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Gordon: SHR reached out before Daytona 500
RELATED: Full schedule for Indianapolis " Gordon through the years SPEEDWAY, Ind. -- Jeff Gordon 's "un-retirement" from competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series began in earnest Friday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The four-time Sprint Cup Series champion is filling in for Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Indianapolis and next weekend at Pocono Raceway while Earnhardt recovers from concussion-like symptoms. Almost as surprising as Gordon's return to the driver's seat -- he retired from full-time competition after the 2015 season -- was his disclosure that he had been approached about filling in for the injured Tony Stewart in this year's Daytona 500 . Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Chevrolet and co-owner of the four-car organization, missed the first eight races after suffering a broken back in an off-road driving incident prior to the start of the 2016 season. Gordon's role as a FOX NASCAR analyst (the network provides coverage of the season's first 16 points races) prohibited him from returning to competition. "The crazy thing about all of this (is) I was asked to drive Tony Stewart 's car in Daytona to start the season," Gordon said Friday. "I wasn't able to do it because of my commitments to FOX. Now Rick (Hendrick, team owner) has some amazing ways to convince people into things that the average person might not be able to. I don't know, maybe he could have called Eric Shanks or something, but no, I don't think so." Shanks is President, COO and Executive Producer of FOX Sports. Stewart is competing in his final season as a driver. Sunday's Crown Royal Presents the Combat Wounded Coalition 400 at the Brickyard will be his final appearance at the famed 2.5-mile track, where he has earned two of his 49 career victories. That Gordon was asked about filling in earlier this season was news to Stewart. "I wasn't (aware)," Stewart said, "but that would have been awesome. That probably would have been one of the coolest things to happen this season. If that happened, I would have been all for it. … "I wasn't aware of that, but that would have been a really cool deal for us." MORE: Dale Jr. out, Gordon in No. 88 at Indianapolis, Pocono
Gordon: 'I was asked to drive Tony Stewart's car in Daytona'
Jeff Gordon talks to the media at Indianapolis Motor Speedway about being asked to fill-in for an injured Tony Stewart for the DAYTONA 500 .
NASCAR reveals start times for 2017 races
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- NASCAR, along with FOX Sports and NBC Sports, today announced 2017 race start times and network coverage for the NASCAR Cup Series, NASCAR XFINITY Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series -- based on the previously released schedule dates . Through collaborative efforts with its broadcast partners, race teams and tracks, NASCAR was able to finalize full 2017 start times for all three national series almost six months earlier than in recent seasons. Seventeen national series events will start closer to primetime, helping to bring NASCAR's photo finishes and close, side-by-side racing to larger audiences. Seventeen NASCAR Cup Series points races will air on broadcast television next year, including the DAYTONA 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on FOX; and the Brickyard 400 and the NASCAR Cup Series championship race, the Ford EcoBoost 400 from Homestead-Miami Speedway, on NBC. "It's our responsibility, collectively as an industry, to ensure the sport is healthy, strong and growing by delivering great racing in a way that best meets the needs of our fans," said Steve Herbst, senior vice president, broadcasting and production at NASCAR. "Earlier insight on start times benefits not only fans, but also our teams and tracks, as it provides more opportunities to plan travel and to purchase race tickets." Since the initial release of the 2017 schedule, NASCAR and its partners have shifted two dates for the NASCAR XFINITY Series and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. The NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Road America will move to Sunday, August 27, on NBC. The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park will now take place on Sunday, September 3, airing on FS1 prior to the NASCAR Cup Series event at Darlington Raceway on NBCSN. Looking ahead to the 2018 season, the DAYTONA 500 will move to Sunday, February 18, during Presidents Day weekend. NASCAR and its partners are working collaboratively on the remainder of the 2018 schedule, which will be finalized and released at a later date. In addition to watching the live broadcast, fans can catch all the on-track action by visiting NASCAR.com, downloading the NASCAR Mobile app or live streaming on FOX Sports Go and the NBC Sports app. Fans can also listen to Motor Racing Network (MRN), Performance Racing Network (PRN), IMS Radio Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90, throughout the season. 2017 NASCAR Cup Series Schedule Date Location Network Race Start Radio 2/18 The Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway FS1 8 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 2/19 DAYTONA 500 Qualifying at Daytona International Speedway FOX 3 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 2/23 Can-Am Duel at Daytona International Speedway FS1 7 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 2/26 DAYTONA 500 at Daytona International Speedway FOX 2 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 3/5 Atlanta Motor Speedway FOX 2:30 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 3/12 Las Vegas Motor Speedway FOX 3:30 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 3/19 Phoenix International Raceway FOX 3:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 3/26 Auto Club Speedway FOX 3:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 4/2 Martinsville Speedway FS1 2 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 4/9 Texas Motor Speedway FOX 1:30 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 4/23 Bristol Motor Speedway FOX 2 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 4/30 Richmond International Raceway FOX 2 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 5/7 Talladega Superspeedway FOX 2 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 5/13 Kansas Speedway FS1 7:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 5/20 NASCAR All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway FS1 6 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 5/28 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway FOX 6 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 6/4 Dover International Speedway FS1 1 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 6/11 Pocono Raceway FS1 3 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 6/18 Michigan International Speedway FS1 3 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 6/25 Sonoma Raceway FS1 3 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 7/1 Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway NBC 7:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 7/8 Kentucky Speedway NBCSN 7:30 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 7/16 New Hampshire Motor Speedway NBCSN 3 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 7/23 Indianapolis Motor Speedway NBC 3 p.m. IMS / SiriusXM 7/30 Pocono Raceway NBCSN 3 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 8/6 Watkins Glen International NBCSN 3 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 8/13 Michigan International Speedway NBCSN 3 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 8/19 Bristol Motor Speedway NBC 7:30 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 9/3 Darlington Raceway NBCSN 6 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 9/9 Richmond International Raceway NBCSN 7:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 9/17 Chicagoland Speedway NBCSN 3 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 9/24 New Hampshire Motor Speedway NBCSN 2 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 10/1 Dover International Speedway NBCSN 2 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 10/7 Charlotte Motor Speedway NBCSN 7 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 10/15 Talladega Superspeedway NBC 2 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 10/22 Kansas Speedway NBCSN 3 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 10/29 Martinsville Speedway NBCSN 1 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 11/5 Texas Motor Speedway NBC 2 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 11/12 Phoenix International Raceway NBC 2:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 11/19 Homestead-Miami Speedway NBC 2:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 2017 NASCAR XFINITY Series Schedule Date Location Network Race Start Radio 2/25 Daytona International Speedway FS1 3:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 3/4 Atlanta Motor Speedway FS1 1:30 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 3/11 Las Vegas Motor Speedway FS1 4 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 3/18 Phoenix International Raceway FOX 4 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 3/25 Auto Club Speedway FS1 4 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 4/8 Texas Motor Speedway FOX 1:30 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 4/22 Bristol Motor Speedway FS1 12:30 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 4/29 Richmond International Raceway FS1 12:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 5/6 Talladega Superspeedway FOX 1 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 5/27 Charlotte Motor Speedway FS1 1 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 6/3 Dover International Speedway FS1 1 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 6/10 Pocono Raceway FOX 1 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 6/17 Michigan International Speedway FS1 1:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 6/24 Iowa Speedway FS1 8:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 6/30 Daytona International Speedway NBCSN 7:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 7/7 Kentucky Speedway NBCSN 8 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 7/15 New Hampshire Motor Speedway NBCSN 4 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 7/22 Indianapolis Motor Speedway NBCSN 3:30 p.m. IMS / SiriusXM 7/29 Iowa Speedway NBC 3:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 8/5 Watkins Glen International NBCSN 2 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 8/12 Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course NBCSN 3:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 8/18 Bristol Motor Speedway NBCSN 7:30 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 8/27 Road America NBC 3 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 9/2 Darlington Raceway NBCSN 3:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 9/8 Richmond International Raceway NBCSN 7:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 9/16 Chicagoland Speedway NBCSN 3:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 9/23 Kentucky Speedway NBCSN 8 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 9/30 Dover International Speedway NBCSN 3 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 10/6 Charlotte Motor Speedway NBCSN 8 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 10/21 Kansas Speedway NBC 3 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 11/4 Texas Motor Speedway NBCSN 8:30 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 11/11 Phoenix International Raceway NBC 3:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 11/18 Homestead-Miami Speedway NBCSN 3:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 2017 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Schedule Date Location Network Race Start Radio 2/24 Daytona International Speedway FS1 7:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 3/4 Atlanta Motor Speedway FS1 4:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 4/1 Martinsville Speedway FS1 2:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 5/12 Kansas Speedway FS1 8:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 5/19 Charlotte Motor Speedway FS1 8:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 6/2 Dover International Speedway FS1 5:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 6/9 Texas Motor Speedway FS1 8 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 6/17 Gateway Motorsports Park FS1 8:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 6/23 Iowa Speedway FS1 8:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 7/6 Kentucky Speedway FS1 7:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 7/19 Eldora Speedway FS1 9 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 7/29 Pocono Raceway FS1 1 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 8/12 Michigan International Speedway FS1 1 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 8/16 Bristol Motor Speedway FS1 8:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 9/3 Canadian Tire Motorsport Park FS1 2:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 9/15 Chicagoland Speedway FS1 8:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 9/23 New Hampshire Motor Speedway FS1 1 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 9/30 Las Vegas Motor Speedway FS1 8:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 10/14 Talladega Superspeedway FOX 1 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 10/28 Martinsville Speedway FS1 1:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 11/3 Texas Motor Speedway FS1 8:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 11/10 Phoenix International Raceway FS1 8:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 11/17 Homestead-Miami Speedway FS1 8 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM All times eastern. Subject to change.
Cain: Kyle Busch, Toyota in driver's seat as Chase approaches
Kyle Busch's dominating performance at Indianapolis Motor Speedway Sunday afternoon spoke enough volumes to fill a small library: -- He joins Jimmie Johnson as the only NASCAR drivers to win back-to-back races at the historic track. -- Busch's 149 laps led in the caution-extended 170-lap race broke an event record and raised the mark all-time. -- He is the first driver to ever sweep both the XFINITY and Sprint Cup series races at Indy two seasons in a row. -- He is the first driver to win both of the weekend's races from the pole position. -- The victory now ties Busch with Brad Keselowski for the most victories this season (four). -- And no one has more top-five finishes (11) entering this week's stop at Pocono than the reigning Sprint Cup champ. "It's fun to come out here and have such a dominant piece at Indy," a grinning Busch, 31, said Sunday. "They don't come along often, so I was just hoping I didn't screw it up." Well, actually, they have come along -- more than normal -- this season. At least for the Camry camp. And perhaps most important to Busch and his Toyota teammates is that Toyota continues to set itself up as the power-keg to reckon with come Chase time -- which is only a little over a month away. The two most dominating performances of the season -- and frankly, recent seasons -- came from Furniture Row Racing driver Martin Truex, whose No. 78 Toyota led a record 392 of the 400 laps in May at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Busch, who contributed another history-maker over the weekend. Five Toyota drivers are among the top 10 in the points standings, and all of them have won this season -- from Denny Hamlin's dramatic photo finish over Truex in the Daytona 500 to Busch's most recent showing at Indy. In fact, three of the top-four finishers Sunday (Busch, runner-up Matt Kenseth and fourth-place finisher Hamlin) drove Toyotas. Toyota has had at least three drivers finish among the top 10 in the past three races. "I think any of us have a shot to win on any given week," Busch said. "We all have a great communication and camaraderie and are able to work together, and that's what makes this team so strong." The entire month of April races belonged to Toyota with Busch's back-to-back wins at Martinsville and Texas and Carl Edwards' two wins at Bristol and Richmond. As impressive as Toyota's 10 wins are, nine have come in the past 15 races. And the real statement is where the wins are: Chase tracks. Six of Toyota's victories have come among the 10 venues the series will visit during the Chase. Busch owns three of the wins (Martinsville, Texas and Kansas), Kenseth has two (Dover and New Hampshire) and Truex took the trophy at Charlotte. Indianapolis may not be a Chase race, but Busch's record-setting performance there shows Toyota is full-speed-ahead as the Chase approaches. "At this level of motorsports and the competition level across the field, you can't hit on one thing and beat people," Busch's crew chief Adam Stevens said after Sunday's race. "You have to hit on everything." &amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;gt;
Hamlin returns to site of Daytona 500 win, eyes sweep
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Since Denny Hamlin first arrived in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series full time in 2006 he had an immediate positive relationship with Daytona International Speedway winning his first-ever Budweiser Shootout as a rookie in the days leading up to the season-opening Daytona 500 . Since then, Hamlin has won that event two more times including this February -- just 8 days before he pulled off an amazing last lap pass to claim his maiden Daytona 500 victory in the closest finish in the race's great 58-year history. A win in Saturday's Coke Zero 400 would give Hamlin another unique claim to Daytona fame -- a season sweep of the Sprint Cup events plus a win in the Shootout giving him three victories (including both points races) at the track in a single season. Only Bobby Allison (1982) and Fireball Roberts (1962) have swept both Daytona premier series races and won an exhibition event too. Jimmie Johnson (2013), Cale Yarborough (1968) and LeeRoy Yarbrough (1969) are the other drivers to win both Sprint Cup races in a year. "It was about five years ago that something happened on the restrictor plate race tracks where I just -- it clicked and I got it," Hamlin said Thursday. "I can name a few instances it's really helped me, but I don't want to necessarily say that, but I just feel comfortable. I feel like I know what I'm doing and the results have showed it." The driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota hasn't finished worse than sixth in his last five Daytona starts, including a runner-up in the 2014 Daytona 500 and a third place showing in last year's Coke Zero 400 -- a streak of success even better than one of the track's true superstars, Dale Earnhardt Jr . Earnhardt has a pair of Cup race wins during that same five-race span -- including the 2014 Daytona 500 and this race last year -- but finished 36th in this year's Daytona 500 and 14th in this race in 2014. Despite the impressive numbers, Hamlin is well aware that his current success streak is a rare outcome at a restrictor plate track. "Eventually, we're going to get in a wreck," Hamlin allowed with a slight smile. "I think we did at -- yeah, we did at Talladega, but I've just been very fortunate on superspeedways and the bad finishes that I've had it's not because something I feel like I did. It was something that I could caught up in, so I've been fortunate. "It's been a great battle with the 88 ( Dale Earnhardt Jr .) probably the last four years with me and him. There's been a lot of one-two finishes with us and hopefully I'd love to complete the sweep winning the Unlimited, the 500 and the July race. I feel like I gift basket-ed him that dual win on Thursday this year, so I'd like to get him back here in July." A win this weekend would be key not just in Daytona historical context. Other than a fantastic runner-up finish to Tony Stewart on the Sonoma Raceway road course last week, Hamlin hasn't posted the kind of consistently good showings he might have liked. Especially with the way the season began. In the last seven races, Hamlin has three top-10s and three finishes of 30th or worse -- two of those sub-par finishes, a result of crashes. But just looking at Hamlin's face and his demeanor, it's easy to tell he brings an unmistakable confidence to Daytona Beach. And he's earned it honestly. He'll start ninth in the Coke Zero 400 -- surrounded by all his three Joe Gibbs Racing teammates who qualified second ( Carl Edwards ), third ( Kyle Busch ) and seventh ( Matt Kenseth ). Toyota driver Martin Truex Jr ., who Hamlin edged for the Daytona win in February, will start 15th. "Anytime we can work together, I try for sure," Hamlin said of his Toyota teammates. "I don't know that it was a plot to take out one car by any means. I thought we showed a lot of speed with just our cars in practice looking at lap times with what we would run as a group of five. Simple math says what the pack was going to run and I knew that if we could stay in a line and commit to each other, it would be tough for others to pass us. It worked out well. "Legitimately there were five Toyotas out to win on the final lap and that's really all we could have asked for. It was something that was in the works for a long time and it was executed perfectly by our whole organization and it worked out. Obviously any time you are successful like that you try to repeat it, but the competitors have a lot of say in that, so there are others who are going to have issue with what our plan is." "Really this track has been very good to me throughout my career," Hamlin said. "We hope to complete the sweep this weekend."
Larson: 'I would love to run the Indy 500'
Kyle Larson talks about the potential of running the Indianapolis 500 in the future.
Junior savors NBCSN's re-air of special Daytona win
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Dale Earnhardt Jr . broke into a big smile and sat up in his seat when discussing his interaction on Twitter during NBC's Wednesday night re-broadcast of his emotional 2001 win in Daytona International Speedway 's annual summer race. Earnhardt won that July 400-miler in the series' first return to the Daytona high banks a mere five months after his father, Dale Earnhardt, was killed on the final lap of that year's season-opening Daytona 500 . And according to NBC Sports, Wednesday's night’s replay of Earnhardt Jr.'s victory in the NASCAR summer classic was the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter during the broadcast. "A lot of those races when we won, Twitter and social media wasn't around yet," Earnhardt said from Daytona International Speedway , where he is – again – the defending winner of Saturday's Coke Zero 400 here. "It was pretty fun having that instant communication and dialogue. With social media platforms we have today, it felt like we were in a big room with everybody watching it together. "It was good. I love the old stuff. The fans enjoy those iconic races in the sport and there are so many to choose from." And, Earnhardt conceded, it was actually a spontaneous viewing situation for himself. "I really didn't plan on watching the race, it just so happened I was sitting in the house with nothing to do," Earnhardt said, grinning and suggesting the whole experience might be a positive precedent for the sport. "If they get those drivers involved in these events to join in on social media, I think it adds to the experience of people watching. And in my case, if you won the race, it certainly was exciting to be a part of that experience. "I thought it was great and a super-great treat for me. I was super humbled at how everybody plugged in. It's great to be reminded of stuff like that. It was a special night and I'm glad people think it's cool." RELATED: Junior live tweets watching July 2001 Daytona win Earnhardt's famously huge fan base certainly found it a treat -- especially the continual interaction with the two-time Daytona 500 winner as he commented via Twitter throughout the telecast. "It's funny, even after all these years I'm still nervous watching, still leaning one way or another, telling my young self how to drive," Earnhardt tweeted during Wednesday's replay. Just thinking about the whole experience was clearly positive for Earnhardt. And he'd love a rerun this weekend – the victory would essentially punch his ticket to the 2016 Chase for the NASACAR Sprint Cup . "The throwback was a neat treat and I was really humbled by the idea of the network showing the race and appreciating what we accomplished," he said. "It was fun to think about and talk about what happened and see the comments. I appreciated it and I know a lot of the guys involved in that victory were watching and communicating with me. It was a special night."
For Junior, confidence is key to winning at Daytona
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The speed has been there. The results, in terms of wins, have not. Dale Earnhardt Jr ., considered perhaps the best restrictor-plate racer competing in NASCAR today, is 12th in points as drivers and teams arrived this week at Daytona International Speedway , site of Saturday night's Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola (7:45 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). His last victory came last November in Phoenix, 17 races ago. Not an extraordinarily long time, but notable just the same. Notable, in part, because Saturday's race kicks off a 10-race run leading up to this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . Earnhardt Jr. plans on being one of the 16 drivers competing for the title. "Obviously we need to get a win to put all that to bed but nothing is guaranteed," Earnhardt said Thursday at DIS. "If we don't get a win going into the Chase we're going to have to do well in these next 10 races and just be real consistent." Consistency has been something of an issue for the No. 88 team, one of four fielded by Hendrick Motorsports , this season. And his involvement in on-track incidents has been more frequent. Sixth in points after back-to-back runnerup up finishes earlier this year, Earnhardt has scored just one in the eight races that followed. The month of May, he said, was both disappointing and frustrating. "We're a little frustrated with how we ran through the month of May," Earnhardt said. "We've seen more speed out of our cars (but) had some bad finishes, wrecks … tore up a lot of cars this year, uncharacteristic, I think, for us to be in so many accidents. "So where we are in points is very frustrating. It creates a lot of anxiety between me and Greg (Ives, crew chief). I think we are both not happy with where we are in the points. "Wondering and worrying about trying to make the Chase shouldn't be something that we're concerned with. I think we're way better than where we are. In the past several years, we've sat around the top five in points throughout the season. Things just came easier for us. They're not coming so easy today and we've just got to keep working." Earnhardt has qualified for the Chase for five consecutive years and eight times since he made the move to Sprint Cup full-time in 2000. Recent efforts have been promising, in spite of the end result. He was 11th at Sonoma , "a place that I really don't like to race and don't really think I'm very good at," he said. He finished 39th a week earlier at Michigan, where he said the car was fast, but "we just didn't get a chance to see it and get up there and see where we could go with it. "So I'm not real worried about our speed because I feel like we've had good speed over the last couple of weeks; certainly in May we didn't and that was hard to do and frustrating. Hopefully we just get to Richmond and we don't have a lot of pressure about trying to make the Chase. We've just got to put a string of races together that will give us a cushion between us and the next guys fighting for those last few spots." That string could start this weekend. Ten of his 26 career victories in Sprint Cup have come in restrictor-plate races (four here at Daytona and six at Talladega Superspeedway ), making him a favorite anytime the series visits the two mega-facilities. He's the defending winner of this weekend's race. But this year it was rival Denny Hamlin ( Joe Gibbs Racing ) scoring the win in the season-opening Daytona 500 and some two months later Brad Keselowski ( Team Penske ) was celebrating in the Winner's Circle at Talladega. Both races ended long after Earnhardt had exited the scene. In order to contend for the win here, Earnhardt said, a driver needs a car that is nearly perfect in all aspects. With rain delaying the majority of Thursday's practice sessions, just how good his No. 88 entry is this weekend remains an unknown. "That really makes the driver's job a lot easier when the car is a dominant car," he said. "I've had plenty of dominant race cars down here. And when you're out on the race track and you have such a good car, you gain more and more confidence as the weekend goes and your confidence really starts to create more opportunities. "When you're confident about your car, you're trying more passes and trying to do more things. If you don't feel confident in your car, you might second-guess a decision or not do something. Every little move you make out there sort of puts you in position to win."
Biffle earns first Coors Light Pole Award of '16 at Daytona
RELATED: Starting lineup " See all 40 cars DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Greg Biffle came out of nowhere. Winless since 2013 and without a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pole since the fall Charlotte race in 2012, the driver of the No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford scorched Daytona International Speedway on Friday to claim the top starting spot for Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400 (at 7:45 p.m. ET on NBC). In the second and final round of knockout qualifying, Biffle toured the 2.5-mile restrictor-plate track in 46.643 seconds (192.955 mph) to wrestle the Coors Light Pole Award from former RFR teammate Carl Edwards (192.748 mph) by .050 seconds. The pole was Biffle’s second at a plate track, the first coming when he led the field to green in the 2004 Daytona 500 , not quite eight months after Biffle won the only plate race of his career -- the 2003 Coke Zero 400 . Both were career-firsts for the Biff. All told, Biffle has won 13 poles in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, but Friday’s was particularly significant because of the boost it give his organization, which has been struggling for the past few years to find speed in the wake of the departure of veterans Matt Kenseth and Edwards to Joe Gibbs Racing . "It is a huge confidence-builder, and coming out of here with a good finish, that’s a lot of momentum for the team," Biffle said. "Qualifying on the pole, getting a good run and moving on to the next race -- we need that. "We need those good finishes and momentum and encouragement. Winning the pole is all smiles on those guys pushing the car up there and getting the pictures. They’re pumped right now. We’ll be ready to go tomorrow night." In a backup car with no practice laps because of a wreck in Saturday morning’s practice, Kyle Busch (192.336 mph) qualified third. Biffle’s teammate, Ricky Stenhouse Jr . (192.320 mph), earned the fourth starting spot, followed by Brad Keselowski (192.254 mph) and Austin Dillon (192.254 mph), who lost the fifth spot to Keselowski on an owner points tiebreaker. Defending race winner Dale Earnhardt Jr . failed to make the top 12 and will start 16th. Jimmie Johnson (eighth) was the only Hendrick Motorsports driver to advance to the second round, just as Kurt Busch (10th) was the only Stewart-Haas Racing entry to do so. Earnhardt, however, wasn’t particularly concerned about his starting position. "I think we’ll be good," he said. "We worked on our car to try and help it drive better. That might take some straight-line speed out of it, but it’s going to hopefully help us be able to make moves we need to make in the race. "It's going to be slick in the race, and handling is going to be real important. I'm more concerned really with the car driving good. Might not be the fastest car out there, (but) that's not the car that is going to win the race. I think (that’s going to be) the guy that's got the best handling package. This place is going to be pretty slick." Biffle was fastest in both rounds of qualifying, pacing the first session at 192.629 mph. "After that first session, I knew we had to be worried about (Greg)," Edwards said. "We ran a really good lap in the second session, but those guys were fast. They put the hard work in, they deserve it and I know how hard those guys work over there. "And I guess in a way, it’s cool to see them have success. You hate to get beat by anyone, but knowing those guys and knowing how much they work, it’s good to see them have this day."
Hamlin hungry for Daytona sweep
Denny Hamlin talks about the short-term impact of winning the Daytona 500 and expresses his desire to finish the Daytona sweep with wins in the Sprint Unlimited, the Daytona 500 and the Coke Zero 400.