Posted on: February 23, 2012 12:06 pm
Edited on: February 23, 2012 3:35 pm

Kurt Busch apologizes to Dr. Jerry Punch on air

By Pete Pistone

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Last November's infamous Kurt Busch tirade against ESPN pit reporter Dr. Jerry Punch at the Homestead-Miami Speedway season finale triggered a major controversy that eventually led to the driver parting ways with Penske Racing.

But Busch tried to make amends with the veteran reporter Thursday afternoon when he apologized during the network's live coverage of Nationwide Series practice from Daytona.

“Let's just start off with a hug, Doc, c'mon," Busch said as the two hugged. "I'm so sorry with the way last year ended."

Busch was fined $50,000 by NASCAR for the incident but vowed to put it behind him and work on his behavior and emotions this season.

“I feel horrible,” Busch told Punch on the air. “With this offseason, all the work that I've gone through to put together this team, with Kyle, you know, the No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet on the Cup side. It's a humbling experience to go from top teams, but yet this [Cup owner] James Finch program, and then Kyle Busch Motorsports, we're going to have a lot of fun and we're going to do this with a serious effort.”

Daytona Speedweeks

Posted on: February 23, 2012 9:47 am
Edited on: February 23, 2012 12:34 pm

Race Day: Gatorade Duel at Daytona

By Pete Pistone

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - The lineup for Sunday's Daytona 500 will be set after today's Gatorade Duel at Daytona twin 150-mile qualifying races. Teams will have their final shot to make "The Great American race" with four spots available in the pair of races to transfer into Sunday's Daytona 500.

We'll provide updates throughout the morning leading up to the 2 p.m. ET green flag of race number one.


Jimmie Johnson didn't have a very good Budweiser Shootout as he was one of the four Hendrick Motorsports cars involved in one of the night's multitude of accidents. But Johnson got a taste of the new drafting styles that have played themselves out at Speedweeks and gave his view of things when he visited with SIRIUS/XM NASCAR Radio's "The Morning Drive:"



Carl Edwards says he'll race as hard as he can to win his Gatorade Duel Thursday and is not worried about possibly crashing and losing his primary car - and number starting spot - in Sunday's Daytona 500. However his Roush Fenway Racing teammate Matt Kenseth doesn't but it.

“Well, Carl is lying because he is on the pole if he doesn’t tear his car up. I don’t think he can start on the pole with a backup car," Kenseth said. "He is not being truthful at all. Me on the other hand, nobody wants to wreck first of all, but if you didn’t think this is your best car they wouldn’t have brought this one for the 500. We want to make it through the race but I will do whatever Jimmy (Fennig) wants to do. He told me the other day on the phone that we came here to race and if we wreck it we will unload another one. He wants me to race hard and that is what the fans want us to do and what we are paid to do. We can learn stuff for Sunday by putting ourselves in all kinds of different positions and racing hard. That is our plan, to try to work our way to the front and hopefully have a shot at the end.”


Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing is ready to put last year's disappointing effort behind beginning with a strong run in Thursday's Gatorade Duel. Juan Pablo Montoya's new crew chief Chris Heroy told SIRIUS/XM NASCAR Radio the No. 42 Target Chevrolet team doesn't plan to take a sit back and watch approach to its 150 miler.

"Some guys are gonna hang out in the back but we won't be one of them," said Heroy. "We want to race, we need to see how things are going to play themselves out for Sunday but we also just want to race and win. It's about winning and trophies for this race team and we plan to go out and try to accomplish that today."



Rick Hendrick does not believe NASCAR made the right decision confiscating the C-Posts of Jimmie Johnson's car when the No. 48 failed Daytona 500 inspection last weekend.

The team owner told USA Today if NASCAR does penalize the team any further including the speculation of crew chief Chad Knaus being suspended he will appeal.

"Yes. I think NASCAR does a good job in the garage area, and sometimes you agree and sometime you don't," Hendrick told the newspaper. "I'm gathering all the facts on our end about when the car raced and who worked on it. We have really good documentation in our shop for every hour spent on a car and who does what with the mill and paint work. I've talked to the guys who do that work in the shop. I feel good about our position, but I have to sit down and go through it and present our case and go from there."

Hendrick believes the car was legal and questions why NASCAR found issues this time around and not others.

"It ran every restrictor-plate race we raced last year and went to the R&D Center," he said. "So, it's only been painted since then. It's been seen an awful lot (by NASCAR). So I need to get down to why it was wrong this time and (why) it's OK the other times."


The 2012 Nationwide Series season kicks off Saturday with the DRIVE4COPD 300 a race that Tony Stewart has won for four straight seasons. Stewart will be in Saturday's race in a Richard Childress Racing entry looking for five straight and took part in Thursday's first practice session. While the Sprint Cup Series has seen limited two car drafting during Speedweeks thanks to the new rules imposed by NASCAR, based on Thursday's practice the tandem draft will be the tactic of choice in the Nationwide Series. The session was filled with drivers pairing up and drivers report Saturday's race will more than likely feature much more of the style than Sunday's Daytona 500.

Daytona Speedweeks
Posted on: February 22, 2012 4:28 pm
Edited on: February 22, 2012 5:00 pm

Second Wednesday practice to Aric Almirola

By Pete Pistone


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Ford kept running the table Wednesday afternoon with another of the manufacturer's drivers leading the day's second Daytona 500 practice session.

Richard Petty Motorsports' Aric Almirola topped the practice with a fast lap of 199.712 mph. Ford drivers have led every practice session of Speedweeks in addition to Carl Edwards' Daytona 500 pole-winning run on Sunday.

David Stremme, Regan Smith, Robert Richardson and Greg Biffle rounded out the top five as only 25 cars participated in the final tune-up before Thursday's Gatorade Duel qualifying races.

Kasey Kahne crashed after receiving contact while drafting with Juan Pablo Montoya and will start a back-up car in his Duel.

Daytona Speedweeks
Posted on: February 22, 2012 4:20 pm
Edited on: February 22, 2012 4:24 pm

Tony Stewart now a fan of pack racing

By Pete Pistone

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - There was a time when Tony Stewart despised pack drafting at restrictor plate tracks like Daytona and Talladega.

But that was then and this is now and the reigning Sprint Cup Series champion is now a proponent of the pack being back as has been the case this week at Daytona.

“I think a lot of it is that the bumpers didn’t line-up as good then as they do now," Stewart said of the old style car compared with today's next generation Sprint Cup machine. "So if you do get put in a situation where you do run into somebody it doesn’t just instantly wreck them. And that was kind of the thing that you worried about was just getting run into from behind.

"We’ve had to push ourselves as drivers over the last couple of years to learn how to do this two-car deal (tandem racing) and you take a step back to going back to pack racing and it’s like wow, it’s just so much easier. You’re not having to hold your breath all the time and not having to clinch the steering wheel so tight all the time. I think mainly the difference between now and ’06 is just you know that the bumpers line up and ’06 was before they repaved the track, too. So we’ve got a lot more grip in the race track which gives us a little more security also.” 

After comign up just short of a win in the Shootout thanks to Kyle Busch's last second pass at the finish line, Stewart now sets his sights on getting ready for Sunday's Daytona 500.

He'll take part in Thursday's Gatorade Duel qualifying races and has an idea of what he'd like to accomplish in the warm-up prior to the 500.

“I think kind of similarly to what we did basically at the beginning of the Shootout," said Stewart explaining his approach to the Duel. "I think we’ve got a really good car for Sunday, so you want to get the best finishing position you can in the Shootout without beating up the race car. So, we’re going to try to do everything we can to now put ourselves in bad situations. But when it comes to the end of the race tomorrow, we’ll push really hard to see how far up we can get and try to get a good spot, but I guess the biggest variable in the equation is just don’t hurt the car that we’ve got."

Stewart's starting position in the Daytona 500 will be determined by his Duel finish but even if he doesn't get the performance Thursday he's hoping for, the three-time series champ is confident about his chances in "The Great American Race."

"We’re locked into the race and I think even if we don’t get the starting spot we want, I still think you can come from the back much easier and get to the front," Stewart said. "The biggest thing is to just take care of the race car. But the racer in you at the end of the day still wants to go get the best finish you can.” 

Daytona Speedweeks
Posted on: February 22, 2012 3:48 pm
Edited on: February 22, 2012 3:58 pm

Kasey Kahne crashes in Daytona practice

By Pete Pistone

   Crew Members
(Kahne's Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet suffered damage in the crash and he'll run a back-up in the Duel)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Kasey Kahne's Hendrick Motorsports career has gotten off to a rough start.

Kahne followed his accident-marred Budweiser Shootout performance on Saturday with an accident in Wednesday afternoon's second practice session at Daytona International Speedway.

Kahne lost control of his car after slight contact from Juan Pablo Montoya and spun through the infield grass damaging the front end of his Chevrolet.

“I don’t know if he hit me or not but right as he got there, this car started moving all over," said Kahne. "I know I got hit from behind, but I don’t know if it was necessarily him or how it worked. But when he hit me, I was just gone.”

Kahne however didn't blame Montoya for the incident that wound up wrecking the fifth Hendrick car of the weekend after all four entries were damaged in Saturday's Shootout.

"It’s hard to point fingers at anyone, you know? It’s just that everybody is trying to get speed and go," he said. "But I didn’t spin out by myself. But it’s not like he was trying. He was trying to push you and get you going; he just hit me in the wrong spot at the wrong time.”

Crew chief Kenny Francis made the call to pull out the team's back-up ride for Thursday's Gatorade Duel qualifying race.

Daytona Speedweeks
Posted on: February 22, 2012 2:24 pm
Edited on: February 22, 2012 3:01 pm

Dale Earnhardt Jr. happy to be back in the pack

By Pete Pistone

  Dale Earnhardt Jr., Driver Of The #88 Diet Mountain Dew/National Guard Chevrolet, Stands
(Earnhardt Jr. is hoping to end his winless drought with a Daytona 500 victory Sunday - Getty Images)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Count Dale Earnhardt Jr. among those drivers who have embraced NASCAR's new rule to limit the two car tango and encourage more pack drafting at Daytona.

Junior believes the return to a more traditional style of restrictor plate racing plays more to his strengths running at Daytona.

“Yeah, I would agree with that," Earnhardt said Wednesday at Daytona.  "I feel like I’m definitely more comfortable with this style.  I feel like I’m more in control of what is happening. In the (Budweiser) Shootout I felt like I was able to formulate a plan to get to the front and take the lead.  I would see something I wanted to do and try to go do it and it would happen. That was a good feeling.  I do feel more confident than I did coming down here and tandem drafting.  I never felt really great about that.  It is a completely different style of racing and it’s not what I enjoyed.  I definitely feel better about this."

But Earnhardt also realizes the two car draft is still going to be weapon in a driver's arsenal and expects it to play an important role in Sunday's Daytona 500.

"Still, tandem is going to win the race," he said.  "It won the Shootout and it will probably win every other race down here this week. For the most part, I feel like I can be in a better position with this style of racing coming into those last few laps.  Hopefully, find the right partner right at the right time like Kyle (Busch) did to win the Shootout and win my share of races down here.” 

Earnhardt is also very much aware that his winless drought is entering season number four in 2012. He understands how vital it is for his title chances as well as his team at Hendrick Motorsports that he finds a way to break into the win column this year, preferably sooner rather than later this weekend in Daytona.

“We lost a million dollars by not being in the winner’s circle program last year for the company," Earnhardt said. "They could use that money. There are just so many benefits to getting in the winner’s circle.  Not only will it help our team and validate what me and Steve (Letarte, crew chief) have been trying to do over the last couple of years.  It is the Daytona 500 the biggest race of the season; it would be pretty spectacular for me personally to win it. It would do so many other things that I can’t list right now for the team and the company going forward. It would be awesome.” 

Daytona Speedweeks
Posted on: February 22, 2012 2:15 pm
Edited on: February 22, 2012 2:59 pm

First Wednesday Daytona practice to Matt Kenseth

By Pete Pistone


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Ford continued its stanglehold of the Daytona 500 speed charts Wednesday with Matt Kenseth leading the way in the opening session of the day.

Kenseth turned a lap of 200.853 mph in his Roush Fenway Racing Fusion. His RFR teammate Greg Biffle led both of Saturday's practice sessions while Carl Edwards won the pole for the Daytona 500 on Sunday.

Defending Daytona 500 Trevor Bayne, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Marcos Ambrose followed Kenseth on the charts to give Ford a sweep of the top four times.

Mark Martin in a Toyota rounded out the top five.

A second practice session is slated for Wednesday afternoon, the final tune-up before Thursday's Gaotrade Duels.

Daytona Speedweeks

Posted on: February 22, 2012 2:05 pm
Edited on: February 22, 2012 3:01 pm

Johnson faces early challenge in Daytona

By Pete Pistone

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Jimmie Johnson's season didn't start exactly as he had hoped when his car failed pre-inspection last week for the Daytona 500.

NASCAR confiscated the C-Posts of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet in that inspection process and speculation is a heavy fine and possible suspension for crew chief Chad Knaus awaits after this weekend's Daytona 500.

The five-time champion has faced this situation before when Knaus was suspended for violations during Speedweeks of the 2006 season and overcame that adversity to actually win the Daytona 500 with interim crew chief Darian Grubb as the helm.

But he realizes the turn of events has already presented a challenge in his quest for a sixth championship and second 500 win.

It is not good for any team that goes through it," Johnson said Thursday at Daytona. "It certainly puts a tough wrinkle on things, but at this point I would be purely speculating. I am hopeful and want to be optimistic that wouldn’t be the case, but I don’t have any more news. So, we are going to have to wait until Tuesday to see where things shake out.”

Johnson has spent the off-season talking about how motivated he is to return to the top of the Sprint Cup point standings at season's end and is trying to turn this latest obstacle into another positive by trying to take Knaus to victory lane for the first time at Daytona.

“There is definitely a piece of me that wants to have that Victory Lane photo with him," he said. "He was certainly a huge part of us winning in 2006, but I want him to have the photo to put on his desk that he was there in Victory Lane. It adds a small percentage to it. Nothing can dilute or change my mindset and desire to try to win the 500. That is pinned already. It would be a nice perk though, to do it for that reason.” 

Daytona Speedweeks
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