Posted on: January 31, 2012 11:34 am
Edited on: January 31, 2012 11:41 am

2012 Sprint Cup race start times announced

By Pete Pistone

The start times for this season's 36-race Sprint Cup Series season have been released by NASCAR.

Once again the season-opening Daytona 500 will feature a traditional 1 p.m. ET green flag while races in the Chase maintain later afternoon start times at 2 p.m. and 3 p.m.:

Feb. 18 ... Bud Shootout, 8:10 p.m.
Feb. 23.....Gatorade Duel 150's, 2 p.m.
Feb. 26 ... Daytona 500, 1 p.m.
March 4 .. Phoenix, 3 p.m.
March 11 . Las Vegas, 3 p.m.
March 18 . Bristol, 1 p.m.
March 25 . Auto Club Speedway, 3 p.m.
April 1 ..... Martinsville, 1 p.m.
April 8 ..... OFF WEEKEND
April 14 ... Texas, 7:30 p.m.
April 22 ... Kansas, 1 p.m.
April 28 ... Richmond, 7:30 p.m.
May 6 ...... Talladega, 1 p.m.
May 12 .... Darlington, 7 p.m.
May 19 .... All-Star Race, 7:30 p.m.
May 27 .... Coca-Cola 600, 6 p.m.
June 3 ...... Dover, 1 p.m.
June 10 .... Pocono, 1 p.m.
June 17 .... Michigan, 1 p.m
June 24 .... Infineon Raceway, 3 p.m.
June 30 .... Kentucky, 7:30 p.m.
July 7 ....... Daytona, 7:30 p.m.
July 15 ..... New Hampshire, 1 p.m.
July 22 ..... OFF WEEKEND
July 29 ..... Indianapolis, 1 p.m.
Aug. 5 ..... Pocono, 1 p.m.
Aug. 12 ... Watkins Glen, 1 p.m.
Aug. 19 ... Michigan, 1 p.m.
Aug. 25 ... Bristol, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 2 ..... Atlanta, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 8 ..... Richmond, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 16 ... Chicago (CHASE), 2 p.m.
Sept. 23 ... New Hampshire, 2 p.m.
Sept. 30 ... Dover, 2 p.m.
Oct. 7 ...... Talladega, 2 p.m.
Oct. 13 .... Charlotte, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 21 .... Kansas, 2 p.m.
Oct. 28 .... Martinsville, 1:30 p.m.
Nov. 4 ..... Texas, 3 p.m.
Nov. 11 ... Phoenix, 3 p.m.
Nov. 18 ... Homestead, 3 p.m.


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Category: Auto Racing
Posted on: January 30, 2012 4:25 pm
Edited on: January 30, 2012 5:16 pm

Report: Plan in works to lock Danica into 500

By Pete Pistone

Danica Patrick reportedly will have a guaranteed starting spot in next month's Daytona 500 thanks to Stewart-Haas Racing's acquiring points earned by Tommy Baldwin Racing last season.

Sirius/XM NASCAR Radio's "Sirius/XM Speedway" reports SHR has a deal lined up to acquire the points from TBR's Dave Blaney in 2011, which were inside the Top 35 and thus guarantees a starting position in the first five races of this season.

Patrick is scheduled to run approximately 10 Sprint Cup races this season, and TBR driver David Reutimann will run many of the events Patrick does not in the No. 10 entry. While Patrick will drive Stewart Haas cars purchased from Hendrick Motorsports in her 10 races, David Reutimann will steer Baldwin’s cars in his outings. 

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Posted on: January 30, 2012 12:40 pm

NASCAR restructures digital rights package

Posted by Pete Pistone

From News Release

NASCAR and Turner Sports announced today a restructuring and extension of their long-standing digital partnership. The new agreement takes the relationship through 2016, with NASCAR managing business and editorial operations for its digital platforms beginning in 2013 and Turner Sports continuing to oversee advertising sales and sponsorships across NASCAR-branded digital platforms. 

“Turner Sports has been, and will continue to be, a great partner for NASCAR,” said Brian France, chairman and chief executive officer of NASCAR. “Taking a leadership role as it relates to our digital rights is something we as the sanctioning body know is important for the future of our sport, the development of our drivers and most importantly, the experience for both our current fans and future followers.” 

“Turner Broadcasting and NASCAR have helped make each other successful for more than 28 years through a working relationship that, over time, has evolved with the media and technology landscape,” said David Levy, president of sales, distribution and sports, Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. “The latest extension of our partnership is a strategically and fiscally enhanced business model for our company and ensures that NASCAR.COM remains a core asset of Turner's leading digital ad sales portfolio.  Our unrivaled sports assets and scale offer advertisers the means to deliver the most targeted and relevant marketing messages across multiple digital and mobile platforms and properties.” 

Under the new partnership, NASCAR will assume operational control in 2013 of all of its interactive, digital and social media rights including technical operations and infrastructure of all NASCAR digital platforms. Turner will continue to represent sponsorships and advertising for all NASCAR digital platforms, with the unique users from the NASCAR digital properties continuing to roll up to the Turner digital portfolio.  

NASCAR’s comprehensive digital and social media portfolio includes NASCAR.COM, the official online destination of NASCAR which provides racing enthusiasts with an all-inclusive offering of engaging content including fantasy games, video highlights, social elements and in-depth editorial content. NASCAR.COM, and the sport’s other digital and social media platforms, have been managed by Turner Sports since 2001.

“This move is about the media, our sponsors and most importantly, our fans,” said Marc Jenkins, vice president of digital media for NASCAR. “We will build an innovative portfolio of platforms that strives to be as diverse as it is comprehensive. For our fans our digital platform will become the online destination for all things NASCAR. For everyone else, it will be the vehicle we’ll use to turn them into fans.”

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Category: Auto Racing
Posted on: January 30, 2012 12:30 pm
Edited on: January 30, 2012 5:18 pm

Many stories left to tell as season draws near

By Pete Pistone

Image Detail
(Whether or not Busch can get the No. 51 Chevrolet up front on a regular basis remains a big question for 2012)

Call it the calm before the storm but the next two weeks should be on the quiet side as the NASCAR world readies for Daytona’s Speedweeks. 

After the busiest off-season in the sport’s history, most of the major stories of the winter months have been announced and there’s not much else to come until the roar of engines officially kicks off the year at Daytona. 

However there are a few topics that either flew under the radar during last week’s annual Media Tour in Charlotte or at the very least deserve a little more dissection as we count down to NASCAR 2012: 

Kurt Busch 2.0

Busch continues to stress how refreshed he feels with his new ventures working with team owner James Finch and Phoenix Racing in the Sprint Cup Series as well as teaming up with younger brother Kyle on a Nationwide program at Kyle Busch Motorsports. Say what you will about the tempestuous Busch and his past behavior, he understands the importance of this season and what it will mean to his career. 

In Busch’s mind it’s all about going back to the roots of how he started in the sport. 

“Expectations for us are one weekend at a time,” said Busch. “It will be little victories for us that we take in. Whether it’s finishing 15th, but putting the car back in the hauler without a scratch on it. It’s about racing smart and old school racing. It’s like when I raced my dad’s Legend Car. If I wrecked it one weekend, I couldn’t race the next. It’s a balance of understanding how to get the best out of the car and protect it. 

“Things change and happen for a reason. At the end of the day, is it money you put in your pocket or the fun you have doing it?” 

Some still believe Busch won’t last more than a month or two with Phoenix before his frustration boils over if the team isn’t competitive. Others think Busch will contend for wins and maybe even a Chase spot. There’s no middle ground on views with the polarizing drivers which makes this one of the more interesting stories to watch in the coming season.  

Earnhardt Jr. Comfortable with Hendrick

There is an aura of confidence coming from NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver that has not been present for several years. Dale Earnhardt Jr. truly sounds like someone who believes he has a chance to win races and contend for a championship most certainly the by product of his best season in years. 

Earnhardt’s seventh place finish in the Sprint Cup standings but more importantly his flourishing relationship with crew chief Steve Letarte has the driver of the Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 Chevrolet thinking about big things in 2012. 

“I’m relaxed,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I had a good offseason and I didn’t really have a whole lot of things going on. All I’ve got to think about is doing better than I did last year and are we doing what we need to do as a team to do that. I feel closer to winning races.

“I feel like the potential is there for us to make that happen, which is a good feeling…..gives me a lot of confidence that this year could be the year we get it done.” 

Of course getting it done means finally erasing the winless drought that has stretched to more than three years now. But Earnhardt and Letarte are well aware getting that goose egg off the board is a must this season. 

“2011 was a good year,” Letarte said. “I really, really enjoyed it. It was a really good year. I think it’s time for us now to have a great year. I think we need to get the zero out of the win column to have a great year.” 

Earnhardt believes there are several signs that point to the continued upward trend for this team in the coming campaign. 

“You just kind of keep trying,” he said. “Talent evolves in this sport, technology evolves in this sport and teams are good and somebody else comes and takes their spot. Hopefully we’re the next guys that go in that spot. That’s about all you can hope for.” 

“Boys Have at It” Revisited 

NASCAR officials addressed the sometimes controversial policy of letting drivers police themselves on the race track last week during the annual “State of the Sport” session that ended the tour. 

Somewhat surprisingly the sanctioning body appears ready to take a harder look at some of the behavior that in many minds went over the line last season. 

While the Kyle Busch-Ron Hornaday Texas truck incident got the most attention for NASCAR’s determination that the “Boys Have at It” line had been crossed, there were other altercations that have caught officials’ attention.

“The one thing that sticks in people’s mind is hooking a guy in the right rear,” said NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton. “Giving a guy a bumper shot and doing different things, there are differences in that. But the thing that becomes more clear to those of us who are discussing these matters, when you hook a guy in the right rear, that’s something that needs to get looked at.” 

While NASCAR most likely won’t get into the business of calling ticky tack fouls when drivers make incidental contact while racing hard, the flagrant and blatant actions coming as a means of retaliation and payback may have more ramifications in 2012.

Digital and Social Media

NASCAR, teams, drivers, sponsors and even media outlets all expressed the importance of digital and social media during the tour. 

More than ever Twitter, Facebook and online initiatives are shaping the face of the sport. 

The sanctioning body has made several internal hires to beef up its presence in social media and the deal to buy back its digital rights from Turner Broadcasting appears ready to pave the way for both television and radio broadcasts of NASCAR races to be streamed as early as this season.

Throw in the discussion about NASCAR’s new television contract that comes up for renewal in 2014 – which will again mean billions of dollars pumped into the sport – plus ratings, attendance as well as the economic climate impacting teams with sponsors and the business of racing is a extremely hot topic right now.

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Posted on: January 29, 2012 6:46 pm
Edited on: January 29, 2012 8:07 pm

NASCAR stars shine in Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona

By Pete Pistone

(Allmendinger was part of a quartet of drivers to bring Ford back to victory lane at Daytona)

A NASCAR contingent of drivers competing in this year's Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona Grand Am race flexed their muscles in the 50th running of the sports car classic.

A.J. Allmendinger was part of the winning Daytona Prototype team while other NASCAR drivers like Jamie McMurray and 2011 Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year also fared well.

On his ninth attempt, team owner Michael Shank finally captured the sports car classic with his team of Oswaldo Negri, John Pew, Allmendinger and Justin Wilson in the #60 Michael Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian Ford Riley surviving a tight battle for the lead in the final hours to take home the checkered flag.

“Right now I'm just going to take this for what it's worth, not think about anything for a couple days, and just enjoy it,” Allmendinger said. “Right now it's the biggest win I've ever had because we've worked for seven years to get to this point with Mike Shank, and we've been so close so many times.”

Finishing a few seconds behind the #60 Ford was the pole-winning #8 Starworks Motorsport Ford Riley and Ryan Dalziel, Alex Popow, Lucas Luhr, Allan McNish and Enzo Potolicchio. Shank Racing took the final spot on the podium with the #6 Ford Riley with NASCAR's Michael McDowell, Jorge Goncalvez, Gustavo Yacaman and Sunoco Rolex 24 Driver Challenge winner Felipe Nasr.

Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing's Juan Pablo Montoya and McMurray were members of the fourth place finishing team in owner Chip Ganassi's entry.

In the GT class, the #44 Magnus Racing Porsche with John Potter, Lally, Richard Lietz and Rene Rast were victorious.

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Posted on: January 27, 2012 3:11 pm
Edited on: January 27, 2012 3:33 pm

Cup teams carry optimism into the coming season

By Pete Pistone

  (L-R) Jimmie Johnson, Driver Of The #48 Lowe's/Kobalt Chevrolet, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Driver Of The #88 Diet Mountain
(Hendrick is confident his team can return to the championship form it missed out on last season - Getty Images)

This week’s annual NASCAR Media Tour in Charlotte wasn’t chock full of breaking news, unless you’re among those who didn’t know reporters, writers and photographers like to eat. Buffet lines were plentiful even if the news was not.

The top two stories of the week spent in the Queen City were most likely Ford’s unveiling of the 2013 Sprint Cup Fusion and DeLana Harvick’s pregnancy, which should give you an indication of the wide spectrum of topics covered on the tour. 

Other than that most of the trek around Charlotte was reserved for teams to outline their plans for the coming season and size up goals for the coming year. 

Although every Cup every organization didn’t participate on the tour, most of the heavy hitters were represented. 

Of course all predict big things for 2012 and multiple wins and championships. To say enthusiasm ran high at every visit is a giant understatement. 

But there was a distinct vibe during every team’s session and although not one competitive lap has been run, it was interesting to gauge the atmosphere around a few of the sport’s high profile operations:  

Stewart-Haas Racing

There is a definite swagger surrounding the defending Sprint Cup championship team. Tony Stewart’s performance last year has solidified this organization as a definite contender for future titles. Stewart has also given the outfit a more personal touch with the addition of crew chief Steve Addington and long-time pal Greg Zipadelli to the Director of Competition role. Throw Danica Patrick into the mix, who appears much more at home now that she’s a full-time NASCAR driver, along with Ryan Newman and SHR came off as a laid back bunch that is having a good time doing what they’re doing. This will be a fun bunch to watch in 2012.

Joe Gibbs Racing

The feeling was much more buttoned down when the Gibbs bunch gave their view of the coming year. Coach Gibbs did come close to breaking the tour record for the use of the word excited, but there was a distinct sense of pressure in the room. Two new crew chiefs and a trio of drivers that are all in their own way facing a pressure-filled situation heading into the season is the reality for Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano. There are also questions on how the shift to TRD engines will impact the team’s fortunes as it looks to put last season’s motor woes behind. JGR appears to be at a crossroads this year and its 2012 performance could very well shape its overall direction. 

Michael Waltrip Racing

The off-season facelift for this team brought in newcomers Clint Bowyer and Mark Martin to team up with holdover Martin Truex Jr. Team co-owner Waltrip, who is also slated to drive in a few races this year, kept the mood light during the MWR stop by hosting a talk show featuring his stable of drivers as guests. While David Letterman has nothing to worry about, the result was an opportunity to see the personalities of this quartet of drivers who at least early on in the process seem like they click together. The absolute test will obviously come on the racetrack and like its Toyota counterparts at JGR MWR needs to find some speed to compete on a regular basis. Bowyer and Martin will help elevate the team’s driving talent but equipment and engines are still unknown entities that will impact MWR’s hope to move to the next level. 

  Jack Roush, Owner Of Roush Fenway Racing, Speaks
(Jack Roush celebrates his 25th anniversary in NASCAR and seeks win number 300 this season - Getty Images)

Roush Fenway Racing

It was difficult to get a true sense of feeling around RFR for the simple fact that two of its three Sprint Cup drivers weren’t present at the team function. Carl Edwards was out of the country on a pre-planned vacation while Matt Kenseth was a late scratch due to a family emergency. That left Greg Biffle as the lone Cup driver rep in addition to team owner Roush and GM Robbie Reiser as team reps. Roush will be celebrating its 25<sup>th</sup> year in NASCAR this season and has a remarkable history in the sport including 299 career victories. But whether Edwards doesn’t fall victim to the hangover of just missing out on last year’s championship or Kenseth follows up his Chase appearance last season or Biffle rebounds from an off 2011 are a trio of big question marks at this juncture. 

Hendrick Motorsports

It may sound strange to hear a team as successful as Hendrick has been to be considered reenergized but that’s the case with this four-car stable. Missing out on last year’s sixth straight title has Jimmie Johnson proclaiming he’s “as hungry as ever” and team owner Hendrick was glowing with optimism but his entire organization including Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt and newcomer Kasey Kahne. “I’m going to be really disappointed if we don’t have all four cars in the Chase and I’m going to be really disappointed if we don’t win the championship,” Hendrick said. “I can’t remember having four teams this solid, this strong, at the beginning of the year. I think we’re as prepared as we’ve ever been and if we don’t get it (the championship) it's going to be our fault.”  Those words no doubt caught the attention of every other Cup operation. 

Richard Childress Racing

There was more announced at the RCR gathering than the upcoming blessed event in the Harvick household. In addition to Harvick, Jeff Burton and Paul Menard, RCR will field a fourth entry for Elliott Sadler in the Daytona 500 as well as the following four events for Nationwide and truck series regular Brendan Gaughan. There are two crew chief changes among the three Cup drivers and a renewed sense of enthusiasm across the board but particularly with Burton who said bluntly his dismal 2011 “pissed him off.” It will be interesting to see how Harvick’s new personal life developments including divesting his KHI team impacts his season and if Burton finds his way back to being more competitive, as he demonstrated during the tail end of last year.

Penske Racing

There was a sense of relief permeating the air during the Penske media event no doubt the result of the Kurt Busch controversy finally ending. While Busch was not thrown under the bus (in fact Penske said he was personally sending his former driver a letter wishing him well on his new endeavors) it was clear this team is excited to move on with A.J. Allmendinger now teaming up with Brad Keselowski. A contract extension announcement for Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe spoke volumes of how Penske feels about the duo that won three races and made the Chase last season. Keselowski is comfortable with the role of leader he now inherits and Allmendinger’s personality has fit right into the team. 

Hope springs eternal at this time of the year to be sure and every team has reason to believe this will be their season to shine. However the reality of the grueling racing season is about to put those feelings of optimism to the test.

For more NASCAR news, rumors and analysis, follow @PPistone on Twitter, subscribe to the RSS feed

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Posted on: January 26, 2012 4:38 pm
Edited on: January 26, 2012 5:15 pm

NASCAR "State of the Sport:" more of the same

By Pete Pistone

Brian France addresses the media to close out this season's media tour. (AP)

CHARLOTTE - Last year's annual NASCAR "State of the Sport" session that traditionally closes the Sprint Media Tour was loaded with changes and modifications for the 2011 season.

That was a far cry from what took place at this year's presentation.

NASCAR CEO Brian France didn't announce one significant move for the coming campaign and quite frankly that's a good thing.

After a season that saw eighteen different winners, five first time winners, a championship decided by a tiebreaker and some of the best on track competition in several years staying the course was the right thing to do.

"Last year at this event, we announced a number of changes we believed would build interest in story lines and most importantly would make it easier for fans to understand the championship race," France said.  "We're very pleased with how all those changes played out."

The decision to not change anything dramatically for the 2012 season doesn't mean NASCAR isn't continuing to look for ways it can improve the sport. France admitted it's an ongoing process but there aren't one or two things the sanctioning body is focusing on at this point.

"Well, I don't know that there's one big thing that we're pointing towards," he said.  "What I can tell you is all the things that we're doing that we've announced today and have announced in the past.  I can tell you that the industry has never been more united to growing the sport of NASCAR on everyone's behalf.  And that's going to be our job."

"Obviously you've heard a lot about digital and social media as an enormously important place.  We've reformed our communications efforts to reach more fans.  So you're going to see us and the entire industry get more aggressive.  You're going to see youth initiatives.  You're seeing the fruits of diversity start to be right around the corner.  That will really advance us if we can get a breakthrough, which I'm very confident we will, at a national level.

"So there are a lot of things out there that are all going to point to us being able to either grow our audience with a new demographic, whether it be a younger demographic or more diverse.  We're doing the things that we think you have to do to put yourself in a position to grow in the future, even though when I say grow in the future, it is a very, very difficult landscape for any sports property to build on.  It's just very competitive."

There were a few news items sprinkled through the session including a private test to be held at Homestead-Miami Speedway next week for the four current manufacturers to shake down their 2013 Sprint Cup models. Ford released its new Fusion earlier this week, the first in what is expected to be a series of unveilings from Dodge, Chevrolet and Toyota of cars that bear a much closer resemblance to their street version counterparts than the current Cup car.

Although the testing ban will remain in effect banning teams from tuning up at NASCAR-sanctioned tracks, teams will get one day sessions at Kansas Speedway, Pocono Raceway and Michigan International Speedway to prepare on those speedways' new pavement as was done last year at Phoenix.

France did address the earlier news of the week regarding NASCAR no longer fining drivers "secretly" with all such penalties now to be made public. However he made no bones about the sanctioning body's stance to protect its credibility should drivers step over the line in NASCAR's view.

"If you challenge the integrity of the sport, we're going to deal with that," France said.  "You know, we have to deal with that.  And I think what's really interesting is I can't tell you how many owners or drivers come up to me and say thanks for doing that because some of these comments were irresponsible and unhelpful to growing the sport.

"Now, having said that, we give the entire industry an unprecedented amount of -- we're not talking about who's critical of NASCAR.  You can be critical of things you don't think we're doing well, in particular a race call.  You can say I don't think I was speeding; I disagree with that.  We understand that.  It's when you go after the integrity of the sport is where we will step in, and they will be public."

So the NASCAR you saw in 2011 will be pretty much the same this year. France won't rule out any more tweaks as the season rolls on but overall the sport's head is happy with the way things are going after the changes made twelve months ago.

"….You're right, the format, the wild card, the points, simplification of that, the feedback on that from our fans, the media and others, all of that was right on point," France said.  "So we're pretty pleased with where things are in general."

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Posted on: January 26, 2012 3:07 pm
Edited on: January 26, 2012 4:29 pm

Penske expecting big things in 2012

By Pete Pistone

CHARLOTTE - Penske Racing put two cars in the Chase last season and won five Sprint Cup races.

The team expects similar success in the coming year.

The addition of A.J. Allmendinger to team up with Brad Keselowski has team owner Roger Penske bullish on the prspects for the coming year.

"We've already seen Brad and A.J. work very well together at the Daytona test and the communication between the two was just excellent," Penske said at Thursday's Media Tour gathering. "We made great strides last season on our pgoram and we're feeling very confident about continuing that success in 2012."

Keselowski, who inked an extension with Penske, will remain in the Miller Lite No. 2 Dodge for the forseeable future thanks to the company also deciding to continue its sponsorship of the team. Keselowski sees it as a vote of confidence.

"It's great when a company like Miller supports what you do and stays connected with a company like ours," said Keselowski. "The Penske Racing team does such a tremendous job of putting the business element of this sport together that gives us the resources to go out and be competitive. That's a tremendous vote of confidence to know we have that kind of support and we can go out and do our jobs."

As for Allmendinger, he's already at home with Penske after coming over from Richard Petty Motorsports a little over a month ago. He and new crew chief Todd Gordon, who was elevated from Penske's Nationwide Series program to work with Allmendinger, have created a tight relationship in a short period of time."

"A.J. is a very gregarious person and his enthusiasm for what he does is contagious," said Gordon. "We went to Daytona for the test and really got a lot done and we just kind of clicked. It's going to be fun working with him along side Brad and (crew chief) Paul (Wolfe)."

Allmendinger was happy to get a chance to get behind the wheel of the car during the Daytona test and get accustomed to his new surroundings.

"It was good to get out there and knock some of the rust off from over the holidays, especially with my new team," said Allmendinger. "The No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil Dodge definitely had a lot of speed, especially in the two-car draft. I'm expecting a different rules package when we go back next month, but I think Brad and I will have great shots at winning another Daytona 500 for Penske Racing."

Keselowski agrees with his new teammate and in terms of what kind of style racing we'll see at Daytona, whether it's the two car tandem or pack drafting, he really doesn't care.

"Heck I'd go 300 mph if I had to just to win," Keselowski said.
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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com