a kid, they didn’t have Las Vegas Motor Speedway, yet. So we traveled down to Phoenix to watch the big show. The years I went, guys like Terry Labonte, Davey Allison and Dale (Earnhardt) Sr., were down there winning. It was so cool. One year, we got pit passes to walk down pit road on Sunday morning at the start of the race. I was in awe that this was the big time. It’s amazing how it has all turned out. So Phoenix, to me, was the track I grew up watching races on. Then, when I got there as a racer to race in the Southwest tour, that was basically our Daytona 500. So, when you were racing on the West Coast, Phoenix was our Daytona. That’s how big Phoenix was for us.”

“That track fits my driving style with the flat, one-mile track layout and how tight the corners are. It’s a place where you have to slide the car just right to maintain a good pace around there. The track is a little unique with the old asphalt and the new asphalt. The other thing that separates Phoenix is how you have to balance the differences with turns one and two verses the differences in turns three and four. I have just always been able to understand that track and what the car needs to do to be fast.”

KURT BUSCH CHASSIS CHOICE: This weekend’s Subway Fresh Fit 500k will be the second Phoenix race for this chassis which was built in June 2011. Landon Cassill finished 29th at Phoenix in Chassis No. 662 last fall. The car was also used in events at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in July and September 2011, scoring 26th- and 30th-place finishes, respectively. Kurt Busch tested this chassis in January at Nashville Superspeedway during a two-day test session in preparation for the upcoming season.

JAMIE MCMURRAY ON PHOENIX: “I am obviously disappointed with the start that we had to the season with our result (31st) at Daytona, however this is a new week. I am looking forward to going back to Phoenix to race the new configuration that we ran there in the fall. We had a really good car in November, qualified in the top-10 and raced hard all day, but we got a pit road speeding penalty that we couldn’t overcome to get the finish that we felt we deserved. We will look forward to try and bounce back from Daytona in our Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet.”

McMURRAY CHASSIS CHOICE: Chassis #1206. Crew Chief Kevin “Bono” Manion and the No.1 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats team will be bringing a brand new chassis, Chassis #1206, to Phoenix International Raceway this weekend.

JUAN PABLO MONTOYA ON PHOENIX: “The last time we raced there I think it was an interesting race with the new configuration. I think it is going to bring much better racing. Last time was good, but I think this time is going to be better. We have more knowledge heading into this race and it’s going to be an exciting race. It’s really the first race you really get to judge where we are as a team and how hard we need to work to catch up, or where we stand.”

MONTOYA CHASSIS CHOICE: Chassis #1203. Heroy and the No. 42 Target team will be bringing a brand new chassis, Chassis #1203, to Phoenix International Raceway this weekend.

JEFF BURTON ON PHOENIX: “I think when we go to Phoenix International Raceway, no one really has an idea what to expect. The track changes so much from day-to-day. We were really fast there and ran well, but didn’t qualify that great. I think we were second-fastest in practice and the track slowed down a half-second from what we ran in practice. We ended up qualifying 14th, ran in the front all day and had a legitimate shot to win the race. We adapted pretty quick and were fast at the test sessions out there before the race also.”

Harvick using an old No. 33 car at Phoenix
KEVIN HARVICK ON PHOENIX: “The new surface was definitely racy. They did a great job prepping for the race. With the shorter tracks, the grip is greater but it’s a different environment than what you experience on the mile-and-a-half tracks. It was a great race. They spent a lot time laying the track out, taking their strength and weaknesses and thinking about the fans as to what they can see from their seats. It all played out really well and I hope to have another good race this weekend.”

HARVICK CHASSIS CHOICE: Kevin Harvick will pilot Chassis No. 365 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable. This former No. 33 racer competed in three races in NASCAR’s senior division last season, placing finishes of 17th at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in July, 22nd at Richmond International Raceway in September and 10th at Phoenix International Raceway in November.

PAUL MENARD ON PHOENIX: “I’ve described it (racing at the newly repaved Phoenix International Raceway) to people as feeling like a video game because it was like everything was perfect. The way the transitions were and the way it looked. There wasn’t a speck of dust on the place and no skid marks anywhere when we unloaded for the test. It was almost surreal at how neat the track was. Turns one and two still have the same character, as do turns three and four. The biggest difference is the dogleg in the back. It’s a huge elevation change. There’s a lot sharper and little bit longer corner and then another elevation change on exit. The back half of the race track is the biggest difference. We drive turns one, two, there and four the same as before.”

MENARD CHASSIS CHOICE: Paul Menard will pilot Chassis No. 328 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable in the Fresh Fit 500. This Chevrolet Impala was utilized by the No. 27 team three times in 2011, most recently at Phoenix International Raceway in November 2011 where Menard started 11th and finished ninth. This chassis was also raced last season at Darlington Raceway in May, where the Eau Claire, Wis., native finished 22nd and Las Vegas Motor Speedway in March where he finished 12th.

BRENDAN GAUGHAN ON THE OPPORTUNITY TO CUP RACE AGAIN AND RACING AT PHOENIX: “The opportunity to run four races for Richard Childress in the Sprint Cup Series is truly amazing. RCR has top-notch equipment and teamed me with a winning crew chief in Gil Martin. Everyone deserves a second chance and I am ecstatic that my second chance in the Sprint Cup Series is in the No. 33 Chevrolet with RCR.”

“After talking with some of my RCR teammates, they told me that the track hasn’t changed all that much, they just made the track a little “racier” off of turn 2. The Chevrolet Impala I’m driving had a win last year so I’m really looking forward to going to Phoenix in equipment the caliber I have never had a chance to drive in my career.”

The Fresh Fit 500 will mark Gaughan’s 38th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start and his first since the 2010 Daytona 500. The Las Vegas native raced full-time in NASCAR’s top series during the 2004 season, posting one top-five and four top -10 finishes. Phoenix marks the first of four Sprint Cup Series starts with RCR for 2012, Gaughan will also race the No. 33 South Point Hotel & Casino Chevrolet at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Bristol Motor Speeedway and Auto Club Speedway events during the month of March.

Gaughan gets to drive Harvick's winning Coca-Cola car
GAUGHAN CHASSIS CHOICE: Brendan Gaughan will pilot Chassis No. 351 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable. This Chevrolet Impala is a proven contender in Sprint Cup Series competition, as Gaughan’s RCR teammate Kevin Harvick made a trip to Victory Lane with it in May 2011 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Harvick also drove this former No. 29 racer to a seventh-place finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway in September, a 10th-place finish at Dover International Speedway in October and a 19th-place finish at Phoenix International Raceway in November.

KASEY KAHNE ON PHOENIX: “Getting that win (at Phoenix International Raceway) was a huge boost for our team last year. I think the track was probably the best I can remember a brand-new race surface being in the first race. It started slippery and got better as the rubber built up. We made the adjustments we needed to put ourselves up front at the end. I’m excited to get back there with the Farmers Insurance guys this week.”

JEFF GORDON ON PHOENIX: “No, I like the old one (PIR track configuration) better. But that’s sometimes what happens with a re-pave or a new design. And the way that they did it, it changes the tire. It changes the track and how you have to drive it. And so we have to adapt to that. And one of the things we worked heavily on during the off-season was preparing for that race to make sure that when we go back there we don’t have the issues that we had the last time we were there. We had break issues. I wasn’t comfortable with how the car was handling. We started to get better as the race went on, so I’m more confident this time than I was the first time we were there (since the repaving). And I feel like we have good data from our teammates. Not only (did) Tony (Stewart) ran well, but Kasey (Kahne) and (crew chief) Kenny Francis did very well there obviously winning the race. So I feel pretty good about going back there.”

Phoenix Preview: Hendrick Cars Should Have the Edge

By Micah Roberts

Johnson has four Phoenix wins and the No. 5 has two recent wins (Getty)
For the next few weeks we're going to all be learning about what the changes to the the NASCAR Sprint Cup cars mean at differing tracks, most notably how the new electronic fuel injection reacts. The teams that have done the most extensive testing since it was allowed last season would appear to have an edge. Those teams, not surprisingly, are the ones with the most money, such as Hendrick Motorsports.

Last week's restrictor-plate race at Daytona didn't offer the best data with the new EFI system because cars are propelled more by the draft than by themselves. This week at Phoenix it will be every driver for themselves with their crew chief at the computer dissecting every piece of data that comes through their computer in nearly the same fashion they do in Formula-one.

Instead of a crew chief asking their driver "what's wrong" with a driver speculating, the crew chief will now be able to know and pinpoint issues quicker. These next few races will be important for every team to figure out how they're going maximize all that data to their advantage.

Some of the expected bonuses of EFI is less blown engines and a more accurate figure on fuel mileage. Some of the drama of wondering whether a car can make the final few laps will be taken out of the equation, but will also intensify at the same time as teams are sure to push the limits more so than in the past. Is the computer smarter here, or weighing a gas can after each pit stop to see exactly how much fuel got into the car?

Even without speculating that Hendrick may have the advantage here like they did in 2007 when the 'Car of Tomorrow' was introduced, they are collectively pretty stout at Phoenix as is.

Jimmie Johnson has a track best career average of 5.4 in 17 starts that include four wins. He's never finished worse than 15th and has only finished worse than seventh 3 times. Johnson has had a lot of time reflect on not winning his sixth straight title last season and when looking back on 2011, Phoenix is the type of track he knows he can improve upon from last year.

Jeff Gordon is a two-time winner at Phoenix. Unlike most of the other tracks where he did most of his damage during his glory years in the 90's, he captured his only two wins on the track in 2007 and in this race last season.

Kasey Kahne gets to jump into the No. 5 Hendrick car that Mark Martin drove to a Phoenix victory in 2009, a car Kyle Busch also won at Phoenix with in 2005. Kahne looks to be one of the surprises of the 2012 season and this will be our first real opportunity to see what he can do with the Hendrick horsepower under the hood. In the fall race last season, Kahne did the amazing by taking a lame duck Red Bull Racing team to the winners circle. It was Kahne's only win of 2012.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. has gone 130 races without a win, but Phoenix could be a place we see the streak end. He's a two-time winner on the track (2003-04) and be the major beneficiary of having the Hendrick edge in his corner.

The top Ford of the race figures to be Carl Edwards who has had the best car in the last three Phoenix races, but has claimed only one victory. The last time NASCAR made some changes, Roush Racing took a long time to catch up. It's debatable whether it will happen again, but it does take some of the shine off of what Edwards has done recently at Phoenix. It's likely odds on Edwards will too low to back as most sports books will use those last three races as a reference when posting their numbers.

Top 5 Finish Position:
1) #48 Jimmie Johnson (7/1)
2) #24 Jeff Gordon (8/1)
3) #99 Carl Edwards (7/1)
4) #5 Kasey Kahne (14/1)
5) #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr (25/1)

Gaughan to a GREAT Car
While Danica Patrick won't make a Sprint Cup appearance again until May, Las Vegans will make up for the void with their own favorite son, Brendan Gaughan, who will run race No. 2, 3, 4 and 5 beginning this week in Phoenix. Kurt and Kyle Busch are loved in Las Vegas as well, but Brendan has a special relationship with the locals because of his family ties (Father Michael and Grandfather Jackie) that have been so good to Las Vegans over the last six decades.

When Brendan got his first shot at Cup racing, he didn't really have a chance to succeed as an afterthought third-string program run by Roger Penske during lean years. His current run will see him in Richard Childress cars with chassis' leftovers from the departure of Clint Bowyer as well as a cars used by Jeff Burton and Kevin Harvick.

His return to the Cup series during the Las Vegas race in two weeks will be one of the bigger underlying stories of the weekend. Here's to hoping, and wishing, Gaughan the best of performances the next few weeks in the spotlight of Cup racing.

2012 Phoenix Subway Fresh Fit 500 Odds & Ends

At Phoenix International Raceway History
·         Construction was completed in January 1964. The facility consisted of a one-mile oval and a 2.5-mile road course.
·         Alan Kulwicki won the first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix on Nov. 6, 1988.
·         The first spring race was held on April 23, 2005 and also the first night race, which was won by Kurt Busch.
·         The track underwent its first repave last year. The construction began in March and concluded in September of 2011.
·         The following changes were made during the construction period (March – Sept., 2011):
o    Widened the frontstretch from 52 to 62 feet
o    Reconfigured pit road with the installation of concrete pit stalls
o    Pushed the dog-leg curve between Turn 2 and Turn 3 out 95 feet
o    Tightened the turn radius of the dog-leg from 800 to 500 feet
o    Implemented variable banking to ensure the immediate use of two racing grooves, including 10-11 degree banking between Turn 1 and Turn 2; 10-11 degree banking in the apex of the dog-leg; and 8-9 degree banking in Turn 4
·         There have been 31 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Phoenix International Raceway, one per season from 1988-2004 and two each season since.
·         Geoffrey Bodine won the first pole in 1988.
·         There have been 19 different pole winners, led by Ryan Newman with four.
·         Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards are the only drivers to win consecutive poles. Newman won three straight (2002-04), while Gordon won the fall of 2006 and spring of 2007, and Edwards won the fall of 2010 and spring of 2011.
·         There have been 22 different race winners, led by Jimmie Johnson, with four.
·         The race has been won from the pole four times: Jeff Gordon (spring 2007), Jimmie Johnson (fall 2008), Mark Martin (spring 2009) and Carl Edwards (fall 2010).
·         The race has been won from a top-10 starting position in 16 of 31 events.
·         Denny Hamlin (November, 2005) and AJ Allmendinger (April, 2010) won their first career poles at Phoenix International Raceway.
·         Ricky Rudd won the 1995 race from the 29th-place starting position, the furthest back a race winner has started.
·         Matt Kenseth won the 2002 race from the 28th-place starting position, the furthest back an active race winner has started.
·         Mark Martin has 12 top-five finishes, more than any other driver. Martin (9.0 average finish) is one of two active drivers who average a top-10 finish. Jimmie Johnson (5.3) is the other.
·         Jeff Gordon has the lowest average start amongst active drivers with a 10.4; followed by AJ Allmendinger (10.5) and Carl Edwards (10.8).
·         Two perfect Driver Ratings of 150.0 have been recorded at Phoenix. Kurt Busch did it with his win in April of 2005, and Kevin Harvick did it in November of 2006.
·         Five drivers have won consecutive races at Phoenix: Davey Allison (1991,1992); Jeff Burton (2000, 2001); Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2003, 2004); Kevin Harvick (swept 2006); Jimmie Johnson is the only one of the five to win three consecutive races (fall 2007, swept 2008).
·         Youngest NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Phoenix International Raceway winner: Kyle Busch (11/13/2005 – 20 years, 6 months, 11 days)
·         Oldest NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Phoenix International Raceway winner: Mark Martin (04/18/2009 – 50 years, 3 months, 9 days)
·         Of the seven drivers with multiple wins at Phoenix International Raceway, Mark Martin is the only driver to win in two different manufacturers: Ford (1993) and Chevrolet (2009).
Phoenix International Raceway Data
Race: 2 of 36 (3-4-12)
Track Size: 1 mile
·     Banking/1 and 2: 10 - 11 degrees
·     Banking/3 and 4: 8 - 9 degrees
·     Banking/Frontstretch: 3 degrees
·     Banking/Backstretch:9 degrees
·     Frontstretch: 1,179 feet
·     Backstretch: 1,551 feet
Driver Rating at Phoenix 
Jimmie Johnson             118.6
Carl Edwards                 101.3
Tony Stewart                 100.9
Kurt Busch                    100.4
Jeff Gordon                     99.8
Mark Martin                    97.8
Denny Hamlin                 96.3
Kyle Busch                     95.5
Kevin Harvick                  94.8
Greg Biffle                      93.1
Ryan Newman                90.1
Martin Truex Jr.              88.9
Note: Driver Rating compiled from 2005-2011 races (14 total) at Phoenix.

Qualifying/Race Data
2011 pole winner: Carl Edwards (137.279 mph, 26.244 seconds)
2011 race winner: Jeff Gordon
(102.961 mph, 2-27-11)
Track qualifying record: Carl Edwards (137.279 mph, 26.244 seconds, 2-26-11)

- compiled by Ray Smith, NASCAR Integrated Marketing Communications  

LVH Super Book Odds to Win Phoenix Subway Fresh Fit 500

LVH Super Book Odds to Win Phoenix Subway Fresh Fit 500

Four drivers are 7-to-1 favorites to win at Phoenix Sunday (Getty)


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Kenseth Holds Off Earnhardt Jr, Wins Second Daytona 500

Matt Kenseth wins his second Daytona 500 (Getty) 
Matt Kenseth won his second Daytona 500 that took more than 36 hours to complete due to bad weather and a fiery crash.

Kenseth held off Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Roush Fenway Racing teammate Greg Biffle over a two-lap overtime to win the first postponed Daytona 500 in its 54 year existence early Tuesday morning.

Rain forced NASCAR to push the race to Monday afternoon, then Monday night.

Juan Pablo Montoya barreled into the back of a jet drier, igniting an on-track fire with 40 laps to go on Monday, which caused a two-hour delay.

Montoya was attempting to catch the pack during a caution when he went slamming toward the jet drier, which holds 200 gallons of jet kerosene.

Montoya got out of his car unscathed. The driver of the truck was helped out of his vehicle.

Drivers patiently waited on the track as firemen attempted to put out the fire and officials surveyed the damage.

The Sprint Cup Series moves to Phoenix International Raceway for the Subway Fresh Fit 500 on Mar. 4.

Daytona 500 Results

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Daytona 500 Postponed For First Time Ever; Starts 7pm Monday Night

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- History came to the Daytona 500 on Sunday, but not the kind that NASCAR wanted to make. For the first time in the event's long history, weather forced the postponement of the Great American Race to Monday.

After battling intermittent showers all day, NASCAR officials announced shortly after 5 p.m. local time that the 54th running of the Daytona 500 had been pushed back to noon Monday because of weather. Although NASCAR's showcase event had been shortened four previous times due to the elements, it had never been completely postponed -- until Sunday, when a gloomy forecast into the evening prevented any attempt at running the race under the lights.

The rescheduled event will air on Fox, and tickets will be available at the gate or the Daytona ticket office.


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The start of Sunday's season-opening Daytona 500 was delayed by persistent rain at Daytona International Speedway, endangering the event's streak of never being pushed back a day due to weather.

Light rain fell much of Sunday morning, but let up enough at one point for NASCAR officials to send jet dryers out on the track and revive hopes of the cars rolling off at the scheduled 1:29 p.m. local start time. But as pre-race festivities concluded, the heaviest rain of the day moved in, undoing the work the dryers had already done.

The dryers rolled back out on the track around 1:38 p.m. ET, but were pulled back off fewer than 10 minutes later.

"It's one of those days here in Daytona where it pops up and falls off and pops up and falls off," NASCAR president Mike Helton said on the Fox broadcast. "But as the day progresses, we think the chances of the pop-ups diminish quite a bit. Hopefully this will be the last big cell we see, and things will start falling apart, and we can get the track dry and go on and get finish and run the Daytona 500 today."

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Final Daytona 500 Driver Ratings Following All Practice Sessions

Micah Roberts Driver Ratings
Daytona 500
Daytona International Speedway
Sunday, February 26, 2012 - 10:16 am (PDT)

Rating Driver    Odds       Qualified  Practice 3   Duels*  Shootout*

1. Tony Stewart 10/1            3rd           12th          1st          2nd
17 Daytona wins over career, but none in the Daytona 500; 2004 runner-up.

2. Jeff Gordon 12/1             16th          25th          8th          15th
Three-time winner, the last coming in 2004. Star performer in pre-season testing.

3. Jamie McMurray 18/1     19th         28th         10th          16th
2010 winner, three of six career wins have come in restrictor-plate races; brand new chassis.

4. Kurt Busch 25/1              28th         DNP         14th         17th
Three-time Daytona 500 runner-up; using winning '09 Talladega chassis driven by Keselowski.

5. Kyle Busch 10/1             14th         30th           7th           1st
Series best average running position of 12.3 over career at Daytona; brand new chassis.

6. Kevin Harvick 12/1        13th           8th            7th         22nd
2007 winner, also 2010 winner of summer race; brand new chassis this week.

7. Dale Earnhardt Jr 12/1     5th         42nd           2nd         20th
2004 winner, hasn't won any points race in his last 129 starts. Streak in jeopardy Sunday.

8. Denny Hamlin 20/1        31st         11th           17th          5th
Not his best track with 22.1 average finish, but pre-season test was encouraging sign.

9. Carl Edwards 12/1          1st           41st            5th           9th
No plate race wins, but getting close; using runner-up chassis from 2011 Daytona 500

10. Elliott Sadler 30/1        10th         13th           4th          DNP
Finished 11th or better from 2004-2009; using chassis ran by Burton in 2010-11.

* Results from Thursday's two Gatorade Duel qualifying races and last Saturday's Budweiser Shootout.

Note: Practice 3 was the busiest session with the most participants in race trim. The other six practices either were in qualifying trim or had minimal participation for fear of wrecking their primary car.

Odds courtesy of the LVH Super Book.

Micah Roberts, a former sports book director, has been setting NASCAR lines in Las Vegas since 1995. He can be reached at, or Twitter: @MicahRoberts7

The Daytona 500 is a giant crap shoot that most professional bettors shy away from because of that uncertainty, but it's the Daytona 500, therefore wagers must be placed despite having little edge like might be obtained prior to other races. And with the uncertainty comes the possibility of hitting a bomb like Trevor Bayne at 100-to-1 last year.

Drivers that have high odds this week who are very capable of winning include Elliott Sadler (30/1 field), Marcos Ambrose (50/1) and Ricky Stenhouse (60/1). Sadler has been stellar in almost every Daytona 500 he's run, Ambrose has had a great speed weeks and Stenhouse is driving the same chassis that David Ragan drove to the winner's circle in the summer Daytona race last year.

Match-up play of the week:
Marcos Ambrose -110 vs Regan Smith: I've seen too much good out of Amrose over the last week to believe he'll be around late in the race and contend for the win.

Daytona 500 Cautions UNDER 9.5 (EV): Because of all the changes put in place to stop the two-car tandems and the spectacular wrecks we saw in the Bud Shootout, the first inclination is to think there will be a loty of wrecks Sunday. But the uncertainty may play into drivers being more cautious than ever and lead to less aggressive driving early on with the goal of staying on the track until the final three laps. Four of the last five Daytona 500's have had 9 cautions or less.

Final Daytona 500 Practice

Daytona 500 Wagerers Back Danica Patrick


Patrick has the car and crew to be a success in Cup series
Danica Patrick has yet to make a start in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series, but if the action in Las Vegas sports books is any indication, she already is the sport's biggest star.

Patrick opened at 100-1 at the LVH SuperBook to win Sunday's Daytona 500, her first Cup start, and currently is 60-1.

"Right now we have the most tickets written on Patrick among all the drivers," LVH SuperBook vice president Jay Kornegay said. "She also has the third-most money wagered on her, behind Las Vegan Kyle Busch and the pole sitter, Carl Edwards."

Looking at public betting patterns in major events like the Daytona 500, as opposed to average events, offers great insight into what the masses are thinking.

"The Daytona 500 attracts more than just race fans, it attracts sports fans," Kornegay said. "Most of the tickets on Patrick are from fans, not gamblers."

The lure of betting on Patrick is far beyond the large odds, her looks or being only the third female to start in the Daytona 500. Although she's still learning how to handle the heavier stock cars, there's no denying Patrick comes into the Cup series with an impressive resume from the IndyCar Series, where she finished third in the 2009 Indianapolis 500.

Recent IndyCar drivers have struggled in their transition to stock cars, but none was given the type of car Patrick will drive in her limited Cup schedule this year. Not only did she jump into a car produced by 2011 Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart, she also has a crew chief, Greg Zipadelli, who won two championships with Stewart at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Another advantage for Patrick is that all the drivers are adjusting to changes designed to stop two-car tandem racing. With less rear downforce because of a smaller spoiler, a smaller radiator to stop cars from being glued to each other's bumper and no radio communication among drivers, it has made them a little less aggressive and put them all on the same learning curve.

The strategy for Patrick will be to stay out of trouble and finish the race. She probably won't learn enough during the race to make the required winning move on the final lap, but she should be able to finish on the lead lap.

The LVH has a proposition on Patrick's finish at 25½ (over-120) that is intriguing because of how safe she will drive in NASCAR's premier event. With her strategy and the volatility all the changes for this race might produce, 18 cars could be wiped out in a few wrecks, leaving her, almost by default, with a finish of 25th.

Betting on Patrick to win is quite a long shot, but one never knows what might happen at Daytona. Last year, Trevor Bayne made his Daytona 500 debut and won at 100-1 odds.

"Would it be a great story if she won? Yes," Kornegay said. "But it wouldn't be a great story for us."

The Daytona 500 is the biggest crapshoot of the year and one of the least-bet races by professional bettors. Following trends and practice tendencies that are helpful at other tracks are thrown out the window here.

The odds reflect the race's history of uncertainty, with no driver listed under 10-1 at LVH. The Fords have looked strong throughout Speedweeks, but the best bet might be to side with a Chevrolet driven by Stewart (10-1), Jeff Gordon (12-1) or Jamie McMurray (18-1). Kurt Busch (25-1) will offer a nice long-shot opportunity driving the same Chevy chassis that Brad Keselowski used to win at Talladega in 2009.

Micah Roberts, a former sports book director, has been setting NASCAR lines in Las Vegas since 1995. He can be reached at, or Twitter: @MicahRoberts7.

Daytona 500 Starting Lineup

Friday, February 24, 2012

Edwards and Logano Pace Fastest Laps in Final Daytona 500 Practices

By Fred C.

There is one more practice session scheduled for Saturday morning at 10:30 est and if today's two practices are any indication, there won't be much to expect at all.  At this point in the week, most of all teams pretty much know what they have for Sunday's Great American Race and over half the field chose to not take any chances with their cars today.

Carl Edwards is 15/1 to win Daytona 500 (Getty)
Only 16 cars took to the track in today's first practice (Practice 5 speeds)  with all that can possibly be taken away from it is that the Fords continue to show great speed and remain the favorites to capture the Harley J. Earl Trophy on Sunday.  Juan Pablo Montoya's #42 Chevrolet logged the most laps of the session with 26 (10 more than any other driver) which is perfectly understandable since that is a backup car after Thursday's crash took out his primary. 

The 99 of Carl Edwards continued to lead the Ford charge with front row teammate Greg Biffle clocking in with the 5th fastest time.  Is it finally time for Edwards to catch a break at a superspeedway? It is looking better and better as we get closer to race time, even though the last Daytona 500 pole sitter to go to Victory Lane was over 10 years ago, when Dale Jarrett grabbed his 2nd 500 win in 2000.

Needless to say, Edwards and practically all of his Ford teammates chose to stay on the sidelines for Friday's 2nd practice session (Practice 6 speeds).  Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) took over the reigns with drivers Kyle Busch, Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin clocking in 1st, 2nd, and 4th respectively.

Surprisingly, defending Sprint Cup Champ and 17 time Daytona winner (no 500's however) Tony Stewart showed up and logged 14 laps, clocking in with the 5th fastest time.

If any driver can stop the Brigade, Stewart is surely one of those drivers.  He has to be a very strong consideration at odds of 10-1 or better and has arguably shown to be the best car this week in race trim.  Oh, and the 17 Daytona wins just resonates over and over again...that kind of Daytona record remind you of anyone?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Kenseth and Stewart Win Daytona Gatorades

Matt Kenseth captured Roush's first Gatordae win, paid 15/1 (Getty) 
This marks the third time a Ford driver has won a Gatorade Duel qualifying race that has been a 150-mile event. Elliott Sadler (2006) and Kasey Kahne (2010) are the others.

· Ford has now won 22 all-time Daytona qualifying races.
· Bill Elliott holds the Ford Racing record for most Daytona qualifying race wins with four (1985, ’86, ’92, 2000)
· This marks the first Daytona qualifying race victory for car owner Jack Roush

MATT KENSETH: GIVE US A RUNDOWN ON THE MOVE YOU PUT ON YOUR TEAMMATE FOR THE WIN. “We just had a big run there. Jimmie Johnson gave me a huge push there and that really worked nice for me the whole race there. Without that push it would have never gotten done. Greg (Biffle) lost his drafting partner. We were able to separate him and the 78 and we had such a huge run that Greg was kind of a sitting duck. I was going so fast with Jimmie’s push that we were able to make it past."

Gatorade Duel 2 Results

Stewart Wins 17th Daytona Race 
Tony Stewart won the first Gatorade race and paid out at 6/1 (Getty)
Tony Stewart is familiar with the way to Victory Lane at Daytona International Speedway. The three-time defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion picked up his 17 victory at the famed 2.5-mile superspeedway with a win in today’s Gatorade Duel at Daytona Race No. 1.

The win puts the driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet second on the all-time list of winners at Daytona. He led three times for a total of 21 laps in the 60-lap race to set the field for the 54th running of the Daytona 500

TONY STEWART: DO YOU FEEL GOOD ABOUT TRYING TO CAPTURE THE DAYTONA 500 NOW: "Yeah, it really does. We just had a great race car. We had a great race car since we got here, especially when I messed up the car for Shootout, all three teams dug in together and got us a car put back together that almost won the Shootout the other night was a testimony to how hard this organization has worked.

Gatordae Duel 1 Results

Daytona 500 Driver Chassis Selections

OVER-UNDER Cautions is posted at 9.5 at LVH Super Book
#1-Jamie McMurray: Crew Chief Kevin "Bono" Manion and the #1 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats team will be bringing a brand new chassis, Chassis #1204, to Daytona International Speedway this weekend.

#2-Brad Keselowski: and the #2 Miller Lite Dodge Charger team will race chassis PRS-643 during Sunday's 54th running of the Daytona 500. This is a new chassis to the #2 fleet. Continuing one of the most-popular features of the "Blue Deuce" from 2011, the featured tag line on the rear bumper this weekend in Daytona will be "Driven to Greatness."

#6-Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: is driving primary chassis RK-689 which last ran at Daytona in July and won the race with David Ragan driving. The backup chassis will be RK-720.

#9-Marcos Ambrose: The #9 RPM team has prepared chassis No. 795 for the Daytona 500. This Stanley Ford Fusion is brand new this season and was tested in Daytona in January.

#10-Danica Patrick will driver Chassis No. 333, a brand new chassis that will make its debut during Daytona Speedweeks in preparation for the 54th Daytona 500 on Feb. 26.

Greg Biffle has had a great Daytona speed weeks (Getty) 
#16-Greg Biffle: is racing primary chassis RK-794 which is a brand new chassis, the backup chassis is RK-689, which last raced at Daytona in July and finished 18th.

#17-Matt Kenseth: will run primary chassis RK-741 which last run at Texas. This weekend at Daytona , Kenseth will pilot the #17 Best Buy Ford Fusion.

#18-Kyle Busch: Chassis No. 333 is a brand new chassis that will make its race debut in Sunday's Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway.

#20-Joey Logano: and the #20 Home Depot team will take chassis #293 to Daytona for the 500. The car has run previous restrictor-plate races in the past. Chassis #325 will serve at the team's backup for Daytona. It's the same car the team used in the Daytona test back in January.

#22-A.J. Allmendinger and his Todd Gordon-led Penske Racing #22 Team will be racing their "PRS-642" Shell-Pennzoil Dodge Charger in this week's action at Daytona. Thursday's qualifying race will mark its first time in racing competition.

#27-Paul Menard will pilot Chassis No. 338 from the RCR stable in the Daytona 500. This Chevy was a new addition to the RCR fleet for the 2011 season and saw superspeedway competition as Menard's #27 in the Daytona 500, at Talladega in April and at Daytona in July. The car was last seen on track at Talladega in October, entered as the #33 Chevy 100 Years Chevrolet where the team started third and went on to claim RCR's 100th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory. The #27 PEAK/Menards Chevy will carry a special paint scheme during Speedweeks at Daytona. "PEAK blue" and "Menards yellow" will don the Impala as the Sprint Cup Series kicks off the 2012 season.

#29-Kevin Harvick: will utilize Chassis No. 387 from the Richard Childress Racing stable for this weekend's Daytona 500. This is a brand new race car that saw its first on-track activity at DIS during preseason testing in January.

#31-Jeff Burton will race Chassis No. 296 from the RCR stable in the Daytona 500. This chassis, built in 2010 for RCR's #33 entry, competed in two superspeedway events in 2010 including the Talladega Superspeedway race in April (started-14th, finished-seventh) and the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway in July (started-15th, finished-17th). Ring Power and Louisiana Cat will be featured on the deck lid of the #31 Caterpillar Chevy for all Speedweeks 2012 events at Daytona International Speedway.

#33-Elliott Sadler: will pilot Chassis No. 238 from the RCR stable. This former #31 racer received a new body over the season after competing in the 2010 and 2011 Budweiser Shootouts with driver Jeff Burton, posting 12th and eighth-place finishes, respectively. The #33 will be sponsored by General Mills and Kroger at Daytona.

#36-Dave Blaney and the #36 Ollie's Bargain Outlet team will compete with the No. 331 chassis. The chassis is a brand new chassis made by Richard Childress Racing. TBR tested the chassis at Daytona International Speedway in January.

#39-Ryan Newman Chassis No. 39-701 is a brand new racecar that has only been tested in the wind tunnel. The Gatorade Duel will mark its first race of any kind, and the Daytona 500 will mark its first points-paying race.

#42-Juan Pablo Montoya: crew chief Chris 'Sunshine' Heroy and the #42 Target team will be racing chassis #1117 in the Daytona 500. This is the same chassis that Montoya drove to a 15th place finish during the fall race at Talladega Superspeedway last year.

#43-Aric Almirola:: The #43 Richard Petty Motorsports team has prepared chassis No. 722 for the Daytona 500. This is not the same car the team tested at the speedway in January, but it is the same Smithfield Helping Hungry Homes Ford Fusion that the #43 team ran in every restrictor plate event last season.

Kurt Busch is a live dog at 25/1 to win (Getty)
#51-Kurt Busch Chassis No. 553, Busch tested this chassis in January at Daytona International Speedway and turned a lap of 206.058 mph. This is the samecar that Brad Keselowski drove to victory in April 2009 at Talladega. It was his first career victory and remains the only Sprint Cup Series win for Phoenix Racing.

#55-Mark Martin: The #55 Aaron's Dream Machine is racing chassis No. 687 this weekend at Daytona, the first race appearance for the car. Chassis No. 710, also a new chassis will serve as the backup.

#99-Carl Edwards the #99 Fastenal team will be unloading chassis RK-712 at Daytona, the same car which finished second in the Daytona 500 last year.

- compiled by

Daytona 500 Preview: Gordon Could Be in Line for Fourth Win

By Micah Roberts

Kyle Busch is 10-to-1 co-favorite to win Daytona 500 (Getty)
Coming into last week’s Budweiser Shootout there was a tremendous amount of uncertainty in the garage area to how all of NASCAR’s rule changes would affect restrictor-plate racing as we’ve become to know it. The top priority: stopping two-car tandem racing. Mission accomplished!

In the process of taking away radio communication between drivers, using a smaller radiator and creating less rear down force with a smaller spoiler, the cars looked like they were racing on ice. Any car that got tapped in a bump draft on their right rear bumper, a practice commonly used well before the tandem racing came about, was sent sailing out of control. And with tandem racing gone, cars are now drawn into packs. When one car gets sent flying, it takes five to eight cars with it as well.

Perhaps this is what NASCAR wanted, or maybe not. Most NASCAR fans don’t like to an abundance of crashes, opting for strategy to play out while keeping all the good cars on the track. However, massive wrecks make for good TV and can bring in the fringe fan who might have blown away by the excitement of seeing Jeff Gordon’s car roll over eight times in highlights. Maybe that type of excitement captures a new audience, then TV Ratings go up, sponsorship dollars go up, which ultimately results in NASCAR’s upcoming TV contract going up.

Regardless of NASCAR’s motivation, the Daytona 500 has enough clout to carry itself on it’s own just because of the brand. This is NASCAR’s Super Bowl, the highest paying race of the season where everyone has the same amount points coming in and everyone has a chance to win. It was just last season that a rookie, Trevor Bayne, won and paid out odds at 100-to-1 at Las Vegas sports books.

This years race has another rookie, but not just your average kid coming out of now where rookie. No, this rookie has a massive following already and she’s been the story of speed weeks, even more so than all the changes NASCAR implemented. Danica Patrick makes her Sprint Cup debut this week on NASCAR’s biggest stage.

Danica Patrick makes Cup debut this week (Getty)
Patrick is making a bigger splash than when Dale Earnhardt Jr made his full-time Cup debut in the 2000 Daytona 500, and it's hard to remember anyone coming close to each of them in recent history. NASCAR couldn’t have had been handed a better marketing tool for their sport that crosses over into several different markets, age groups and genders. She’s a gorgeous woman who drives fast cars, what more could any regular guy want?

But Patrick isn’t just a pretty faced marketing scheme like we saw with Anna Kournikova in tennis, she’s a good driver who has shown vast improvements in her skills the last two seasons while driving part-time in NASCAR’s Nationwide series. She’s not the gimmick female driver making headlines because she’s the first or second woman to drive in the Daytona 500 -- she’s the third.

No, that‘s not her.

Patrick is as tenacious a driver as there is and as she gets more comfortable, we’ll see her go off on some guys who try to teach her some NASCAR 101. The biggest part of her maturation process comes from the equipment she’ll be driving. Unlike female drivers from the past, Patrick will have a ride and crew comparable to all the top teams. Her boss is last years Sprint Cup Champion Tony Stewart and her crew chief is Greg Zippadelli, who teamed with Stewart at Joe Gibbs racing for two season titles.

Now the question is, where will she finish Sunday? The LVH Super Book has her listed at 50-to-1, down from the opener of 100-to-1, showing just how popular she is already at the bet windows.

We know the magnitude of the race won’t affect her because she finished fourth in her first Indianapolis 500 in 2005 and her tentativeness in the race may work to her advantage. If she stays back out of trouble, she could avoid all the wrecks that are sure to come. In last week’s Bud Shootout, only 10 of the 25 drivers finished on the lead lap. Running three-wide in the lead pack resulted in bad news for most of the drivers.

Because of the equipment and leadership of Zippadelli, she’ll have a chance of staying on the lead lap all race which should result in at least a top-20 finish. What happens in the final 10 laps is anyone’s guess, but I wouldn’t count her out like many are quick to say.

That’s kind of the theme for this entire race: it’s anybody’s race to win. In this type of racing, especially with it being a new learning experience for everyone, you really can’t count anyone out which makes it the toughest race of the year to handicap.

Here’s a look at the top contenders:

Kyle Busch (10/1): His legendray status just went up a couple notches with his win in the Budweiser Shootout last week. After getting booed in pre-race ceremonies, even his biggest detractors had to roar with approval after his win, which shows how much he's truly respected. He saved his car on two separate occasions Saturday night that might have resulted in a lost day for other drivers, but to not only finish the race, but then win it? Are you kidding me....this guy is flat out awesome which makes some of us in Las Vegas very proud.

Now the question is whether he can win the Daytona 500. History says no. Only four drivers have won the Budweiser Shootout and Daytona 500 in the same year with the last coming in 2000 by Dale Jarret who was the only driver to do it twice. He had a great pre-season test at Daytona and showed Saturday that he has no problem racing on ice.

Gordon has looked strong throughout pre-season (Getty)
Jeff Gordon (12/1): He's one of the four drivers to win the Bud Shootout and Daytona 500 back-to-back, but that came in his glory years back in 1997. The thing Gordon has going for him is that this type of pack racing is a blast from the past where Gordon dominated plate races. No one in NASCAR has the type of restrictor-plate experience, or wins, Gordon has and he should move use that past experience to move in and out of the pack better than most in this one.

Kurt Busch (30/1): He may be from an underfunded team, but don't count him out. He was lurking in fourth position late in the Bud Shootout and looked poise to make a winning move before being taken out by the element of the race. He knows the plate races are his only chance to get a win this season and will do all he can to finally get a points-paying race win at Daytona. With the help of Hendrick powered motors and his experience, he'll be right there near the end.

Jamie McMurray (20/1): He looked to have the strongest car Saturday night with an ability to maneuver in and out of the packs better than everyone else. He's a past winner of the Daytona 500 and has had his best performances in plate races. McMurray may be the best value on the board.

Tony Stewart (12/1): He has 16 wins at Daytona, but still hasn't conquered the Daytona 500. The only thing missing from his racing resume is not winning the 500 which makes us remember the lengthy delay Darrell Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt went through before they finally won. Stewart didn't send Kyle Busch's bold late pass into the wall last week like he did two years ago when the young gun tried to take a points paying race from him, but if the same situation arises again, Stewart will do anything he can to win the race with little consideration of possible fines.

Top-5 Finish Position:
1) #24 Jeff Gordon (12/1)
2) #51 Kurt Busch (30/1)
3) #1 Jamie McMurray (20/1)
4) #14 Tony Stewart (12/1)
5) #18 Kyle Busch (10/1)

14) #10 Danica Patrick (50/1)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Daytona 500 Driver Notes & Quotes

Stewart still searching for elusive win No.1 in the 500 (Getty)
ON THE DAYTONA 500: “I wouldn’t trade three championships to win Daytona. It’s not a good feeling to not have that tally in the win column. Realistically, we have two tracks we haven’t won at; and the Daytona 500 we haven’t won.Everything else we have pretty much accomplished in this sport that we want to accomplish. It’s the biggest race of the year; everyone wants to win that race. I won’t say that it is not a complete career if you don’t win it, but there is a lot of priority on winning it. Darrell Waltrip and Dale (Earnhardt) Sr. both had to go a long time before they got it.”

ON THE DAYTONA 500: “When you are standing there in victory lane and you look at that Harley J. Earl trophy, and you see the names on that trophy, you start to see the recognition and the list of people you put yourself on there with. It is something that is pretty special. This is our sport’s biggest race and everybody puts their biggest effort into this race because you have the most time. It has the most hype and it pays the most money. It has the most prestigious trophy and there is nothing about this race that is not the biggest or the best.”

HARVICK CHASSIS CHOICE: The No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet team will utilize Chassis No. 387 from the Richard Childress Racing stable for this weekend’s Daytona 500. This is a brand new race car that saw its first on-track activity at DIS during preseason testing in January.

ON THE DAYTONA 500: “It’s such a special race and I feel very fortunate to have won that race. At that point, I didn’t have a championship, and it’s one of two races that you get a title with when you win this race – this one and the Brickyard. It can make a career and it was a huge thing for me when I won it in 2006.”

ON THE DAYTONA 500: “The National Guard Chevrolet was really quick in the Shootout. I felt like we had great speed. I expect to see the same thing out of the Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet when we get to the qualifying race and throughout the rest of the weekend. I feel like we will be competitive and should be able to be on the offense more than on the defense. That is what you want as a race car driver out there making passes.”

Gordon is a three-time Daytona 500 winner (Getty)
ON THE DAYTONA 500: “It’s very difficult. The Daytona 500 has always been a tough race to win but I can tell you that in the 20 years I’ve been in the sport, the thing is that you used to be able to be a little more predictable. You used to be able to do some one-car passes and get in the top five or six and hold your position using your mirror. The last 10 years, the reason why you’ve had multiple winners is because the rules have changed, the aerodynamics have changed and it’s so much more difficult to do what we did 15 years ago and it still will be. It’s going to be very unpredictable again. Anybody can win this race.”

ON THE DAYTONA 500: “There’s a lot of emphasis on Speedweeks. Everybody brings their A-game. Everybody wants to get off to a good start but, ultimately, you control only a part of it and racing luck controls the other part of it. Daytona is a tough place. It always has been. Honestly, I think our last three years have been bad luck in the way our season has started. Last year, we finished third in the Budweiser Shootout and then we had the strongest car I have ever had at Daytona. We led the most laps and we were definitely one of the front-runners to win with just a few laps left. But we got shuffled back and ended up in a wreck. It was the same thing in 2010 – we got involved in a wreck. The year before, we got involved in multiple wrecks before the 500 ever started and we were on our third race car by the time we took the green flag for the (Daytona) 500. So, all three years, we’ve started further back in points than we wanted and we have had to dig ourselves out of that hole. We’ve been able to make the Chase two of the three years. So, I guess you never know what’s going to happen. That’s why we all enjoy NASCAR Sprint Cup racing and, hopefully, it’s a good start to the season for us this year.”

ON THE DAYTONA 500: “A big reason we’re putting this car in the Daytona 500 is to have an even number of RCR cars in the race in case the tandem racing works out, especially in the closing laps of the race. My fellow Virginia native teammate Jeff Burton will most likely be my partner. We’ve already talked and discussed a plan so we’ll see how it goes.”

SADLER CHASSIS CHOICE: Elliott Sadler will pilot Chassis No. 238 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable. This former No. 31 racer received a new body over the season after competing in the 2010 and 2011 Budweiser Shootouts with driver Jeff Burton, posting 12th and eighth-place finishes, respectively

ON THE DAYTONA 500: “Anybody can win this race (the Daytona 500). Last year with the repave job, it took all the handling away from Daytona. It just went to raw speed. Trevor Bayne showed that. He put himself in position to win and he got the deal done. Danica Patrick, it can happen to her. It can happen to anybody. We just have to get to the end of the race. We have to protect our car and be in position for what I would anticipate being a green-white-checkered (finish). So that’s whether we get the car separated as far as the draft or, if they’re together, we’re going to have that green-white-checkered and it’s going to be ‘push like crazy’ with the guy in front of you no matter what.”

Biffle using brand new car this week (Getty)
ON THE DAYTONA 500: “The Daytona 500 is the biggest race of anyone’s career. It’s a long race, a lot happens, you have to miss the big wreck, and you’ve got to be there at the end. We don’t know how long we’ll be able to push and it’s all about track position in the last few laps. We learned a lot from the Shootout and the fact we were able to qualify on the outside row for the Daytona 500 is a testament to how hard my team has worked in the off season getting ready for this weekend. I can’t wait to see if we can keep that 3M Ford up front."

BIFFLE CHASSIS CHOICE: Primary: RK-794 Brand new chassis; Backup: RK-689. Last ran Daytona in July – finished 18th.

Kahne will be using a back-up in the Daytona 500 (Getty)
ON THE DAYTONA 500: “I think winning the Daytona 500 would change my life because the race is such a big race. NASCAR does so much with it, and there is so much media involved in winning the Daytona 500, that it would definitely be a huge boost in someone’s career, even mine at this point. It would be something great to have, a race that you won that is as big as it gets for us. I would love to do it. I don’t know when, or if, it ever will happen, but I would certainly love to win the Daytona 500.”

ON THE DAYTONA 500: “The Daytona 500 is our biggest race of the year, so when you can win that race, it is one of the wins you always want to collect. Of course you want to win every week, but if you had to pick one race, this would be one of them. It was great to win it back in 2009, and I’d really like to win it again. It’s encouraging that all of the Fords have been really fast so far, and it seems like our stuff has been running good this past week. I thought Saturday night for the Shootout that the cars had good speed. As fast as all the Fords were on Sunday, I was hoping we could maybe sneak in one of those spots. We just didn’t have the speed those guys had for qualifying, but we’ll work on set-ups this week in order to race our Best Buy Ford into a better starting position for Sunday’s Daytona 500."

KENSETH CHASSIS CHOICE: Primary: RK-779 (Last run at Talladega, Oct. 2011)

ON THE DAYTONA 500: “I feel honored for the opportunity to drive the No. 6 in the Daytona 500. The No. 6 has a lot of history for the Roush Fenway Racing organization and getting to drive it in the biggest race of the year is an amazing feeling. We have a fast No. 6 Ford Ecoboost Fusion. All of the Fords looked super strong during qualifying and practice. We just need to be in the right position in the final laps, and I feel confident that we can get our first Sprint Cup win.”

STENHOUSE CHASSIS CHOICE: RK-689– primary – Daytona July race winner; RK–720 – backup – 2011 backup chassis for the No. 16.

ON THE DAYTONA 500: “When you roll into Daytona everyone has high expectations. I firmly believe that we can be competitive this first handful of races (with) just the preparations my guys have put in during the off-season. I’m most excited to unload on Friday for Daytona practice and showcase their hard work. They have been busting their tail and I think we have a really fast race car.”

MENARD CHASSIS CHOICE: Paul Menard will pilot Chassis No. 338 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable in the Daytona 500. This Chevrolet Impala was a new addition to the RCR fleet for the 2011 season and saw superspeedway competition as Menard’s No. 27 in the Daytona 500, at Talladega Superspeedway in April and at Daytona International Speedway in the Coke Zero 400 in July. The car was last seen on track at Talladega in October, entered as the No. 33 Chevy 100 Years Chevrolet where the team started third and went on to claim RCR’s 100th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory.

ON THE DAYTONA 500: “I’m really happy with how we performed in the Bud Shootout and I think that really bodes well for us in the Duels Thursday and in the 500 on Sunday. We learned a lot about how the draft works, how our car reacts and how the new rules package affects the car. After the race Saturday and again on Sunday, Jason and I talked about things and came up with a game plan of some stuff we are going to try on the primary car to make it a little more like the Shootout car. Our qualifying efforts weren’t that great, but that is what we expected. It’s not that big of deal though. It’s all about how you finish in the Duels. Unless you are on the front row, qualifying doesn’t mean a whole lot in Daytona."

LOGANO CHASSIS CHOICE: PRIMARY CAR - The No. 20 Home Depot team will take chassis #293 to Daytona for the 500. The car has run previous restrictor-plate races in the past. BACK-UP CAR - Chassis #325 will serve at the team’s backup for Daytona. It’s the same car the team used in the Daytona test back in January

Edwards using runner-up car from 2011 Daytona 500 (Getty)
ON THE DAYTONA 500: “We were really close to getting the victory at last year’s Daytona 500. I hope we have the same shot to win it on the last lap this year and if we do I won’t hold back. I’ll give 100 percent and if we win it would be amazing. Finishing second last year made me realize that if we do things right, if we prepare correctly the whole week and race smart that we can be in a position to win that race. Starting on the front row with Greg (Biffle) is also pretty exciting so it should be a great race.”

EDWARDS CHASSIS CHOICE: The No. 99 will carry the Fastenal colors Sunday for the Daytona 500. The No. 99 crew will race RK-712 for the weekend, the same car which finished second in the 500 last year.

ON THE DAYTONA 500: “I would not trade a single win I have had for a Daytona 500 win. However, if you got to pick, I would pick the Daytona 500. If that makes any sense; I wouldn’t. If you said to me today, after I had already won a race somewhere that you could trade them, I wouldn’t do it. Every win is special for its own reason. Winning in the Daytona 500 puts you in a category. When you are introduced later in life, you are a Daytona 500 champion. They do not introduce you as, ‘a something 300 champion’; they introduce you as a Daytona 500 champion. They introduce you as a Southern 500 champion; they introduce you as a Sprint Cup champion, so you want to win those marquee races.”

BURTON CHASSIS CHOICE: Jeff Burton will race Chassis No. 296 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable in the Daytona 500. This chassis, built in 2010 for RCR’s No. 33 entry, competed in two superspeedway events in 2010 including the Talladega Superspeedway race in April (started-14th, finished-seventh) and the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway in July (started-15th, finished-17th).

ON THE DAYTONA 500: “We are really focused on what we are doing. The car has changed drastically; set-ups have changed drastically. I would not say it is like a Hendrick thing or a Red Bull thing, it is just overall the win. And I think we need to go this direction and this needs to go that direction and there are a lot of really smart people there right now and they really seem to be making really good decisions. Chris (Heroy, Crew Chief) has been really good; he wants it bad. It is fun because he is very open-minded; you can tell him everything how it is. We seem to get along really well. The guys, everything, I am pretty happy. There are going to be struggles, I am sure there are going to be struggles, but who doesn’t have that? If you do not have that, you are not trying.”

MONTOYA CHASSIS CHOICE: Heroy and the No. 42 Target team will be racing chassis #1117 in the Daytona 500. This is the same chassis that Montoya drove to a 15th place finish during the fall race at Talladega Superspeedway last year.

Keselowski using brand new chassis this week (Getty)
ON THE DAYTONA 500: “From what I saw at the test in January to where we are now in Speed Weeks, I still believe that AJ and I can win the Daytona 500. Our cars are really fast in race trim. Penske Racing has always built really good superspeedway cars, but for various reasons we’ve not been able to win many of these races. I’m still like a kid dreaming of hitting the game-winning shot except I dream of winning the Daytona 500. It would mean so much to me and my family to win our sport’s biggest race."

KESELOWSKI CHASSIS CHOICE: The No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge Charger team will race chassis PRS-643 during Sunday’s 54th running of the Daytona 500. This is a new chassis to the No. 2 fleet.

ON THE DAYTONA 500: “I think our chances are good. We had a strong car here last year up until five to go. I legitimately thought we were going to be one of those cars that came to the stripe and battled for it and we had the incident with five to go. Still we were able to go from 20th to seventh in two laps, which is just how strong my race car was. We had good partners to work with too in the process of that. I think this year we’ve got better cars. I feel better about where our speedway program is right now than I did last year at this point. We tested last year and we weren’t that quick. When we unloaded I didn’t know how good we were going to be and then it turned out our car was really good pushing other cars and it kind of changed the whole event for us. I was fortunate that Kurt (Busch) took the time to teach me the type of drafting we were doing last year and it obviously worked out good for us. But this year I feel even more confident about where our car is. There’s going to be some new stuff to learn. The race is going to have a different feel than last year. It’s going to have a different feel than two years ago, but with that being said I think we have a great shot.”

ON THE DAYTONA 500: “I think that my chances of winning the Daytona 500 are better than one in forty-three. I think anybody can win. I don’t know until we see if it is a large pack, I think I have a better chance of winning if it is a large pack, than the tandem drafting. I don’t know why, but it just seems like for Juan (Montoya) and I, we run really well at the tandem races but something happens to one of us and it eliminates the other guy. It just seems like every race one of us gets caught up in a wreck, or a part will fail. We had an engine failure last year that eliminated us from the race. I think if it is a big pack, for me I feel like that increases my chances.”

McMURRAY CHASSIS CHOICE:  Crew Chief Kevin “Bono” Manion and the No.1 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats team will be bringing a brand new chassis, Chassis #1204, to Daytona International Speedway this weekend.

ON THE DAYTONA 500: “Well, with Daytona, it’s a big track. It’s an easy track to drive. If you have a fast car, you’re going to probably go to the front. I think my inexperience is less of an issue because the car is easy to drive. For me, at a place like Daytona, it reminds me of racing in IndyCar. It reminds me of our mile-and-a-half racing, where we’d always be in a pack. There was no bump drafting in IndyCar, like there is in NASCAR. That took some getting used to a little bit.”

ON WINNING THE DAYTONA 500: “It doesn’t get any bigger than winning the Daytona 500! That’s the dream. That’s the goal. I’ve tried to win it six times now and I’m going to do everything I can again this weekend to put myself in position to get to victory lane. I’ve been so close now a couple times and something always seems to slip away at the very last second. I can tell you one thing – if I do win the Daytona 500 it’ll be the biggest celebration you’ve ever seen