Posted on: February 13, 2011 5:00 pm
Edited on: February 13, 2011 6:05 pm

NASCAR changes Daytona rules

Posted By Pete Pistone

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - As expected NASCAR informed Sprint Cup Series teams of changes in the wake of this weekend's racing at Daytona International Speedway.

Although the sanctioning body has not mandated a smaller restrictor plate after speeds reached more than 206 mph in Saturday night's Budweiser Shootout, NASCAR is addressing the two-car drafting phenomenon that dominated Saturday's race.

NASCAR will modify the cooling systems of cars including limiting the size of the front grilles.

Teams will also be mandated to utilize a pressure valve to regulate water temperature.

Finally the number of laps cars are allowed to draft in the two car pack will be limited.

All of these initiatives are designed to break up the tandem drafting that has dominated "Speedweeks 2011" and allow two-cars to run at a much faster pace than single or even multi-car drafts.

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Category: Auto Racing
Posted on: February 13, 2011 3:58 pm
Edited on: February 13, 2011 9:05 pm

Earnhardt Jr. popular Daytona 500 pole winner

Posted By Pete Pistone

Daytona 500 pole day qualifying | Duel 1 lineup | Duel 2 lineup

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - There wasn't much noise from the sparse crowd on hand for Sunday's Daytona 500 qualifying session.

But there was a very audible roar from those who were in the grandstands when Dale Earnhardt Jr. turned the fastest lap of time trials to win the pole for the 53rd running of "The Great American Race."

Earnhardt will start his 400th career Sprint Cup Series race from the number one spot next Sunday when he leads the field to green in the 500. 

He'll be flanked by his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon as the front row duo were the only two drivers to lock themselves into next week's race.

The rest of the 43-cars will be decided by a mixture of qualifying speeds, finishing positions in Thursday's Gatorade Duel qualifying races, the Top 35 owners' points from last season and other provisionals.

And while some drivers who took part in Sunday's session know they will be in the big race to start the season, others will have four more sleepless nights until the checkered flags fly in Thursday's twin 150s.

Bill Elliott, Joe Nemechek , Travis Kvapil and Terry Labonte were the quartet that will be able to celebrate after Sunday's runs, all earning a spot in Sunday's race. However where they take the green flag will be determined by their finish in one of Thursday's twin 150s.

"This takes a lot of pressure off to say the least," said Nemechek, who put together a deal at the last minute to bring his team down to Daytona along with another car for last year's Rookie of the Year Kevin Conway . "We've been working pretty hard nearly day and night to get both cars prepared to be down here and this is very rewarding to know our little group has already earned a spot in the biggest race of the year. Pretty cool."

Only four other spots will be up for grabs on Thursday, which has been watered down in recent years thanks to NASCAR's Top 35 rule of guaranteeing positions in the first five races of a new year based on LAST season's owner points.

With most of the Daytona 500 line-up now set, the mystique of the twin-150s has evaporated and one of the best days in sports is nowhere near the same.

Back in the day the twins were the ultimate "go or go home" race with drivers furiously trying to find a way to finish inside the first fifteen to earn a way into Sunday's big show. There were still provisionals available based on point standings as well as qualifying speeds dictating other starting spots. But racing your way into the 500 WAS the show and why on a Thursday afternoon you'd see more than 100,000 fans jam the grandstands in Daytona.

Don't expect any fix to that situation anytime soon as the Top 35 rule appears set in stone for the near future.

NASCAR's bigger issue is finding a way to slow down the Sprint Cup cars that rocketed around Daytona in excess of 206 mph in Saturday's Budweiser Shootout and figuring out what to make of the two-car drafting phenomenon that was still the talk around the garage on Sunday.

The expectation is that NASCAR will most likely mandate a smaller restrictor plate to bring down speeds - even by five or six miles per hour seems to put the sanctioning body into more of a comfort level. And a tweaking of the cooling systems to force drivers from staying on the rear bumper for an extended period of drafting for fear of overheating is rumored to be the course of action on the tandem racing.

As usual, things change on a nearly daily basis during "Speedweeks" and I'm expecting that to continue as we countdown to next Sunday's 53rd Daytona 500.

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Posted on: February 12, 2011 10:16 pm
Edited on: February 13, 2011 12:24 am

Two-car tandems, speeds highlight 2011 Shootout

(Getty Images)

Posted By Pete Pistone

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - The new-look Daytona International Speedway produced the first exciting race of a new era Saturday night when Kurt Busch scored a thrilling victory in the Budweiser Shootout .

Busch darted to the lead in a wild dash to the checkered flag and was able to nose his Penske Racing Dodge ahead at the finish.

In reality it wasn't as close as it looked since Denny Hamlin was ruled to be below the yellow "out of bounds" line when he made his pass for the top spot and was subsequently black flagged by NASCAR.

But that gave Busch the win over defending Daytona 500 champion Jamie McMurray , who had worked with Busch in one of the two-car tandems that proved to be so successful Saturday night.

Despite the thrilling ending, Saturday night's race will be remembered for two things - the two-car tangos that the field immediately broke into during every green flag run and the high speeds that at times topped 206 mph.

The two-car draft was expected after what a new racing surface did to Talladega a few years ago. Since Daytona's sister restrictor plate track received a brand new asphalt topping, the hot ticket has been for two drivers to hook up nose to tail and speed around the race track. When Daytona's old asphalt gave way to the new surface, the tandem style of racing went on display when the teams tested during December and January.

But not until Saturday night's race was the phenomenon truly depicted with at times seven or eight packs of two running behind one another on the track.

"It's a lot different from the big groups and packs of cars we used to have here," said Dale Earnhardt Jr . who started from the pole and ran near the front of the field until getting swept up in a six car accident. "It was a lot of fun and I liked it. But it does take some getting used to."

Whether fans like this new plate racing style over the sometimes insane four-wide packs of cars running side-by-side in the draft remains to be seen. Thursday's Gatorade Duel twin 150-mile qualifying races will most likely see the same kind of style seen Saturday night with both events being relatively short dashes versus next week's 500-mile grind.

The high speeds may not have another chance to see the light of day. NASCAR officials will most certainly continue to review the issue and the possibility of a smaller restrictor plate put into play by Thursday or next Sunday is very real. While the drivers seem comfortable racing at 205 or 206 mph it's the possibility of what might happen when a car gets sideways or backwards at that rate of speed that has some concerned.

"Keeping these cars on the ground has to be NASCAR's number one priority," said Ryan Newman .

Qualifying for the Daytona 500 is now set for Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. ET.

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Posted on: February 12, 2011 4:09 pm
Edited on: February 12, 2011 11:23 pm

Martin leads way in final practice

Posted By Pete Pistone

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Mark Martin held serve in Saturday's second practice session pacing the field in preparation for Sunday's qualifying session for the 53rd running of the Daytona 500.

Martin turned a lap of 185.311 mph in his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet to top the speed charts as he did in the day's opening session.

His Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson had the second fastest lap at 184.991 mph.

Rookie Trevor Bayne who will start the 500 in the Wood Brothers Racing Ford was third with Richard Childress Racing teammates Jeff Burton and Paul Menard rounding out the top five.

Jeff Gordon, Clint Bowyer, Greg Biffle, Dale Earnhardt Jr . and Matt Kenseth completed the first ten.

Chevrolet put seven cars in the top ten and will be the manufacturer to beat in Sunday's qualifying session which is slated for 1:05 p.m. ET.

There are 49 cars set to take part in the time trial session which will lock in the front row starters for next Sunday's Daytona 500. The remainder of the starting field will come through a combination of finishing positions in Thursday's Gatorade Duel qualifying races, speeds, provisionals and the Top 35 in last year's owner point standings.

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Category: Auto Racing
Posted on: February 12, 2011 3:32 pm
Edited on: February 12, 2011 11:22 pm

Annett speaks to media

Posted By Pete Pistone

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Michael Annett talked publicly for the first time on Saturday after his arrest earlier this week for driving while intoxicated.

The Nationwide Series driver was arrested early Monday morning and charged with a DUI after registering 0.32 - four times the legal limit in the state of North Carolina - when police tested him in the wake of a minor traffic accident.

NASCAR put Annett on probation for the rest of the season in response to the incident.

"Alcohol is a poison," Annett said to the media gathering Saturday afternoon. 

Annett did not blame anyone but himself for the incident and his decision to drive home from a party he was attending while intoxicated.

"I got behind the wheel," he said. "I had the keys in my hand. I turned the truck on. It was my choice. It was a horrible one."

Annett is undergoing counseling and faces a court date of March 18th.

"This is definitely the worst week of my life. This can go two ways. It can be the end of me or the start of a new life and a better person and a better driver," Annett said.

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Category: Auto Racing
Posted on: February 12, 2011 2:25 pm
Edited on: February 12, 2011 11:21 pm

Camaro to Pace Daytona 500

Posted By Pete Pistone

From News Release

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Daytona International Speedway and Chevrolet officials announced today that the Chevrolet Camaro SS will serve as the official pace car for the 53<sup>rd</sup>  running of the Daytona 500 – the second time in the past three years that the iconic automobile has paced the field for the “The Great American Race.”

In addition, behind the wheel of the Chevrolet Camaro as the Honorary Pace Car driver will be Country Music Association Entertainer of the Year Brad Paisley, who is also performing the Daytona 500 Pre-Race show.

The Chevrolet Camaro has previously paced the field for the Daytona 500 – NASCAR’s signature event – three times beginning back in 1968 and 1969 and most recently in 2009.

“Chevrolet has been a great partner and supporter of Daytona International Speedway and the Daytona 500 for close to 40 years,” Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood III said. “The Chevrolet Camaro is one of the most recognizable cars in the world and is a perfect fit to lead the stars of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series to the green flag in the Daytona 500.”

“Chevrolet is proud to serve as the “Official Pace Car” of the 53<sup>rd</sup>  running of the Daytona 500” said Jeff Chew , Chevy Racing Marketing Manager. “The 400 hp 2011 Camaro SS was selected to pace the field to the green flag to showcase Camaro’s performance and styling on one of the most famous race tracks in the world.”  

The 2011 Daytona 500 Camaro SS pace cars are adorned in a vibrant “Red Hot” color accented with “Platinum Ice” stripes. GM Accessory 21” wheels and tires are installed along with body colored ground effects, heritage grill, and tall rear spoiler. The cars also have fully integrated safety strobe systems with custom light bars and amber taillights.

In the Daytona 500 Pre-Race Show, Paisley, who has 18 No. 1 hits, three Grammy awards, 14 CMA Awards and 13 Academy of Country Music (ACM) Awards, will perform three songs prior to the start of the Daytona 500.

Paisley’s innovative and entertaining H20 World Tour  played to over 879,000 fans in 2010 and placed #1 country tour for attendance by Pollstar.  Paisley’s next album, This Is Country Music  will be in-stores this spring.

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Category: Auto Racing
Posted on: February 12, 2011 1:45 pm
Edited on: February 12, 2011 11:20 pm

McMurray slaps wall in practice

Posted By Pete Pistone

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Defending Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray slammed into the outside wall after cutting a tire in Saturday's opening practice session for the Sprint Cup Series at Daytona International Speedway.

McMurray's Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing team pulled out a back-up Chevrolet after the No. 1 car's encounter with the wall and plan to practice that vehicle in Saturday's second session, which is the final prelude to Sunday's Daytona 500 qualifying session.

Chevrolet had eight of the top ten speeds in Saturday's first session with Mark Martin (184.877 mph) and Jeff Gordon (184.513 mph) the top two.
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Posted on: February 12, 2011 11:27 am

NASCAR reacts to high speeds

Posted By Pete Pistone

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Speeds in excess of 203 mph apparently have not convinced NASCAR officials to go with a smaller restrictor plate for the remainder of "Speedweeks."

Rather than a smaller plate that would choke more horsepower and bring down speeds, NASCAR has tinkered with air cooling hoses in an effort to break up the two car drafts that were the cause of the lightning-fast laps turned in during Friday night's Bud Shootout practice sessions.

By removing some of the hoses, NASCAR believes it will stop a car from drafting behind another for any extended time for fear of overheating as the airflow for the second car is reduced significantly.

"There's a couple of fresh air hoses that a lot of the teams added that are okay, it's not something that they did outside of us knowing about it, and we're just taking them back off," said Sprint Cup Series director John Darby. "If the cars can heat up a little quicker to where we can limit the amount of laps that they push each other for all the reasons we'll probably have a little better race out of the deal."

There are two Sprint Cup practice sessions scheduled for Saturday.



Category: Auto Racing
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