DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – For NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers Jamie McMurray and AJ Allmendinger, the best way to celebrate the holidays is do what they love most – race.
Both drivers have joined hundreds of other karters at the annual Daytona KartWeek By Cometic Gasket events at Daytona International Speedway.
The three-day event that started on Monday showcases the World Karting Association on three different courses – the 3.56-mile road course, the Sprint track located in Turns 3 and 4 and the newly constructed quarter-mile dirt track outside Turns 1 and 2.
“This is not kick back and relax, this is very serious and it’s very high stress,” McMurray said with a grin. “We’re trying to run two classes this year, it’s just hectic today trying to get both karts on the track today and get everything ready but I’ve got some good helpers.”
“I’m bored in the offseason, if we could race every weekend, I’d be happy,” Allmendinger said. “By the time Christmas rolls around, all you want to do is get back to a race track and race something.”
McMurray, similar to fellow NASCAR drivers Tony Stewart, Bobby Labonte and Brian Vickers, got his first taste of Daytona International Speedway as a teenager competing in Daytona KartWeek By Cometic Gasket every holiday.
Now, for the third straight year, McMurray returns to his roots a few days after Christmas to compete on the half-mile Sprint track.
He makes it clear that he not on holiday.
“I hope to win, the goal is to win,” McMurray said.
In 2010, McMurray will have a new Sprint Cup ride– the No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing.
The 2007 Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola champion parted ways with Roush Fenway Racing after the 2009 season and is reuniting with his first-ever Sprint Cup owner Chip Ganassi.
“I’m very excited about being back with Chip and (crew chief) Kevin Manion is a great guy and I’ve got to know him,” McMurray said. “I’m looking forward to working with him and everyone on the No. 1 team. We went testing at New Smyrna (Speedway) a few weeks ago and everything went well and we’re going to Walt Disney World in a couple of weeks and try to get our act together and have a good year.”
During Daytona KartWeek By Cometic Gasket, McMurray is wearing his new sponsor’s colors and sporting his new car number.
“I had to have a new go-kart uniform made and I thought it would be really nice for Bass Pro Shops get to see what it looks like,” McMurray said. “They sent me the stuff that I needed and Impact made me a suit and it matches my kart. You got to have all your stuff together. It would have been really weird to have 26 on my kart.”
Allmendinger, who competes for Richard Petty Motorsports in the Sprint Cup Series, is competing in his first Daytona KartWeek By Cometic Gasket.
For Allmendinger, it’s the beginning of a busy race schedule at DIS. He will make his fifth start in the Rolex 24 At Daytona on Jan. 30-31 with Michael Shank Racing and then tackle the stock car portion of Speedweeks and the 52nd annual Daytona 500.
“It kick starts my two months of living in Daytona,” Allmendinger said of this week’s kart racing. “It’s OK with me as long as I’m racing, I’m happy. I like to race go-karts a lot more if I got the chance. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of tracks there in Charlotte to go out and drive in. When I do get a chance, I go out there and have some fun.
“Ultimately, it still turns into wanting to win and if you don’t win, you’re (ticked) off. It’s a lot of fun and hopefully we will come out here, have a good time and run well.”
Like McMurray, Allmendinger says the competitive juices to win in karts are strong.
“I laugh because I almost get more angry in this than a Cup car,” Allmendinger said. “Because in a Cup car, you have what you have, it’s a 36-week grind and you’ve got to pace yourself.
“In a go-kart, it’s all about pride. We’re spending our own money to come out here. I grew up racing go-karts. I grew up racing against a lot of these guys that are here already. It’s more about pride.”
• The new Daytona dirt track saw its first laps on Monday with the World Karting Association’s Briggs & Stratton Dirt Speedway Series. The quarter-mile lime rock track is located in the West Lot outside Turns 1 and 2 and will also be utilized for the AMA Pro Racing Flat Track motorcycle races in early March.
• Other familiar racing names joining McMurray and Allmendinger at the Sprint track are five-time Daytona 200 By Honda motorcycle champion Scott Russell and Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon.
Tickets for Daytona KartWeek By Cometic Gasket can be purchased at Ticket Booth E located above the Turn 1 tunnel. A three-day pass is available for $30, a two-day pass is $20 and single-day passes at $15.
Children seven and under are $20 for a three-day pass, $15 for a two-day pass and $10 for a single-day pass.