DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., - Kirk Shelmerdine pulled off the Cinderella story of Speedweeks 2006 when he qualified for the 48th annual Daytona 500 as an independent team.
Shelmerdine, operating on a shoe-string budget with only two full-time employees and a third one hired for Daytona, qualified 42nd and finished 20th in NASCAR's biggest, richest and most prestigious race. Among the notable names who failed to qualify included Kenny Wallace and Evernham Motorsports' Scott Riggs.
The former crew chief that led Dale Earnhardt to four of his seven NASCAR championships says that making the field for the 49th annual Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 18 gets tougher every year.
"It was impossible last year and that's what we do here at Kirk Shelmerdine Racing is the impossible," Shelmerdine said before he began testing on Thursday. "It's gets tougher every week. We're a year later and the same thing that got it done last year won't get it done this time. We have to improve on it. That's why we're down here now.
"Last year, we had a snowball's chance and that's about the same right now too. We're doing everything we can. It would be really great. We're not out of it. The car is much faster than it was in testing a year ago relative to the other cars. We've found a few things since then. We still think it's a pretty good car. We got a shot at it."
The Daytona 500 qualifying format is unique. The top 35 teams in owner's points have guaranteed starting spots in the Daytona 500 while all remaining teams fight over seven starting spots.
Four spots are split among the top two finishing drivers in each Gatorade Duel that are not already guaranteed a starting spot get into the Daytona 500. The next three spots go to the fastest three qualifiers based on the single-car time trials from Bud Pole Qualifying that are not guaranteed a starting spot in the Daytona 500. A final Daytona 500 starting spot is reserved for a past NEXTEL Cup champion.
For this year's Daytona 500, there could be as many as 30 teams without guaranteed starting spots trying to qualify and Shelmerdine will be among them.
Last year, Shelmerdine's ticket to a Daytona 500 starting spot was his qualifying lap of 185.361 mph.
"We got the last spot on speed," said Shelmerdine, who pocketed $272,008 in earnings for his Daytona 500 finish. "That was a good lap for us. It was the best that we had ran the whole time. We were happy with our qualifying effort. I think we were 32nd fastest. I was pretty nervous about 32nd fastest speed making it in. That was right on the margin and I think we're going to have to qualify a little bit better than that this year to pull off the same thing. There's going to be more cars using speed as their method for trying to make it. We're going to have to improve on that."
Fastest of the day:
Sixteen of the 26 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series teams remained for the four-hour makeup testing session on Thursday at Daytona International Speedway.
Ricky Rudd, driving the No. 88 Ford for Robert Yates Racing, was the fastest with a lap of 186.405 mph. Rounding out the top five were Roush Racing's Jamie McMurray (185.410), Richard Childress Racing's Kevin Harvick (185.143), Evernham Motorsports' Scott Riggs (185.067) and two-time Daytona 500 winner Sterling Marlin (184.904).
Beginning on Friday, the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series will test at DIS for three days as they prepare for the season-opening Chevy Silverado HD 250 on Friday, Feb. 16.
NASCAR Jackson Hewitt Preseason Thunder Fan Fest:
The NASCAR Jackson Hewitt Preseason Thunder Fan Fest for the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series will be on Saturday.
The NASCAR Jackson Hewitt Preseason Thunder Fan Fest events start at 5 p.m. but fans will be able to enter the NEXTEL FANZONE beginning at 9 a.m. to watch all of the exciting testing action. Admissions for the NEXTEL Cup Fan Fest dates are $15 while Busch and Craftsman Truck Series admissions are $10.
will be able to get a sneak peek on NASCAR teams as they prepare for Speedweeks 2007 with inquisitive fan forums with many of their favorite drivers as well as enjoying all the state-of-the-art amenities in the popular NEXTEL FANZONE.
Also included in NASCAR Preseason Thunder Fan Fests will be bands, show cars, pit stop demonstrations, displays, a silent auction and passenger hot laps around the 2.5-mile tri-oval in pace cars (additional $20).
Speedweeks 2007 tickets available:
Tickets for Speedweeks 2007 events, including the 49th annual Daytona 500, are available by calling 1-800-PITSHOP or by logging onto www.racetickets.com
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series testing speeds from Thursday at Daytona International Speedway:
1. 88B, Ricky Rudd, Ford, 48.282, 186.405
2. 26A, Jamie McMurray, Ford, 48.541, 185.410
3. 29 , Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 48.611, 185.143
4. 10B, Scott Riggs, Dodge, 48.631, 185.067
5. 14X, Sterling Marlin, Chevrolet, 48.674, 184.904
6. 13B, Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 48.943, 183.887
7. 33B, Scott Wimmer, Chevrolet, 49.023, 183.587
8. 43B, Bobby Labonte, Dodge, 49.044, 183.509
9. 22A, Dave Blaney, Toyota, 49.059, 183.453
10. 60B, Boris Said, Ford, 49.063, 183.438
11. 60A, Boris Said, Ford, 49.084, 183.359
12. 83B, Brian Vickers, Toyota, 49.085, 183.355
13. 22, Dave Blaney, Toyota, 49.127, 183.199
14. 33A, Scott Wimmer, Chevrolet, 49.196, 182.942
15. 9A, Kasey Kahne, Dodge, 49.202, 182.919
16. 44C, Dale Jarrett, Toyota, 49.213, 182.879
17. 04A, Eric McClure, Chevrolet, 49.217, 182.864
18. 10A, Scott Riggs, Dodge, 49.236, 182.793
19. 27, Kirk Shelmerdine, Chevrolet, 49.279, 182.634
20. 37, Bill Elliott, Dodge, 49.337, 182.419
21. 04, Eric McClure, Chevrolet, 49.427, 182.087
22. 9B, Kasey Kahne, Dodge, 49.589, 181.492
23. 43, Bobby Labonte, Dodge, 49.604, 181.437
24. 37B, Bill Elliott, Dodge, 49.778, 180.803
25. 83A, Brian Vickers, Toyota, 49.843, 180.567