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When David Ragan made his transition into the big leagues of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, there were high hopes and even higher expectations. Over the past five seasons however, Ragan has struggled to live up to those expectations.
The young driver had a solid season in 2008, scoring six top-fives and 14 top-10s to finish 13th in the final season standings, but the following two seasons failed to produce consistent performances. Questions began to arise about whether UPS would return as the team’s sponsor, as well as Ragan’s future with Roush Fenway Racing.
Yet at the outset of the 2011 season, Ragan had a bounce in his step and a fresh outlook on his future. Paired with crew chief Drew Blickensderfer, Ragan showed up in Daytona ready to prove he had what it takes to win at the biggest level. And he almost did just that.
The key word there is almost. In the closing laps of the Daytona 500, Ragan moved down a lane to pick up drafting partner and Ford teammate Trevor Bayne. Instead of sitting in the catbird seat, Ragan was black flagged by NASCAR for changing lanes prior to the start-finish line. While Bayne went on the score the win, Ragan ended the day in 14th.
From then on, Ragan continued to be among the fastest cars at the track week-in and week-out, yet the No. 6 team was never able to capitalize on their success in practice and in qualifying.
At Martinsville Speedway in April, Ragan said the team simply needed to get better at being “more perfect” in their jobs throughout the weekend. While the team was fast in practices and qualifying, they seemed to make mistakes on race day that cost them the solid finishes they felt they deserved.
Blickensderfer reiterated his driver’s thoughts that day in Martinsville, saying the team was simply building into a top-10 contender both at the track and in the shop. Working more cohesively as a team, the improved communication and mutual respect on the No. 6 car has perhaps been the biggest component to its recent success.
“I don't know David's whole racing history, but he didn't have a lot of experience, especially driving big, heavy cars,” teammate Matt Kenseth said. “He's had a couple of different crew chiefs and car chiefs and crews and groups until they found a good mix that worked really well with him. I don't know why it is like that, but you've got to get that right mix of people together. Get all them people working right together. It seems like he's got that right now.”
Another factor Blickensderfer pointed to was Ragan’s improved confidence inside a fast race car. Knowing how close he came to victory in February’s Daytona 500, Ragan knew he had a solid shot at Saturday night’s race.
“That's probably the first time that I felt we've got a car that's fast enough that we can win this thing if we make the right decision throughout the race,” he said.
Realizing he needed a trustworthy partner, Ragan and his No. 6 team “made a pact” with teammate Matt Kenseth to work together throughout the entire race.
“I didn't know if that was the right decision or not, but bottom line, our car was fast,” Ragan said. “That's what wins these races. You've got to have luck, you've got to have pit stops and all that stuff goes into effect.”
In a race of two-car chance, Ragan and Blickensderfer understood it would take solid communication, a trustworthy partner and no mistakes to score the win.
While the win alone is a feat in and of itself, Saturday night’s victory was a boost in Ragan’s racing resume. After facing doubts, rumors and disappointment, Ragan was able to quell the critics and show what team owner Jack Roush and the people at UPS saw all along.
Following the victory, UPS vice president, sponsorships & events Ron Rogowski issued the following statement:
“We’re very proud to have David Ragan as UPS Racing’s brand ambassador and are excited to congratulate him on his first win. David has a great future ahead of him and we look forward to many more trips to victory lane with him.”
Negotiations between RFR and UPS are underway to continue sponsorship of the No. 6 team, but Roush said they “don’t have assurance that that’s going to be the case.” Yet Roush hopes Ragan’s primetime Fourth of July win shows the company his young driver has what it takes to succeed.
“David has arrived at the upper echelon,” he said. “He's a winner now. And he's given a win to UPS, and hopefully they'll consider that as they think about the value of the program and what it means to all their employees and what it means to their customers to have this association.”
Ragan was not the only to one to earn a bit of redemption with Saturday night’s win. For Blickensderfer, it was a huge boost in confidence to the former Daytona 500 winning crew chief. After leading Kenseth to back-to-back wins in the 2009 Daytona 500 win and the following weekend at Auto Club Speedway, Blickensderfer struggled to find victory lane.
“I felt like I failed quite a bit,” he said. “Yeah, I counted every one of (the losses). And to come back and get a second opportunity, it's something that Jack told me from day one that I'd be up here when the time was right again. It's been really nice.”
That second opportunity came when Blickensderfer climbed back atop a Sprint Cup Series pit box late in the season last year. After calling the shots in the Nationwide Series for Roush Fenway, Blickensderfer began working as the crew chief on the No. 6 team for the final 10 races of 2010.
“Coming over here, ten races to go in the season last year, I felt like we gained some momentum,” he said. “Then working this year with David and the guys, I think our mindset (has) gotten better throughout the year. We felt like we were a top 20 team to start the year, and a top 15, and 10, and now we sit here as the winner. I think that momentum keeps building. Definitely feel a little redemption."
Saturday night's Coke Zero 400 once again featured the two-car tandem drafting partners throughout the night, making for some interesting racing throughout the event. At the end of the night, David Ragan was able to charge to the front with a push from teammate Matt Kenseth while the field wrecked behind them.
Here is what a few of the competitors had to say following the race:
David Ragan (on if Saturday’s win made up for his mistake in the Daytona 500): "Yeah, because all you guys want to talk about it on a regular basis. I was hoping to win one a little earlier than the July 4th race here, but it's a good feeling to come back here and kind of we got one back at Daytona. It would have been tough to lose another one.
"I thought about that actually under that last caution. I said, 'Man, if we don't win this thing, I said I'm not going to talk to anyone afterwards.' So we were able to win. That does ease the pain from February. It's still nice to think about that Daytona 500 ring, but it's awesome."
Joey Logano (on race winner David Ragan): “David and I grew up together. Since I was 9 years old we've raced against each other. I went over to Victory Lane and congratulated him. He deserves it, for sure. I know how he felt after the 500 this year. I can only imagine how tough that's got to be, you know.
“But he definitely redeemed himself today, so that's really cool for him. I know how cool it was last night winning here at Daytona (in the Nationwide Series), I couldn't imagine what it is one level up against the best of the best. That's got to be really awesome. So congratulations to him and the team. They really, really deserved it.”
Kyle Busch (on how he finished fifth): “I have no idea. I just kept my foot in it there at the end. When we got in the wall there, we come down pit road and we put four tires on it and fixed the fender damage and everything and got back out there. The big wreck happened and we missed it. We didn’t have any flats so we just decided to stay out. A couple guys pitted. We gained a little bit of track position back and then we got mixed up from (Brad) Keselowski, who were going to work with, and then (Jeff) Gordon was behind me so he just pushed me. We kept our foot in it and drove right up through the bottom, man. There were some holes that parted ways and just kept digging and luckily he made it through and I made it through and we ended up with a fifth out of the deal.”
Kevin Harvick (finished seventh): “We had a plan to stick with the No. 27 (Paul Menard) all night and I think we ran every lap with him. The first green-white-checkered we had a great run and the timing was perfect. The second one, we just didn’t have quite the timing and got a couple of guys underneath us and then we just got a little bit too far behind. But still, everything worked pretty good."
Steve Addington (crew chief for Kurt Busch on their night): “This is some strange racing. After we got collected late in that big wreck, I was going to stay out despite having half a door. But then NASCAR called us in under caution and made us fix the driver side door. We dropped back to restart 26th or so on the restart and it’s amazing that we ended up 14th. Kurt drove a great race. We got hooked-up with the 78 (Regan Smith) and just rode around all night. So much of this kind of racing is out of your control. You just try and put yourself in position to have a shot at winning at the end. We just got caught up in the wrecks."
Mark Martin (on the closing laps): "I have no idea, didn't really see it. The accident that I was in, you know, I lost my partner there with Jeff (Gordon) and knew it was going to get crazy. Then on the restart I thought (Joey) Logano and I were going to hook up. He didn't have a partner and I didn't either. I must have been four inches not ahead of him and I was trying to get in front of him so we could go. It was still okay. I felt him touch me and I was trying to save it but then - I don't know how, I haven't seen it. You know cars were hitting everybody. From there I probably could have saved it, I thought I could save it but cars were just going everywhere."
David Ragan's Daytona International Speedway victory on Saturday night moved him up three spots in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings – and into a coveted wild card position for the Chase.
With one win apiece, Ragan and Denny Hamlin (11th) currently occupy the wild card spots – which are awarded to the drivers in positions 11-20.
Ragan was among the biggest gainers in the point standings; Joey Logano also moved up three spots to 20th.
Martin Truex Jr. took the biggest hit of the night, dropping five spots. Mark Martin lost four positions – he's all the way down to 18th in the standings – and Jimmie Johnson lost three.
Here are the updated NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings after Daytona:
Jeff Gordon made one of the most memorable saves of the season on Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway when he was spun in the middle of a pack with three laps to go – but didn't hit anything.
Even more amazing? After his night looked like it was practically over, he rallied to finish sixth.
"I've got to go back and look at it," he said of the save. "It was one of those things where I could feel it start to go around and I just stood on the gas and tried to keep it on the outside wall. And then there was a point where I could see I needed to lock the brakes and I locked the brakes up just hoping somebody wouldn't hit me.
"I saw a bunch of cars just flashing by me and it started to straighten out in the banking and I just let off the brakes and straightened out and we kept going.
"I was like, 'Boy that worked out alright.' That's usually luck more than anything else."
After coming to pit road to fix some minor damage and getting four new tires, Gordon said he "miraculously" avoided wrecks on the last two restarts.
The plan was to push Jimmie Johnson, but Gordon realized Tony Stewart was lining up behind Johnson and figured those two would hook up.
Then Kyle Busch came on the radio and said, "Come on. Why don't you push me?"
"At that time it was the green and we went," Gordon said. "He makes great holes. He knows how to get momentum; he keeps momentum and he doesn't back off the gas, so it certainly worked out for me."
Added Gordon: "How we finished sixth is unbelievable."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. teed off on the tandem-style of racing after a 19th-place result at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday night, calling it a "foolish frickin' race."
After the media asked him his opinion of the night's racing, Earnhardt Jr. – who has made it well known he dislikes this type of racing and prefers controlling his own destiny – began to vent.
"You guys need to get your own frickin' opinions and write what y'all think about it," he said. "Because I think (those opinions are) pretty damn close to mine. So stop putting my damn foot in my mouth with y'all and getting my ass in trouble. Y'all write what y'all think, man. C'mon. Y'all are good. Y'all got an opinion about it; I read y'all's shit."
Earnhardt Jr. was particularly frustrated after a couple of developments late in the race. First, drafting partner Jimmie Johnson was called into the pits for a late stop while Earnhardt Jr. stayed out on the track, and the pair was broken up.
"I'm driving my car, do what I'm told," he said. "They decided to do something different. I can't run the whole damn thing from the seat of the damn race car. I'm just doing what I'm told out there. I don't know how that affected us, if it did at all. It probably didn't."
Johnson, for his part, tweeted that he "didn't leave Jr hanging."
"You people are crazy," he said in apparent response to angry Earnhardt Jr. fans. "When my crew tells me to pit, I pit. (Crew chiefs) Steve (Letarte) and Chad (Knaus) sort out the details."
Losing his drafting partner wasn't what hurt Earnhardt Jr. the most, though. The driver of the No. 88 car was running the bottom of the track in Turns 3 and 4, and Jamie McMurray "just drove into the side of me and turned me onto the apron," he said.
"I had it saved, and then he came on and got him another shot," Earnhardt Jr. said. "Brought the K.O. punch the second time and spun us around."
Asked why no one made a big move at the end of the race, Earnhardt Jr. grew frustrated. His eyes burning with intensity, Earnhardt Jr. said there was nothing anyone could do.
"What kind of move can you make?" he said. "I mean, Jesus, man! What kind of frickin' move can you make when you're racing like this? There ain't no move you can make. You just hold it on the mat and try not to wreck into each other – and you see how good we are at that."
Despite the disappointing result, Earnhardt Jr. remained seventh in the Sprint Cup Series point standings. He's still 39 points inside the Chase.
The finish to Saturday night's Coke Zero 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race from Daytona International Speedway was as wild as expected, as it was extended into two attempts at a Green-White-Checkered finish.
While the two-car tandem of David Ragan and Matt Kenseth were working to hold off the tandem of Joey Logano and Kasey Kahne on the white flag lap, the field jockeyed for position behind them as they raced around for the final time.
At the back of the pack Marcos Ambrose, David Reutimann, Landon Cassill, Brian Vickers and Tony Stewart wrecked as they headed into the third turn. No caution was thrown and the field continued to race to the checkered flag.
Coming off the final corner, Jamie McMurray moved down on Dale Earnhardt Jr. to trigger yet another big wreck that collected AJ Allmendinger, Jeff Burton, Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, Juan Pablo Montoya, Ryan Newman. With Ragan past the finish line, cars continued to speed through the tri-oval avoiding the wrecked cars littered across the track.
Here is the video of the wild finish:
Roush Fenway Racing's David Ragan opened the door for Trevor Bayne in February's Daytona 500 when a late-race penalty for changing lanes before the restart ruined the young driver's dreams. But on Saturday night, Ragan was able to make up for the mistake by scoring his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.
Running strong throughout the night and surviving two green-white-checkered restarts, Ragan was able to use a strong push from teammate Matt Kenseth to pull ahead of the rest of the field as they wrecked behind him, resulting in a much-needed victory.
"I can't thank my spotter, my crew chief, my team enough," Ragan said in Victory Lane. "They really humbled me and kept me focused. Matt (Kenseth) pushed me to the finish line. The Roush-Yates horsepower was great, Doug and Robert Yates back at the house, thanks for all the help."
Ragan has had his critics over the years, but this season he and crew chief Drew Blickensderfer have proven to be fast week-in and week-out. Saturday they were able to seal the deal and find Victory Lane.
"I wasn't ready (for the Sprint Cup Series) a few years ago and Jack Roush gave me a chance; this was all we needed," he said. "We've been so close so many times and finally we're here."
Here are the NASCAR results from Daytona International Speedway:
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It's NASCAR race night at Daytona International Speedway, and we've got the actual race start time, the starting lineup and some other facts about the Coke Zero 400 for you below.
Start time: The command to start engines will be given by Florida State University football coach Jimbo Fisher at 7:40 p.m. Eastern time. After a few pace laps, honorary starter Tony Antonelli – a NASA astronaut – will wave the green flag at precisely 7:52 p.m. Eastern. So if you want to skip the pre-race show and just tune in for the actual race, flip your TV on at 7:52.
Race name/distance: The race once known as the "Firecracker 400" has been a cola-branded event for more than 20 years now. But the Pepsi 400 name is long gone, and the Daytona summer race has been the Coke Zero 400 since 2008. It takes 160 laps to go 400 miles around the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway.
TV and radio: TNT's fourth race of its six-race NASCAR broadcasting stint is tonight, but we also recommend you take advantage of TNT's "RaceBuddy" application over at NASCAR.com. You can watch the race on your computer and pick which camera angle you want to watch for free. If you aren't near a TV, the radio broadcast can be found on your local Motor Racing Network (MRN) affiliate. Click here to see a list of MRN stations where you can listen.
National anthem: After a series of sub-par national anthems last season, NASCAR tracks are increasingly using military-related groups to perform the anthems this season. Daytona is no different. Performing the anthem tonight will be the United States Navy Band of the Southeast.
Tickets: There are still tickets available for tonight's race if you're thinking of making the drive to Daytona Beach. Next week's race at Kentucky, however, has already been announced as a sellout.
Weather: According to the unofficial NASCAR weatherman, tonight will be mainly dry with temperatures around 81 degrees. But given that we're in Florida and it's the summertime, there's always a chance for an isolated thunderstorm or two.
Last time: Kevin Harvick continued Richard Childress Racing's dominance at plate tracks by winning the 2010 Coke Zero 400. And, of course, Trevor Bayne won the most recent Sprint Cup Series race at Daytona.
Starting lineup for tonight's NASCAR race at Daytona International Speedway:
Danica Patrick emerged from the JR Motorsports team hauler right about the time her crew was wheeling her wrecked No. 7 car to the lift gate.
Patrick glanced at the demolished front end of the car and the pancaked right side. And she smiled.
"Who the hell did that?" she cracked.
She did, of course – with a lot of help from Mike Wallace in the last few hundred yards of Friday night's Nationwide Series race at Daytona International Speedway.
Crashing as she crossed the finish line, Patrick was nonetheless pumped up after driving the most impressive NASCAR race of her career thus far. Though she was forced to settle for a 10th-place finish (six positions short of her career high), she led 13 laps on five different occasions and was a serious threat to win the race until the very end.
"It was really good to run up front and lead laps for real – not just like I got pushed up front for one lap," she said. "I led a lot of laps and I went to the front a lot. So that was a good feeling."
Patrick, the lead car of the two-car draft with teammate Aric Almirola, had started taking smaller gaps and squeezing her way through holes late in the race. Despite never having done tandem racing before – aside from a couple laps in the February Daytona race – Patrick quickly figured out the strategy and said to herself, 'Alright! I get how this works now.'
She compared it to cruising down the freeway and sailing into the open gaps – except at 200 mph. And she did it with much success.
Midway through her interview, Almirola came up from behind her and squeezed her shoulders. She turned around and gave him a high-five.
"Hey, good job out there, buddy," she told him. "Thank you. I hope I was OK. We were going for fucking broke there at the end."
"No worries," Almirola replied. "You were good."
Almirola told her if they would have waited another half-lap before making their move, they would have been up there with the leaders. But that comes with experience, he said.
Patrick, though, said, "We were going for it." And she'd made that clear as her voice rose in the final laps on the team radio.
"Let's go fucking fast here!" she said after taking the lead with four laps left.
"It was a different me on the radio," she said. "It probably sounded like a determined me. Confident and assertive. A fucking let's-go-get-'em kind of attitude. That's how I felt. I always feel the most aggressive when I feel like I can win, and that was where I was at."
It was a tremendous moment for those listening and watching in the stands, because it put Patrick's competitive fire on full display. The fans let out a roar as they saw her neon green GoDaddy car surge to the front.
"Hopefully I earned (drivers') respect out there some more," she said. "Whether you're a girl or a boy, young or new, you've got to earn the respect of your peers. And that's what I try to do every weekend."
Though she was clearly on a high after getting out of the car, she needed a few moments to collect herself. She had started to feel dizzy and, as she put it, "the dark was closing in on me."
But after recovering for a few minutes in the hauler, she was ready to go celebrate. Though she's an avid wine drinker, Patrick said she had different plans on Friday night.
"I abort mission on the wine after I've been in the car," she said. "I get so dehydrated...that I like to drink beer. So I'm going to go drink beer right now."
From the sounds of that – plus the way she drove in Friday's race – Patrick might be closer to adopting the NASCAR culture than anyone may have realized.
Mark Martin captured the pole for Saturday night's Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway on Friday afternoon, knocking Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne from the top spot with just five cars to go in the qualifying session.
Martin, the elder statesman of Hendrick Motorsports and the NASCAR garage, picked up his 50th career pole and will lead the Daytona starting lineup thanks to his lap of 182.065 mph. Bayne's lap was 182.002 mph.
"Kudos to Hendrick Motorsports," Martin said. "Can't wait to get out there tomorrow night."
Clint Bowyer qualified in the third spot, followed by Jeff Gordon and David Ragan.
The top 10 was completed by Dale Earnhardt Jr., Andy Lally, Jimmie Johnson, AJ Allmendinger and Paul Menard.
Tony Raines and JJ Yeley failed to qualify for the Coke Zero 400.
Here is the starting lineup for Saturday night's NASCAR race at Daytona International Speedway:
Carl Edwards first realized just how devoted some NASCAR fans can be when he encountered a fan named Andy at the track formerly known as Indianapolis Raceway Park.
Here's Edwards' story:
There's a guy named Andy who comes to the ORP race and this guy was super, super-pumped to meet me. He had a Roush Racing tattoo with flames and all this stuff and he said, ‘I want you to sign right there above it and I'm gonna get it tattooed.'
I said, ‘There's no way you're gonna do that.' I thought he was just messing around. He'd been drinking a little bit, so I signed it and the next race we came back and there he is, Andy, yelling at me and showing me his tattoo.
I thought, ‘That's unreal. I can't believe he did that.'
He's like, ‘You better do well. You better run good.' I'm like, ‘Yes, sir. I understand. You have some skin in this.' So that was pretty interesting. When I see Andy I still can't believe he's got my autograph tattooed on his arm.
So is there anything Edwards won't sign?
"Yeah," he said. "They usually come in pairs."
Last weekend at Infineon Raceway, Tony Stewart made it clear he had enough of drivers blocking.
On Friday at Daytona International Speedway, he reasserted his position, saying others in the garage agree with his point. Talking about the incident with Brian Vickers – the driver he wrecked at Sonoma for blocking – Stewart said he had simply hit a point in which he had enough.
“I’ve talked to other drivers too and I didn’t anticipate to get the kind of support that I’m getting with some of these guys,” he said. “It’s not the whole field saying that by any means – I haven’t talked to everybody. I did talk to two or three different guys yesterday and the two or three guys that I spoke to mentioned and agreed that it’s a problem that’s getting worse, not better.
"Honestly, whether they agree or disagree – I don’t care. I’ve drawn my line in the sand and the next guy that blocks me, he is going to also suffer the same fate. It doesn’t matter who it is. That’s what it’s going to be.”
Stewart explained the problem with blocking has stemmed from drivers not being able to work out differences on or off the track. Once one driver starts blocking, everyone does it to stay competitive.
“Everybody knows the problem is that if you have one person that is taking advantage of a situation then it forces everybody else to do the same thing or else you’ve put yourself behind and you’re going to get taken advantage of more,” he said. “You don’t have that mutual give and take and that’s what more guys are taking more than they’re giving these days.”
Unlike years past, Stewart believes drivers can no longer self-police their problems without NASCAR and the media getting involved. Without a central figure in the garage, Stewart believes drivers no longer feel like they need to give and take on the race track.
“When I came in here I thought I was going to change how things worked too and Dale (Earnhardt) Sr. taught me how to do it, Dale Jarrett, Rusty Wallace, my teammate Bobby Labonte taught me and had to grab me and shake me beside a trailer one day and say, ‘Listen, you have to understand,'" Stewart said. "Nothing like that happens in this day and age. It’s all so glamorized when two people do something on the racetrack and it’s made to be such a soap opera that the whole point of why it happened in the first place isn’t getting resolved because of it.”
Stewart said he is not stepping up to fill that role of a leader in the garage, but he has simply had enough of blocking.
Five-time Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson stopped by the pediatrics unit of Daytona Beach's Halifax Health medical center on Friday to deliver ice cream to patients and their families.
Johnson hosted an ice cream party for some of the kids, then loaded up a tray full of various Blue Bunny desserts and went room-to-room making deliveries before heading to Daytona International Speedway for Cup qualifying.
The children's wing is the Betty Jane France Center for Pediatrics, which is better known as "Speediatrics." It's long been supported by the NASCAR community.
"Nice to go over there and put a smile on the kids faces," Johnson said.
Check out some video we took of Johnson's visit and the ice cream party in Daytona today:
Johnson is involved in many charitable ventures, primarily through his Jimmie Johnson Foundation. At the JJF's annual golf tournament last week, Johnson raised more than $650,000 – an event record.
The golf tournament alone has raised more than $2.5 million in its five years of existence.
Both Blue Bunny and Johnson's foundation donated $5,000 to Speediatrics during their visit.
Moist, unsettled air will continue to dominate across central and northern Florida for Friday. I am expecting another repeat performance of the showers and storms. The toughest part of this forecast is not if it will rain, but when and for how long it will rain – and how long the no-rain windows are.
From what I have learned over the years, it can take anywhere from two to three hours to completely dry Daytona International Speedway. Any shower or storm that forms will have access to plenty of moisture in the atmosphere, so expect any rain to come down heavy. Best time for all of this activity will be afternoon into the early evening. Like Thursday, there will be clusters of showers and storms, which can last for a few minutes to possibly an hour or two.
Good news is Saturday is much drier. Because it is Florida in July, no one can totally rule out an isolated shower or storm in the afternoon or early evening. But unlike Thursday and Friday, any storm that may form will be brief and not have as much moisture to work with – and that is only if one actually forms.
2:00 p.m EDT
Nationwide Qualifying – Sun & Clouds, possible shower or storm - temp: 86
4:00 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Qualifying – Sun & Clouds, possible shower or storm - temp: 85
7:30 p.m EDT
Nationwide Race – Sun & Clouds, decreasing showers - temp: 82
7:30 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Race – Variably cloudy, mainly dry, isolated storm? - temp: 81
Unless you're skilled at reading between the lines, Danica Patrick said little about her NASCAR future on Thursday at Daytona International Speedway.
Patrick, widely speculated to be making a full-time move to NASCAR next season, said she still doesn't know if it'll happen yet.
"Obviously I'm racing in NASCAR (part-time) and I've not made anyone wonder whether I like it," she said. "But other than that, as I've said from the beginning of the year, these things are complicated and they take time.
"Whether I'm coming here or not has yet to be signed, sealed and delivered. And I might not be. Only time will tell, and that timeline on my time of things...I'm really not sure."
So basically, it's still up in the air. But Patrick did reveal that she's the one who will ultimately make the decision – not her representatives.
"It comes down to my gut and my desire and where I feel like I'll be the happiest and where I feel like I'll be able to have the most success," she said. "And then after that, my team explores the options. But it always starts with where I want to be."
Will the potential sale of GoDaddy – who sponsors Patrick – affect her future? Patrick said everything, including the sale itself, is speculation.
"You all know how that stuff works," she said playfully. "You're like the kings and queens of (speculation) in here."
And if GoDaddy was sold?
"I don't know," she said. "It might not change anything; it might change everything. I'm not really sure."
No matter what their background, all of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers grew up with the same mentality: During races, you have no friends.
But since two-car drafting came into prominence at the Daytona 500 this season, drivers have realized they must work with a partner to win a restrictor-plate race. And for Dale Earnhardt Jr., that concept just isn't right.
"When you've got to work with somebody all day long," he said Thursday, "it feels totally unnatural."
During his media session with reporters, Earnhardt Jr. also called two-car drafting "weird" (twice) and said the partnership mentality is "kinda wrong on some levels, to race like that."
"You take care of somebody and then you feel this obligation to take care of them and then you worry about having them take care of you and how that makes them feel," he said. "(I've) been growing up all these years racing and looking out for number one."
Earnhardt Jr. said he wanted to embrace the current style of racing and all the other changes happening in NASCAR, but he's "too damn nostalgic for my own good sometimes."
"You get so used to one way: When you're out there on the racetrack, you're going to do everything you can to win," he said.
The irony of all this is Earnhardt Jr. may have been the driver who first discovered the two-car drafts and started the entire trend.
Kevin Harvick said Thursday morning he realized two-car drafts could work for the first time when he saw Earnhardt Jr. pushing Jeff Gordon through the corners at Talladega a couple years ago.
"That is really where it all started, was Dale Jr. pushing people all the way around the racetrack – and that was before the track was even paved at Talladega," Harvick said. "Ever since that time, everybody saw that and it has evolved to what it is today."
Told of Harvick's comment, Earnhardt Jr. said "I'll buy that" and said a couple other drivers at the time also had discovered it.
"I'm sure there are a dozen drivers in this garage that can claim who did it first," Earnhardt Jr. said. "Everybody out there is going to try to find any advantage. Those are the type of things that crop up. When they repaved those tracks, it made it so much easier."
Now, Earnhardt Jr. said he just hopes the type of racing he may have discovered goes away pretty soon. Once the tracks start to lose some of their grip from the recent repavings, drivers won't be able to push each other all the way around the track anymore and the packs may return.
"It's just different and weird, but it won't be like that forever, I assume," he said. "Hopefully I'm alive and still racing when it goes back to the way it was."
As for Saturday's 400-mile race?
"I appreciate the partnership that I've formed with Jimmie (Johnson) at 'Dega, and we're going to try to work the same magic this weekend," he said. "But only 'cause you have to."
After Sunday's Sprint Cup Series race at Sonoma, Kyle Busch walked up to a startled Kevin Harvick and extended his hand.
According to Queers4Gears.com, which captured the moment with a photo, Busch told Harvick "Good race." Later, Harvick tweeted that he thought Busch's gesture of sportsmanship between the two rivals was "weird."
On Thursday, Harvick told reporters he was still "as confused about all that as everybody else" and said the drivers only raced together for a lap and a half during the Infineon Raceway event.
Busch, though, said he simply felt the drivers had a good race against one another and "just wanted to let him know that."
"We gave each other great room and raced each other hard and clean," Busch said. "And that's all there is to it. You all are reading way too much into things."
Harvick, though, apparently wasn't reading into it much at all. Asked if the handshake meant the two drivers were moving on from their rivalry, Harvick responded, "I wouldn't call it 'good to go' on that."
Almost every week in SB Nation's crowd noise ratings from the pre-race driver introductions, Jeff Gordon gets a result of "mostly cheers" – and even all cheers, in some cases.
But just a few years ago, Gordon would get mostly boos or a 50-50 mix, at best. And before that, of course, it was a Kyle Busch level of boos.
So on Thursday, I asked Gordon why fans treated him differently now.
The four-time Sprint Cup Series champion said he wasn't sure, but offered an educated guess that combined his age and his lack of wins recently.
Here's what he said:
I think over time, you earn respect, especially if you're consistent with your actions on the track and off the track. So I think I've been able to earn a little bit more respect since then.
I'm not winning as much, you know? When I look back to early parts of my career, I can remember when I started knocking on the door to get to Victory Lane, I started to hear more cheers. When we started winning some races, everybody was like, 'Oh, that's awesome, we've got a new guy to cheer for in Victory Lane.'
Then we started winning a lot of races, and it was like, 'Oh, wait a minute. OK, now I'm going to draw the line here.'
And then it was like, 'You know, I'm tired of seeing that Gordon guy win. He's winning too much!'
We see that. It happens in our sport. That probably lasted until like 2003, maybe, because you go off 2001 and that might still go a couple years where people are still feeling that way. But I think around 2004 or 2005, you saw the wins drop off, the championship contention dropped off and I got older.
When I'm on Twitter, it's amazing how often I'll see somebody say, 'Hey, I didn't used to pull for you. My brother or my dad or my mom pulled for you, but I never pulled for you. But now I pull for you.' (They'll say) 'I think you're a good person' or 'I like the things you do for charity' or 'I like how you celebrate your win' or whatever it may be.
I think you have to get back to Victory Lane, though, to start hearing the (big) cheers again. If you just stop winning and don't win anymore, they might respect you, but they're not really going to get excited for you.
And I think showing that we can win this year, getting back to Victory Lane, has got not only my fans excited and motivated, but maybe some of the fans that were on the fence or maybe some new fans cheering for us again.
The can't-miss race of the early summer has arrived at Daytona International Speedway, and we've got the weekend schedule for you below.
Daytona's Coke Zero 400 promises to have more of the two-by-two racing that has become the new style of restrictor-plate racing. Whether we all like it or not, the big packs of cars are gone, and lovebug racing is here to stay – at least for awhile.
Here's the schedule for all NASCAR activities at Daytona International Speedway this weekend (all times Eastern):
2:30 p.m. – Nationwide Series practice (1 hour, 20 minutes)
4 p.m. – Sprint Cup Series practice (1 hour, 20 minutes)
5:30 p.m. – Nationwide Series final practice (55 minutes)
6:35 p.m. – Sprint Cup Series final practice (1 hour, 25 minutes)
2:10 p.m. – Nationwide Series qualifying
4:10 p.m. – Sprint Cup Series qualifying
7:30 p.m. – Nationwide Series race (100 laps, 250 miles)
7:30 p.m. – Sprint Cup Series race (160 laps, 400 miles)
This weekend the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads back to the Daytona International Speedway for the annual Coke Zero 400. If the Daytona 500 was any indication, the two-car draft will once again dominate this weekend's 400-mile race. Many teams already have strategies in place going into this weekend's race, and most expect to stick to the plan.
Throughout the weekend's practice, expect drivers to work on perfecting the two-car tandem as best they can. The biggest keys to creating a successful tandem are solid communication and keeping the engines cool.
As Jeff Gordon said earlier this week, communication between the drivers and spotters is essential in this newest drafting development. With such little visibility for the car pushing in tandem, the role of the spotter has increased dramatically. Drivers will be able to talk with one another with multiple radio channels in their cars, and expect one spotter to call the race for two cars most of the time.
"You can't see anything in front of you," Richard Childress Racing's Jeff Burton said. "You have no idea what you're catching. You're totally committed to that guy in front of you. He's communicating with you - telling you what's going on. You're committed to your spotter. It's truly blind racing."
Blind racing, two-car tandems and the possibility of another surprise winner. This weekend's Coke Zero 400 has a lot of unknowns, but at the end of the night on Saturday there will sure to be fireworks.
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