Maybe it's better off as a Busch league

DAYTONA BEACH -- Kyle Busch just wants to pass off the advice he's been given so many times during his colorful NASCAR career, and in the process he just might spark some more interest in stock-car racing's top levels.

Busch certainly had some choice words for Martin Truex Jr. after the Camping World 300 for the NASCAR Nationwide Series on Saturday. Seems Truex voiced his displeasure with the way Busch was driving in the closing laps of the event, won by Busch's teammate Tony Stewart. Truex accused Busch of blocking.
"What else you gonna do, man? Shoot, he's pushing me through the tri-oval, wanting to spin me out," said Busch, who finished second, one spot ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr. "I'm sorry I saved it and kept it in front of him."

And then he had this to say to Truex: "Grow up, bud."
Busch had the race lead with 5 laps remaining and then took it back with a lap and a half remaining after Stewart passed him in turn 2 on lap 118 of 120. Stewart finally took the lead for good heading into turn 3 on that very same circuit, leaving Truex and Earnhardt to try and split up the Joe Gibbs Racing stranglehold of Stewart and Busch.

Truex tried to get under Busch through turns 1 and 2, but Busch held him off with momentum down the backstretch.

Busch then got flip when answering a question about Truex's criticism, firing off in a way that was equal parts funny and hostile.

"What does he want me to do? Pull over?" Busch asked. "Next question."
While Busch's driving ability is stunning, his own maturity level has been called into question on several occasions.

He once left a race while his crew was still making repairs to the car, and he's suggested that NASCAR wants to raise the age limit on drivers in the Sprint Cup Series once again as a "Kyle Busch rule" aimed at limiting the off-the-track issues he's had.

Just last season, he made for an ugly split with former employer Hendrick Motorsports, saying he felt that he wasn't being offered the same information as his other teammates and that he felt his team was left to race alone.

But Busch might be just the thing NASCAR needs this season as it pledges to return to its roots. One night he's taking an ill-handling Truck and wrestling it all over the place en route to a podium finish not many others could muster; the next afternoon he's firing off-the-cuff criticism the way of Goodyear.
"I've gotten a real good feel for the tires this week. They're junk," he said. "They were terrible today. They were terrible last night (in the Truck race). So, I expect (the Daytona 500) to be a whole lot of fun."

He's young, he's brash and he's supremely talented and quotable. Could be just what NASCAR is looking for to resurrect a sport plagued by plunging television ratings and sagging ticket sales.

Maybe he can help the sport "grow up, bud."

Note to ESPN: Enough already

ESPN is turning its NASCAR Nationwide Series coverage into nothing more than a daily promotion of its new show about Dale Earnhardt Jr., "Shifting Gears," a 5-part epic detailing Earnhardt's move from Dale Earnhardt Inc. to Hendrick Motorsports.

The final few questions asked of Earnhardt after he finished 3rd in the Camping World 300 at Daytona all had to do with what Earnhardt thought of the program and how it was produced. This came on the heels of Friday's qualifying session for that race, after Earnhardt's disappointing effort in time trials.

In fact, ESPN garage reporter Mike Massaro spent more time Friday asking Earnhardt about the show than he did about how the No. 5 team was caught before qualifying with an illegally-modified rear spoiler.

Earnhardt produced the show with his own entertainment company, and said it was "an atta-boy" for his loyal fans.

"I know it's hard to sit through all the Dale Jarrett commercials, but that's what we had to do to get it on (ESPN)," Earnhardt said. "I know I have a hard time sitting through them all."

Junior is NASCAR's biggest star. He's had the best week at Daytona of anybody, already winning the Bud Shootout and one of the Gatorade Duels. But race coverage should be race coverage -- if you want to plug your own programming, don't disguise it as a post-'race' interview on pit road.

I think I'm going to be sick

First, my lungs tried to leap out of my chest. Then the bagel I ate for breakfast threatened to retrace its steps up my throat. Then I got dizzy, nearly fell over and stumbled off to a patch of shade.

All from standing 10 feet away from a small group of Sprint Cup Series cars blistering their way by at a buck-90.

Yeah, it's that fast. And utterly amazing that these guys are willing to put themselves in packs of 20 or 30 cars at a time under those conditions -- and not amazing at all that fans are here to soak up the complete sensory overload.


More security stories from Daytona.

After The Godfather and I waited a good 20 minutes behind a bus pouring exhaust into my window -- maybe it was Courchesne's way of trying to off me, a signal that he's had enough of this marathon trip to the heart of stock-car country -- we finally got to the media parking lot behind the tower on the DIS fronstretch.

And as we pulled in, we were accosted by three teenagers in yellow "security" vests, one ornery one of whom was insistent on knowing whether we had media credentials.

We did. And he told his friends he somehow missed the "M" sticker on our windshield, the one that tells them that we are, indeed, allowed to park there.

"I don't know how I missed it," he said to his buddy as we zipped off to our spot.

I know. Maybe it was the 2-a-side football game you guys were playing -- the one we had to drive through -- that took your attention away from the job they are paying you to do.

The track should get its money back. Seriously.


This place is big. Have I mentioned that at all this week?

Here's a little anecdote to put it all in perspective for you:

Those of you who know me know that I'm not opposed to a little physical activity. I make it a point at the race track to walk instead of shuttle, take stairs instead of elevators, drink water instead of soda. But after making it down 12 full flights of stairs and walking the entire length of the frontstretch, I finally had to stop short of my destination.

My little boy gave me very strict instructions when I pulled out of the snowstorm in Portland more than a week ago -- the red and blue of Jeff Gordon merchandise had best make its way back in my suitcase. So I headed out to souvenir row outside of turn 4 here, where the souvenir haulers are stacked 112 deep.

But I never made it. I'm guessing I walked at least a mile (one way) and never made it past the DeWalt tools display. Too crowded, too hot and, most importantly, too far.

I can't believe I uttered the words.

But there is good news -- Daytona 500 final practice is over, meaning that all that's left now is a Nationwide Series race this afternoon and the big dance tomorrow.


Chevy Silverado 250: Bodine wins "Rowdy" race

DAYTONA BEACH -- In 20 years of coming to Daytona International Speedway, both as a crew member and a driver, Todd Bodine's seen a little bit of everything at the famed beachside track.

"I've finished second, finished third third, crashed hard, burned a couple times," Bodine said.

Those sentiments could have summed up the entire Chevy Silverado 250 for the Craftsman Truck Series on Friday night, a race Bodine won by holding off the charge of Kyle Busch and Johnny Benson. It was Bodine's first win of any kind at Daytona.

The victory came on a night where Busch touched off a fiery 10-car wreck in turn 2, one that set up a 17-minute delay under the red flag less than 20 laps in. Four more trucks were sidelined a few laps later, and the machines of Erik Darnell and Justin Marks tangled while running 2nd and 3rd with 13 laps remaining.

That final wreck set up a restart with 9 laps left, and Bodine led Busch and Benson into the 3rd turn on the race's final circuit. Busch tried to hang back and get a run at the lead, but Bodine was too strong.

"I was fighting pretty hard those last few laps," Bodine said. "Kyle's pretty notorious for driving hard, and you always worry about him driving hard. But we've become pretty good friends, and I knew he wasn't going to turn me or anything like that.

"This is finally, after 17 years (as a driver) -- I've been waiting for this."

Busch took center stage in the race on lap 19, when he pulled down into Mike Skinner in turn 2. That sent Skinner spinning across the track, collecting Brendan Gaughan, Chad Chaffin, Ted Musgrave and others -- including P.J. Jones, who drove down 2/3 of the backstretch in a blazing fire before escaping the cockpit unharmed.

"Kyle will still race tomorrow," a disgusted Gaughan said. "To him, this is 'fun' time. ... He had the whole outside (lane) and he just stayed in the center."

"I was running the top side and bouncing all over the place on these springs here, and I tried turning down the race track just a little bit to try and get under (Chad McCumbee)," said Busch, who is pairing with David Stremme to run the entire CTS slate in the No. 15 this year. "When I did my front end really bit and turned down the track.
"Last I heard I was kind of clear, but I wasn't exactly sure. Unfortunately, Mike was there and it caused a big pileup. I apologize to those guys and everybody else who was involved."

Day 8: Tiring of the same old conversation

I admit it, I'm starting to feel the wear and tear of 8 straight days on the road, with 3 more to follow. Readers must be noticing, too -- considering one among you (and you know who you are!) actually suggested I stay at Daytona and cover the 500 because I was so disappointed by the fan turnout at New Smyrna Speedway this week.

Let's clarify one thing here. I'll take short-track racing over the Sprint Cup Series any day of the week. It's why I made it a point to get to New Smyrna on a few occasions for some of the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing there. And just because I think it's too bad there aren't more fans there, or because I think the rules there could use some tweaking in the interest of more entertaining competition, it doesn't mean I think there's no reason for teams to make the trek to central Florida for mid-winter racing.

Hey, I'm more Oxford 250 than Daytona 500, more PASS 300 than Sylvania 300.

I love short-track racing for all of the reasons that I grow tired with the issues I face moonlighting as a Sprint Cup Series reporter. If Johnny Clark and Mike Rowe spin each other out racing for the win at Beech Ridge, you track them down and get emotional, colorful quotes that paint the picture for fans who can't ask those drivers themselves. But if Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch wreck each other out of a Cup race (or, ahem, practice), you're not going to get close to either of them. If you're lucky, you might get a transcribed quote sheet from a public relations rep.

Like I said, if you're lucky.

I love the racers who do their own work on the car during the week, scrape together every last penny just for a couple of tires on Saturday night and race for a paycheck so small it barely covers the fee at the pit gate.

My love of covering the everyday people in this sport is probably why I gravitate to the likes of Robby Gordon or Kevin Lepage in one of the NASCAR garages. Gordon invited me into his hauler to sit down today after Cup practice, offered me a Monster from the cooler and comfortably eased me into some fun conversations he and his team were having for what felt like half an hour.

Last September, by contrast, it took 3 full days of trying to finally get one of the Roush Fenway Racing drivers to give a local reporter 10 minutes. And we're not talking about a Roush driver who was in the Chase, either, leaving you to draw your own conclusions.

Suffice it to say, some of these guys are already "legends" in their own minds...

Maybe I'm especially tired of the lack of direction there seems to be around here. No fewer than 3 times I went to somebody tending one gate or another around the Daytona International Speedway infield looking for information, only to be told each time the EXACT same thing -- "I don't know what to tell ya'." No help, no suggestions for who might know, no further instructions.
One good thing happened. I think.

Speed 51 founder Bob Dillner came over to say hi this afternoon. That was interesting, particularly considering I've been fairly critical of some of that organization's dealings recently, as I'm sure you're all well aware.

It went like this:

"Are you Travis Bennett?"

"No, it's Barrett, but whatever."

"Oh. I just wanted to stop by and say, 'Hi.' "

And with that, he was gone. Funny, I thought, he knew who I was back in July.

I don't know what to tell ya'.

Specialty Racing misses the show

Kevin Lepage's hopes of running an entire NASCAR Nationwide Series schedule took a hit on Friday at Daytona International Speedway.

Driving the unsponsored No. 61 Ford for Doug Taylor's Specialty Racing, Lepage was bounced from a starting position in tomorrow's Camping World 300 when Jason Keller turned a lap of 50.337 seconds (178.795 mph). Lepage was one of 23 drivers without a guaranteed starting spot, and he was timed at 50.621 seconds (177.792 mph).

In Thursday practice, Lepage posted the 6th-fastest lap among that group, but he was unable to match his speed during Friday's qualifying session.

Lepage had hoped to run the entire season for Taylor, with help from Yates engines and Roush cars, but he will miss at least the first event of the season.

Robby Gordon's romper room

Versatile driver says he's having plenty of fun in racing

DAYTONA BEACH -- There's been a lot talk lately about "real" racing being back at Daytona International Speedway this week with the Daytona 500 debut of NASCAR's Car of Tomorrow. But stock car drivers can seldom be criticized for being too worldly.

It makes Robby Gordon a fine choice for putting restrictor-plate racing into perspective.

"Oh, it's really racing," said Gordon, who will start 26th in Sunday's 50th Daytona 500. "I think the cars are a bit of a handful to drive, and that's a good thing. If anybody can drive them wide open, that's not a good thing. It's not supposed to be a breeze."

Gordon is a champion of off-road racing, and he has also found himself behind the wheel in Indy cars, sports cars and stock cars in some of the most prestigious races in the world -- including the Indianapolis 500, the Daytona 500 and the Baja 1000. Even with that resume, he's a believer that the new NASCAR race car, with its severe limits on ingenuity in the garage, has made Sprint Cup Series racing -- gulp! -- fun.

"Of course we're having fun," Gordon said, sitting in his hauler following practice on Saturday, trading barbs with a couple of members of his team. "To do what you love to do, to have the comaraderie we have and be able to bitch and complain, that's fun. I mean, if you can't bitch and complain.... I mean, what good is it?"

Gordon likens life at Robby Gordon Motorsports to the long-running reality television show on MTV, "Real World."

"What's that show? 'Real Life?' " he asked. "We've got real life right here every week."

For a 39-year-old racer from Cerritos, Calif., who considers barreling off into the desert in a truck for days on end "fun," it's hard to see how the headaches of Cup ownership could serve any purpose for him. But you need only sit with Gordon for a few minutes to realize that there's a Type A side to his personality that ownership fits like a glove.

"Oh, come on -- it's a babysitting job," Gordon says, drawing chuckles from those who work closest with him, opening a discussion of who was in diapers longer. "It's a full-time romper room here.

"But I like that (ownership) part of it. Obviously, keeping all our sponsors happy is a big part of it, too, and that's a challenge I enjoy."

The challenge is made easier by the fact that Gordon finished last season in the top-35 in Cup owner points, securing him a spot on the starting grid in the first 5 races of 2008. That, he said, allows sponsors to put together incentive programs for customers -- knowing that the No. 7 Dodge will be around on Sundays.

Gordon recalled his first year as an owner-driver, in 2005, when he failed to qualify for the main event despite being a former winner of the Gatorade Duels.

"We've done the game before where we've come to Daytona and not had the opportunity to race," said Gordon, who has 3 career Cup Series wins, including one at New Hampshire, but has never finished better than 6th at Daytona. "Our first year as a team we did that. (Two years) before I won the 150 (with Richard Childress Racing), and then I went home the next year.

"The top 35 thing's tough, but I like it. It's good for the sport and good for the sponsors."
And no matter what he's racing, it's all with the same goal in mind.

"It actually doesn't matter if you're riding a Big Wheel. You want to beat them, beat the best," Gordon said. "It's a team. A race car driver doesn't make these cars go fast. You've got to have a good pit crew, you've got to have good race strategy, reliable race cars and a good-handling vehicle, as well.

"The most important things are those things, and the guys that get that the best are normally the teams that win."

In any form of racing.

World Series a losing effort

The whole thing's been a flat-out disappointment.It really has, despite my eager anticipation of a couple of weeks ago.

The World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing at New Smyrna Speedway has left lots to be desired.

There are some great things about the event, namely that it takes place just a few miles down Tomoka Farms Road from Daytona International Speedway. Race teams have come from all across the country to compete, and the fact that there's competitive short-track racing in February is surreal for us Mainers.

But there are some noticeable shortfalls of the event, one of the most notable being the lack of people watching in the grandstands. To be certain, the World Series is far more important to racers than it is to fans -- it's too cold at night for any self-respecting Floridians to head out to the track until nearly midnight, and it's too far away for enough northerners to come down and burn vacation time to watch a few faces they know well. In many ways, it helps you appreciate showing up for PASS race at Wiscasset Raceway or an ACT race at Oxford Plains and knowing a little something about everybody in the show.

Scheduling certainly hasn't helped attract interest.

Thursday night was a fantastic case in point. With thousands upon thousands of fans descending on the big track in Daytona, it's a great opportunity to open the gates to race fans on vacation. But instead of holding the feature event -- a 50-lap main for aguably the week's most competitive division, the Super Late Models -- for a few hours to allow fans to grab a bite to eat or time enough to get to the track, New Smyrna officials rolled that 50-lapper out at promptly 7:30 p.m.

To open the show.

No one's advocating running that event at 11 p.m., but it certainly shouldn't have been first, particularly when people are still pouring out of the Daytona infield a half-hour after that SLM feature takes the green flag.

SLM and Crate Late Models aside, car counts are disappointing, with fewer than 20 cars in the Modified divisions. Drivers and crews love time trials, small inversions at the front of the field, single-file restarts and leader protection at all costs -- it helps keep them from tearing up equipment over 9 trying nights of racing -- but it's a recipe for boredom in the grandstands.

For 42 years, New Smyrna has done the job of using its valued tradition as a draw for race teams at a time of year when most of the country is mired in the dead of winter. But in recent years, fans have been reluctant to turn out for many of those nights of racing, nights dedicated to the hardest of hard-core racers.

It's easy to see why.


Gatorade Duels notebook: It's not quite as good as a win

DAYTONA BEACH -- Let's be perfectly clear here: Toyota still has not won a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.

Sure, Denny Hamlin's win in the 2nd of the two Gatorade Duels on Thursday afternoon at Daytona International Speedway announced to everybody that the Toyota-Joe Gibbs Racing marriage would be a strong and prosperous one. But winning a 60-lap "sprint" at Daytona and winning an actual 400- or 500-mile race on a downforce track in the middle of, say, August are entirely different animals.

The Gatorade Duel is a qualifier -- nothing more than a common heat race dressed up in lipstick and high heels. Find me one short-track racer who runs around the grandstands championing himself as a big heat race winner. Go on -- find me one...

Suggesting that Hamlin earned the car maker its first Cup Series win earlier today is nothing but poorly disguised public relations gobble-dee-guk. Toyota will get its first win, sooner rather than later, and it will be celebrated. But let's save the real rejoicing for later this weekend, OK?

When someone wins a race.


If you think it's easy driving a 3,400-pound stock car around Daytona, it's because you haven't tried.

When a former Formula 1 world driving champion like Jacques Villeneuve spins out in the middle of a turn while driving by himself, setting off a 4-car crash that wipes out 2 of the 3 open-wheelers in that particular Duel, it says quite a bit. Unfortunately, the crash ended Villeneuve's hopes of getting into the Daytona 500 in a Bill Davis Racing entry prepared by crew chief and Maine native Slugger Labbe.

"The car was just a little too loose, and I got sideways quite a few times," Villeneuve said. "I knew one of those times it was going to catch me up.

"These cars aren't bad when you have the perfect set-up in the car, but when you start sliding they're a handful, mostly in traffic."


HOT LAPS: Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the first Duel, giving him a Bud Shootout win and a Duel win already this week. No driver has won the Shootout, a Duel and the Daytona 500 in the same year. ... In the Busch Series -- whoops, there's another dollar in the kitty -- I mean, the Nationwide Series, Kevin Lepage was 29th fastest in final practice for the Camping World 300. But Lepage was 6th out of the 21 drivers required to qualify based on their times. ... Notables who were notable only in that they did not make the show: Bill Elliott, Ken Schrader, Boris Said, Patrick Carpentier and 2-time Daytona 500 champ Sterling Marlin.

Gatorade Duel No. 2: MWR still running strong

DAYTONA BEACH -- The story out of last weekend's Daytona 500 qualifying was the feel-good resurgence of Michael Waltrip Racing, with team owner Michael Waltrip putting his own No. 55 on the outside pole and 2nd-year driver David Reutimann virtually locking up a starting spot with the 4th-fastest lap of the day.

Under race conditions in Thursday's Gatorade Duels at Daytona International Speedway, the Toyota-backed team looked just as strong. The trio of Waltrip, Reutimann and 3-time Daytona 500 champion Dale Jarrett all ran well enough to qualify for Sunday's 50th running of the 500. Waltrip was guaranteed his spot, Reutimann had his qualifying to fall back on and Jarrett finished 9th to earn a spot in his 20th and final Daytona 500.

For the second year in a row, all 3 MWR entries made Sunday's big show.

"To know that you have to go out there and you know what you have to do, to be able to take the car and put it up in the top five and run there, you know, right around the majority of the race... that was very gratifying," said Jarrett, who will only run the first 5 Sprint Cup Series races of the season before moving into the ESPN broadcast booth. "Personally, hey, when it comes time to get this done -- yeah, I enjoy that challenge."

Reutimann's efforts last Sunday made for a much more relaxing week. Unlike last year when he didn't have a great qualifying time to fall back on during a stressful introduction to Daytona as a rookie, he could use the Gatorade Duel as a chance to polish up his chances for a 500 win.

"I've actually managed to be done here however long we've been and haven't thrown up once, so it's been good," Reutimann said. "It's a lot different than last year."

It would have to be.

Between the 3 teams, MWR failed to qualify for a total of 44 races last season -- 51 if you consider that Jarrett started 7 races with a past champion's provisional. Waltrip had the worst run of all, failing to qualify for 22 events, including 11 in a row after the season-opening Daytona 500.

On Thursday, the teams not only made the field but served notice that they were able to run well in the draft with the likes of Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and others.

"It was a good time out there," Waltrip said. "I just concentrated on our main goal (which was getting Jarrett into the 500). We needed to practice for a few laps to make sure we knew what we were doing, and we did, obviously."

"Just to be able to get down here, get in a race, function somewhat normal, has been quite a relief," said Reutimann , who will move into the No. 44 UPS Toyotas in place of Jarrett, beginning with the Goody's Cool Orange 500 at Martinsville Speedway in late March.

But Reutimann's Duel day was not without some semblance of adversity -- which the team overcame, a further statement to its off-season improvements.

On the original start of the 150-mile race, Reutimann passed Waltrip before the field made it to the start-finish line and received a pass-through penalty on pit road. That put him nearly 3/4 of a lap behind the field until the race's first caution flag on lap 15.

"Michael told me he was going to be a little soft on the original start," Reutimann said. "I didn't anticipate him being in a coma when they dropped the green.

"Before I realized it, it's like, 'Oh, dang, here comes the start-finish line.' Then I thought maybe (officials) didn't see that. What do you think the chances of that were?"

But Reutimann recovered and was running in the top-10 on lap 60, before a green-white-checkered finish shuffled him to 12th.

Kind of the same way Michael Waltrip Racing seems to have recovered from a disastrous 2007 season.

Gatorade Duel No. 1: Brotherly love

DAYTONA BEACH -- There was a little brotherly love at Daytona International Speedway on Thursday, just in time for Valentine's Day.

More to the point, it arrived just in time for Gatorade Duel at Daytona.

Guided by brother Mike Wallace, Kenny Wallace finished 8th in the first of the 2 150-mile qualifying races at the track, races won by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Denny Hamlin, respectively. Wallace's finish placed him first among the 8 drivers who had to race their way onto Sunday's Daytona 500 starting grid, earning him his first appearance in the 500 since 2005.

"My story, the way I feel, just incredible," said Kenny Walllace, who was pulled out of the No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet last year in the middle of the season. "The story goes like this: I got fired by Furniture Row, and (they) said, 'Hey, look, we realize that we shouldn't have fired you. We want to give you an opportunity.

"We want to give you an opportunity on your own terms."

So this year they put Wallace in the No. 87 as a teammate to Joe Nemecheck, who succeeded him in the No. 78s. And this time around, they put Hendrick Motorsports power plants in the cars. Nemecheck didn't qualify for the 500 through the Duels, but he did make it based on his qualifying speed from last Sunday, the 3rd fastest lap of time trials.

Mike Wallace finished 4th in last year's 500 but doesn't have a ride this time around. He approached Kenny about helping in his pursuit.

"Because this is the 50th Daytona 500," Mike Wallace said. "You see, a few years ago, Kenny and I sat in his motorhome here and we both didn't have a ride for the 500 and we looked at each other and said never again are we not going to have something to drive down here.

"(Kenny) had a shot and had a fast car, and it was like, 'This is huge.' He's my brother."

Kenny Walllace will start 17th in the 50th running of the Daytona 500, his best starting spot in 10 tries.

Kenny said Mike was instrumental in getting him into position to qualify for the 500, helping him dice his way through traffic to run as high as 4th-place inside of 10 laps to go in the 60-lap sprint.

"Mike is one of the best there is," Kenny said of his brother's drafting abilities as a driver. "He just inspired me the whole time. There were so many times when people cut me off and I thought I was going to hit them. And then in the end, he was yelling, 'Just go! Just don't run into anybody!'

"What Mike was really good at was two things -- letting me know what lane (people were) trying and what was going on. Because there were a couple times I went to the bottom early with new tires and couldn't get the job done. That was number one. ... The other thing he did was just emotional -- you know, 'Hey, this is the 50th Daytona 500.' ... I think it was just more having somebody on the radio that you really know who has done it and has felt what you felt."

With a full-time Nationwide Series ride with Armando Fitz in the No. 36 Chevrolets, Wallace said that running the way he did on Thursday allowed him to be at peace with himself and his driving abilities despite a roller-coaster 18-year Cup Series career in which he's run the entire slate just 7 times.

"I want to thank (Furniture Row) for letting me prove my talent and send a message to every great race car driver out there that, look at me," he said. "I made the Daytona 500. ...

"The reality of it is that I always tell the truth, and I catch hell for it all the time. But the truth is this: My brother, Mike, finished fourth in the Daytona 500 last year. You've just got to have the equipment, man. That's all there is to it."

Red Bull tastes too bland

(This entry has been modified by the blog administrator.)

NASCAR may be willing to let drivers be a little bit more themselves this year, but that doesn't mean the PR reps have all bought in.

During a televised post-race interview on Thursday, after which A.J. Allmendinger failed to qualify for the Daytona 500 in the first of 2 Gatorade Duels, the driver of the No. 84 Red Bull Toyota was distraught. He said that it "pretty much sucks" to miss the show for the 2nd straight year, and that he had driven his "ass off trying to get back to the front to have a chance."

Exceptionally candid comments that painted the side of Allmendinger we'd heard of before he got to NASCAR -- that he was emotional and brash, a younger, hipper version of another former open-wheel driver who also hails from Texas. A guy named A.J. Foyt.

But the Toyota folks apparently think Red Bull must have some type of "vanilla" flavor due out this summer, and they wanted to introduce it this week at Daytona.

In the Toyota transcript of Allmendinger's interview distributed to the print media, the words attributed to Allmendinger were not his own. According to the transcript, Allmendinger said "this pretty much stinks" and he "ran my butt off." In neither case were there parentheses around "stinks" or "butt" to note that the quotation had been modified.

The Dodge folks could easily have played around with quotes, too -- but that manufacturer opted, rightly so, to take the high road with Ryan Newman when he was critical of another Dodge driver.

"(Dale Earnhardt Jr.) made the pass and I tried to pass him back, and (Reed) Sorenson went with him," Newman said. "Way for the Dodges to stick together there."

It was a quote that easily could have been left off that particular transcript, but given the increasingly limited access to Sprint Cup Series drivers, give Dodge credit for helping do its part to build the bridge from drivers to fans that runs through the media. It's also a side of Newman (and a bunch of other drivers, too) that people like -- they are competitive to a fault and losing stings. It's why they're good.

Hey, this sport may not always be pretty, but it's ever more important to allow these guys to be themselves. NASCAR's bought into that for 2008; now it's time for everybody else to get on board, too -- including the buttoned-up Toyota folks.

Santerre charity ride raises $40,000

More than 270 people showed up for the 4th annual Andy Santerre Sno-Run, a charity snowmobile ride last weekend out of Caribou which helped raise $40,000 for the victims of sexual assault in Aroostook County.

There were 130 sledders for the 100-mile ride during the day and then a much larger gathering for the dinner and charity auction that night. Joining Santerre, a 4-time champion of what is now the NASCAR Camping World East Series and a former Nationwide Series race winner, were East Series drivers Peyton Sellers, Jamie Hayes and Jeffrey Earnhardt -- grandson of the late Dale Earnhardt.

The 4-year cumulative total of funds raised by the charity This brings the four-year funds raised total for the annual event to close to $100,000.

Breaking news: Lake Lloyd about to freeze over

How do you make a central Maine outdoors writer feel right at home in February? How about knocking that thermostat down about 40 degrees or so -- that ought to do the trick.

It did.

I could see my breath as I hoofed it from the Michael Scott Sebring of The Godfather to the infield media center here at Daytona International Speedway, where temperatures in the mid-30s hover over central Florida. I jerked my head to the right -- could have sworn I heard some wiseacre yell "Flag!" and for another brief moment thought about checking my bait and skimming the ice out of the holes.

Yeah, it's cold.

But, unlike in Maine today, at least I know the temps will rise into the low 60s. Not quite what I had in mind for my Florida jet-a-way this week, but still better than an ice storm and a slew of snow days.


I'm not sure about the Gatorade Duels, to be honest.

The signs were everywhere that it's "officially" a race day of some kind -- they were charging 20 bills to park near the track this morning, at a church of all places. Only in American, man. Only in America. The convenience stores are jammed up with NASCAR revelers in need of beer, ice and Funyuns. Yeah, it's a good day -- you know, once they scrape the ice off the window nets.

Back to the Duels, though, where you need a Ph.D. in NASCAR Bureaucracy to figure out who will start where on Sunday. I don't like the rule guaranteeing the top-35 teams in the standings a starting spot in every race; I like that rule even less here for what is supposed to be "The Great American Race," the one event on the schedule where every team has hope of getting the seaon off on the right foot.

Leave it to NASCAR to squash any feelings of hope springing eternal. Not in the racing game, folks...

And, it goes without saying, there's obviously something fundamentally wrong when even the guys racing aren't really sure what has to happen in order for them to make the Daytona 500.


The Mainers are getting better at New Smyrna's World Series.

Louie Mechalides, with assistance from Farmingdale's Johnny Clark, finished second in the 30-lap Super Late Model feature on Wednesday night -- his best finish of the week. Meanwhile, Trevor Sanborn and the Jay Cushman gang are inching there way closer to the front, landing 6th in that event.

"Last year, we had the biggest motor, the best shocks and the best tires," Cushman said on Tuesday, after the racing was officially rained out that night. "This year, we don't have the biggest motor, the best shocks or the best tires, and we're not really sure why."

The biggest news from Wednesday was when SLM points leader Tim Russell crashed in practice and went to a backup car. That car proved pretty good, too, as Russell raced to 5th to keep his overall lead over Jeff Choquette.


Day 6: Rain, Ricky and riff-raff

Looks like I brought a little Unity Raceway with me to central Florida.

I mean, the Gary Mitchell Memorial at Unity is a lot like the Daytona 500. Well, maybe not. But they're both marquee events at their respective facilities, More to the point, whenever I head to either one, it rains.


Sprint Cup Series practice was hit up by rain, and the practice sessions for the Nationwide Series and Craftsman Truck Series were shuffled around by rain showers. It must be me...


During my now infamous trip to the Mainely Motorsports set a few weeks back, show owner Steve Perry of Windham asked me -- half-jokingly, I thought -- what it would take to make one of the top spots on my Top 10 stories of 2007 list. I told him he'd probably have to buy a track or something.

I didn't think he'd actually go out and do it.

It appears Perry has done something close. Word is that he's leasing the go-kart track Richmond Raceway beginning this season, and he's already started lining up personnel to help him run the Sunday afternoon shows there.


Former supercross racer Ricky Carmichael has been rumored to the Camping World East Series for the last several months, but Carmichael said at New Smyrna Speedway this week that he's got no ride lined up yet for that series.

Carmichael said he's got a few options on the table, one of which is from Richard Childress Racing.

Should Carmichael sign with RCR, don't be surprised to see him end up in a development deal with Andy Santerre Motorsports. ASM still has an available seat -- with a reported asking price of $850,000 for the season -- and RCR already has youngster Austin Dillon driving a development car with ASM.


Is it just me, or does Ken Schrader's car look like a bunch of Teletubbies puked all over it?


It's an uphill battle for last-minute, low-budget teams, as Kevin Lepage well knows.
Lepage, who was asked by Doug Taylor to drive the currently unsponsored No. 61 Ford in the Nationwide Series this year, was just 44th quickest out of 50 cars in the only practice session Wednesday in preparation for Saturday's Camping World 300.

By the way, visited the Camping World store in the Daytona infield today. Actually, I didn't so much visit as I did walk through it like it was some kind of sidewalk.

Here's what I got from the stroll -- lots of portable grills, camp lights and giant packages of single-ply toilet paper. All in a less-than-endearing warehouse-style setting.

Welcome to the big track.

Lepage continues to ride along

DAYTONA BEACH -- Somewhere along the way, Kevin Lepage transformed himself from hungry young racer into a realistic veteran with a love of racing.

When exactly that happened Lepage isn't sure. But he does feel like joining with car owner Doug Taylor for a full season in the NASCAR Nationwide Series this year has given him a new lease on life -- his racing life, that is.

"There's things you've got to do in life, and I'm very excited to be in the Nationwide Series, especially with a new opportunity and a neat team," said Lepage, the 45-year-old native of Shelburne, Vt. "There's just so many new things right here that maybe it gives me a new outlook on life in racing."

Lepage got his start on New England's short tracks in the American-Canadian Tour and what is now the Camping World East Series, racing on his father's dime as he shaped a career that ultimately took him to a full-time ride for Cup Series owner Jack Roush in the 1990s. The last few years, however, Lepage has gone into virtually every offseason with no guarantee of having anywhere to race come spring.

Owner Doug Taylor called Lepage less than a month ago about driving for him this season, and the team worked furiously to get to Daytona for Saturday's season-opening Camping World 300 -- so furiously that number decals still had to be affixed to the No. 61 Ford as of Wednesday morning.

It's not the Sprint Cup Series, Lepage said, but as he learned last year, there are no guarantees at stock-car racing's highest level.

"I went to almost all the (Cup) races last year and only made 2 of them," Lepage said of his time in Bob Jenkins' No. 37. "It's so disappointing as a driver to go through all that. To get a good Craftsman Truck or Nationwide Series ride was what I was looking for, but to have this come together late, it's better than nothing. I think the relationship I had with Doug Taylor in the past, I think it's going to fulfill everything I want to do this year. To be back at the race track every week, it's a good thing.

"I'm at the point in my career where, hey, if I race I race, if I don't I don't. A lot of guys haven't been through what I'm going through. There's several guys out there right now that don't have a job, and they're probably saying, 'What am I going to do?' "

Lepage -- who made a start in the Oxford 250 last summer -- drove in the Nationwide Series for Taylor in 1998, earning 1 of his 2 career Series wins at Bristol Motor Speedway that season. In 25 races together, the team posted 10 top-10s.

He's excited about racing at Daytona, too -- where he has a career-best finish of 3rd in Nationwide competition in 2002 and ran 9th in an untested and unproven Cup car in 2005. Admittedly, part of him wishes he had a Cup ride for the 50th running of the Daytona 500 this Sunday.

"I came here when I was 10 or 12 years old with my dad," Lepage said. "It's disappointing today that we're talking about the Nationwide Series and not going for the 50th anniversary of the (Daytona 500), because I was here for the 40th and I really wanted to make it to the 50th."

But, more to the point, he's just happy to have gainful employment behind the wheel of a race car.

Lepage thinks his days racing with his father have made him a candidate for low-budget teams, despite the sport's trend to put young drivers with steep financial backing in available seats. He knows how to work on race cars himself, he's easy on equipment and he helps out wherever he can.

Taylor is buying cars from Roush Racing and powering them with Yates Racing engines. According to Lepage, there are a half-dozen sponsors interested in signing on with the team for the season, and the team is hopeful that several partial sponsorships will help foot the bill for the year.

He thinks he can start the season with a win in the Camping World 300.

"It's a Roush car with Yates motors, and I really think realistically we can get this thing done," said Lepage, one of 23 Nationwide Series drivers who must make the show on time in Friday's qualifying session. "If not, we'll just try to run all day long and finish in the top-10. ... I know what I have to do in the race car to finish one of these things. You've got to run all day long and get as many points as you can, and if you're there for the win you go for it.

"If not, you take what you can get and move on to next week."

Kind of like Lepage has been doing for a few years now.

Sleeping in

It's a sleepy summer day here at Daytona International Speedway. Except it's not summer, and -- sports writers aside -- things aren't all that sleepy here, either.

There was a large military presence at the gate to the infield tunnel this morning. By large, of course, I mean a man who stood over 6 feet tall and looked like he worked out a little here and there. And by military presence, I mean that he was on the grounds wearing aviator sunglasses, a black T-shirt and olive drab cargo pants tucked into his calf-length boots.

You know it's going to be a "big" news day when you see Bobby Hamilton Jr. walking out of the infield media center here at the race track -- well, I mean, I almost saw him. Actually, all I saw was some short-cropped blonde hair bouncing along about chest high on a group of people of average height. I'm assuming it was Hamilton. They followed that up with a press conference from ESPN on-air personalities talking about NASCAR-related programming on the network in 2008.

Call me crazy, but I have a hard time figuring out why one media outlet is allowed to preach about how wonderful it is to a bunch of other media outlets who are trying dilligently to pour coffee and Diet Coke down their caffeine-deprived gullets while aimlessly checking e-mails and lunch schedules.

If ESPN can do it, why can't I?

"Mr. Barrett, we've scheduled your presser for 11:45 p.m. this evening. Please be on time..."

Hard to complain about the weather, but heavy rains throughout the night combined with that early-arriving central Florida sunshine to turn this flatland into an aquarium. I waited for my wife to ask how the weather was before I told her it was terrible -- almost 80 degrees before 10:30 a.m. and high humidity. How much humidity? I carried a 2 sheets of paper with me out to the garage area this morning, stood out there for less than an hour and came back with them soggier than a dollar bill that just went through a dunk tank.

And then she laughed at me, reminding me that it was still snowing -- again -- another typically unpleasant central Maine winter day.

What can I really say? I'm perpetually grumpy -- but, then again, regular visitors here figured that out by, like, my 3rd post last June.


A probationary tale

NASCAR continued with its "behind-closed-doors" policy on Tuesday.

Saying that it was redefining the meaning of probation in the sport, officials announced that both Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch have been placed on probation for the 1st 6 races of the 2008 season -- in response to their antics during and following Budweiser Shootout practice last Friday night. But, of course, NASCAR wouldn't say what the probation actually meant, just like they wouldn't say whether or not Stewart and Busch shared a physical altercation in the NASCAR hauler following the incident.

What is this, the army? Well, it's sort of like the army, only with a few modifications.

"Don't bother asking, 'cause we're not bothering to tell you."

I could be wrong, but I thought Public Relations 101 told us to deal with things head-on. The more NASCAR skirts issues, the less credibility they have. NASCAR's fear of giving specifics -- how many times in the past have we heard that teams are being fined and/or penalized for the vague "actions detrimental to stock car racing?" -- only leads to more and more questions.

Questions NASCAR refuses to answer.

You know.... Don't ask, don't tell. It's a downright laughable policy for a sport that works every day to become bigger than the National Football League and Major League Baseball.

Weather makes day even slower

Mother Nature washed out night No. 5 of the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing at New Smyrna Speedway.

Heavy rains and tornado warnings -- yeah, I said "tornado" -- for Volusia County ended practice early at the track and helped to call off the entire night of scheduled racing. With an every-night slate, there is no makeup date for races that get rained out.

Daytona International Speedway has been dark for the 1st 2 days of the week; Super Late Models have also had 2 straight nights away after a planned off-day on Monday.


Daytona 500: Junior ready to rumble

DAYTONA BEACH -- Just 2 years ago, Tony Stewart said that the bump drafting at Daytona International Speedway had gotten so out of hand that drivers were putting themselves on the verge of serious injury.

On Friday night, Stewart got into the back of Kurt Busch during practice for the Budweiser Shootout -- prompting a game of bumper tag on pit road and rumors of a physical confrontation in the NASCAR hauler during a disciplinary session. On the heels of NASCAR president Brian France suggesting he wanted drivers to be free to be themselves, the season opened with high emotions.

But NASCAR's hush-hush response to what happened between Stewart and Busch -- "what happens in the hauler, stays in the hauler" -- left the Sprint Cup Series drivers wondering just what would be tolerated in the season-opening Daytona 500 here.

"Nobody is going to go down pit road and put anybody into danger," Dale Earnhardt Jr. said after winning the exhibition Bud Shootout. "You’re not going to get away with that, but on the racetrack I think they are going to go back to letting us run over each other it looks like, so just get ready.

"I’m going to walk around with my dukes up all day long. Be ready I’m telling you, you got to watch both hands."

If anybody's ready for restrictor plate-racing, it would have to be Earnhardt. Stewart compared him to his late father, accepted in some circles as the greatest Daytona driver in history. Earnhardt Jr. dominated racing for a stretch while in DEI cars, winning twice in Cup points races in the No. 8 he made famous, and now winning the Shootout in a Rick Hendrick-owned Car of Tomorrow.

Earnhardt Jr. simply said he enjoys competing on the circuit's biggest tracks.

"I embrace that," he said. "(Daytona) is where we lost (Earnhardt Sr.) and I want to keep whipping it, you know what I’m saying. I want to make it a special place.

"And there was a time when it seemed like all I could win was plate races and I didn’t want to take credit for it because that seemed like that was all I was going to be was a plate-race winner, but I’ve embraced it. After I won four in a row in Talladega, beat (Buddy) Baker’s record, I started embracing it because it was special to me and Daytona is a special place."

Special enough to put his dukes up and fight for a win at one of the places that means the most to him -- so long as NASCAR allows the boys to slug it out on Sunday.

Day 3: Playing by different rules

Time trials, straight-up starts and single-file restarts have nothing on New Smyrna Speedway.

How about leader infallibility? Yeah, despite the hundreds of things that need Band-Aids in short track racing in our home region, that's certainly a new one to northerners.

Jeff Choquette was dominating night No. 3 of Super Late Model competition at the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing when he came up on a slew of lapped traffic in the second half of the event. But he guessed wrong when trying to dodge a car on the frontstretch, and he ended up getting hard on the binders and spinning himself out after contact with the lapped machine.

Tough racing luck? Fatal driver error? Each of the above?

How about getting your spot back while under caution?

You didn't guess that one, did you? True enough it was, as Choquette was given his spot back at the head of the class and the lapped car that simply pulled into the low lane to allow the leader to go by -- well, he was immediately black-flagged and given a tongue-lashing. Choquette went on to lead the final 8 laps and win his 2nd straight SLM feature this weekend.

Given the southern penchant for treating each and every short track race like it's a 500-mile NASCAR Cup Series race, it's amazing stock-car racing ever became popular. They time trial, skip heat races entirely, start the fastest qualifiers at the front (maybe pausing to invert the top few on the grid) and then have single-file restarts. Not only do the rich only get richer in that format, but it offers virtually nothing in the way of excitement for fans.

And you thought you'd seen questionably officiated races at your favorite track....


Pole day at Daytona International Speedway, in all honesty, is no more exciting in person than it is on television. Or, should we say, it's no more boring in person than it is on the tube.

I've always been amazed that Cup Series qualifying attracts fans at any track, be it New Hampshire, Martinsville or Pocono. But time trials at Daytona are about as tedious as it comes -- especially when you consider that it has very little bearing on actual qualifying for the 500.

There was no buzz at the track today, the day following the excitement and energy of the Bud Shootout and the day before Cup teams take 2 straight days away from the speedway. Qualifying is a perfunctory activity, and kudos to DIS for realizing that -- and not pairing it with some other support race just to force a few more fans into buying tickets for something they don't want to sit through.


Mainers are still holding their own at New Smyrna, even on a relatively light night of action at the World Series -- where the Crate Late Models and both Modified divisions were off.

Louie Mechalides, who has 2-time PASS North Series champion Johnny Clark along for the ride, started on the pole for the second straight night in the Super Late Models. Mechalides posted his best finish thus far at the World Series, racing home in 4th.

In that same race, Trevor Sanborn of Parsonsfield, driving for Jay Cushman, finished 9th.

"We were really happy right off the hauler," Cushman said. "The thing is the other guys have all picked up a little bit (in the last couple of nights), so it's putting us a little bit behind."

The good news is that, while Mechalides and Sanborn have each had some problems, the damage has been minor and neither team has had to partially rebuild race cars.

The Super Late Models take a break from racing on Monday, but both teams will be at the track, anyway. New Smyrna has scheduled practices for the divisions that aren't racing, and both Sanborn and Mechalides are planning on working out kinks.


Daytona 500 qualifying: They said it

Notable quotes from Sunday at Daytona International Speedway, where Jimmie Johnson won the pole:

"I don't think so. I think we're one of them."

Jimmie Johnson, after winning the Daytona 500 pole, on whether he's the favorite to win next week

"I know it's there, but I don't see it. ... Everybody's still speaking to me."

Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports, on whether he feels an resentment in the garage over his recent run of success in the Cup Series

"They woke up knowing what they were going to be doing next Sunday. I woke up in a fog."

Michael Waltrip, who qualified 2nd for the Daytona 500, on why his qualifying effort was more significant than Johnson's

"You look at Tiger Woods or Arnold Palmer or Mohammed Ali; they helped build sports and carry sports. And I think you've got to have a superstar or a couple of superstars. ... You've got to have something to keep the fans excited and say, 'Hey, this is my man,' you know."

Richard Childress, on whether or not it's too much to expect Dale Earnhardt Jr. to carry the NASCAR torch

"Yeah, he's that good here. He's just like his dad was. He's really good on this race track and he put the thing in the right place and had his car in position to win in the end."

Childress, comparing Earnhardt Jr.'s success at Daytona to his late father's success on the same track

Qualifying notebook: Sleepless nights ahead for Said

DAYTONA BEACH -- Needing to be among the 3 fastest qualifiers in the group of 17 drivers not guaranteed starting spots in next weekend's Daytona International Speedway to earn a slot on the Daytona 500 starting grid, Boris Said came up just short on Sunday.

But, unlike his last trip to Daytona, when he was on the pole before rain washed out his qualifying time prior to the Pepsi 400 here last July, Said still as a shot at firing the No. 60 Ford next weekend.

"If we were third, we'd be locked in, and I'd sleep better this week," Said said. "We've got to race our way in (in Thursday's Gatorade Duels), and it doesn't really matter where you start. You've got to get your car handling right , and I've got all the confidence in the world in (crew chief) Frankie Stoddard and the guys and how hard they've worked."

Two of the three cars that Said was qualifying against that finished ahead of him were Michael Waltrip Racing Toyotas.

"Doug Yates has done a great job with the motors, and that's all we can expect righ now with how fast the Toyotas are," Said said. "There's no competing with them right now."

Only front-row starters Jimmie Johnson and Waltrip are locked into starting spots in the 500. Joe Nemecheck qualified 3rd-fastest and David Reutimann was 4th-fastes, so each of those drivers have their qualifying times to fall back on should they fail to make the 500 through the qualifying races.

The top 2 finishers in each Gatorade Duel not covered under the top-35 exemption will make the 500.


Hendrick Motorsports' domination of the Sprint Cup Series simply rolls on.

With Jimmie Johnson on the pole (48.258 seconds, 186.498 mph), all 4 of Hendrick's cars qualified in the top-15. Casey Mears qualified 6th, Jeff Gordon was 10th and Bud Shootout winner and latest addition to the fleet, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was 15th overall.

"Great engine, great body, great car," Johnson said. "We saw what we could do (in the Bud Shootout) with a backup car, so I couldn't be more proud of all my guys and all of Hendrick Motorsports."

Owner Rick Hendrick said that he understands that other teams may be frustrated with competing against his organization's success, but that he hasn't felt any ill-will from his competitors. He also declined to urge teams to remember the No. 48 bunch -- despite Toyotas strong performance in qualifying.

"If you start with that," Hendrick said, "you're going to get whipped."


Johnson's pole was his 2nd for the Daytona 500 and the 14th of his Cup Series career. He won the pole for the 500 in his rookie year, 2002. ... Michael Waltrip had never before qualified on the front row for the 500, despite twice winning the race. ... 3 of the last 7 Cup races at Daytona have been won from the front row, though all 3 of those came in the July event.

Daytona 500 qualifying: Toyota bounces back

DAYTONA BEACH -- Remember the old advertising slogan, "Oh, what a feeling -- TOYOTA!"

Race teams certainly did on Sunday afternoon at Daytona International Speedway, where 3 of the top 5 qualifiers for next week's Daytona 500 were driving Toyota Camrys. Michael Waltrip led the charge by joining pole-sitter Jimmie Johnson on the front row, while teammate David Reutimann turned the fourth-quickest lap of the afternoon. Dave Blaney was fifth-fastest overall.

Only the top 2 qualifiers are locked into starting spots through time trials, while the remainder of the field will be set in Thursday's Gatorade Duels.

"There is so much relief for everybody," Waltrip said. "There were questions over (last) summer whether we would even make it to the end of last year. And we not only start 2008 with a solid team -- we're a lot better than we've ever been before."

It was a giant leap forward for Toyota in the span of one calendar year. The Japanese manufacturer's inuaguration into Sprint Cup Series racing last season was a particularly messy one, especially when Waltrip's own team was mired in a controversy surrounding an illegal substance found in his engine in techical inspection prior to qualifying.

He made the race but joined his own team cars -- the No. 00 of Reutimann and the No. 44 of Dale Jarrett -- and the two entries from Red Bull Racing in having trouble simply qualifying for races for the remainder of the season. In fact, Waltrip missed 11 straight Cup races following the Daytona debacle.

"I'm still very emotional, but for drastically different reasons now," Waltrip said. "We made (Toyota) part of the controversy by what happened.

"Now it's a year later, and I'm happy -- but I still want to cry. I'm just happy we were able to get through (the controversy) and get through the middle of '07."

In all, 8 Toyota teams were among the fastest 19 qualifiers in the session, including Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Denny Hamlin (8th) and Tony Stewart (12th), who made the switch to Toyota this season.

Waltrip and Reutimann were among 17 drivers vying for the 8 starting spots available in the 500 to teams that failed to finish in the top-35 in last season's point standings. Joe Nemecheck qualified third overall and is also locked in.

Toyota's move to the front of the pack on Sunday overshadowed the effort's of Johnson, the 2-time defending Cup champion who will lead the field to the green flag in next Sunday's 50th Daytona 500.

"There's a total of 12 timed laps on the race track," said Johnson's crew chief, Chad Knaus, "so it's relatively unproven. We took a chance."
Click here for a complete qualifying rundown.

Day 2: Missing the pits

So when Michael Waltrip hit pit road with a bunch of other cars early in the 2nd segment of the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona International Speedway, he sped right past his pit.

Who could blame him, really? I mean, for the last year, the guy's been used to running 2 laps and then making a hard left turn to load the car on the hauler to head home.

Ba-dum, cha!


So the way NASCAR chose to address the sticky issue of whether or not Tony Stewart slugged Kurt Busch in their hauler following Friday practice was to say, "What happens inside the hauler, stays inside the hauler."

Yeah, I'm not down with that.

If a crew chief wants to say that in the interest of keeping a team close-knit, or a hockey coach does the same for the same reasons, I get that. But it's completely unacceptable for the governing body to choose not to discuss goings-on that have to deal with competitors.

It's no wonder the conspiracy theorists abound in the NASCAR world. NASCAR chooses to deal in secrecy, and it's not right.


Trevor Sanborn finished 6th in the Super Late Model feature at New Smyrna Speedway, night No. 2 of the 42nd World Series of Asphalt Racing at the track.

Louie Mechalides started on the pole but finished 27th.


When Daytona opened the infield "Fan Zone" a couple of years ago, I admit I scoffed at the idea like it was yet another scheme for a big company to squeeze even more money out of race fans.

Having seen it in person, however, I had a much different feeling.

I'm not sure if I was actually at a race track today. There were beer gardens, tiki torches and rock bands. And there are no better infield views of the track or the garage than the giant deck that sits on top of one of the Cup garages.

Three words. Awesome, awesome, awesome -- in the truest definition of the word. People we can talk all we want about New Hampshire Motor Speedway being "fan friendly," but with all the experiences fans are offered here, it's at a completely different level.


Not that it has anything to do with anything, but...

I stood on the track today, and it was amazing both how high the banking was through the tri-oval and how narrow the actual racing surface is. ... Watched half of the ARCA 200 from the spotter's stand on top of the roof of the fronstretch tower. Stunning views, but poor for watching racing. Not only can you not tell which car is which, but there's also no depth perception that far away, either. ... Tony Stewart is the sport's new Dale Earnhardt -- fans boo and cheer him loudly, and you've always got to keep an eye on him, particularly if he's moving to the front.