NASCAR National Series News & Notes — Daytona International Speedway

(Press Release from NASCAR Integrated Marketing Communications)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. rolls around the Daytona International Speedway with the checkered flag after winning the 2014 Daytona 500 (Photo: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. rolls around the Daytona International Speedway with the checkered flag after winning the 2014 Daytona 500 (Photo: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR)

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Next Race: Daytona 500
The Place: Daytona International Speedway
The Date: Sunday, Feb. 22
The Time: 1 p.m. (ET)
TV: FOX, Noon (ET)
Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
Distance: 500 miles (250 laps)

Next Race: Alert Today Florida 300
The Place: Daytona International Speedway
The Date: Saturday, Feb. 21
The Time: 3:30 p.m. (ET)
TV: FOX Sports 1, 3 p.m. (ET)
Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
Distance: 300 miles (120 laps)

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
Next Race: NextEra Energy Resources 250
The Place: Daytona International Speedway
The Date: Friday, Feb. 20
The Time: 7:30 p.m. (ET)
TV: FOX Sports 1, 7 p.m. (ET)
Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
Distance: 250 miles (100 laps)


Gordon Has ‘Wide Open’ View For Start Of Final Lap

When Gordon announced in late January that 2015 would be his final full season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, the hashtag #JGFinalLap trended on Twitter.

And that final ‘lap’ will begin with a wide open view, as Jeff Gordon will start first after winning the Coors Light Pole for his final Daytona 500 on Sunday (1 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN Radio and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

It’s Gordon’s fourth pole overall at Daytona, and second in the Daytona 500. The first came in 1999 – a race he won. If he wins again on Sunday, it would be his fourth Daytona 500 victory, tying him with Cale Yarborough for second-most all-time (Richard Petty, seven).

It would also his 21st win from the pole, which would be tied for fourth all time with Bobby Isaac.

Harvick Looks To Join Hall of Fame Group

You don’t see this every day. Or, more specifically: Every decade.

Kevin Harvick will look to pull off the almost unheard of “NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship-followed-by-Daytona 500-win” double. Only five drivers have accomplished the feat, and none since 2000. The five: Lee Petty (1958 championship, 1959 Daytona 500); Richard Petty (1972 championship; 1973 Daytona 500); Cale Yarborough (1976 championship, 1977 Daytona 500); Jeff Gordon (1998 championship, 1999 Daytona 500); and Dale Jarrett (1999 championship, 2000 Daytona 500). All those drivers are in the NASCAR Hall of Fame, except for Jeff Gordon – who will assuredly be honored one day.

Harvick owns a varied history in the Daytona 500. He won the closest Daytona 500 in the race’s history in 2007, edging Mark Martin to the finish line by a margin of .020 seconds. Still, he’s suffered DNFs in two of the last four Daytona 500s, finishing 42nd in 2011 (engine) and 2013 (accident).

Back-To-Back For Junior?

Remember that list three sentences ago? This one’s even shorter.

Here’s the list of drivers who have won back-to-back Daytona 500s: Richard Petty (1973-74), Cale Yarborough (1983-84) and Sterling Marlin (1994-95).

After his stirring win to open the 2014 season, Dale Earnhardt Jr. looks to join that exclusive club on Sunday with his third Daytona 500 victory. (And that, by the way, would put him on another short list of drivers with three or more wins in the Great American Race: Richard Petty (seven), Cale Yarborough (four), Bobby Allison (three), Dale Jarrett (three), Jeff Gordon (three).)

Earnhardt, who has led laps in 10 of his 15 Daytona 500 starts, has seven top fives in the Daytona 500, including his two wins and four runner-up finishes.

Duel Races Sets Remainder Of Daytona 500 Field

Only the front row starting positions for Sunday’s Daytona 500 are set, with Jeff Gordon winning the Coors Light Pole and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson joining him on the front row. Thursday’s night’s Duel at Daytona (7 p.m. on FOX Sports 1) will set the remainder of the field.
• The front row – Gordon and Johnson – was set after Sunday’s Coors Light Pole qualifying last Sunday.
• The highest 15 finishers in each Duel race – excluding the already locked-in front row – will earn a spot in the Daytona 500, and fill positions 3-32.
• Based on their finishing position in the first Duel race, the top 15 will line up on the inside row (odd-number starting positions).
• Based on their finishing position in the second Duel race, the top 15 will line up on the outside row (even-number starting positions).
• Positions 33-36 will go to the four fastest cars from any round of qualifying that have not already earned a spot. Aric Almirola, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Carl Edwards and Jamie McMurray – who turned the four fastest laps in qualifying – can fall back on their times should they not earn a spot via their Duel finish.
• Position 37-42 will be provisional positions, and go to the highest six cars in 2014 owner points that have not already qualified via the Duel or Coors Light Pole qualifying. If they don’t earn a spot via the Duel, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth will nab a spot via their 2014 owner points position.
• Finally, the 43rd starting position will be assigned to any car owner who has the most recent eligible past NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion who did not make the field by any other method. Since Harvick (2014 champion), Johnson (2013 champion) and Keselowski (2012 champion) would have already made the field using one of the means detailed above, this spot would go to Tony Stewart, the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion. If the 43rd position remains unused by a past champion it will be assigned to the next highest car in 2014 owner points not already locked into the field.

Only One Hole In Stewart’s Incredible Resume

Tony Stewart’s prolific resume is rivaled only by George Costanza. The difference: Instead of Kruger Industrial Smoothing, Play Now and Marine Biologist, Stewart’s past includes three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, two-time Brickyard 400 winner and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year.

Does that last paragraph make sense? No. But neither does this: Stewart hasn’t won a Daytona 500.

It defies logic. He’s won at Daytona four times (all came in the July race), yet remains snake-bitten in the biggest race of the year, especially recently. He’s failed to finish inside the top 10 in each of the last five Daytona 500s and his average finish during that span is 25.3. His best Daytona 500 finish was second in 2004.

Carl Edwards Begins New Chapter

After spending the first 11 seasons of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career with Ford and Roush Fenway Racing, Carl Edwards officially starts his first campaign driving the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota in Sunday’s Daytona 500. Edwards was able to breathe a sigh of relief following last Sunday’s Daytona 500 Coors Light Pole qualifying when he posted the third-fastest lap of the day (202.315 mph) to earn a position in “The Great American Race.” Since his No. 19 JGR team is new, Edwards could not carry over owners points from 2014 to possibly earn a provisional spot in the 500 if he did not qualify via Thursday night’s Budweiser Duel.

Edwards takes new sponsors Arris and Stanley Tools to Daytona as he tries to win NASCAR’s biggest race for the first time. His best Daytona 500 finish was a second-place showing in 2011. A two-race winner last year, Edwards hopes to have a similar season to Matt Kenseth’s 2013 campaign. Kenseth, who also moved to JGR from RFR that year, posted a career-high seven victories and finished runner-up in the final standings.

Sophomore Slump? Not Likely For Larson

There were whispers entering the 2014 season that Kyle Larson wasn’t ready for a full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series ride.

The No. 42 Target Chevrolet driver proved his naysayers wrong with car-owner Chip Ganassi saying, “I’d like to thank all the people who thought we brought him along too fast last year.”

All Larson did was run away with the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award on the strength of eight top-five and 17 top-10 finishes, draw rave reviews from some of the sport’s biggest names and barely miss out on becoming just the second rookie to qualify for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

Expectations are higher for the 22-year-old known as “Young Money” this season and he believes he can take the next step to stardom.

At the Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour, Larson said, “We are capable of definitely being a top-10 car each week, winning at least two races, making the Chase and going for the championship.”

Co-owner Felix Sabates agreed, guaranteeing that both Larson and fellow Chip Ganassi Racing drive Jamie McMurray would make the Chase.

The pair has already started off the year strong, leading CGR’s No. 02 car to victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Blaney Takes Next Step In Promising Young Career

Twenty-one-year-old phenom Ryan Blaney will take the next step in his career when he gets behind the wheel of his No. 21 Motorcraft Ford Fusion in Sunday’s Daytona 500 – the first of 18 scheduled NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races he will run for the famed Wood Brothers Racing Team this season. “The Great American Race” marks the third-career NSCS start for Blaney, who piloted team Penske’s No. 12 car at Kansas (27th-place finish) and Talladega (22nd) last season.

Blaney, a NASCAR Next alumnus, has shown he has talent and vast potential the past three seasons, competing in the NASCAR XFINITY Series (two wins) and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (three wins). He has helped pilot the No. 22 Team Penske Ford to the NXS owner’s title the past two seasons and placed second in the NCWTS point standings in 2014.

A win at Daytona for a youthful Wood Brothers driver would not be unprecedented. Trevor Bayne (20 years, one day) became the youngest driver to find Victory Lane at the Daytona 500 in just his second career NSCS start for Wood Brothers in 2011.

Welcome Back, Ron!

Following an 11-year hiatus from NASCAR Sprint Cup Series action, Ron Hornaday Jr. returns to stock car racing’s highest level at the Daytona 500. He will debut the No. 30 Smokey Mountain Herbal Snuff Chevrolet for The Motosports Group – a team owned by Virginia businessman Curtis Key, that’s attempting its first season in the NSCS.

One of the most storied drivers in NASCAR Camping World Truck Series history, Hornaday boasts all-time NCWTS records of four championships and 51 victories. The 56-year-old has made 45 career NSCS starts – his last coming for Richard Childress racing in the 2003 season finale. He claims only one top-10 showing at the Cup level – a ninth-place finish at Las Vegas in 2001.

Jeb Burton To Launch Sprint Cup Career At Daytona

Another Burton is attempting to etch his name into NASCAR Sprint Cup Series history. Jeb Burton, 22, will make his series debut in the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway – the same place he celebrated in Victory Lane as a nine-year-old when his father Ward Burton won “The Great American Race” in 2002. The No. 26 BK Racing Toyota Camry driver also follows in the footsteps of his uncle, Jeff Burton, a current NBC NASCAR analyst, and 21-time NSCS race winner.

Burton has run a full-time schedule in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series the past two seasons and claims one victory, seven Coors Light Pole Awards, seven top fives and 19 top 10s in 49 starts on the circuit. He is a 2013-14 member of the NASCAR Next initiative.


XFINITY Debuts At Daytona

The wait is over.

Following its landmark 10-year deal, announced in September of last year, XFINITY will make its debut as the title sponsor for the nation’s series where “Names are Made Here” and is like nothing else in major pro sports. XFINITY becomes only the third title sponsor in the program’s history, following Anheuser-Busch (1982-2007) and Nationwide Insurance (2008-2014).

The NASCAR XFINITY Series opens on the sport’s biggest stage — Daytona International Speedway — on Saturday, Feb. 21 in the Alert Today Florida 300 LIVE on FOX Sports 1.

Last year, Regan Smith edged out Kyle Busch in the season-opener by a mere 0.13 seconds. Smith joins Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch, Joe Nemechek and Mike Wallace as former race winners at Daytona entered in Saturday’s event.

Smith To Defend Daytona Win Against Star Studded Line-up

Regan Smith has the opportunity this weekend to become the fourth driver in series history to win back-to-back NASCAR XFINITY Series season openers at Daytona, joining Tony Stewart (2005, ’06, ’08, ’09, ’10, ’11 and ‘13) and NASCAR Hall of Famers Darrell Waltrip (1983 and ‘84) and Dale Earnhardt (1982, ‘86, ‘90, ‘91, ‘92, ‘93, ‘94).

With a star-studded entry list at Daytona this season, Smith will have his work cut out for him. Four 2014 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers will be strapping in at Daytona; including Dale Earnhardt Jr., Aric Almirola, Brad Keselowski and the all-time NASCAR XFINITY Series wins leader Kyle Busch. Also competing are former series winner Kyle Larson and 2013 series champ Austin Dillon.

Smith has four career wins in the NASCAR XFINITY Series and two have come on restrictor-plate tracks – Daytona (2014) and Talladega (2013). His pre-race Driver Rating is 81.2 (24th-best).

JR Motorsports swept Daytona last season: Regan Smith (February event) and Kasey Kahne (July event).

Elliott’s Chase For A Repeat Starts In Sunny Florida

Chase Elliott’s rookie season was one for the history books.

In 33 races, he captured an impressive three wins, two poles, 16 top-five and 26 top-10 finishes en route to the series championship. A Sunoco rookie has finished third or higher in the final standings only six times in series history.

Elliott begins his quest to become the seventh driver in series history to win back-to-back championships.

Former series champions to win back-to-back titles: Sam Ard (1983-84), Larry Pearson (1986-87), Randy LaJoie (1996-97), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (1998-99), Martin Truex Jr. (2004-05) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (2011-12).

Elliott has made two starts at Daytona, posting one top-10 finish. His pre-race Driver Rating is 97.1 (10th-best).
Chris Buescher Looks For Season Opening Redemption At Daytona
About this time last year, Roush Fenway Racing driver Chris Buescher and the No. 60 team missed qualifying into the season opening race at Daytona by less than a second. This season, Buescher and team return looking for redemption from what slipped through their hands.

Buescher started all 32 of the remaining events of the 2014 season, winning at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and finishing seventh in the standings in his rookie season.

Buescher did start the July race at Daytona last season, starting 12th and finishing third. His success in the summer event has him leading the series in pre-race Driver Rating (109.3) and Average Running Position (7.563) at Daytona.

Also worth noting Buescher’s No. 60 team leads the series (all-time) in wins with 92 victories among 27 different tracks and four different drivers (Mark Martin 39, Carl Edwards 38, Greg Biffle 14, and Chris Buescher 1) but none were at Daytona. Roush Fenway Racing has yet to win at Daytona in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. Buescher has the opportunity to change that this weekend.

Florida Natives Flock To The High Banks

Drivers will tell you there is nothing better than winning in your backyard in front of the home crowd, and for Ross Chastain (Fort Myers, Fla.), Scott Lagasse Jr. (St. Augustine, Fla.), Blake Koch (West Palm Beach, Fla.), Joe Nemechek (Lakeland, Fla.) and Aric Almirola (Tampa, Fla.) Daytona International Speedway offers that opportunity on NASCAR’s grandest stage.

Almirola clicked his ticket to the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup last season with his win in the July NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Daytona last season. Almirola has only made four series starts at DIS, but started on the pole for the NASCAR XFINITY Series season opener in 2007 in his first appearance. His average finish in the NXS at Daytona is 18.8.

Nemechek is the Florida native driver that has garnered the most success in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, winning 16 races in his career, five of which were in Florida (Homestead-Miami – three and Daytona – two). Nemechek won the season opener at Daytona in 1998 and the July race in 2002.

Koch has made five NXS starts at Daytona posting an average finish of 24.8.

Scott Lagasse Jr. has made six starts at Daytona posting a best finish of 18th in 2009. He finished 26th in this event last season.

Chastain has made seven career starts in the NASCAR XFINITY Series and this weekend he will attempt to make his series debut at Daytona.

2015 Sunoco Rookie Spotlight: Wallace and Suarez

Last season’s NASCAR XFINITY Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year Chase Elliott went on to become the first rookie to win the series championship. This season, the Sunoco Rookie class looks just as stout and could produce another history-making year. Below are two series rookie contenders looking for success in 2015:

Darrell Wallace Jr. – the newest member of Roush Fenway Racing will be in the No. 6 Ford in 2015.

Wallace has spent limited time in an XFINITY car; he has made six previous series starts for Joe Gibbs Racing posting four top 10s. He competed at Daytona last season starting ninth and finishing seventh.

Wallace is coming off of a career year last season in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, posting four wins, nine top fives and 14 top 10s.

Daniel Suarez – the latest addition to Joe Gibbs Racing will be driving the No. 18 Toyota in 2015.

Suarez is off to a solid start at Daytona, finishing second in last weekend’s ARCA event at the “World Center of Racing.” The Mexico-born driver made two XFINITY Series starts last season, capturing two top-20 finishes.

Suarez competed four seasons in the NASCAR Mexico Series finishing a career- best second in points in 2013. He will also compete in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Daytona for Kyle Busch Motorsports.


Crafton Begins Quest For Three-Peat

Matt Crafton ran away with the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship last season to become the first driver to win consecutive titles in its 20-year history. The No. 88 ThorSport Racing driver visits Daytona on Friday for the first stop on his quest for a three-peat – the NextEra Energy Resources 250 (7:30 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1). He will look to improve on his 13th-place finish at Daytona last year.

Superspeedways the likes of Daytona and Talladega are not Crafton’s forte, though. He claims eight top-10 finishes in 23 starts at superspeedways (34.8%) compared to his 184 top-10 finishes in 312 starts at all other tracks (59.0%).

Notable three-peats across sports include: Jimmie Johnson (2006-10), Los Angeles Lakers (2000-02), New York Yankees (1998-00), Chicago Bulls (1996-98, 1991-93), UCLA Basketball (1967-73), Green Bay Packers (1965-67).

Erik Jones Ready To Roll

Erik Jones, 18, has burst onto the NASCAR national series scene, racing part time for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series the last two seasons. The Byron, Michigan native became the youngest NASCAR national series winner after his victory at Phoenix in 2013 (a record since broken by Cole Custer). He didn’t slow down in 2014, compiling three wins in just 12 starts and ranking third in laps led with 1,789. Jones plans on competing in all 23 NCWTS races for KBM this year and is arguably the front-runner for Sunoco Rookie of the Year. Despite his youth, don’t be surprised if he vies with Crafton for the series crown.

“My goal this year is to go out and win races and bring home a driver’s championship to KBM,” Jones said. “I feel like running a part-time schedule the last few years has helped prepare me for the chance to run full-time this year, especially last year racing at a couple of mile-and-half tracks.

“Matt (Crafton) has won the championship the last two years by being very consistent and we know that if we are going to beat him, we need to make sure on the days where we don’t have a winning truck we don’t try to make something happen and have it bite us.”

Superspeedway Studs

Superspeedway racing can be tricky for even the best drivers in the world. But it hasn’t been for NASCAR Camping World Truck Series veterans Johnny Sauter and Timothy Peters. The two drivers are the only current full-time competitors to boast victories at both Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway. Sauter swept the superspeedways in 2013, while Peters won at Talladaga in 2014 (the last NCWTS race at a 2.5-mile track) and Daytona in 2010. The pair started off last season strong with Peters taking second and Sauter placing third, behind race-winner Kyle Bush, in the Daytona opener.

Tyler Reddick Leads Brad Keselowski Racing

Erik Jones is not the only teenage driver with NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title aspirations.

Tyler Reddick, 19, eyes the series’ top spot after flashing his potential in 2014. The Corning, California resident, racked up two poles, four top-six and one top-10 finish in his final five starts last season and placed runner-up for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award despite only running 16 races. Reddick, the last NCWTS driver to win a pole at a superspeedway (10/18/14, Talladega) will attempt to repeat the feat in his No. 19 Brad Keselowski Racing Ford and improve on his fourth-place finish in Friday’s NextEra Energy Resources 250.

Reddick will head to Daytona early, meeting with the National Guard Youth Foundation in St. Augustine, Florida on Wednesday, Feb. 18 prior to on-track activity.

Daytona Do-Over For Kennedy

Ben Kennedy began his rookie NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season the best way he possibly could in 2014 – by starting from the pole at Daytona. The 23-year-old led the first 52 laps of the race, but was hampered by a pit road issue on lap 53 and ultimately finished 15th. Kennedy built on the experience, and his consistent driving in the season’s final 21 races earned him the series’ Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award.

After competing for Turner Scott Motorsports in a Chevrolet last year, Kennedy joined Red Horse Racing in the offseason and will pilot its No. 11 Toyota Tundra on a full schedule. His first goal with his new team – take the checkered in his hometown of Daytona Beach.

Sunshine State Of Mind

A flurry of Floridians will be competing in their home state in Friday’s NextEra Energy Resources 250. Ben Kennedy (Daytona Beach, Fla.), Ray Black Jr. (Palm Coast, Fla.) and Brian Silas (Stuart, Fla.) all hail from the Sunshine State where they began their careers on Florida racing circuits. Silas and Kennedy finished ninth and 10th, respectively in the 2014 NCWTS final point standings, while Black ran seven races on a part-time schedule. All three drivers are in search of their first NASCAR national series wins.

In addition to racing a full-time Truck Series schedule and operating his own NASCAR K&N Pro Series East team (Ben Kennedy Racing), Kennedy completed his sport management degree at the University of Florida in 2014.
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