NASCAR Penalizes Daytona Winner Tony Stewart, Two Nationwide Teams

Tony Stewart took the Coke Zero 400 with some savvy driving on a frantic final lap.

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NASCAR: Tony Stewart, Two Nationwide Teams Penalized For Daytona Infractions

NASCAR issued fines, points penalties and suspensions on Tuesday afternoon in response to several infractions committed last weekend at Daytona International Speedway across its top two national series.

Coke Zero 400 race winner Tony Stewart was penalized six points and crew chief Steve Addington was fined $25,000 after the No. 14 car was found to have an open vent hose inside the car after qualifying.

NASCAR frowns on open hoses because it could theoretically provide an aerodynamic advantage. Addington and car chief Jeff Meendering were also placed on probation until Aug. 22, a span of five races.

"While we respect and accept NASCAR's decision, we want to be clear that there was no malicious intent," Stewart-Haas Racing competition director Greg Zipadelli said. "In a rush to replace a cracked rear windshield that happened during tech inspection prior to qualifying, we jostled a cooling hose that was behind the seat. We understand NASCAR's position and will abide by its decision."

In addition, Austin Dillon's No. 3 team committed a similar vent hose penalty during qualifying for the Nationwide Series race. Dillon was fined six points and his crew chief, Danny Stockman, was suspended for two races. Stockman had already been on probation and was just penalized last week. The team's car chief, Robert Strmiska, was also suspended for two races (and had also been on probation).

Lastly, Joe Gibbs Racing's No. 18 Nationwide team was found to be too low after post-race inspection and docked six points. The car was driven by Joey Logano, but Logano didn't lose any points because he's not racing for the championship in the Nationwide Series this year. No. 18 crew chief Adam Stevens was fined $10,000 and placed on probation until Aug. 22, along with car chief Christopher Landis.

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NASCAR Daytona Results: Jeff Burton Gets Much-Needed Second-Place Finish In Coke Zero 400

Jeff Burton has had what he calls a "miserable" season. But on Saturday night, he was anything but miserable – thanks to a runner-up finish in the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

"We've had a miserable year, and to get out of Daytona with a second-place finish, we ought to be happy," Burton said. "... Hopefully it's something that'll kick start our year a little bit. It's been a difficult year, and hopefully we can build on this."

RESULTS: Check out the full finishing order from the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series summer race at Daytona.

Avoiding the chaos which typically unfolds at Daytona goes a long way to ensuring a driver leaves with a respectable finish. And on a night when 33 of the 43 starters were involved in one of the six accidents which marred the race, Burton was one of the few drivers who kept his nose clean and his car intact.

And for that, he was rewarded for his efforts.

But as has been the case throughout 2012, it wouldn't be a race if Burton didn't have one thing or another going against him. Saturday night, it was an engine that continually overheated – a constant thorn in the side in plate races this year for the entire Richard Childress Racing organization.

"We had the trouble at Talladega as well," Burton said. "We were just too hot. We can't run a whole race racing the way we really want to race. It's not one thing wrong, it's just I think we have a package issue that's just not working with this combination. We had the tandem thing figured out really well, but we're just a little behind on this, it seems like."

For a driver and team that needed a good finish of any kind, a second-place result is more than welcome. However, success at Daytona doesn't necessarily equate to success elsewhere. And Burton quickly shot down the notion after the race that this finish will create some much-needed momentum for the 31 team.

"Our success or failure tonight doesn't dictate our success or failure next week," Burton said. "It feels good tonight, it'll feel good tomorrow, and then Monday it'll be back to work.

"It's always good to have finishes, but we need to put a string of finishes together. ... That's my largest concern."

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NASCAR Daytona Results: Greg Biffle Accepts Responsibility For Last-Lap Wreck

Greg Biffle climbed from his car and took a couple steps toward the door of his Roush Fenway Racing team's transporter.

He turned back and looked up at the Daytona International Speedway scoring pylon. The No. 16, which had a chance to be on top just minutes earlier, was instead nowhere to be found.

Biffle gritted his teeth.

"Damn it," he said quietly.

After watching the last lap of Saturday night's Coke Zero 400 four times in the transporter lounge, the 21st-place Biffle emerged with little ammunition with which he could defend himself from those who blamed him for causing a big wreck in the final turn.

"It looks like it's mostly my fault," he said.

Here's what happened, according to Biffle:

• Biffle was shoving teammate Matt Kenseth, and the duo suddenly caught eventual race winner Tony Stewart. Kenseth went up the track to get past Stewart, and that broke the tandem's momentum.

"I had to quit pushing (Kenseth) because I'd turn him, and I couldn't move up because (Kasey Kahne) was outside of me," Biffle said.

• Right at that moment, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Joey Logano shoved Kevin Harvick, who somehow shot down into the bottom hole. Biffle didn't anticipate Harvick's move and wasn't aware the No. 29 car was there when he came down the track.

"You look at the replay, he's sideways down on the apron, comes back up, and I don't know how he got in there, but he did," Biffle said. "I just never thought he'd be there."

Harvick – who finished 23rd – was none too pleased with Biffle after the race. The Richard Childress Racing driver walked to the No. 16 car, leaned into the window and asked Biffle what the deal was.

"He came over and was like, 'What happened, man? I was clear up to your door!'" Biffle said. "By the time we made contact, he was – but he wasn't when I started coming down. When I started coming down, he was just barely in there."

It was simply a split-second decision gone wrong, Biffle said, albeit a costly one for many drivers.

"That's what it's like going for it on the last lap," he said. "It sucks we all end up wrecked."

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NASCAR: Sam Hornish Jr.'s 'Different' Day As Last-Minute Daytona Sub For Suspended AJ Allmendinger

Sam Hornish Jr. wasn’t supposed to be competing in Saturday night's Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway. In fact, the Penske Racing Nationwide Series driver was back in Charlotte working as an analyst for SPEED on the television program SPEED Center.

But during commercial, Hornish reached into his pocket to check his cell phone which had kept buzzing while he was on the air.

“I was standing there with my phone in my pocket getting ready to go sit down to answer the question of who my pick was going to be for the night and also what it takes to be someone that they want to draft with," he said. “My phone started vibrating and I looked at it and I’m like, ‘I can’t take it right now, even though I know it’s important' – because I knew this was a live show.

"I did the show and they wanted to tape something for tomorrow and they said ‘Can we tape something?’ and I’m like ‘I have to make a call quick’ and then it was, ‘Nope, I can’t.’”

It was then when Hornish learned he was being called into duty by his Penske Racing team as a last-minute replacement for AJ Allmendinger, who had just been suspended by NASCAR for violating its substance abuse policy.

Hornish quickly trekked to the airport to catch a waiting plane to Daytona and as he did that, the No. 22 team was tasked with refitting its Dodge with a seat, pedals and a steering column to fit Hornish's specifications.

And because this all unfolded in a short amount of time, and because the green flag was rapidly approaching, some special accommodations were made.

“It’s kind of a weird thing landing in an airplane and see cop lights sitting there at the airport,” he said. “It was close, we were within minutes. If we had taken off 10 minutes later, I don’t know what they would have done.”

So there was Hornish, driving a car he hadn't practiced, racing underneath the green flag in just his second Cup race of the year.

“The big thing was I wanted to take a couple of laps to feel the car out, feel exactly what was good, what I liked and didn’t like about it and give myself an opportunity to feel the car out,” Hornish said. “It was actually a little tighter than I would have liked it to be.

“But all-in-all, I couldn’t have asked for much more on that short of a time period. The head rest was awful; the steering wheel was off a bit. But I knew all that because I didn’t have the time to take all the steps you normally take to get yourself ready for one of these races.”

When everything was said and done, Hornish finished the night in 33rd place after a blown a tire caused him to spin out. Overall, it was an experience which he referred to as “different.”

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NASCAR At Daytona Results 2012: Matt Kenseth Wonders What Might Have Been

Matt Kenseth had the most dominant car on Saturday night, but failed to close the deal at the end of NASCAR's Coke Zero 400 after he was separated from teammate Greg Biffle on the last lap at Daytona International Speedway.

The two Roush Fenway Racing teammates led for a combined 124 laps, often in tandem. When pit stops trapped the duo to the back of the field after a lap 124 accident, the two reconnected and drove themselves back to the front on the outside – a tactic no other group could utilize throughout the night.

On the final restart, Kenseth and Biffle restarted first and third on the inside lane but were separated coming to the white flag. Kenseth chose to fall back and pick up his teammate, allowing Stewart and Kasey Kahne to make a run on the outside.

That set off a chain reaction where third place on back was grouped together and Kenseth was forced to stay in the gas and make a charge to the front. The final accident occurred directly behind Kenseth, allowing the championship points leader to follow Tony Stewart and Jeff Burton to the finish line.

In hindsight, Kenseth said he would have chosen not to fall back and would have went tandem with Stewart, but a similar tactic burned him at Talladega, influencing his decision.

"Once Greg and I got separated, I should have stuck with Tony and raced for the win," Kenseth said. "We lost Talladega because I didn't keep Greg with me well enough and that was in the back of my mind. Once Tony and I got separated from our partners, I should have stayed at (Stewart's) door and let the chips fall where they may.

"But I fell back to Greg because we had been good together all night and I was hoping to get a run."

It's rare that a third place finish on a restrictor-plate track is considered a disappointment, but Kenseth realizes that the finish could have easily gone the other way.

"It's just really frustrating because you really can't do anything talent-wise to make the car go any faster," Kenseth said. "You've got to make the right moves and you've got to go slower to make sure you can keep a guy with you. It's just a different kind of racing."

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. At Daytona: Drivers Tried, Couldn't Make Passes

While it appeared all of the drivers purposefully spent much of Saturday night's Coke Zero 400 just riding around Daytona International Speedway, that wasn't actually the case – at least according to Dale Earnhardt Jr.

"I don't know what everybody (watching) thought was happening, but the whole race...it looked like riding, but we were on the mat, pushing the guy in front of us, not going anywhere," Earnhardt Jr. said. "We weren't taking it easy, we just couldn't do anything.

"I promise you: If I could have drove up there and passed the leader, I would have led some damn laps, you know what I mean?"

Earnhardt Jr. said he didn't want to just sit and ride, but he couldn't do anything else – nor could anyone around him. The top three drivers running the bottom line seemed to be safe, he said, and everyone else just sat there running side-by-side because they were unable to make passes.

"I know you hear this every week, but I think we can work on the package," he said. "We can't pass the leader. You can do a tandem at the end of the race like you saw, but you get hot (while tandem-drafting), so you can't do it all day."

At the end of the race, Earnhardt Jr. was in position for a top-five finish, but he was collected in the final big wreck coming to the line and got a 15th-place result instead.

Earnhardt Jr. said it looked like Greg Biffle came down on Kevin Harvick to start the wreck, and he couldn't get off Harvick because he was getting shoved from behind. And just when Earnhardt Jr. thought he'd cleared the crash, Biffle came off the wall and hit him.

"My mama told me she hoped the Cup race wasn't as wild as the Nationwide race is, but they always are, you know?" Earnhardt Jr. said. "All these races are always like that. And you just try to survive. We just came up a little short."

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NASCAR Daytona Results 2012: Tony Stewart Wins Coke Zero 400

Tony Stewart had an answer for the dominant pair of Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle.

In winning Saturday night's Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway, Stewart side-drafted and separated Kenseth and Biffle, who had surged into the lead during a two-lap run to the finish, then pulled away for his fourth win in the last eight July races at the 2.5-mile superspeedway.

As Stewart approached the checkered flag for his third win of the season and the 47th of his career, a massive wreck in Turn 4 skewed the finishing order behind him.

Jeff Burton came home second and series leader Kenseth third (after leading a race-high 89 laps), with Joey Logano and Ryan Newman completing the top five.

Denny Hamlin, suffering from a sore back that kept him out of practice for the event, made an ill-fated move exiting the tri-oval on Lap 153 of 160, triggering a multicar wreck that thinned the field for the final restart. All three Joe Gibbs Racing cars -- those of Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano -- were involved, as were the Michael Waltrip Racing entries of Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr.

Kenseth led the field to the restart with Stewart to his outside and Biffle behind him.

A caution on Lap 124 for a seven-car wreck that destroyed the Chevrolet of Jimmie Johnson interrupted the dominance of Roush Fenway Racing teammates Kenseth and Biffle, who both had committed to pit road before the caution flag flew.

Pit road closed with the yellow, however, and Kenseth continued without stopping. Biffle, on the other hand, drew a penalty for stopping while pit road was closed and was sent to the rear of the field for a restart on Lap 131.

One of the last drivers to pit after pit road opened, Kenseth also restarted deep in the field, but before long, he and Biffle hooked up and began rolling to the front in the outside lane. When Brad Keselowski's spin in Turn 2 caused the fourth caution on Lap 144, Kenseth and Biffle were running seventh and eighth, respectively.

The first caution didn't come until Lap 81 -- one lap past halfway -- when Sam Hornish Jr., driving the No. 22 Dodge in place of suspended AJ Allmendinger, blew a tire and wrecked on the backstretch. Hornish was a last-minute substitute for Allmendinger, whose failed drug test from last weekend at Kentucky was announced Saturday afternoon, along with his suspension from NASCAR competition.

The caution was a huge break for Stewart and Keselowski, who had fallen a half-lap down during the first cycle of green-flag pit stops. Stewart made excellent use of the reprieve and soon worked his way to the front of the field.

Keselowski's good fortune was short-lived. During pit stops under caution for Hornish's crash, Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman and Jeff Gordon went three-wide and tangled on the way to the exit from pit road. Newman's Chevrolet turned across the nose of Kahne's Chevy, and slid into the back of Keselowski's Dodge, which was parked in its pit stall.

Alert and nimble, Keselowski's crew and a NASCAR official scattered and escaped injury. And with full credit to the pit crews, all four cars effected repairs and remained on the lead lap.

Here are the results from Saturday night's Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway:

  1. Tony Stewart
  2. Jeff Burton
  3. Matt Kenseth
  4. Joey Logano
  5. Ryan Newman
  6. Carl Edwards
  7. Kasey Kahne
  8. Brad Keselowski
  9. Michael Waltrip
  10. Bobby Labonte
  11. David Reutimann
  12. Jeff Gordon
  13. Jamie McMurray
  14. Paul Menard
  15. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  16. Travis Kvapil
  17. Martin Truex Jr.
  18. Casey Mears
  19. Aric Almirola
  20. Terry Labonte
  21. Greg Biffle
  22. Dave Blaney
  23. Kevin Harvick
  24. Kyle Busch
  25. Denny Hamlin
  26. David Ragan
  27. Trevor Bayne
  28. Juan Pablo Montoya
  29. Clint Bowyer
  30. Marcos Ambrose
  31. David Gilliland
  32. Landon Cassill
  33. Sam Hornish Jr. (subbed for suspended AJ Allmendinger)
  34. Regan Smith
  35. Kurt Busch
  36. Jimmie Johnson
  37. Bill Elliott
  38. Josh Wise
  39. David Stremme
  40. JJ Yeley
  41. Joe Nemechek
  42. Stephen Leicht
  43. Michael McDowell
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NASCAR Driver AJ Allmendinger Suspended For Failing Substance Abuse Test

Sam Hornish Jr. to replace Allmendinger in tonight's Coke Zero 400.

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NASCAR At Daytona International Speedway: Viewer's Guide For Tonight's Race

Here are some storylines, notes and drivers to watch for tonight's NASCAR Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway:

Storylines

Starting Up Front Is Important

In a race regarded as wide-open, you wouldn't think that where you start would have an impact on where you finish. However, the stats show where you line up on the grid factors large into who is celebrating at the end of the night.

Since 1989 (a span of 23 races) eventual winners of this race have started in the top 10 a remarkable 19 times. In 22 of those 23 races, the eventual winner has started somewhere in the top 15. The only exception was Greg Biffle, who after starting 30th won this race in 2003 in what was a fuel-mileage affair.

Handling Is Key

The first images that usually come to mind when thinking about Daytona center on speed. And while speed has certainly become synonymous with the 2.5-mile oval – speeds topped 200 mph in practice – tonight's Coke Zero 400 won't necessarily be won by the driver with the fastest car. Instead, because of the heat combined with the current aero package, handling will be a key factor in deciding the outcome. After all, if a driver can't get his car to handle, it's almost impossible to run in tandem with another – meaning, you're quickly going to get shuffled to the back.

Packs Early, Tandems Late

The pack may be back and will be the predominant type of racing we'll see throughout the evening. But, as was the case in the Daytona 500 and again at Talladega in May, to have any chance to win a driver needs to have someone to work with. This is especially true in the closing laps when drivers tend to pair up in an effort to separate themselves from the pack –it's the very reason why Dale Earnhardt Jr. wasn't able to pass Matt Kenseth in the closing laps in the 500 and why Kyle Busch couldn't get back around Brad Keselowski at Talladega.

Expect to see pack racing rule the day early but, in the end, drivers are going to partner up like teenagers at junior high dance.

Another Daytona Romp For Roush?

Restrictor-plate racing was once an area of weakness for Roush Fenway Racing. In fact, it was 13 years before a Jack Roush-owned car ever won a plate race. But as they often do in NASCAR, things have changed and RFR is now a powerhouse on the plate races. In this race last year, David Ragan drove to victory with teammate Matt Kenseth pushing him. And in February, while Kenseth scored the win in the 500, both Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards posted finishes inside in the top 10.

Worth Noting

• If Matt Kenseth can win tonight, he will be the first driver since Bobby Allison in 1982 to have swept both Daytona races in a single season.

• Two drivers in tonight's field – Greg Biffle (2003) and David Ragan (2011) – scored their first Sprint Cup Series victory in this race.

• Casey Mears' eighth-place qualifying effort represents the first time in 55 races he will start a race inside the top 10.

Favorites

1. Matt Kenseth

As noted above, starting up near the front is important, as is driving a Ford for Roush Fenway Racing. Well, starting on the pole and driving a Roush Ford happens to be Matt Kenseth, who coincidently won here in February. Add everything together and it's clear cut why he's the No. 1 favorite.

2. Dale Earnhardt Jr.

He hasn't won a plate in nearly eight years; regardless, few navigate the draft and the challenges of restrictor-plate racing better than Dale Earnhardt Jr. And like he did in the 500, when he finished in the runner-up position, Earnhardt Jr. should again factor in the outcome.

3. Greg Biffle

Three things to like about Greg Biffle tonight: 1) He drives a Ford for Jack Roush; 2) He qualified in the top 10; and 3) In two plate races this season he has finished third and fifth.

Sleeper

Here's what you need to know about Paul Menard at Daytona: Since he started driving for Richard Childress Racing prior to the 2011 season, Menard has yet to finish outside the top 10. That sounds like sleeper potential to me.

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NASCAR At Daytona: Expectant Father Kevin Harvick Has Austin Dillon On Standby

Austin Dillon will stand by as a possible relief driver for Kevin Harvick in Saturday night's Coke Zero 400, the NASCAR Wire Service has learned.

Harvick and his wife, DeLana Harvick, are expecting their first child, and there's a possibility the baby may be born Saturday, which also is DeLana Harvick's birthday.

"Happy birthday @DeLanaHarvick could be an interesting one," Harvick posted on his Twitter account just before noon ET on Saturday.

Dillon flew home to North Carolina after finishing fourth in Friday night's NASCAR Nationwide Series race, intending to race Late Models before heading for a Nationwide event at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, according to sources close to the situation.

But Dillon was returning to Daytona Beach on Saturday afternoon in case his services were needed. Harvick said in his Thursday media availability at Daytona that he didn't have a back-up arranged, but apparently that changed as the race weekend progressed.

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NASCAR At Daytona 2012: Coke Zero 400 Start Time, Starting Lineup, Live Streaming, TV/Radio Schedule And More

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 Saturday's race for you below.

What time does the race start Saturday? Former Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden is the grand marshal for Saturday's race and will give the command to fire engines at 7:41 p.m. EDT. Following a couple pace laps, the Daytona race will begin at 7:53 p.m. EDT. So if you want to skip the pre-race show and just tune in for the actual event itself, flip on your TV set at 7:53 p.m.

Race name/distance: The Coke Zero 400 is the annual race at Daytona around the July 4 holiday. It used to be called the Firecracker 400 and then was known as the Pepsi 400 for awhile. Anyway, it's a 400-mile race around the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway, which takes 160 laps to complete.

TV, radio and live streaming: The race can be seen on TNT. This is TNT's fifth of six broadcasts this summer before handing the reins to ESPN for the rest of the season. And guess what? Saturday's race is TNT's annual "Wide Open" coverage, with NO national commercial breaks. There will be side-by-side ads only, except for full-screen local breaks. There IS live streaming of the race, which can be found at NASCAR.com's "RaceBuddy" site. If you'll be away from your computer and TV, check the Motor Racing Network's web site for a list of affiliate radio stations in your area.

*** NOTE: If you're out and about and can't watch the race, make sure to follow me (@jeff_gluck) on Twitter. I'll be tweeting updates from the event. ***

National anthem: HLN morning show host Robin Meade will sing the anthem tonight. She's looking for a little redemption after her last NASCAR anthem performance (two years ago at Sonoma) was a little sketchy.

Tickets: This isn't the Daytona 500, so there will be plenty of tickets available for tonight's Coke Zero 400 at Daytona. If you're looking to make a last-minute trip, you'll be fine with face-value tickets at the gate.

Weather: The unofficial NASCAR weatherman, Brian Neudorff, says the weather will be typical Florida summer weather: Hot, humid and with a chance of pop-up showers or storms. Neudorff believes the storms are more likely to miss the track than hit it, but you never know in Florida.

Last time: One year ago, David Ragan got his first-ever Sprint Cup Series victory in the Coke Zero 400, making up for a miscue in that season's Daytona 500. Earlier this year, in NASCAR's last visit to the track, Matt Kenseth won the Daytona 500 and Juan Pablo Montoya infamously blew up a jet dryer after a 36-hour rain delay.

Starting lineup for tonight's NASCAR race at Daytona International Speedway:

  1. Matt Kenseth
  2. Ryan Newman
  3. Kasey Kahne
  4. Greg Biffle
  5. Jeff Gordon
  6. Bill Elliott
  7. Casey Mears
  8. AJ Allmendinger
  9. Brad Keselowski
  10. Marcos Ambrose
  11. Kevin Harvick
  12. Carl Edwards
  13. Paul Menard
  14. Juan Pablo Montoya
  15. Trevor Bayne
  16. Jimmie Johnson
  17. Aric Almirola
  18. Martin Truex Jr.
  19. Joey Logano
  20. Jeff Burton
  21. Mike Bliss
  22. Kyle Busch
  23. Denny Hamlin
  24. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  25. Regan Smith
  26. David Stremme
  27. David Ragan
  28. Michael Waltrip
  29. Clint Bowyer
  30. Jamie McMurray
  31. Josh Wise
  32. David Gilliland
  33. Dave Blaney
  34. Terry Labonte
  35. Kurt Busch
  36. Joe Nemechek
  37. Stephen Leicht
  38. Landon Cassill
  39. David Reutimann
  40. Travis Kvapil
  41. Bobby Labonte
  42. Tony Stewart (was second)
  43. JJ Yeley
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Kurt Busch, Phoenix Racing Emotional After NASCAR Daytona Victory

Like an adult bringing kids to Disney World for the first time, Kurt Busch showed his Phoenix Racing team the wonders of a NASCAR Victory Lane on Friday night after winning the Nationwide Series race at Daytona International Speedway.

Busch beamed after winning on a wild night, sitting in the media center alongside crew chief Nick Harrison – who won in NASCAR for the first time and had never done a post-race news conference before.

"It means a lot to me," Busch said, sounding emotional. "But it means more to these guys."

That was the theme of the night for Busch, who appeared truly moved to see his team – a group of tight-knit underdogs who always have his back – overjoyed and infused with the sensation of winning a national series race.

"I don't care about me right now," Busch said. "Tonight is about Phoenix Racing. ... I'm glad this is an impound race and the (Sprint Cup) garage doesn't open until 3 (on Saturday afternoon), because these guys are going to need to sleep in a little bit. Just sayin'."

Harrison, the crew chief, praised his driver for overlooking some of the team's shortcomings – things as small as old, scratched windshields. He's been an unrelenting Busch defender, sticking up for him at Darlington in the Ryan Newman incident and celebrating his driver's gutsy Sonoma effort as if it were a win.

And the whole team feels the same way Harrison does: They won't give up on Busch, and he won't give up on them.

"There's heart and passion out there that these big teams ain't got," Harrison said. "It's a little bit on the emotional side, it really is. We all love each other, and it's awesome."

After Harrison said those words, Busch turned to him and smacked him affectionately on the shoulder.

"Ask Nick a question if you guys can get him one," Busch said, prodding reporters.

For a driver who always seems to be under fire – often because of his own doing – Friday night's race was a positive step in the right direction. It'll take many more nights like Daytona to repair his image, but it's not impossible.

"This is a big deal to us, for a team that hasn't had a sponsor," Busch's girlfriend Patricia Driscoll said. "And he's taken a lot of heat. Some of the stories about his future haven't been nice, like, 'Where's he gonna go? Is he really sponsorable?'

"I hope that tonight shows people what a good driver he is, but that he's committed and passionate about his racing."

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Danica Patrick Crashes In Daytona Nationwide Series Race

Danica Patrick entered Friday night's Nationwide Series race at Daytona International Speedway confident and thinking it was her best chance to score her maiden NASCAR win.

But her night came to an unexpected end on lap 84, when Patrick was left with nowhere to go when Jeffrey Earnhardt was turned off of Turn 2. In the ensuing chaos, Patrick's car veered sideways and savagely hit the backstretch wall.

"I have no idea because I didn't see it," Patrick said when asked what happened. "All I saw was that there was an accident happening in front of me and I went low to miss it and other than that, honestly I would be making it up from whatever happened from there on out."

For most of the evening, it appeared Patrick's No. 7 car for JR Motorsports was one of the cars to beat as she ran with the lead pack throughout and even paced the field for 14 laps.

Ultimately, though, all this did was make the end result all the more disappointing.

"It's just really frustrating when I have as fast as a car as I did," Patrick said. "I know Tony (Eury, crew chief) Jr. is frustrated. I know he expected to see it in Victory Lane and I did, too –- especially after the big accident in (Turns) 1 and 2, I thought, ‘This job got a little easier.'"

But it wasn't to be and instead of celebrating her first series win, Patrick's night ended early with a wrecked race car –- a car she thought was good enough to win with.

"I'm sure there were plenty of other cars that had pretty darn good speed, especially with the way you could work in tandems –- obviously tandems are the stronger way to go," Patrick said. "But I definitely think I had one of the cars to beat tonight, absolutely."

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NASCAR Daytona Nationwide Race Results 2012: Kurt Busch Wins On Wild Night

With a strong push from defending NASCAR Nationwide Series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kurt Busch won a wild Subway Jalapeno 250 Friday night at Daytona International Speedway, as Austin Dillon was turned sideways and wrecked in the tri-oval as Busch crossed the finish line.

Stenhouse came home second, followed by Michael Annett, who was pushing Dillon during a green-white-checkered-flag finish that took the race one lap beyond its scheduled distance of 100 laps.

Dillon slid sideways across the stripe in fourth place, with Joey Logano and series leader Elliott Sadler taking fifth and sixth, respectively.

Busch picked up his fifth victory in 23 Nationwide starts.

Danica Patrick led 14 laps and escaped one major wreck before being collected late in the race.

As Kevin Harvick and Mike Wallace tried to swap positions at the front of the field on Lap 66, Patrick pushed Allgaier to the front as a 15-car wreck erupted behind her. Wallace moved down the track into the Chevrolet of James Buescher, then bounced up into Brad Keselowski's Dodge in the outside lane.

The chain-reaction wreck also collected Harvick, series leader Sadler, Kurt and Kyle Busch, Cole Whitt (Patrick's JR Motorsports teammate), Clint Bowyer, among others. Sadler's damage was minimal, and he soon regained the lead.

In fact, Sadler held the point on Lap 83, when an off-center push from Ricky Stenhouse Jr. turned Jeffrey Earnhardt sideways in front of the main pack of cars. As drivers checked up in reaction to the wreck, Patrick was launched toward the inside SAFER barrier and took a vicious hit when her No. 7 Chevrolet slammed into the wall.

Busch made six pit stops under caution as his crew repaired the damage to his car -- enough to get it to Victory Lane.

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NASCAR Daytona Starting Lineup 2012 (UPDATED): Matt Kenseth Leads Coke Zero 400 Qualifying

Matt Kenseth returned to the scene of his Daytona 500 victory on Friday and showed he has plenty of restrictor-plate power again, winning the pole position for Saturday night's Coke Zero 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.

The pole was Kenseth's first pole of the season – which will lock him into next season's Daytona Shootout – and his first since the fall Phoenix race last year.

But Kenseth doesn't often win the pole; Friday's achievement was only the eighth of Kenseth's 13-year NASCAR career.

A pair of Stewart-Haas Racing teammates were next – Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman – and Kasey Kahne and Greg Biffle rounded out the top five.

UPDATE: Tony Stewart has failed post-qualifying inspection and will have to start the Coke Zero 400 at the rear of the field. His qualifying time was disallowed due to an open cooling hose in the cockpit (which is capable of providing an aerodynamic advantage).

Stewart had qualified second before the penalty.

Here's the starting lineup for Saturday night's Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway:
  1. Matt Kenseth
  2. Ryan Newman
  3. Kasey Kahne
  4. Greg Biffle
  5. Jeff Gordon
  6. Bill Elliott
  7. Casey Mears
  8. AJ Allmendinger
  9. Brad Keselowski
  10. Marcos Ambrose
  11. Kevin Harvick
  12. Carl Edwards
  13. Paul Menard
  14. Juan Pablo Montoya
  15. Trevor Bayne
  16. Jimmie Johnson
  17. Aric Almirola
  18. Martin Truex Jr.
  19. Joey Logano
  20. Jeff Burton
  21. Mike Bliss
  22. Kyle Busch
  23. Denny Hamlin
  24. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  25. Regan Smith
  26. David Stremme
  27. David Ragan
  28. Michael Waltrip
  29. Clint Bowyer
  30. Jamie McMurray
  31. Josh Wise
  32. David Gilliland
  33. Dave Blaney
  34. Terry Labonte
  35. Kurt Busch
  36. Joe Nemechek
  37. Stephen Leicht
  38. Landon Cassill
  39. David Reutimann
  40. Travis Kvapil
  41. Bobby Labonte
  42. Tony Stewart (was second)
  43. JJ Yeley
DNQ: Robert Richardson Jr.
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NASCAR: Austin Dillon Loses Daytona Nationwide Pole After Failing Post-Qualifying Inspection

There's a habit Austin Dillon's NASCAR Nationwide Series team needs to break -- immediately -- if the driver of the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet hopes to win the series championship.

Bluntly, the No. 3 team needs to stop failing inspection. Dillon's pole-winning time for Friday night's Subway Jalapeno 250 at Daytona International Speedway was disallowed after inspectors found an open cooling hose into the cockpit of the car, a duct work violation that in theory would provide an aerodynamic advantage.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., second to Dillon in Friday's time trials, gets credit for the pole, but Dillon retained his pit selection, with pit choices already having been made.

Dillon was required to start from the rear for Friday's race.

A week earlier, Dillon's team was penalized when the winning car at Kentucky Speedway failed the post-race height stick test. Crew chief Danny Stockman was fined $10,000 and Dillon lost six driver championship points, dropping him from the series lead.

Car owner Richard Childress attributed the ride height failure (too low in the rear) to a jack bolt that had worked its way loose on the bumpy Kentucky racetrack.

Stockman and car chief Robert Strmiska were on probation before the Kentucky infraction for using unapproved upper front bumper covers at Richmond, an infraction discovered on RCR and Turner Motorsports cars during opening-day inspection for the April 27 race.

NASCAR will review the cooling hose violation in its competition meeting early next week and may impose additional penalties then.

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NASCAR At Daytona: Brian France Talks Commercials, Cautions

In an effort to improve the competition on the track, NASCAR is placing an emphasis on its Research and Development Center and giving it more autonomy, NASCAR CEO Brian France said Friday at Daytona International Speedway.

NASCAR believes that by splitting off the R&D Center from the competition department, advances can more easily be made.

"Our stated goal is to have the most competitive and close competition as we possibly can," France said. "... So our goal is to use...a lot more science than art for us to keep up, solve issues, create rules packages on intermediate tracks and alike that produce closer, more competitive racing."

NASCAR is also working on ways to dry tracks faster, as well as the development and possible future implementation of glass dashboards.

"Things like drying the racetrack off in a much faster way than we currently do it today, which obviously would have a huge benefit to our race fans and the sport in general," France said.

As for the glass dashboards, France said they would be similar to the ones being implemented by auto manufacturers in street models. Telemetry data could then be transferred to fans.

Others topics of note France discussed during his Q&A include:

• Bruton Smith's idea of mandatory cautions is "gimmicky," France said, and added it was not something NASCAR had interest in enacting.

• NASCAR will continue to work with its television partners to make the viewing experience as enjoyable as possible, France said. This includes looking at the number of commercials run during each broadcast.

"Look, there is a commercial balance here," France said. "There are parameters. All of our partners have very strict parameters of how many commercial units they can run at a given time.

"There aren't TV timeouts, per se, in our sport. So it is understandable where our fans can miss something, feel like they're missing something and be frustrated by it. I understand that."

• On the subject of television, France acknowledged while NASCAR will soon be beginning renegotiations with FOX, ESPN and TNT, they are open to listening to proposals from networks not currently airing Cup, Nationwide or Truck Series races.

• France expects "no dramatic changes" to the 2013 Cup schedule, and there are no current plans to move a road course race into the Chase.

"We only have two (road races), so it would be a little challenging just from a scheduling perspective," France said. "We haven't heard a lot of concern one way or the other why it is or it isn't. So it wouldn't be top of our list."

France did allow for the possibility of more races to be shortened next season.

• The resurgence of Dale Earnhardt Jr., which saw the driver snap a four-year winless streak last month at Michigan and has him second in the point standings heading into Saturday's Coke Zero 400, is "a good thing for him...and everybody else," France said.

• The "encouraging" storylines that are developing as the Chase nears include Jeff Gordon currently being on the outside looking in as he tries to make the Chase for the eighth time in nine seasons.

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NASCAR At Daytona: Did Danica Patrick Call Her Shot For Nationwide Win?

Danica Patrick will win tonight's NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Daytona International Speedway...according to Danica Patrick.

Well, kind of.

Patrick was a guest on The Dan Patrick Show on Friday morning, and host Dan Patrick (no relation) nudged her toward making a prediction at the end of the interview.

Dan: "If you want to call your shot that you'll win tonight, might as well do it."

Danica: "... I heard one of the officials come over and say all the officials are saying I'm going to win the race tonight. They've been around a long time and seen a lot of races, so I'm going to go with the officials on this one."

Dan: "You're calling your shot. Danica Patrick will win tonight's race at Daytona."

Danica: "Get ready."

Wow. So Danica Patrick says she's going to win her first NASCAR race tonight at Daytona? Did Patrick (Danica, not Dan) really say that?

"That's true, that's true," Patrick said with a laugh, speaking a few hours after her interview with the other Patrick. "But then I was taking a shower after washing off my hairspray and makeup and I was like, 'Wait a second. That kind of sounded like a jerk thing to say!' So what I really should have said is, 'Well I shouldn't be betting against myself, should I?'

"So that's my answer. I really shouldn't bet against myself."

Patrick said she wasn't making a guarantee that she'd win, because there are no guarantees in racing.

"You all know that," she said. "It's like when somebody comes up and asks you, 'Are you going to win tonight?' Well, I'm going to try! That's the best I can do."

But because of her experience at Daytona (she's run more laps here than any other NASCAR track) and her car (JR Motorsports always has good superspeedway cars), Patrick said she has "as good a chance as ever" to win her first race tonight.

And reality, that makes her anything but confident enough to call her shot.

"I guess you could say I'm a little nervous," she said.

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NASCAR At Daytona 2012: How Drivers Plan To Win Coke Zero 400

Thirty-two times a year drivers are on a virtual island as they attempt to navigate their way to Victory Lane. However, that isn't the case whenever the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series travels to Talladega or Daytona International Speedway the site of this weekend's Coke Zero 400.

After all, to win at a restrictor-plate track usually requires having a partner to work with. Two-car drafts may be mostly dead due to NASCAR rule changes, but that's likely still how the race will be won.

So how does a driver go about finding a drafting partner that they can trust will help push them to the finish and do so without wrecking them?

Here are three concepts to keep in mind when watching the end of Saturday night's Daytona race:

The 'Teammate Approach' (Until There Are No Teammates)

Some drivers prefer teammates, knowing the likelihood of someone making an ill-advised move is far less likely when both drivers are getting paychecks from the same person. After all, who can a driver count on if not a teammate?

"That is a great scenario because you know you can trust each other," Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Thursday. "Neither one of you is going to do something that is going to ruin it for the whole company. Between the two of you, one of you is going to find Victory Lane and that is the best scenario."

But what if a teammate isn't available? In that case, Earnhardt Jr. said, "you need to be as selfish as you can be."

"Just be the biggest jerk you can be out there," he said. "That is the way it's got to be if you want to get to Victory Lane. You ain't going to do it by expecting favors. You just have to go out there and take it from people and if you can get to Victory Lane, you don't have to worry about having somebody tell you that was stupid."

The 'Every Man For Himself' Approach

Others don't concern themselves too much about whether a driver is a teammate or even if they drive for a rival manufacturer. Their preference is to let circumstances dictate who they end up partnering with.

"I've never believed in the whole whichever car works best," Jeff Gordon said. "... I think it just depends on if there is a caution or not a caution. More than likely there will be, and if there is, then I think you are just going to have to team up with whoever is in front of you or behind you and hope you have been working together with that person."

More often than not, the majority of drivers are apt to go with whoever gives themselves the best to win. This is the tactic used by Matt Kenseth and a strategy he used to great success in February when he won the Daytona 500.

"I think at the very end of the race, you always choose what you think is gonna be your best option to win the race or to finish as high as you can finish," Kenseth said.

Kevin Harvick was even more straightforward about his approach to Saturday's race.

"It's kind of like it used to be: Every man for himself," Harvick said. "If you're first you work with the guy that is behind you, and if you're second you push the guy that's in front of you."

The 'Enemies Can Be Friends' Approach

Drivers who could potentially work together have past history, so restrictor-plate racing can often lead to strange bedfellows.

That was the case earlier in the year at Talladega, when Brad Keselowski paired up with Kyle Busch – a driver he's had numerous issues with previously. But in spite of their checkered past, Keselowski and Busch worked well with one another as the two finished first and second, respectively.

"I try to put grudges or ill will behind and go with people that know what they're doing," Keselowski said. "Certainly I've had some run-ins with Kyle in the past, but there's no doubt that he's a great race car driver when it comes to these tracks. He can help me be successful and I'm going to work with him. Absolutely.

"I'm going to work with guys of that nature. I think that it's important to keep an open mind from that perspective at these tracks."

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Denny Hamlin At Daytona: Back Issues Include Spasms, Torn Disc

Denny Hamlin has experienced back problems for years, but the ones that sidelined him this week mark a new area of concern.

Hamlin is sitting out the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice sessions this weekend and skipping the Nationwide Series race due to back spasms triggered in last week's Kentucky Speedway event. Hamlin also has torn and bulging disks in his back, he told reporters on Thursday at Daytona International Speedway.

"Any other racetrack, I'd be on track at this point," Hamlin said. "But I've made such decent progress, you don't want to give that up by getting in a wreck and then jeopardizing being able to start the Cup race."

Hamlin's back always bothers him after any sort of physical activity, he said – even running – and he's been dealing with back spasms since 2008.

But after Kentucky, his back tightened up and was the worst it's been. By the time he sat down for dinner on the night after Kentucky, his back was in such bad shape that he couldn't stand up from the table.

"With spasms...anything can set it off," he said. "Obviously, the most risk of having an accident in practice would be on a superspeedway. The likelihood of me getting in an accident in the Nationwide race would be high as well.

"Those are all things that would trigger going backward from everything I've gained this week. So that's the reason. ... Just wanted to minimize risk, that's all."

Hamlin said he and his doctors will change his training routine to include strength-building exercises for his back. In the meantime, he'll have to put reduce the time spent on two of his favorite activities: Basketball and golf.

"For a little while, I'll definitely have to tame it down," he said. "The goal right now is to get everything stronger first before I go back to doing those things."

Doctors told Hamlin he won't need surgery until "years down the road" and that physical therapy should take care of the problem.

Joe Gibbs Racing doesn't plan to have a relief driver on standby for Saturday night.

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NASCAR At Daytona: Carl Edwards Firmly Against Mandatory Cautions

Calling it "artificial" and a slippery slope that NASCAR doesn't need to head down, Carl Edwards left no doubt where he stands on the idea of mandatory cautions when he spoke with the media Thursday at Daytona International Speedway.

"If you wanted to shorten the races or you wanted to do something, but just throwing a caution because the race is ‘boring' to someone, I think that's a dangerous road to go down, in my opinion," Edwards said. "I think if somebody is good and they go out and win every race by a lap for a year, then they ought to be held up for that and say, ‘Hey, that's great.'

"And if it makes the race a little more boring, we get a little bit less sponsorship dollars or a few less people in the seats, that's just the way it is. That's real competition. That's the way things go sometimes. You can't fabricate competition. That's what's so great about our sport."

The idea of mandatory cautions stems from comments Speedway Motorsports Inc. chairman Bruton Smith made last week at Kentucky, saying NASCAR should have predetermined yellow flags in order to artificially enhance the action on the track.

Edwards, who was unaware of Smith's comments before entering the Daytona media center, was adamant that introducing such an idea – comparable to a TV timeout in other sports – was not in the best interests of NASCAR.

"Let me just lay something out here for you," Edwards said. "Is it your understanding that when they throw the green flag, that the only reason another flag is gonna come out – like a yellow one or a red one before the checkered flag comes out – is if there's a condition on the race track that is unsafe to continue to race?"

All of the reporters in attendance nodded yes.

"So that tells me a couple of things," Edwards said. "I should prepare to run the whole race. I should prepare to run the whole race under green. I should plan my pit strategy to run and I should only change it when I see something that happens on the race track, like a wreck, oil or debris. Those are the rules and that's the way I understand auto racing to work."

When a reporter challenged Edwards by asking about recent rule changes such as the Lucky Dog, double-file restarts and the wave-around rule – all of which were introduced by NASCAR in recent years in an effort to make the on-track product better – Edwards said mandatory cautions are the "next dimension" in tweaking the races.

It's a step that goes too far, he said.

"It's not gonna be a Game 7 moment every race," he said. "That's what makes some races great. To me, if you start affecting the competition like that, that is analogous to stopping a basketball game if the score gets too far apart and putting the score back even.

"That, to me is not what auto racing is about. If you let these races play out naturally, and let the racing be racing, sometimes there are some wild things that happen and things happen that are unexpected. That's what makes that true, real drama that happens every once in a while."

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Sarcastic Or Not Sarcastic? Tony Stewart Comments On Bruton Smith Idea

Ever since Bruton Smith made his remarks last week about how NASCAR should implement mandatory cautions, I've been thinking: Wonder what ol' Tony Stewart thinks about that idea?

Stewart, of course, is the one who sarcastically suggested Talladega should run Figure Eight races to spice things up. I thought he'd pan Smith's idea, to be honest.

So when he had the following response to the concept on Thursday, I was confused:

"I think the more that you interrupt and disrupt the race, I don't know... I don't know that I necessarily agree with that. Bruton has been a pretty successful promoter for a long time, so more times than not he's going to be right."

Wait a minute: Was Stewart being serious that Smith might be right? Or was he pulling the whole dry (and undetectable) sarcasm routine again?

I was so puzzled that I asked one of Stewart's public relations representatives to clarify. After getting further explanation from Stewart, the rep told me his driver was indeed being serious: He does believe Smith is a great promoter and is usually right.

So there you have it.

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Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Concerns Over NASCAR Sway Bar Rule Change Was Much Ado About Nothing

Remember all the chatter about NASCAR's new rule affecting the rear sway bar? Before last week's Kentucky race, drivers such as Brad Keselowski predicted the rule would be a "major game-changer."

Some insiders felt teams like Hendrick Motorsports, who ran angled sway bars to much success, would supposedly be weakened – a change that could impact the resurgence of Dale Earnhardt Jr.

As it turned out, the new rule didn't seem to have much impact at all. All four Hendrick drivers finished in the top six at Kentucky, and Earnhardt Jr. was fourth.

Looking back now, Earnhardt Jr. said he was never worried the rule would affect his No. 88 car.

"We felt pretty confident about our cars all year and we've been running pretty good since the year started, so that rule change to me was quite insignificant to every other variable on the car that we're confident in," he said Thursday at Daytona International Speedway. "I feel like Steve (Letarte, crew chief) has not just that tiny piece of the car figured out, we've got a lot of other things going in the right direction that have helped us run good all year long."

As for the naysayers who felt the sway bar was the key to Hendrick's success, Earnhardt Jr. said that question was answered before the Quaker State 400 even began.

"I felt like in the first practice and the second practice, we made our statement," he said. "The race was an afterthought. Just the speed we had in the first two practices on Friday should have been a good answer."

Earnhardt Jr. said the concept of a rule change that only affected Hendrick cars "just sounds crazy." While he said the talk served as credit to the intelligence and advances Hendrick had made in that area, he added "we aren't the only ones out there" who know how to use the rear sway bars.

"Maybe those other guys are pretty smart for playing dumb," he said. "The change wasn't going to make a big difference. We've been running good all year long, and I felt like we wouldn't miss a beat. I really didn't have any concern over the rule change whatsoever."

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NASCAR At Daytona International Speedway: Denny Hamlin To Miss Practice

A sore back will prevent Denny Hamlin from participating in Thursday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice at Daytona International Speedway. The issue, which is said to be cramping muscles, also forced Hamlin to withdraw from Friday's Nationwide Series race.

Hamlin's teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, Joey Logano, will fill in during Cup practice and take some laps in Hamlin's No. 11 car.

Hamlin is expected to be fit enough to compete the entire distance in Saturday's Coke Zero 400 Cup race.

Originally, Hamlin was scheduled to drive a No. 18 Toyota sponsored by Dollar General in the Nationwide Series event, but Joey Logano and sponsor SportClips will move over to the No. 18 car instead. In Hamlin's place, JGR has tabbed Michael Waltrip Racing's Clint Bowyer to race the No. 20 car.

"My hope was to run the Nationwide Series race Friday night, but I woke up with a sore back earlier this week and feel it's in the best interest of the team to sit it out," Hamlin said in a statement released by the team. "Luckily it's nothing serious and the extra rest will help me on Saturday night."

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Defending Daytona Coke Zero 400 Winner David Ragan Talks Future Plans

Saturday's Coke Zero 400 marks the one year anniversary of David Ragan's first and only NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win, and Ragan couldn't be more energized to defend his title at Daytona International Speedway.

But this year, driving for the underfunded Front Row Motorsports, Ragan is just 28th in the standings with only one top-10 finish – a seventh-place result at Talladega.

While the numbers don't look especially positive, Ragan believes he's maximized the potential of his current equipment and said Front Row is on the verge of a breakthrough in the season's second half.

"I think July could be real telling for the future of this team," said Ragan, speaking prior to a third-place finish in the World Crown 300, a Late Model race in Georgia. "We got some things we're about to implement and we know what we have to do. Bob (Jenkins, team owner) knows what he has to do, and he's prepared to further invest in this team, and we're looking to improve five to eight positions by next season."

Ragan committed to a one-year contract before the season. Will his optimism translate to an extension?

"If there are some other opportunities that come along, I'll listen," Ragan said. "I feel like this is my future in the sport on the line, so I'll listen to every offer. But I'm definitely committed to Front Row and getting them to the next level. I feel like we're on the verge of catching the tail end of the top half of the field.

"We're close, but this is going to take some additional sponsorship commitments and ownership support, because we're not satisfied running where we are right now. So we'll either make progress or we'll entertain other opportunities."

Ragan in his first year driving for Front Row after spending five years at Roush Fenway Racing. As a result, he's familiar with what's happening over there now with Matt Kenseth leaving as a free agent at to sign with another team.

After going through the process last year, Ragan noticed some similarities between his own experience and what happened with Kenseth.

Team owner Jack Roush admitted at Kentucky that if he had been as diligent on the business side as he was on the engineering end, he would have re-signed Kenseth months ago. Ragan seemed to agree.

"Most owners are involved with the financial side more than the engineering side," Ragan said. "We're talking about guys like Hendrick and Gibbs; Childress is more technical.

"Jack is on top of everything on the engineering and technical side. If Jack spent more time on the business end, I think he might have had a better chance of keeping that group together."

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At Daytona, Greg Biffle Says He Supports Mandatory NASCAR Cautions

Though Bruton Smith's idea to implement mandatory cautions to spice up NASCAR races doesn't have much support in the garage, at least one driver is speaking out in favor of the idea.

Greg Biffle said Thursday at Daytona he supports the concept of throwing periodic competition cautions if the races go green like they have in many instances this season.

"I would not be against it if we see the races continue to run green the whole way with one or two cautions," Biffle said. "I think that that, over time, could lose the fans' interest. Sitting in the stands and watching on TV, I think they could lose interest, and that's not what we want."

Biffle said he doesn't know how NASCAR would determine when to throw the cautions – he suggested perhaps after one full fuel/tire run plus three-quarters of another – but agreed with Smith that "we are somewhat in the entertainment business."

The problem is, Biffle said, drivers are focused on racing and get upset when there's a "bogus caution" – the cautions he described as a non-obvious debris cautions.

"Somebody always benefits, so we go, 'Oh, that's not fair,'" he said. "Because that guy got the lucky dog and (another) guy got saved from the leader passing him. It happens every race, it just isn't talked about because there's always that situation."

Biffle said that concern needed to be balanced with the concern over long, green-flag runs, which he said "has lost people's attention a little bit."

But NASCAR president Mike Helton, also speaking Thursday, said NASCAR fans want to see the races unfold naturally and added the sanctioning body had no plans to implement multiple competition cautions.

"I think at the end of the day, our product of racing on the racetrack is exciting," Helton said. "Sports is a true reality show as it unfolds. You have to be careful when you think about artificially creating the outcome of that.

"We go through cycles being accused of creating cautions. It's kind of interesting to be accused of not having enough cautions. Time will swing back (in the other direction)."

Not all drivers were enthusiastic about Smith's mandatory cautions idea.

"Same guy who ruined Bristol," Kevin Harvick said.

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NASCAR At Daytona International Speedway 2012: Coke Zero 400 Preview

For all the uncertainty swirling around Matt Kenseth's future, the one sure thing for him this season has been his performance on restrictor-plate tracks. Now the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points leader is poised for a rare Daytona sweep.

Saturday night's Coke Zero 400 (7:30 p.m. ET, TNT) is the next challenge for Kenseth, who outlasted fire, rain and the field to win a marathon Daytona 500 back in February. He's now in position to score a season sweep of Daytona International Speedway's two Sprint Cup events, a feat last achieved by Bobby Allison in 1982.

In the months that followed his second Daytona 500 victory, Kenseth has been a constant at or near the top of the standings, but his announcement last week that he'll leave Roush Fenway Racing at season's end has thrown a variable into the mix. Despite his lame-duck status, Kenseth said he's still eager to check off more goals in 2012, especially after his show of strength earlier this season at Daytona and Talladega, the only two tracks where horsepower is restricted.

"I looked forward to going to Talladega more so than any plate race I have ever looked forward to in my career with as well as we ran at Daytona and how fast our cars were in February," said Kenseth, who holds an 11-point lead in the Sprint Cup standings over Dale Earnhardt Jr. "I feel the same way about Daytona this weekend and I am looking forward to getting down there."

Kenseth was in prime position for a Talladega win in May, leading a race-high 73 of 194 laps in the Aaron's 499 but a late-race jumble of cars separated him from teammate Greg Biffle, allowing Brad Keselowski to pull away and leaving Kenseth third in the final shuffle.

"At Talladega, I felt we had the fastest car in the race and dominated the race as much as you can, but I felt like I messed that up at the end when Greg and I somehow got separated," Kenseth said. "I have been agonizing over that since Talladega, but I am looking forward to getting some redemption this weekend."

Keselowski virtually assured himself of a berth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup by notching his series-best third win of the season last weekend at Kentucky Speedway. He currently clings to 10th place in the standings, but is on solid ground in the wild-card race should he fall from the ranks of the top 10 qualifiers for NASCAR's postseason.

Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne currently hold the two available wild-card spots with nine races to go before the 10-race playoff, but both drivers are far from locks for the Chase with just one win each in 2012. Kahne sits 14th in the standings, but is in a three-way tie with Ryan Newman and Joey Logano, who also have one win this season.

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NASCAR At Daytona International Speedway 2012: Weather Forecast And Schedule

Typical July weather is expected for this weekend's NASCAR activities at Daytona International Speedway – hot and humid with pop-up showers and thunderstorms.

I know many are a little nervous seeing rain in a NASCAR Daytona weather forecast after what happened back in February when NASCAR kicked off the season on a Monday in prime time. Although these pop-up and scattered showers and storms each afternoon and evening can cause delays, I don't expect the same kind of deluge that we saw back in February.

When I say "typical" Florida weather, what I mean is mostly-to-partly-sunny days, hot with highs near 90 and humid. If you've ever been to Florida in the summer, then you know a spot shower or storm is likely at anytime during the afternoon. These storms leave as quickly as they form and are more miss than hit.

Daytona_nascar_weather_forecast_medium

The rest of the week and weekend is mostly dry – yes a stray shower, storm or two can't be ruled out – but I don't see anything in the forecast that should force a rescheduled race like this past winter.

Please follow me on Twitter @NASCAR_WXMAN and like me on Facebook for the latest weather updates through the weekend.

Conditions in Daytona Beach, FL: Click here for Current Weather ConditionsLook at Doppler Radar | Mobile Friendly Site | Mobile Radar

THURSDAY:
2:30 p.m EDT
Nationwide Series Practice – Partly sunny, chance of shower/storm – temp: 89
4:00 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Series Practice – Partly sunny, chance of shower/storm – temp: 90
5:30 p.m EDT
Nationwide Series Final Practice – Partly sunny, chance of shower/storm – temp: 87
6:35 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Series Final Practice – Partly sunny, chance of shower/storm – temp: 85

FRIDAY:
2:05 p.m EDT
Nationwide Series Qualifying – Partly sunny, chance of shower/storm – temp: 90
4:10 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Series Qualifying – Partly sunny, chance of shower/storm – temp: 90
7:30 p.m EDT
Nationwide Race – Partly sunny, chance of shower/storm – temp: 84

SATURDAY:
6:30 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Series Pre-race – Partly sunny, chance of shower/storm – temp: 87
7:30 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Series Race – Partly sunny, chance of shower/storm – temp: 83
8:30 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Series Race – Partly cloudy, chance of shower/storm – temp: 88
10 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Series Race –Partly cloudy, chance of shower/storm – temp: 80

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NASCAR At Daytona International Speedway 2012: Denny Hamlin To Miss Nationwide Race With Sore Back

Clint Bowyer will drive Joe Gibbs Racing's No. 20 car while Joey Logano moves to replace Hamlin in the No. 18.

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