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THE FRONTSTRETCH NEWSLETTER
Presented by Frontstretch.com
The Best Seat at the Track, The Best View on the Net!
February 24th, 2012
Volume VI, Edition XXII

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Frontstretch at the Track:
This weekend, Tom Bowles and Bryan Davis Keith are at Daytona International Speedway this weekend for NASCAR's Super Bowl, the Daytona 500. Stay tuned to the website, Facebook and Twitter for all the latest breaking news you'll need all weekend long.

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Stewart Wins First Gatorade Duel, McDowell and Robby Gordon Race Into 500
by Beth Lunkenheimer

Despite an offseason crew chief change, defending champion Tony Stewart wasted little time heading back to Victory Lane as he took the win over Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in the first of Thursday afternoon's Gatorade Duel Races. Marcos Ambrose, Jeff Burton and Carl Edwards rounded out the top 5. Stewart led three times for 21 laps en route to his seventh visit to Victory Lane at the 2.5-mile superspeedway (three Shootouts and three July races).

"To be able to come out and have two really good strong and solid races, back-to-back, it's an awesome start for us. It's good momentum for the crew -- everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing -- to carry that momentum from last year. It gives you confidence going into Sunday," Stewart said in victory lane. "We only raced against half the field in this qualifier. It's a long race on Sunday, and a lot can happen. Even though we had success today, it's no guarantee that can happen Sunday."

The race ended under caution after Stewart-Haas Racing driver Danica Patrick hit the inside SAFER barrier on the backstretch after the white flag had waved over the field. She was able to walk away, but her primary Daytona 500 car is destroyed, forcing the No. 10 team to pull out the backup car and start at the rear of the field.

“It was just a chain reaction. Every person that gets hit, next and next and next. It gets bigger and bigger. It felt like a pretty big hit, so I don’t know what it looked like," Patrick said. "I’m really just bummed out that we didn’t finish the last two corners. Instead, we have a Go Daddy car in the wall and lots of damage. But maybe the backup car will be faster.”

The event was slowed by three cautions, the first of which took out three cars--Paul Menard, David Gilliland, and Juan Pablo Montoya in the first ten laps. With just four six laps remaining, Michael Waltrip brought out the second caution with a single-car spin after a rough transition from the apron to the track surface, bringing an end to his attempt to qualify for Sunday's big race.

"I just went the wrong way and lost the car. I feel like I let everybody down," Waltrip said. "I raced my way to the front and then I let them down. I don't know what to say--it's just sad."

Waltrip's wreck means there won't be a Waltrip in the Daytona 500 for the first time since 1972. Also failing to make the 500 was Mike Wallace, who suffered an engine failure and was left to settle for a 20th-place finish.

However, while Waltrip and Wallace came up short, Michael McDowell, who nearly found himself involved in the first caution and Robby Gordon, whose car was smoking in the opening laps, raced their way in with finishes of sixth and ninth, respectively. McDowell credited help from his friend Trevor Bayne as a big part of why he made Sunday's race.

"It's absolutely the reason I'm in the 500, there's no doubt about it. Trevor is obviously a close friend of mine and for him to take the unselfish route and help me out means a lot to me," McDowell said in a post-race press conference. "There's been a lot of ups and downs for him in his career as well, so it's just cool we've been able to go through those together and for him to push me into the 500 is definitely pretty special."

Meanwhile, Gordon was simply happy to have made the field.

"I've won IndyCar races, we've won NASCAR races [and] we were in a position we didn't have funding to race all the races [last year]. We found ourselves outside the top 35," Gordon said. "Making the Daytona 500 is the big event. We made it fair and square to be fast enough. I'm proud of the guys."

McDowell will line up 11th and Gordon starts 17th on Sunday. Trevor Bayne, David Stremme and Terry Labonte all attempted to race their way in, but Bayne and Stremme fell back on their qualifying speeds. Labonte will start 43rd Sunday using his past champion provisional after parking his car early in the Duel. "It's the only one we got," he said after exiting his Ford, claiming the smart decision was to save his equipment for the 500 on Sunday.

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Kenseth Wins Second Gatorade Duel, Blaney and Nemechek Race Into Sunday's Event
by Beth Lunkenheimer

When all was said and done in the second Gatorade Duel race Thursday afternoon, it was Matt Kenseth sitting in Victory Lane, giving Roush Fenway Racing its first Duel win in 25 years in the sport. Thanks to a big push from Jimmie Johnson, Kenseth pulled off a classic crossver move on teammate Greg Biffle, who led a race-high 40 laps, and took the checkered flag over Regan Smith. Johnson, Elliott Sadler and Biffle rounded out the top 5.

"We just had a big run there. Jimmie Johnson gave me a huge push there and that really worked nice for me the whole race. Without that push, it would have never gotten done," Kenseth said in Victory Lane. "Greg (Biffle) lost his drafting partner. We were able to separate him and the 78 (Regan Smith) and we had such a huge run that Greg was kind of a sitting duck. I was going so fast with Jimmie's push that we were able to make it past."

Dave Blaney and Joe Nemechek were able to race their way into the Daytona 500 by finishing 12th and 17th, respectively.

"Going into Speedweeks, I was confident in the team and our chances of qualifying for the race. With the good runs we had last year at superspeedways, I was confident the car was going to be good," Blaney said. "I was a little bit surprised that we didn't qualify on speed Sunday, but the car was really good in the draft today. We drafted with a few different people and the car was fast. We got toward the front a few times but then tried to stay conservative and in front of the other cars who had to qualify."

Meanwhile, Nemechek was just grateful to even make Sunday's race.

"What a relief -- there's been a lot of Tums taken this week. People have no clue how hard it is and working with very limited funds. It's a great day to make the Daytona 500," he said. "It's tough doing it with a small team with no money. We've spent a lot of money coming down here banking on trying to make this race. This helps us go farther. We're going to run this whole race and give it the best shot we can."

Unfortunately, not everyone was so lucky. J.J. Yeley, Kenny Wallace, Bill Elliott, Robert Richardson, Jr. all failed to make Sunday's race. For Wallace, the afternoon was incredibly disappointing. After showing up and making a few moves in the early stages, he suffered through fuel pressure problems and was unable to maintain enough speed to even keep up with the rest of the pack. But despite missing the field, Wallace managed to find the good in a tough race.

"The only reason I'm okay with it is because I know that I gave it my all and it was a part failure, he said. "If I would have made a mistake on the race track, I wouldn't live with myself, but because I couldn't do anything about it then there's nothing I can do. I'm upset about it, but once again, I've had an incredible week."

The caution-free race featured four leaders and six lead changes.

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News & Notes: Daytona
by Tom Bowles and Bryan Davis Keith

- The Duel races, once known for side-by-side competition to decide the final eight spots of the Daytona 500 were marked by a different type of stain: start-and-parking. A total of four cars did it, including past Cup champion Terry Labonte whose choice to lay back on his automatic starting spot in the lineup irked Robby Gordon after the first Duel.

"I disagree with that," he said. "That takes a spot from teams that are working really hard. I've got a lot of respect for Terry. [But] there are only eight cars that make the Daytona 500 [through the Duels, with the top-35 rule]. He takes one of those spots, now seven guys make the Daytona 500. Four make it in qualifying races, three make it on speed. We're a small team, too. I guess I should hire could Busch and I could put my car in the show."

"It's just not right. Why take a free ride when the rest of us have to bust our butts to get into the 500?"

Terry's side of the story, though, was simple: he was simply taking advantage of the rules in place. With the FAS Lane team he drove for without the money to buy a backup car, crashing in the Duels meant starting in Sunday's Daytona 500 would be impossible.

"That's the only car we got," he explained. "That wreck was right in front of us, there, and we just couldn't take a chance on wrecking it. I think we practiced enough [Wednesday], in a pack, and what little we did today, the car's really good but we just couldn't risk it."

Tony Raines had a similar story, parking his Front Row Motorsports Ford, No. 26 in order to make the 500 on speed. After David Gilliland crashed in the first Duel, wiping out FRM's second car during Speedweeks, Raines was left in the dubious position of having to prioritize what race he wanted to run.

"I believe if we had to race our way in today, and done that," he said. "I don’t know that we would have had enough money to race all day Sunday."

Rounding out the start-and-parkers were both BK Racing entries, ending their Duels early just a day after confirming they'll run full races all season. A crew member for the No. 83 team, driven by Landon Cassill told the Frontstretch the decision was made "as a team" before the event in order to preserve equipment for the 500.

"We don't have time to build more cars," he said. "It was the smart thing to do."

Teammate David Reutimann, driving the No. 93 in the second Duel had issues with the BK Racing cars already built. "I hate to tell you guys," he said shortly after the green flag. "But this thing is horrible. It won't even remotely pull up or do anything."

"This is not even remotely going to be competitive ... at all."

The BK Racing team purchased the assets of Red Bull Racing, as well as their owner points this offseason to lock themselves into the 2012 Daytona 500 field.

- There are no rule changes as of Friday morning, but water temperatures continue to be an issue following the Duels. Joe Nemechek said his engine got up to 320 degrees when he went to push another car during the event. In the second race, cars were leaving an extended gap between one another in order to preserve their equipment.

Suggestions for changes included upping the pressure in the pressure release valve, which would raise the temperature at which water boils inside the car. A larger opening in the left part of the front grille, which would limit the benefit of racing in a tandem draft is also being considered.

- Looks like the Nationwide Series won't be changing their drafting style into a pack. Tandem drafting was prevalent during Thursday's practice sessions, led by Cup drivers Denny Hamlin and Kasey Kahne, respectively. A total of 50 cars are entered for Sarturday's 300-mile main event.

- Timothy Peters and Parker Kligerman each led a Truck Series practice late Thursday night. Qualifying for their 250-mile event occurs at 4:05 PM today on SPEED.

Have news for Tom, Bryan and The Frontstretch?  Don't hesitate to let us know; email us at phil.a...@frontstretch.com with a promising lead or tip.

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Got NASCAR-related questions or comments?
Send them John Potts' way at john....@frontstretch.com; and if you're lucky, you'll get your name in print when he does his weekly column answering back to you – the fans that keep Frontstretch afloat. Potts' Shots will run on Thursdays with a whole new set of Fan Questions and Answers!

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In Case You Missed It
by Nick Schwartz

Kurt Busch Apologizes to Punch for Outburst

On Thursday, Kurt Busch publicly apologized to ESPN broadcaster Dr. Jerry Punch for his profane outburst directed at Punch last season at Homestead-Miami Speedway. After transmission problems sidelined the elder Busch brother, he lost his cool in the garage area with a tirade not fit to show on television.  A video of the incident became an instant viral sensation on YouTube and resulted in a $50,000 fine for the incident.

Prior to the start of the second Gatorade Duel, Busch offered Punch a hug in a live interview on ESPN2.

"I'm so sorry for the way last season ended," he said. "I feel horrible."

Busch, who has been at the center of multiple other highly-publicized behavioral issues, has since consulted a sports psychologist to aid in his recovery. His rocky finish to the year — both on and off the track — contributed to the mutual split from Penske Racing. Busch has landed at Phoenix Racing behind the wheel of the No. 51 Chevrolet in a one-year deal.

Fox Broadcaster Myers’ Out Indefinitely After Tragedy

Broadcaster Chris Myers will officially miss all of the Daytona coverage, and possibly beyond after the death of his 19-year-old son in a car accident last Thursday. In his place, John Roberts has covered the Bud Shootout, Pole Qualifying Day and will continue through the Daytona 500.

"It is with tremendous sadness that the FOX Sports family acknowledges the passing of Christopher Myers, 19, son of NASCAR on FOX studio host Chris Myers," said Eddie Motl, Manager of FOX Sports Media Relations.

According to the Associated Press, Myers has been given as much time off as he needs.

NASCAR Announces 2012 Contingency Program

Just in time for the season-opening Daytona 500, NASCAR has announced the Contingency Program Sponsors. The program, which awards teams for single-race and season performances, "strives to build strong relationships with high quality, performance driven brands that are leaders in their respective categories," according to a release from the sanctioning body.

This year, there are three new awards, bringing the list of companies involved up to 24. Roush Fenway Racing Primary Sponsor 3M brings the 3M Lap Leader Award for both Sprint Cup and Nationwide, handed out to the eligible driver that leads the most laps each week. The Official Building Product Supplier of NASCAR, USG Corp., will now present the "Improving the Finish" award for the Cup Series driver who improves the most through the duration of each race.

In addition, the Official Automotive Semiconductor of NASCAR, Freescale, has stepped up with the "Wide Open" Award for the Cup Series. The bonus will go to the driver who finishes in the top 5 and is deemed the most aggressive in the final 20% of the race based on the amount of time they run full throttle. Freescale has also been instrumental in the implementation of electronic fuel injection in the Cup Series.

"We are very pleased to have a strong lineup of NASCAR Prize Money & Decal Program sponsors in the national series this year, including new special awards from our dedicated partners 3M, USG and Freescale," Managing Director of the NASCAR Automotive Group Todd Armstrong said. "NASCAR contingency sponsor and teams display a level of synergy and teamwork that is unparalleled in sports and continues to be one of the major reasons companies choose to partner with NASCAR."

In order to be eligible for the awards, a driver's car or truck must feature the sponsor's decal on the front fender and use the sponsor's product if requested.

2012 NASCAR Sponsor Awards

3M – NSCS*, NNS*
 - Lap Leader Award

ARP Fasteners
– NNS
Auto Meter Gauges – NSCS, NNS, NCWTS
Competition Cams – NSCS, NNS, NCWTS

Coors Light
– NSCS*, NNS*, NCWTS* (Keystone Light)
 - Pole Award

DIRECTV – NSCS*
 - Crew Chief of the Race/Year

Edelbrock Intake Manifolds
– NSCS, NNS, NCWTS

Featherlite
– NNS*, NCWTS*
 - Most Improved Driver Award

Freescale
– NSCS*
 - Wide Open Award

Goodyear Tires – NSCS*, NNS*, NCWTS*
 - Goodyear Tires Award to Series Champions

Growth Energy/American Ethanol
– NSCS*, NNS*, NCWTS*
 - Green Flag Restart Award (NSCS)
 - Awarded to Series Champions (NNS, NCWTS)

Holley Throttle Bodies/Carburetors
– NSCS (throttle bodies), NNS, NCWTS
JE Pistons – NNS, NCWTS
JEGS – NSCS, NNS
K&N Filters – NSCS, NNS, NCWTS
Lincoln Electric – NSCS, NCWTS

MAHLE Clevite
– NSCS*, NNS*, NCWTS*
 - Engine Builder of the Race/Year Award

Mechanix Wear
– NSCS*, NNS, NCWTS
 - Mechanix Wear Most Valuable Pit Crew (Quarterly/Year ­End)

Mobil 1 – NSCS*, NNS*, NCWTS*
 - Driver of the Race/Year

MOOG Steering & Suspension – NSCS*, NNS, NCWTS
 - Problem Solver of the Race/Year

MSD Ignition – NNS, NCWTS
Simpson Firesuits – NNS, NCWTS

Sunoco – NSCS*, NNS*, NCWTS*
 - Diamond Performance Award to Series Champions
 - Rookie of the Year

USG – NSCS*
 - Improving the Finish Award

* - Indicates Special Award sponsor with a year-end bonus.

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Fantasy Friday: Daytona 500
by Jeff Wolfe

Editor's Note: Welcome to the newest feature in the Frontstretch Newsletter where Jeff Wolfe takes a look at your best bets when it comes to picking your fantasy racing teams. Each week, Jeff will have your top 5 best bets along with a bonus pick just in time to finalize your lineup and settle in for a weekend full of action.

The time has come -- and not soon enough -- for another NASCAR season to begin. Unlike most other sports, one of the largest events of the season also happens to be the first. But success in the season opener doesn't always transfer to the remainder of the schedule. With that said, let's take a look at Sunday's Daytona 500, a race where anything can happen and a Cinderella story is just as likely as a veteran visit to Victory Lane. Because of the uncertainty in restrictor plate racing, you'd probably get results just as great if you pulled drivers out of a hat for your fantasy team, but there are still a few drivers that have a slight edge over the rest.

Top 5 Picks

Tony Stewart: It's hard to bet against the defending champion who finished runner-up to Kyle Busch last Saturday in the Shootout and headed to Victory Lane in his duel race. Despite having not won the big race, Stewart does boast three podium finishes in July at the 2.5-mile superspeedway and has won at Daytona in something a total of 17 times during his career.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: He hasn't won since June of 2008 in Michigan, a stretch of 129 races. But Junior, the 2004 Daytona 500 champ, has a little more pep in his step and clearly exudes much more confidence at this early point in the season. A win would go a long way for NASCAR, his fans and even the driver, but a solid finish is just the start the Hendrick Motorsports driver needs -- and can pull off -- to get off on the right foot this season. Garage talk says the No. 88 has some of the strongest horsepower of any driver in the field.

Kyle Busch: OK, I know he's not great at plate tracks, but what he did in the Bud Shootout last week cannot be quickly forgotten. Maybe he finally has the patience to handle himself well enough to make it to the end -- or maybe his sponsors and team owner have figured out the right way to reel him in a little. Either way, Busch is a solid pick for Sunday.

Jimmie Johnson: From getting knocked off of his throne after five consecutive championships, Johnson is out to prove something this season. Add in the likely penalty he'll receive next week, and the driver of the No. 48 knows he needs to pull in an early points boost. And after his showing in the second Gatorade Duel race, where Johnson pushed Kenseth to victory, will be around at the finish provided he can survive the first 497 miles.

Carl Edwards: Ford -- and the Roush Fenway cars in particular -- have shown some incredible speed already at Daytona. Add in a pole position and a victory by his teammate in the second Gatorade Duel, and you've got a recipe for confidence in the driver who finished runner-up in a tie for the championship last season. Though the early days in his career were marred with lackluster performances at the superspeedway, Edwards has finished outside the top 10 just once in his last five starts (last July), making him a strong candidate to visit Victory Lane.

Shoulda, Coulda Woulda, But Didn't Pick: When it comes to Daytona, it's difficult not to pick Jeff Gordon, but he just didn't quite stand out as much as the top 5. But with that being said, Gordon's uncanny ability to avoid wrecks -- most of the time -- at restrictor plate tracks makes him one of those drivers that can go either way when all is said and done Sunday. Hopefully, Saturday night is the only time he's going to end up upside down.

Jeff Wolfe is a Contributor for Frontstretch.com. He can be reached via email at jeff....@frontstretch.com.

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Keepin' It Short: Short Track Stars Headed to Daytona Beach in 2013
by Mike Neff

The world of Short Track racing was rocked on February 17th when the officials at Daytona International Speedway made an announcement that the World Center of Speed will host the UNOH Battle at the Beach in 2013. Two days of Short Track racing will take place on the runoff area on the back straight, in front of the huge grandstands -- tentatively, the oval is set to be a 4/10ths-mile track.

There will be three different feature races held on February 19th featuring stars from several of NASCAR’s regional series. One event will include the race winners and the series champions from the K&N East and West series while another will include the race winners and champions from the Whelen Modifed Tour and Whelen Southern Modified Tour. The final race will be a Late Model competition for members of the Whelen All-American Series. The top-10 finishers in national points will automatically be locked into the race.

For drivers who compete on dirt tracks or in Modifieds, they’ll have to secure a Late Model to participate in the race. The Champions of the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series, NASCAR Toyota Series from Mexico, and Euro Racecar NASCAR Touring Series will be allowed to choose which of the three races they would like to compete in, and the remaining starting spots in the feature events will be filled through qualifying and heat races that will take place over the 18th and 19th.

These two days of racing are going to fill the normal “Dark Days” of Speedweeks, the Monday and Tuesday between 500 qualifying and practice for the Gatorade Duels. Reports indicate the purses for the features will fall somewhere around the $15,000 to $20,000 range. Not only will this be a great opportunity for some drivers who normally race at local short tracks to showcase their abilities at one of the most well-known race tracks in the world, but it will also add some incentive throughout the season for the drivers in the different series to attempt to win races.

Some fans have voiced concern that this change will potentially have a negative impact on the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing at New Smyrna Speedway. But in reality it very well could help that event, assuming the officials at New Smyrna work their schedule so that they hold races after the Daytona for the different types of cars that run each event. Drivers will be coming down to run at Daytona and it would make sense for them to get more bang for their buck if they had an additional opportunity to race.

Joie Chitwood, President of Daytona International Speedway, and George Silberman, Vice President of NASCAR Regional and Touring Series, were among the officials who made the announcement.

“This is all about the stars of tomorrow vying for glory at Daytona International Speedway,” Silberman said. “During two days and nights of intense competition, fans will be able to see today’s aces of short track racing and some great young talent.”

Chitwood echoed Silberman's sentiments.

”Grassroots short track racing is the foundation of this great sport and we are thrilled to give these young drivers the opportunity to fight for a win at the ‘World Center of Racing,’” he  said. “Many of NASCAR’s greatest stars cut their teeth on short tracks around the country and we look forward to hosting the stars of tomorrow in 2013.”

The races will be televised live on SPEED so fans around the world can see the future stars of NASCAR competing at the most famous venue in the sport. In addition to the coverage that drivers will receive, Daytona has already secured agreements with many area motels to offer a discounted rate for the days around the events so that racers and their fans can afford to come to Daytona to watch the Battle at the Beach. As the economy begins to turn around, this is just the kind of thing the sport needs to continue to help local Short Track racing rebound.

Short Track Race Schedule for the coming week

Fri : Feb 24th – Bubba Raceway Park ; Ocala : FL – All Star Sprint Cars
Fri : Feb 24th – East Bay Raceway ; Tampa : FL – Florida Mini-Sprint Association
Fri : Feb 24th – Marion County Speedway ; Ocala : FL – Sunshine Micro Sprints
Fri : Feb 24th – New Smyrna Speedway ; New Smyrna Beach : FL – 46th Annual World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing Super Late Models
Fri : Feb 24th – New Smyrna Speedway ; New Smyrna Beach : FL – 27th Annual Richie Evans Memorial NASCAR Tour-Type Modifieds
Fri : Feb 24th – New Smyrna Speedway ; New Smyrna Beach : FL – 46th Annual World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing Pro Late Models
Fri : Feb 24th – New Smyrna Speedway ; New Smyrna Beach : FL – 46th Annual World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing SK Modifieds
Fri : Feb 24th – North Florida Speedway ; Lake City : FL – DIRTCar Ump Modifieds
Fri : Feb 24th – Volusia Speedway Park ; Barberville : FL – DIRTCar Late Models
Fri : Feb 24th – Volusia Speedway Park ; Barberville : FL – Super DIRTCar Big Block Modifieds
Fri : Feb 24th – ArkLaTex Speedway ; Vivian : LA – Dirt Late Models
Sat : Feb 25th – Havasu 95 Speedway ; Lake Havasu City : AZ – ASA Street Stocks
Sat : Feb 25th – Havasu 95 Speedway ; Lake Havasu City : AZ – Legends
Sat : Feb 25th – Havasu 95 Speedway ; Lake Havasu City : AZ – Bandoleros
Sat : Feb 25th – Havasu 95 Speedway ; Lake Havasu City : AZ – Factory Stocks
Sat : Feb 25th – Perris Auto Speedway ; Perris : CA – USAC/CRA Sprint Cars
Sat : Feb 25th – Perris Auto Speedway ; Perris : CA – California Lightning Sprints
Sat : Feb 25th – Bubba Raceway Park ; Ocala : FL – All Star Sprint Cars
Sat : Feb 25th – Desoto Speedway ; Bradenton : FL – Opening Night TBARA Winged Sprints
Sat : Feb 25th – East Bay Raceway ; Tampa : FL – Florida Mini-Sprint Association
Sat : Feb 25th – Marion County Speedway ; Ocala : FL – Sunshine Micro Sprints
Sat : Feb 25th – New Smyrna Speedway ; New Smyrna Beach : FL – 46th Annual World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing Super Late Models
Sat : Feb 25th – New Smyrna Speedway ; New Smyrna Beach : FL – 46th Annual World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing NASCAR Tour-Type Modifieds
Sat : Feb 25th – New Smyrna Speedway ; New Smyrna Beach : FL – 46th Annual World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing Pro Late Models
Sat : Feb 25th - North Florida Speedway ; Lake City : FL – DIRTCar Late Models
Sat : Feb 25th - North Florida Speedway ; Lake City : FL – DIRTCar Ump Modifieds
Sat : Feb 25th – Volusia Speedway Park ; Barberville : FL – Super DIRTCar Big Block Modifieds
Sat : Feb 25th – Volusia Speedway Park ; Barberville : FL – World of Outlaws Late Models
Sat : Feb 25th – ArkLaTex Speedway ; Vivian : LA – Dirt Late Models
Sat : Feb 25th – Lincoln Speedway ; Abbottstown : PA – Icebreaker 410 Sprints
Sat : Feb 25th – Winchester Speedway ; Winchester : TN – Late Models
Sun : Feb 26th – Speedrome ; Indianapolis : IN – Spring Fling Roadrunners
Sun : Feb 26th – Speedrome ; Indianapolis : IN – Spring Fling Hornets
Sun : Feb 26th – Speedrome ; Indianapolis : IN – Spring Fling Legends
Thu : Mar 1st – Green Valley Speedway ; Glencoe : AL – 15th Annual 15th Annual Bama Bash Crate Late Models
Thu : Mar 1st – Green Valley Speedway ; Glencoe : AL – 15th Annual 15th Annual Bama Bash KMSA
Thu : Mar 1st – Green Valley Speedway ; Glencoe : AL – 15th Annual Bama Bash Outlaw Thunder
Thu : Mar 1st – Green Valley Speedway ; Glencoe : AL – 15th Annual Bama Bash Sportsman
Thu : Mar 1st – Green Valley Speedway ; Glencoe : AL – 15th Annual Bama Bash Street Stock
Thu : Mar 1st – Green Valley Speedway ; Glencoe : AL – 15th Annual Bama Bash Super Late Models

Mike Neff is a Senior Writer for Frontstretch.com. He can be reached via email at mike...@frontstretch.com.

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Frontstretch Folio: Daytona 500
by Nick Schwartz

The 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series finally begins this weekend with the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. The first race of the year is set for a 1 PM EST start on Sunday, February 26th and will be broadcast live on FOX, with pre-race coverage beginning at 12 PM EST. MRN Radio begins its broadcast at 12 PM ET. The race length will be 200 laps (500 miles).

Records and Facts

Bill Elliott holds the track qualifying record at 210.364 mph for the 1987 Daytona 500. Although speeds have been up this year from previous years, Carl Edwards’ pole-winning lap for Sunday’s race clocked in at 194.738 mph. Edwards' speed was the highest since Jeff Gordon crossed the line at 195.067 to win the pole in 1999. The pole-sitter has won the race a total of nine times, with the last occurrence coming in 2000 when Dale Jarrett took home the Harley J. Earl trophy.

Richard Petty holds the record for most wins in the Daytona 500 with seven. Cale Yarborough is second on the list with four victories, while Bobby Allison, Dale Jarrett and Jeff Gordon tied at three apiece. Two-time winners Bill Elliott and Michael Waltrip failed to make the race after disappointing runs in the Gatorade Duel.

Trevor Bayne, winner of the 2011 Daytona 500, will start 40th Sunday in an attempt to defend his surprise victory. The Daytona 500 has been kind to underdogs for the past two years, as Jamie McMurray pulled off an unlikely win in 2010 despite only leading the race for two laps. After strong runs in their respective Gatorade Duel, Marcos Ambrose and Michael McDowell will be hoping to become the third consecutive drivers to surprise the field with a victory.

Track Facts

Track/Race Length: 2.5 mile oval, 200 laps (500 miles)
Pit Road Speed: 55 mph
Degree of Banking: Banking ranges from 18-31 degrees
Frontstretch: 3,800 feet, banked at 6 degrees
Backstretch: 3,000 feet, banked at 2 degrees
Grandstand Seating: 168,000

Pre-race Schedule

Practice: Friday, February 18th, 11:00 AM EST - 12:00 PM EST on SPEED
Friday, February 18th, 12:30 PM EST – 1:30 PM ET on SPEED
Saturday, February 19th, 10:30 AM EST- 12:00 PM EST on SPEED

VIPs

Grand Marshal / Command: Three Stooges Movie Actresses Jane Lynch and Kate Upton
Honorary Starter / Wave Green Flag: WWE's John Cena
National Anthem: Train's Pat Monahan

Race Day Forecast:

Sunday: Cloudy, chance of rain 30%
High: 68
Low: 57

They Said It

"Man, I'm really excited about Sunday. It really can't get here fast enough. It's just a build-up all week long and we're getting pumped up about it, but we'll see what happens once the race starts and we get going there. It was really good to get on the track and actually move around and race today. I learned a lot being at the front early in the race with Carl Edwards and Michael McDowell. We got up to the front there a couple times and being in the middle and the back of the pack, I just wanted to move around and try to get a feel for the whole pack because a majority of the time you don't get the luxury of being in the lead, so I just wanted to learn and that's what we did today." –Trevor Bayne

"I enjoy plate racing. It is a different type of racing, definitely. I don't know how good or bad I am at it but I enjoy it. I think I go into it with an open mind. A lot of guys probably don't have that open of a mind when they go into it. They maybe beat themselves before they get here. I just go with the flow." –Regan Smith
 
"The temperatures are just way too hot; you can't really race. Everybody is just trying to position themselves for the last lap. The grills are so tight that at 240 degrees in the pack you are just sitting there and you can't really make a move. That is why everybody was so content to stay single-file. I didn't really know what to do there at the end. Tony (Stewart) was way out ahead of everybody by himself. I thought he was going to back-up and he didn't back-up. I just backed up too late." –Kevin Harvick

Nick Schwartz is a Contributor for Frontstretch.com. He can be reached via email at nick.s...@frontstretch.com.

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TODAY ON THE FRONTSTRETCH:

Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: 2012 Twin 150s Race Recaps
by Matt McLaughlin

Daytona 500 Reality Anything but a Dream for Robby Gordon
by Bryan Davis Keith

Feels Like the First Time: Seven Drivers Who Could See Firsts in 2012
by Amy Henderson

Four Burning Questions: Speedweeks Edition
by Summer Dreyer

The Times, They Are A-Changing
by Jeff Meyer

Kenny Wallace Driver Diary: Driving on Dirt, Daytona, and Dollars
as told to Amy Henderson

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This Weekend on the Frontstretch:

Nationwide Series Breakdown: DRIVE4COPD 300 by Bryan Davis Keith
Bryan has all the post-race analysis you need after Saturday afternoon's Nationwide Series race from Daytona.

Tracking the Trucks: NextEra Energy Resources 250 by Beth Lunkenheimer
Beth has all the post-race analysis you need after Friday night's Camping World Truck Series season opener from Daytona.

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FRONTSTRETCH TRIVIA:
 
Q:
The 1988 season marked the end of an era for the Busch Grand National Series. What was no longer allowed to be used following that season?

Check back Monday for the answer, here in the Frontstretch Newsletter!
 
Thursday's Answer:
 
Q: NASCAR does have a precedent of basically telling certain drivers not to come back after certain incidents. Such a request was supposedly made of Delma Cowart in 1997.  What happened to cause that?

A: Cowart's No. 0 Masters Inn Ford was off the pace significantly. He qualified 51st overall out of 52 cars, which resulted in him starting at the rear of the first Twin 125. As the race went on, Cowart dropped well behind the pack and was on the verge of being lapped just 15 laps into the race.

Geoff Bodine was leading the race at the time and was basically forced into the wall exiting Turn 4 by the slower Cowart. Bodine continued and finished the race in 13th, while Cowart's No. 0 slid down towards the inside wall. After that incident, NASCAR effectively told Cowart not to come back. The Georgian never attempted another Cup race, but would continue fielding cars in ARCA for drivers like Dicky Williamson.

Frontstretch Trivia Guarantee: Take the shirt off our backs! If we've provided an incorrect answer to the Frontstretch Trivia question, be the first to email the corrected trivia answer to tri...@frontstretch.com and we'll send you a Frontstretch T-Shirt ... FREE!

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Coming Monday in the Frontstretch Newsletter:
-- Daytona 500 Race Recap by Jeff Wolfe
-- Secret Star and Stat of the Race
by Tom Bowles
-- Links to your favorite Frontstretch articles, and more!
 
Monday on the Frontstretch:

Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Daytona 500 by Matt McLaughlin
Matt will be here with his overall thoughts about the action from Sunday afternoon's action from the Daytona.

Monday Morning Teardown by Ron Lemasters
Ron returns for a website look at one of the big stories from Sunday's race from Daytona.

Bowles-Eye View by Tom Bowles
Tom brings back his weekly post-race commentary with all of the insight you need from a weekend of racing at Daytona.

Big Six: Daytona 500 by Amy Henderson
Looking for all you need to know leaving the season opener? Amy has your who, what, when, where, why and how from a weekend of racing at Daytona.

Pace Laps: Daytona 500 Weekend by the Frontstretch Staff
In our newest column this season, we'll take a look at the biggest stories to keep an eye on in each series after a weekend at Daytona.

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Talk back to the Frontstretch Newsletter!
Got something to say about an article you've seen in the newsletter? It's as easy as replying directly to this message or sending an email to edi...@frontstretch.com. We'll take the best comments and publish them here!
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