Kyle Busch discusses winning the second Budweiser Duel and how the new Gen-6 car feels on the track.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Award winners from 2001-10 join list of 30 cars for season-opening race
Bill Elliott will drive in at least 18 Sprint Cup races for Phoenix Racing, starting with the Daytona 500, a team spokesman confirmed Monday. Elliott, 55, has driven a part-time schedule for Wood Brothers Racing the past four years, but the Wood Brothers are working to put together a deal for Trevor Bayne, leaving Elliott to look for another Cup ride. Elliott, the 1988 Cup champion, won the Daytona 500 in 1985 and '87. Phoenix Racing qualified for 28 of the 36 Cup events last year to finish 39th in the owners' standings. Because it did not finish in the top 35 in owners' points, Elliott will need to make the Daytona 500 on speed, through his qualifying race finish or a past champion's provisional. Although Elliott is eligible for the Budweiser Shootout , the team is not currently planning on competing in that event. Elliott started 40th and finished 27th in the 2010 Daytona 500, the first of 12 races he drove with the Wood Brothers last year. His best finish was 15th in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. With 821 career starts, Elliott ranks 15th all time with 44 career victories. His last full-time season was 2003.
DENVER, Colo. -- Regan Smith's No. 78 over-the-wall pit crew for Furniture Row Racing will be employed and trained by Stewart-Haas Racing during the 2011 Sprint Cup season. "We are excited to partner with SHR as it relates to the pit crew," said Joe Garone, Furniture Row Racing general manager. "After reviewing SHR's program, personnel and facility we are confident that SHR will deliver a crew that meets all of our objectives." The No. 78 pit crew will be under the supervision of SHR pit crew coach Joe Piette, who also oversees the pit crews for Tony Stewart's No. 14 team and Ryan Newman's No. 39 team. The SHR team is based in Kannapolis, N.C. "We are very excited about our new partnership with Furniture Row Racing and having the opportunity to help contribute to the growth of their program, while also giving our pit crew the chance to compete and improve on a weekly basis," said Bobby Hutchens, director of competition for Stewart-Haas Racing. The first race for the new Furniture Row Racing pit crew will be the invitational Budweiser Shootout , Feb. 12 at Daytona International Speedway. Smith qualified for the non-points race on the basis of being a former Cup rookie of the year (2008). The first Cup points race is the Daytona 500 on Feb. 20. The Denver-based No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team is coming off its best season since the franchise entered Cup competition in 2005. Last year, Smith qualified in all 36 races and came on strong during the second half of the season, scoring a number of top-20 finishes, including three of 13 or better in the final seven races. He also qualified in the top 10 in the final three races.
Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne comment on their runs in the the first Budweiser Duel of the night.
Can JGR driver build off last season's run to the Championship 4? RELATED: Full schedule of driver previews Team: Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 Toyota Rank in final 2014 standings: Third Wins: One ( Talladega Superspeedway in May) Year in photos: Recap Hamlin's 2014 season Strides: Denny Hamlin carried momentum from his victory in the 2013 season finale into Speedweeks, winning the Sprint Unlimited exhibition and one of the two Budweiser Duel qualifying races ahead of the Daytona 500 . He finished just short of winning the Great American Race with a runner-up finish, but applied the No. 11 team's knack for restrictor-plate tracks to post his first career victory at Talladega Superspeedway , clinching a berth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs. Once in the postseason, Hamlin was able to advance through all three rounds of the Chase's new format, landing one of four title-eligible spots in the Sprint Cup Championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway . He led 50 laps but wound up seventh in the finale -- third among the championship quartet -- when a gamble on pit strategy unraveled in the late stages. "We gave it our best run," Hamlin said. "I mean, we put together really our best race all year, that final race, and gave those guys a run when we really hadn't had the speed to race with them all year. We gave it an effort and just came up short. Really proud of what we were able to accomplish this year, even though it was somewhat of a down year for our team." Setbacks: A freak eye injury in March forced Hamlin to seek medical care at Auto Club Speedway for the second straight year on race day. In 2013, a tangle with Joey Logano left Hamlin with a broken back that sidelined him for four races and part of a fifth; in 2014, a sliver of metal in his left eye forced him out, just an hour before the green flag. A medical exemption by NASCAR officials allowed him to remain Chase-eligible as long as he met all other criteria. The new Chase qualification rules also benefited Hamlin later in the season, but the No. 11 team still felt heavy repercussions in the process. After a post-race technical infraction was found at Indianapolis Motor Speedway , NASCAR issued stiff penalties by stripping the team of 75 points, suspending crew chief Darian Grubb for six races and fining him $125,000. Injuries and penalties notwithstanding, Hamlin said after the season that he drove most of the year facing a performance deficit compared to his front-running rivals. With Joe Gibbs Racing expanding to a four-team operation with the addition of Carl Edwards to the 2015 driver roster, Hamlin said he hopes the benefits of additional information sharing can help get the organization over the hump. "You've just got to get better in all aspects, and I think we've always just been kind of that next-tier team, realistically," Hamlin said. "We can compete for race wins, week in and week out, but the championships have escaped us through mechanical stuff, which we've worked out, or this year it was just our cars weren't fast enough to compete with those guys. However, we gave ourselves a great chance that last race to really sneak a championship away from 'em, but overall we've just got to get better in more areas, and I think going to the fourth team will allow us to do that." Quoteworthy: "A lot of ups and downs -- it's been a tough year to start the year missing a race. We didn't have the tools to win a lot of races throughout the year, but we got better and we got better when it really counted. It wasn't for a lack of effort. Everyone gave 100 percent to give me the best car they could this weekend. It just wasn't enough to beat those guys." -- Hamlin, moments after finishing seventh in the championship race at Homestead-Miami. What's next: Hamlin's three-year run with Grubb drew to a close after a dramatic shake-up to JGR's crew chief lineup in the offseason. The new assignments for 2015 mean that Hamlin will pair with Dave Rogers, who served as crew chief for Kyle Busch on the No. 18 Toyota team in Sprint Cup since 2010. What won't change is the team's ultra-fast pit crew, often credited as one of the sport's best. Rogers and Hamlin have worked together with success in what is now called the NASCAR XFINITY Series (seven wins together), and Rogers' tenure with Busch produced 13 Sprint Cup wins over a five-year stretch. Hamlin's 2014 finish was the third near-miss in his quest for a career-defining breakthrough championship at NASCAR's highest level. Though times are changing at JGR with its expansion and juggling of crew chiefs, Hamlin brings high hopes that the new combination with Rogers will bear fruit in 2015. "He's well-regarded within our sport amongst other crew chiefs and I know what he can do," Hamlin said. "He's been with the No. 11 FedEx team before. This is his second time around, but me and him have never worked together in the Cup Series. I have driven his cars during tests and been really fast and comfortable with them, so I'm very excited about what we can do." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule