Jan 24 | Johnson, McMurray look to join Foyt, Andretti as only drivers to win Rolex 24 and Daytona 500

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A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti are the only drivers to win both the Rolex 24 At Daytona and the Daytona 500. This weekend, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers Jimmie Johnson and Jamie McMurray are looking to join that elite twosome.

Jimmie Johnson
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The names are magical.

The accomplishment is legendary.

A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti are the only drivers to win both the Rolex 24 At Daytona AND the Daytona 500.

This weekend, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers Jimmie Johnson and Jamie McMurray are looking to join that elite twosome.

Foyt won the Rolex 24 for the first time in 1983, 11 years after winning the Daytona 500 driving for the Wood Brothers in 1972. Foyt also won the Rolex 24 in 1985, in addition to finishing second in 1984 and 1986.

 "I don't want anyone else in the club besides Mario - let it just be the open-wheel guys, no NASCAR guys," Foyt said with a smile. "No ...  really ... I always felt that records are meant to be broken. I think it's great that they're racing more than stock cars. I always tried to do that in my Indy car career.

"I'd like to see Jimmie drive Indy cars. If he tries it, he might not want to go back to stock cars. But I have to say, I did have a lot of fun driving them too."

Andretti won at Daytona in 1972, when the race was shortened to six hours for a one-year trial due to changes in international sports car regulations. He drove a Holman-Moody Ford to victory in the 1967 Daytona 500, his sole NASCAR win.

"It's great to see drivers interested in different disciplines of racing, and I admire them," Andretti said. "That's part of my career that's given me tremendous satisfaction. I'm with those guys 100 percent. It's wonderful that they're doing it, and I respect them tremendously because of that."

Both Johnson and McMurray have come close to winning the Rolex 24.

Johnson won the Daytona 500 in 2006 to open the first of five consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup championship seasons. He finished second in the Rolex 24 in both 2005 and 2008. This will be his fourth consecutive year driving for GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing, sharing the No. 99 Chevrolet/Riley with two-time Daytona Prototype champs Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty.

"That would be something special," Johnson said when told about the opportunity to be linked with Andretti and Foyt. "I love the Rolex Series. I've developed some great friendships here and I truly respect what Bob Stallings has built as a race team and everybody that's
involved. I certainly hope to make it three drivers who have won the 500 and have gone on to win the Rolex 24 - we have come awfully close."

McMurray, the defending champion of the Daytona 500, finished fourth in the 2005 Rolex 24. Last year, his Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates entry broke while leading shortly after midnight. He returns in the No. 2 Target/TELMEX BMW/Riley, co-driving with NASCAR Sprint Cup teammate Juan Pablo Montoya and IndyCar stars Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon.

"I'm with a really good team and I'm excited about the race," McMurray said.  "But I don't think about that stuff (winning the Daytona 500 and Rolex 24) until my career is over."

Practice and qualifying for the Rolex 24 begins on Thursday. The race takes the green flag at 3:30 p.m. Saturday (ET). The race will have 14 hours of live coverage on SPEED beginning Saturday at 3 p.m. (ET), with portions of the race also broadcast live on MRN.

Jan 22 | NASCAR Preseason Thunder wraps up

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After two days of testing at Daytona International Speedway, drivers focused on the two-car draft during the final day NASCAR Preseason Thunder.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — After two days of testing at a chilly and overcast Daytona International Speedway, drivers were ready to stick by each other’s sides on Saturday.

Literally.

Two-car drafting was the theme of the day as the sun finally made an appearance. Teammates took to the track to test the pull, push and grip of the newly repaved 2.5-mile speedway during the third and final day of NASCAR Preseason Thunder at Daytona – a three-day series test in preparation for the 53rd Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 20.

During the morning session, Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Joey Logano (No. 20 Home Depot Toyota) and Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Toyota) swapped spots tailing each other and set the day’s top speeds with just over 197 mph.

“I feel like we’ve got a decent speed in the Home Depot Toyota,” said Logano, who had the morning’s fastest lap (197.516 mph, 45.566 seconds). “Usually in single-car runs we were probably a 15th-place car, but I feel like we’re a top-five car in single-car runs right now. That’s exciting to know.”

Numerous teams opted for two-car drafting, including Tony Stewart (No. 14 Office Depot Chevrolet) and Ryan Newman (No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet), Earnardt-Ganassi Racing’s Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 42 Target Chevrolet) and Jamie McMurray (No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet) and Penske Racing’s Kurt Busch (No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge) and Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge).

NASCAR Managing Director of Competition John Darby wasn’t surprised that teams avoided multi-car drafting, instead relying on two- and three-car combinations.

“Obviously the guys are working on the tandem deal knowing that’s faster than the draft,” Darby said. “Everybody’s working on a little different agenda, and it’s all trying to find that edge to win the Daytona 500.”

Darby says it wasn’t about what teams and NASCAR learned during this week’s test, rather more about what fans can expect on Feb. 20.

 “I think this test has done more in building confidence,” Darby said. “There’s always some anxiety around what happens when a track repaves.”

Last year’s repave – only the second at the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway and the first since 1978 – began after the NASCAR Sprint Cup event on July 3 and ended in early December. A Goodyear tire test on Dec. 15-16 was the first time teams drove on the repaved surface.

This past week was the second time.

“All it has done is amplify the beautiful job they have done on resurfacing Daytona International Speedway,” Darby said. “The grip is at an all-time high, the drivers are comfortable – that’s why you see a lot of the stuff on the race track, because they are comfortable in the cars. Sometimes there’s a fine line between comfortable and cocky but that’s what makes the race exciting. That’s one of the things that’ll make this Daytona 500, I think, different than any one I’ve been able to watch.”

One driver already comfortable in his new No. 22 Penske Dodge was 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kurt Busch.

“It’s gonna be one heck of a Daytona,” Busch said in the garage during the afternoon test.

Tickets for the 53rd annual Daytona 500 and Speedweeks 2011 events are available online at http://www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP.

Jan 21 | NASCAR Preseason Thunder continues with Day 2

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After morning showers, NASCAR Preseason Thunder Day 2 got underway Friday afternoon.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Jet dryers, not stock cars, steamed across Daytona International Speedway all Friday morning, beating back moisture from overnight storms.

But NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams roared to life early in the afternoon, hitting the track for the second day of Preseason Thunder at Daytona – a three-day series test in preparation for the 53rd running of the Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 20.

While the action heated up late on-track, plenty preceded it. Several drivers visited Daytona’s infield media center during the morning delay, followed by NASCAR President Mike Helton, Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton and Managing Director of Competition John Darby, who participated in an update session during Friday’s scheduled lunch break.

Among the topics: Helton confirmed that drivers now have the opportunity to pick the national series where they want to contend for a championship.

Expect drivers to continue to compete in all three national series, he said, but declaring a championship stake in one series means broadening opportunities for future stars.

“The hope for this is…there is a level of focus and a level of exposure offered to younger drivers who have personalities that deserve to get attention and be developed along the way [in the NASCAR Nationwide and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series],” Helton said.
Possible changes to the NASCAR points system also were a discussion topic. Helton said it’s an ongoing process, but an enjoyable one.

“The main goal is to get one that's just easier to understand and simpler, but you have to do that with credibility around the championship,” he said. “And we're getting a lot of great input from the drivers about the tweaks that would go along with something like that, so it's actually been fun to work on.” 

Even more fun, Helton added, is participating in all the discussions.

“This is the 53rd-annual Daytona 500,” he said, “but after 30-some years in this business, I still get excited to pull inside this tunnel, and walking through the garage area and talking to the guys in the meetings, the owners and the drivers in particular and, quite frankly, a group of drivers that represent NASCAR's future. There's still a high level of energy and enthusiasm to get the season started but more importantly to do it in Daytona in the Speedweeks environment.”

Others are just as eager. Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet), who finished third in the 2010 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, said he’s ready to climb two more rungs in the final standings.

“The biggest thing is it's all about winning a championship at this point, nothing else,” he said. “Nothing else is good enough at this particular point in time. So it's great to have a good year, and we had a good year last year, but in the end it's all about taking home the one trophy that we don't have, and that's the championship trophy.”

Harvick knows how to win championships – he has two NASCAR Nationwide Series titles to his credit, as well as the 2007 Daytona 500 win. He’d gladly take another of the latter.

“It's just our biggest race and it leads off the year and the anticipation coming into the Daytona 500 every year is bigger than any other race times ten,” Harvick said. “So from a driver's standpoint, there's nothing like rolling to the green flag at the Daytona 500 because you have a whole winter of anticipation, you have your shiniest, best new car, everybody has got everything brand new and it's the best that anybody will be prepared for the whole season.”

At the other end of the spectrum is Steve Wallace, son of 1989 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Rusty Wallace. The younger Wallace is entering his fifth season as a full-time NASCAR Nationwide Series competitor for Rusty Wallace Racing, and thanks to a points agreement between his father and Penske Racing owner Roger Penske, Steve Wallace will become the second generation of his family to participate in the Daytona 500.

He’ll make his series debut in this year’s traditional season-opener.

“This is the Daytona 500,” Steve Wallace said. “I'm a rookie at this. This is my first race. I'm not coming down here to win the race. I'm coming down here to have a strong finish, run good, get some respect, don't crash the car. Finish the race. If we can do that, I feel like we'll have a shot at it.”

Tickets for the 53rd annual Daytona 500 and other Speedweeks 2011 events are available online at http://www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP.


 

Jan 20 | Drivers Laud New Asphalt Surface, Predict Exciting 53rd Daytona 500

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Drivers enjoying the new racing surface during Day 1 of NASCAR Preseason Thunder.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Blue skies, warm air. Cars on the race track.

That’s how the 2011 edition of NASCAR Preseason Thunder at Daytona kicked off Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, the first of a three-day NASCAR Sprint Cup Series test.

At stake are preparations for the 53rd Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 20 and important data-gathering on the track’s brand-new asphalt surface.
And – oh yeah – anticipation.

“It's going to be wild,” said Martin Truex Jr. (No. 56 NAPA Toyota) of the Daytona 500, the series’ traditional season opener. “It's going to be fun. I love racing here. Here and Talladega (Superspeedway) are some of the (most fun) races for us as drivers until you get in a wreck, and then you're just pissed off, and you're pissed off until you come back and hoping to finish the next one.”

History wasn’t lost on drivers who turned the year’s first official laps.

Last year’s repave – only the second at 2.5-mile Daytona and the first since 1978 – began after the NASCAR Sprint Cup event on July 3 and ended in early December. During a Dec. 15-16 Goodyear tire test open to all series teams, those attending validated Goodyear’s compound selection for the Daytona 500.

“I thought the neatest part was they sent us a piece of the old racetrack,” said Carl Edwards (No. 99 Aflac Ford), who, like Truex, visited Daytona’s infield media center during Thursday’s lunch break. “That's pretty cool to get in the mail. To think of everything that happened on that old pavement and to have a piece of that at home was really special.

“It's definitely a new day, and the paving job is as beautiful and perfect as it could be.”

Aside from first laps on new asphalt, Thursday also marked the first day of at-track work for new crews, new team members and new personnel combinations. Also, the getting-to-know-you process with several technical changes: NASCAR Sprint Cup cars are sporting a reconfigure splitter and will use Sunoco Green E15 fuel in 2011.

“The sport is so competitive that it's not just about seeing how fast your car is now,” said Tony Stewart (No. 14 Office Depot Chevrolet). “It's trying to figure out the strategies and techniques we have to use as drivers with the bump drafting and playing the chess game to figure out where you've got to be at the right time.”

Even after only a few hours, some of those learning processes were underway.

“You want to try to improve on your fuel mileage because I think you're going to see a lot of fuel-only-type pit stops,” said Kurt Busch (No. 2 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge). “So you just have to try to bank as many thoughts as you can in your mind about how you're going to react and apply those.”

Five-time and reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet) remains the man the rest of the field pursues.

On Thursday, he said he intends to continue in that role.

“I think that last year we learned a lot more about ourselves and kind of validated our core beliefs and stuck to what the 48 team is known for,” Johnson said. ”And what we believe in and were still able to overcome a lot of adversity and win a championship. I feel like we'll be stronger and better, but we just don't know until we get into the meat of the season and the first goal is obviously to make the Chase and from there figure out how to win again.”

Johnson’s closest pursuer from 2010 – series runner-up Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Toyota) – has his championship checklist for 2011. Better qualifying results is at or near the top.

“I can't start dead last every single week like we did last season,” Hamlin said. “Those are things that are going to help us finish better and obviously give us better chances to win more races.”

He also cited his first five series seasons as an encouraging precedent.

“Obviously there's only one more spot to go,” Hamlin added, “but I feel like we've done a really, really good job over the last three or four years learning from the mistakes that we've made and not repeating them over again.”

Thursday’s final media center visitor was 2004 Daytona 500 champion Dale Earnhardt Jr., (No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet), who begins 2011 hoping to regain Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup eligibility with new crew chief Steve Letarte.

“I was joking with somebody in the truck earlier,” Earnhardt said. “I was sitting in a seat up in the lounge, and they asked me if that was going to be my seat, and I told them I'm not exactly sure where my seat is yet, it's sort of floating around. That's the way I feel about my team. Everybody is still learning; the guys are still learning who does what, what their personalities are.

“It's been fun getting to know Steve more. He's got a great personality, a lot of energy, and hopefully I can depend on that energy in certain times throughout certain races.”
 
NASCAR Preseason Thunder will continue on Friday and Saturday. For tickets, call 1-800-PITSHOP or visit www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com

 

Jan 19 | 2011 NASCAR Preseason Thunder Team Roster

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NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Team Roster for 2011 Preseason Thunder at Daytona International Speedway.

 Car Number

 Driver

 Team

00  David Reutimann  MWR
1  Jammie McMurray  EGR
2  Brad Keselowski  Penske
4  Kasey Kahne  Red Bull
5  Mark Martin  Hendrick
6  David Ragan  Roush Fenway
9  Marcos Ambrose  RPM
11  Denny Hamlin  JGR
13  Casey Mears  Germain
14  Tony Stewart  Stewart-Haas
16  Greg Biffle  Roush Fenway
17  Matt Kenseth  Roush Fenway
18  Kyle Busch  JGR
20  Joey Logano  JGR
21  Trevor Bayne  Wood Brothers
22  Kurt Busch  Penske
24  Jeff Gordon  Hendrick
27  Paul Menard  RCR
29  Kevin Harvick  RCR
31  Jeff Burton  RCR
33  Clint Bowyer  RCR
36  Dave Blaney  Tommy Baldwin Racing
39  Ryan Newman  Stewart-Haas
42  Juan Pablo Montoya  EGR
43  A.J. Allmendinger  RPM
46  J.J. Yeley  Whitney Racing
48  Jimmie Johnson  Hendrick
56  Martin Truex Jr. MWR
60  Todd Bodine  Germain
64  Larry Gunselmen  Max Q Motorsports
66  Michael McDowell  HP Racing
77  Regan Smith  Furniture Row
78  Steve Wallace  RWR
83  Brian Vickers  Red Bull
88  Dale Earnhardt Jr.  Hendricks
99  Carl Edwards  Roush Fenway

Jan 18 | AMA Pro Racing wraps up Dunlop tire test on new racing surface

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AMA Pro Racing teams took to the new asphalt of Daytona for the annual Dunlop tire test in advance of Daytona 200 Week.

Josh Hayes

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- After waiting out a rain delay on Monday and losing most of Tuesday to damp conditions and early morning fog, the assembled AMA Pro Road Racing teams finally got onto the newly-paved Daytona International Speedway for the Dunlop Tire Test, the first official open test session in advance of the upcoming 2011 season.
 
Topping the timesheets in the AMA Pro National Guard SuperBike class was reigning champion Josh Hayes on his Yamaha, posting a time of 1:38.795/127.901 mph.  Right behind Hayes was Tommy Hayden on his Suzuki with a time of 1:39.074/127.542 mph.  Hayden's teammate Blake Young was third, and debuting Kawasaki's new liter-bike was Eric Bostrom, who finished fourth.  Another rider showing well on a new combination was Larry Pegram, who posted the fifth-fastest time with his new BMW.  
 
Debuting entirely new team-and-machinery combinations were Ben Bostrom and Roger Hayden, both showing well for Jordan Motorsports' 2011 effort.  2010 AMA Pro Daytona SportBike Champion Martin Cardenas made his debut in the SuperBike class and ended up eighth, just ahead of his Team M4 Suzuki teammate Chris Ulrich, who had to depart the track early to return home for the impending birth of his second child.  Rounding out the top ten was the Buell-mounted Geoff May.
 
"The track is just so unbelievably smooth; when you compare some of the data from previous years, it is so much smoother," Hayes commented on his day.  "It is different, but it doesn't take long to get back into the groove.  I'm looking forward to the race."
 
In preparation for the Daytona 200, the Daytona SportBike riders took to the track for one session, which was interrupted by a brief sprinkling of raindrops. Jason DiSalvo initially set the fastest time, returning to the series aboard the Team Latus Ducati, but ultimately settled for third. Jake Zemke, new to the Project 1 Atlanta team this year, finished second on his Yamaha with a time of 1:51.987/93.225 mph. Last year's Daytona 200 pole-position winner and 2009 Daytona SportBike Champion Danny Eslick also appeared at the top of the timesheets at numerous points during the disjointed session, but it was P. J. Jacobsen who topped the times after the short break with a best lap of 1:51.822/93.362 mph on his new Ducati. Suzuki-mounted Cory West rounded out the top five, while Santiago Villa, who ran well early in the session, ended up sixth overall.
 
Next up was AMA Pro SuperSport Young Gun East Division champion J.D. Beach, showing well on the new middleweight Kawasaki by finishing sixth in his first appearance in the Daytona SportBike class.  Dane Westby also made his first appearance with a new team, the Team M4 Suzuki rider finishing up eighth.  Ninth was Paul Allison on his Yamaha, and Taylor Knapp finished tenth on a Suzuki.
 
"We were pretty happy with how everything went today," Jacobsen reflected on his day. "I think the track feels smooth as glass, and of course we're really happy being on top. [Eraldo] Ferracci is great; he's been around for a really long time and really, really knows his stuff, so I'm happy to be riding for him and Barry [Gilsenan]. I also really like the Ducati 848 EVO. It has a lot of torque and it's a good machine, nice and fast, smooth.  I'm real happy with the bike."

Due to the abbreviated schedule as a result of the weather delays, the SuperSport riders were included in the Daytona SportBike session. Taking the top spot was Eric Stump, enjoying his first ride on the new pavement at the historic circuit in Daytona Beach and posting a fast lap of 1:55.846/90.119 mph.  Seven SuperSport riders took part in the session.
 
"I was really liking the new surface, it's way better than last year," Stump said.  "Motor-wise, we don't have our good Daytona motor yet, so it's only going to get better come race time."

Making a debut on the Daytona track was the AMA Pro Vance & Hines XR1200 Series, with former Harley-Davidson 883 series rider Michael Barnes celebrating his first ride on the new XR1200 by posting a time of 2:09.568/80.576 mph to take the top spot.  Nine XR1200s participated in the shortened session that saw champions from a variety of AMA Pro Racing disciplines make their mark. Recently-retired AMA Pro Flat Track Grand National Champion Joe Kopp topped the timesheets for part of the outing, two-time AMA Pro Supermoto Champion Chris Fillmore ended up second overall and 2009 SuperSport Young Gun West Division champion Ricky Parker made his return to AMA Pro Racing to finish up third fastest. 
 
"I'm one of the few guys out there who actually raced the old 883 series back in the day," said Barnes. "I just remember great battles, a lot of parity and eight-wide across the tri-oval. I think we're going to see the same kind of exciting race here in March."

Approximately 50 riders participated in the only full pre-season test held prior to AMA Pro Road Racing's 2011 season opener, held at Daytona International Speedway.  The riders were unanimous in their praise of the newly-paved track, and after having to wait out the inclement weather, everyone was delighted to have a chance to sample the new track surface.

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