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At place of peace, Dale Jr. still 'craves' racing
DAYTONA 500 : Starting lineup " Race-day schedule " Key info RELATED: Junior fulfilled with his career numbers DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- He tested at Phoenix earlier this year, qualified on the outside of the front row for Sunday's Daytona 500 (2 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) and on Thursday he led the bulk of his Can-Am Duel qualifying race before finishing fifth. Dale Earnhardt Jr . is officially back. Today marks his return to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series , and no one is more pleased about it than the driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports . "I really had fun," Earnhardt said Thursday evening after a strong return at a track where he's typically one of a handful of drivers expected to run well. "I hated to lose but still we have to be aware of how far we've come to get back here. To go out there and lead all those laps and be able to make some good smart moves, it felt great." The road back has been a long one for the 42-year-old Earnhardt, who missed the final 18 races of 2016 while recovering from a concussion. It marked the second time he had been sidelined by such an injury, and he admitted there were times he questioned what his racing future held. RELATED: Junior emerges from injury stronger, centered and ready to win "There was a lot of time during the recovery where there were days I was 90 percent sure I wasn't going to drive again," he said. "There were days when it was 50 percent. It was just moving all over the place depending on what I felt that day. Your recovery is up and down, you have good days and bad days. … "When it came down to it, I had to decide for myself if I wanted to drive anymore. I'm not going to race because of any other reason than I want to be out there." Earnhardt will roll off second alongside Elliott, the pole winner, for the 59th running of the Daytona 500. He is a two-time winner of the "Great American Race" and one of the favorites based on past success and this year's efforts thus far. RELATED: Chronicling Junior's return to racing " Dale Jr. in the 500 Restrictor-plate races are breeding grounds for multi-car crashes, with cars running two-, three- and sometimes four-wide, a dozen or more rows deep at 200-plus mph. Earnhardt doesn't dwell on the possibility of another accident and what might result. "I don't want to wreck to sort of quantify my recovery," he said. "I think should that happen and I come out the other side of it feeling great, that will add a ton of confidence. I can't sit here and say that I know exactly how I'm going to react in those situations with confidence. So yeah, when I go through that process, there's a box or two to check that aren't checked yet." Three-time series champion Tony Stewart hung up his NASCAR uniform at the end of the '16 season. Two of Stewart's final four years driving for Stewart-Haas Racing were cut short due to injuries the Columbus, Indiana, native suffered in non-NASCAR events. But there was no apprehension about climbing back in the car following lengthy recovery periods, he said. "Never. It was more excitement to get back because you have to remember, we're drivers," Stewart, the winner of 49 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races, said. "That's what we want to do, drive. "When you have an injury, all it is is a pain in the ass. It's keeping you from doing what you want to do. That's why you heard so many drivers praise Junior last year (when) he chose not to run. And that's hard." Fellow driver Martin Truex Jr . has a close relationship with Earnhardt -- the two were teammates from 2004-07 at Dale Earnhardt Inc. and spend time away from the track each fall on hunting trips. "I know he's got a lot on his shoulders," Truex said. "A lot of people put a lot of pressure on him, obviously. I think in a lot of ways he sometimes feels like he needs to be here for other people. But hopefully he made the decision based on what's best for him. I think he did. I know he's excited about racing still. He obviously still loves it and wants to do it and hopefully things will all work out for him." It has been 20 races since Earnhardt won his last race and just five -- due to his shortened '16 season -- since his last top five. Sunday affords the opportunity to reset both those streaks. After that? He's yet to win a championship at NASCAR's top level, but has finished as high as third. And, yes, he did say if he wins the title in '17 "it would be hard to not call it a career." RELATED: Earnhardt Jr. would consider walking away as champion He has a new outlook and seems to be at peace with the road he's traveled. For the longest time, he said "I let racing be who I was instead of what I did. "Like Richard Petty said, I've got a whole other life beyond driving and I really believe that," Earnhardt said. "I've got a lot of things I'd love to do. Even outside of having a family, there are a lot of things in business that I'd love to see if I could succeed at. I think we got a glimpse of what that would be like; it looks pretty awesome." For now, though, the Daytona 500 and another season of crisscrossing the country await. And Earnhardt is more than OK with that. "Like I said, I crave to drive the car," he said. "I love the position I'm in with the team I'm with, (crew chief) Greg (Ives) and the guys, and until that feeling … and that 'want' to be there is gone, I want to keep going." &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Drivers thrilled to be a part of 'Cars 3'
SHOP: Cars 3 NASCAR-related merchandise RELATED: Cars 3 gears up for season-long ride with NASCAR DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Even though Daniel Suarez enjoys a degree of celebrity status as a driver in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series , he couldn't help but be a little starstruck, himself, Thursday morning. "You guys have no idea how happy I am to be side-by-side with this car right now," Suarez said, standing alongside a life-sized model of Lightning McQueen, the animated star of Disney-Pixar's "Cars" franchise, in the media center at Daytona International Speedway . Suarez is one of a dozen figures in the NASCAR industry getting the Hollywood treatment in the third installment of the automotive feature film franchise. While several familiar voices -- including those of stock-car legends Darrell Waltrip, Jeff Gordon and Richard Petty -- will return to the big screen for "Cars 3," the film's storyline will feature a new crop of drivers vying for the fictional Piston Cup. That's where Suarez, along with Ryan Blaney , Darrell Wallace Jr . and Daytona 500 pole winner Chase Elliott enter stage left. The four young drivers will get their own animated roles, transforming into Danny Swervez, Ryan "Inside" Laney, Bubba Wheelhouse and Chase Racelott for the film, which opens June 16. "It's amazing. I'm a huge fan of 'Cars' movies in general ," Suarez said. "When I was living in Mexico with my parents, it was natural to watch those movies and have all different kind of little cars, pillows, remote controls -- I'm a big fan of it, and now to be a part of it, it's a big deal for me." Trailers for the movie have been out for weeks, but Thursday's announcement officially launched a collaboration between the Disney-Pixar team and the NASCAR industry. Actor Owen Wilson, who is the starring voice of McQueen in all three Cars movies, will help kick off the tie-in as the grand marshal of Sunday's Daytona 500 (Sunday, 2 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM). The initiative goes beyond merely lending voices to the sequel, but stretches to at-track appearances, merchandise and co-branded learning materials for elementary school students through the NASCAR Acceleration Nation youth program. But the movie's story arc also draws parallels from NASCAR's current trend, of a growing youth movement that's making its mark in its regional and national series. "It's kind of just replicating what's happening out on the track in real life," Wallace said. "It's just really cool to be a part of 'Cars 3.' What's special is I have my little nephew who's 3. He's still understanding everything, but I think right around the corner he's going to be ready to watch 'Cars.' So I've got to sit him down and watch 'Cars' 1 and 'Cars 2' with him to get him hooked on it, and then bring him to the race track so he can start representing some Bubba Wheelhouse merchandise. "But it's really cool to be a part of this younger generation coming up in the movie, just like in real time." &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Kurt Busch seeks to snap Daytona 500 hex of runner-up finishes
BUY TICKETS: See the Daytona 500 live! MORE: Busch through the years " Busch marries fiancée DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Three hundred and fifty-five days. Give or take a week, perhaps. That's how long losing the Daytona 500 sticks with you, according to Kurt Busch . And Busch, driver of the No. 41 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing , should know. Three times Busch has been in position to win the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season-opening event. Three times he has been denied, taking the checkered flag before everyone else except for the race winner. Second is a lonely place. Others have finished second in the 500-mile race held annually here at Daytona International Speedway more often than Busch. NASCAR Hall of Fame member Dale Earnhardt finished second five times. Fellow Hall cohort Cale Yarborough did it four times. Dale Earnhardt Jr . has been runner up four times, as well. But the sting of a second-place finish in the season's biggest event isn't as painful when there are Daytona 500 trophies in the trophy case, and that's the case for the Earnhardts, Yarborough and a host of others. For Busch, the lack of a Harley J. Earl trophy, presented to the Daytona 500 victor, is the lone omission on an otherwise solid resume. He's a former series champion (2004), and enters the 2017 season with 28 wins over a 17-year career. This year's race, scheduled for Sunday (2 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) will be his 16th attempt at being known as a Daytona 500 champion. "You go with all the optimism you can to win it," Busch said. "You apply all the knowledge from years past being so close to try to win it. (But) it sticks with you." WATCH: Busch and Kenseth talk Monster Energy, Daytona 500 Restrictor-plate races contested at Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway haven't been kind to Busch, although he did win an IROC race at Talladega in 2003 en route to the championship for that four-race series. He's also won the non-points "The Clash" at Daytona as well as one of the Can-Am Duel qualifying races that determine the bulk of the lineup for the 500. "But both those (Clash and Can-Am) wins were when we were doing the tandem (draft)," Busch said of the NASCAR victories. "I mastered the tandem really well I felt like." What he's yet to master, he said "is the aggressive blocking, making the car as wide as it can be at the end of the race to hold that position. "I was in position, I thought, to win the April race at Talladega last year and Brad (Keselowski) got around me at the end. I made a mistake. Coming to the line here in July running second, third, behind Brad. Joey (Logano, Keselowski’s teammate) is behind me pushing and I got spun coming to the line. "So many close opportunities and yet nothing to show for it as far as a points win. I just have to be more aggressive and strategic in blocking at the end."
NASCAR celebrates best racing in years with return of Ready. Set. Race
BUY TICKETS: See the Daytona 500 live! DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Following a season highlighted by some of the closest, side-by-side racing NASCAR® fans have seen in years, NASCAR today announced the return of its 2017 season launch marketing campaign, Ready. Set. Race. The new integrated campaign, including television creative promoting the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series ™, will launch during the 2017 DAYTONA 500® on Sunday (2 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). NASCAR fans received a first look at "Sensory Overdrive" Friday on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. A 30-second thrill ride, the spot brings to life the high-stakes drama and intensity drivers experience competing in the sport's premier series. The campaign also includes social media videos featuring Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers shared this week and throughout the season. "The Ready. Set. Race campaign was so popular with our fans last year that we couldn't wait to bring it back with even more intense racing action," said Jill Gregory, NASCAR senior vice president and chief marketing officer. "The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series creative is unlike any advertising we've ever done. Monster Energy has built a bold, edgy brand, so we wanted to deliver creative that first and foremost is NASCAR but that also complements our new entitlement partner." The new Ready. Set. Race creative was developed in conjunction with agency partner 77 Ventures and acclaimed commercial director Gary Land. Additional creative breaking Sunday on FOX includes "A New Season," an action-packed, 60-second spot that accentuates the NASCAR racing experience across all three national series.
Lydia Johnson skis, DiBenedetto's 'Game of Thrones' treatment
Editor's note: Every Friday during the season, "Tweets You Might Have Missed" presents eight of the best NASCAR-related tweets from the week. 1. First half pipe at 3. ✔ #ProudDad #GoLydia pic.twitter.com/tHH6sqDANt — Jimmie Johnson (@JimmieJohnson) February 20, 2017 2. Game of Thrones meets @NASCAR . pic.twitter.com/uqUaNGzKQ8 — Matthew DiBenedetto (@mattdracing) February 22, 2017 3. I see @AlexBRacing is adapting well to the new @TeamHendrick workout regimen. pic.twitter.com/CEAhR6lSxH — Dale Earnhardt Jr . (@DaleJr) February 23, 2017 4. My wife can drive a tank!!!! pic.twitter.com/qjA3FFmBLN — Joey Logano (@joeylogano) February 22, 2017 5. What an honor to be joining the @pixarcars group! Very cool opportunity, be on the look out for Bubba "Wheelhouse" pic.twitter.com/TucKyM3Jn1 — Darrell Wallace Jr (@BubbaWallace) February 23, 2017 6. We have fun wherever we go pic.twitter.com/OKoYBxaa9Y — Samantha Busch (@SamanthaBusch) February 22, 2017 7. Trying 2 calmly explain 2 ,who was already past his & , that he had 2 take a & go 2 should qualify me for some kind of sainthood. — DeLana Harvick (@DeLanaHarvick) February 19, 2017 8. Disney= genius!!! Lets not JUST get every $ in his wallet. Lets make an arm band so we can get every $ in his bank account. — Clint Bowyer (@ClintBowyer) February 21, 2017
Kurt Busch: The winning car is a piece of art
Kurt Busch reflects on his first Daytona 500 win during the Champions Breakfast on Monday.
Elgin Sweeper renews partnership as official sweeper of NASCAR Green
BUY TICKETS: See the Daytona 500 live! ELGIN, Ill. – Elgin Sweeper , the leading manufacturer of street sweepers for general street maintenance, special industrial and airport applications, has renewed its partnership with NASCAR Green™ for three years and will continue to serve as the Official Sweeper of NASCAR Green . "Elgin Sweeper has provided trackside support for NASCAR for more than 15 years. Since we entered into our NASCAR Green partnership four years ago, we have experienced incredible success," said Mike Higgins, vice president and general manager of Elgin Sweeper. "Our company shares NASCAR's passion for, and commitment to, protecting the environment through sustainable practices." "Elgin Sweepers are essential to maintaining a clean and dry surface during our events," said Jim Cassidy, senior vice president, racing operations at NASCAR. "Every race weekend, Elgin Sweepers deliver dependable and clean technology that helps us return to green flagging racing more efficiently." Official Sweeper of NASCAR Green As the Official Sweeper of NASCAR Green, Elgin Sweeper is present at each NASCAR race event weekend to support NASCAR's Air Titan equipment to dry rain-soaked racetracks, saving jet fuel and reduce NASCAR's overall carbon footprint. In addition to supporting the Air Titan equipment with the revolutionary Elgin Crosswind ® Specialty Track Sweeper , the company helps clean and dry the tracks during caution periods when necessary. "For years, most racetracks borrowed a local street sweeper, or used a small machine designed for sweeping parking lots," Higgins said. "As the Official Sweeper of NASCAR Green, Elgin Sweeper has raised the bar in terms of racetrack sweeping, drying and conditioning, mitigating dust left behind from absorbent products used to clean fuel spills on the track, and removing rubber and debris in and around the pit area." Elgin Crosswind Specialty Track Sweeper In 2016, the Elgin Track Sweeper helped with drying rain-soaked tracks and vacuuming up standing water, rubber and debris around the pit area at 76 races of the National Series and more than 200 National Series practice sessions. "Based on our Crosswind GRS unit used to vacuum liquid glycol from airport runways, the Elgin Track Sweeper includes unique technology features developed specifically for a racetrack setting," said James Crockett, product manager at Elgin Sweeper. "These features include a thermal imaging camera that helps the operator locate liquids that may be camouflaged from the naked eye; a side air-blast nozzle capable of moving air at 270 mph for locations such as grass on the inside field, pit areas and weepers; a reverse sweep system equipped with radar; a 20,000 CFM-rated fan; a hydraulically-driven side broom with plastic bristles; and a soft-wall attachment to vacuum out behind the cracks on the racetrack and the soft wall before and after each race. "By speeding up the time it takes to clean and dry the track, the Elgin Track Sweeper assists the overall process of keeping the race event on schedule," Crockett said. "By doing so, the overall operations energy usage around the track – electricity used in the suites, media centers and lighting systems – is also significantly reduced." Crockett added that the powerful and effective technology incorporated in the Elgin Track Sweeper has been used in sweepers purchased globally by military customers to help keep their respective air force and navy runways clean of debris. Shared Power technology The company's proprietary shared technology system diverts the formerly wasted energy from the sweeper's chassis engine back to power the Elgin Track Sweeper itself. "This technology offsets about 16 metric tons of carbon dioxide being put into the environment over the course of a full NASCAR season, which is the equivalent of planting 372 new tree seedlings," Crockett said. Elgin Track Sweeper by the numbers • The first Elgin Track Sweeper was built in 2001 for the Kansas Speedway . • The sweeper picks up to 50 gallons of water per minute. • The sweeper saves roughly one gallon of diesel fuel per hour. • The sweeper's 10-foot sweep path covers the width of 1.5 race cars. • 16 NASCAR-certified drivers operate the Elgin Track Sweeper throughout the race season.
From The Vault: The last lap of the 1979 Daytona 500
Relive the last lap of the 1979 Daytona 500. A race that saw Richard Petty win his sixth Great American Race, and the fight that launched stock car racing to new heights.
Sense of rejuvenation for Ronnie Bassett Jr., team with his first K&N win
BUY TICKETS: See the Daytona 500 live! NEW SMYRNA BEACH, Fla. -- Ronnie Bassett Jr. sat in contemplation last May, having rushed to witness first-hand the devastating fire that tore through his family-owned team's race shop in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. While thankfully no one was injured, the material loss was heavy, with little to salvage in the way of cars, tools, equipment and the team's hauler. Sifting through cinders in the days after the blaze, Bassett said he wondered what would come next for him and his brother, Dillon, a pair of next-generation racers. "We were sitting there scratching our heads," Bassett says. "We didn't know whether we were going to be able to race again the rest of that season or what." Sunday night, nearly nine months after their loss, came victory. The 21-year-old Bassett emerged from a frantic second half of the season-opening Jet Tools 150 to score his first NASCAR K&N Pro Series East victory at New Smyrna Speedway. The win also soothed the heartbreak of last year's K&N opener, where an official scoring check after the checkered flag kept Bassett from Victory Lane. Bassett's convincing victory, which included a late-race stretch of running 1-2 with his brother, belies the adversity that his family has faced. Working with insurance to rebuild their own shop has been a gradual process, and the family racing operation is now spread over three buildings in their hometown -- a small warehouse for primary cars, a shed for parts and another space serving as a makeshift fabrication shop. "We're just trying to make it happen," said Ronnie Bassett Sr., who enjoyed a successful career in the Sportsman division at Bowman Gray Stadium. "They don't have much to work out of . It's a tight spot, I can tell you that." What has helped has been a devoted crew, and fellow racers David Calabrese and Brandon Gdovic lending a hand with equipment to help the team finish out 2016 with a part-time slate. "We just prayed to the good Lord about it to see what needed to be done," Bassett Jr. said. "It kind of worked out. We have more than what we had when we were working out of our other shop. We've been blessed with a lot of great people." Bassett Jr. led the final 42 laps, sweating through a pair of red flags for accidents, including a final stack-up near the front of the field that knocked his brother and NASCAR Next driver Tyler Dippel from contention. It marked the first laps led in a K&N East career that's spanned 40 races since 2013. Though Bassett Jr. amassed a three-second lead on the half-mile track over the closing laps, he and his father remained antsy. Intense racing behind him threatened a late caution, and then there were the reminders of the mix-up from last season. Bassett actually crossed under the checkered flag first at New Smyrna in 2016, emerging from a three-car fracas with Todd Gilliland and Spencer Davis. But race officials determined that an extra lap had been inadvertently run beyond the scheduled distance, handing the victory to Gilliland. There was no doubt Sunday night. "I had a counter in my hand tonight," Bassett Sr. said with a laugh. "We were definitely watching the flagstand, that's for sure. It's all good, though." For his son, the victory was a needed boost after a long dry spell. Bassett had two runner-up efforts sprinkled among his nine previous top-five finishes, including a third place at New Smyrna last year. After leaving the Florida half-mile with trophy in hand, Bassett said the sense of rejuvenation was real. "It's been very, very tough on myself -- I went from running good in Late Model Stocks and then coming to these things, it's like punching myself in the heart," Bassett Jr. said, adding that the family plans a full K&N East schedule in its rebuilding year. "To come back and have a good race car and lead laps tonight, it builds my confidence back to know that I can still do it."
Dale Jr. jumps back into familiar surroundings with plenty of speed
BUY TICKETS: See the Daytona 500 live! " RELATED: Junior through the years DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr . didn't take any credit for his qualifying effort Sunday, a 192.864 mph lap that put his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet on the front row for next week's season-opening Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway . "Ain't much to it," Earnhardt quipped. "The car does all the work." Earnhardt, twice a winner of the "Great American Race," won't be on the pole, but he'll start alongside Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott , giving the team a front-row sweep for the second time in the last three years. His previous wins in the 500 came from third (in 2004) and ninth ('14). Earnhardt is regarded as one of the best at restrictor-plate racing but qualifying is a solo effort. There are no other cars off which to pick up a push or gain an advantage. It's all about horsepower. But there's a bit of technique required as well. "The transitions are kind of important as far as feeding the car into the corner and also running as tight as you can on the apron without bouncing the skirt off the apron or giving up any speed, or just time adding feet to your lap by running high, at least a little bit, can make a big difference," he said. "But other than that, the driver, I don't think he's feeling like he's in control of too much. The car is doing most of the work." Sidelined for the last half of the 2016 season after suffering concussion-like symptoms, Earnhardt is eager to be back behind the wheel. He chose not to compete in Sunday's Advance Auto Parts Clash, instead allowing Alex Bowman to field his entry. Bowman had won the pole at Phoenix driving in relief of Earnhardt last fall, a distinction that Earnhardt said earned the driver the opportunity. But after spending "The Clash" working as an analyst in the booth for Fox Sports, Earnhardt traded in his suit and tie for a firesuit, and eased his way back into more familiar surroundings. He was second-fastest in the opening round of qualifying; Elliott ended the session atop the board. In the final round, the No. 88 went to the top of the board with only one driver, Elliott, remaining. "I certainly would have loved to have gotten a pole, but my boss man is happy," Earnhardt said of team owner Rick Hendrick. "I just talked to him on the phone and he's got to be thrilled with having his cars up front." Elliott's final-round run, a lap of 192.872 mph, gave the Dawsonville, Georgia, youngster his second consecutive Daytona 500 pole. It was the third straight No. 1 qualifying effort for his No. 24 team, which also started out front here in '15 with four-time series champion Jeff Gordon behind the wheel. "Obviously Dale is good down here, and we all knew he was going to be fast today," Elliott, 21, said. "That's no surprise. But I don't really care who it is. I'm not going to feel bad about beating somebody. "It's cool to share a front row with a teammate is really the biggest thing I look at with that. But Dale is a good guy. I'm happy to share the front row with him, but happier to beat him, obviously, but regardless of who it is, that's what you're trying to do, you know." Elliott and Earnhardt were the only two drivers to officially lock in their starting positions for next weekend's Daytona 500 (2 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The remainder of the field will be determined through the Can-Am Duels, a pair of 150-lap qualifying races scheduled for Thursday evening (7 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;