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Bowyer: 'It feels good to be competitive again'
BUY TICKETS: See the Daytona 500 live! DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- It wasn't quite the Daytona 500 pole position -- although for a while it looked like it might be -- but Clint Bowyer 's fourth-place qualifying effort Sunday afternoon on the Daytona International Speedway high banks was a huge confidence boost for him and for his Stewart-Haas Racing team. Bowyer took over the No. 14 Mobil 1 Ford Fusion for retired great Tony Stewart this season and his first official outing in the car Sunday certainly was noteworthy. And assuring. The 2012 Cup championship runner-up looked stout taking over driving duties for the three-time series champion Stewart -- and held the lead spot on the timing pylon for a good portion of the qualifying session before Hendrick Motorsports teammates Chase Elliott and Dale Earnhardt Jr . topped the mark. Even so, Bowyer was smiling and enthusiastic when qualifying closed. "It's a great effort, considering everything these guys have gone through all season long, switching manufacturers and everything that goes with that,’" Bowyer said of his SHR team. "It was right where they left off and we gained on it." Bowyer, who was signed by the Stewart-Haas organization in 2015 to replace the retiring Stewart, drove for HScott Motorsports last year while "on deck" for the seat. And he suffered through the worst season of his career with not a single top-five finish. The promising start in his first official outing for SHR was exactly the kind of beginning both Bowyer and his team could appreciate. "It's a nice first time out with him and more importantly, I think it's a big progression for Stewart-Haas," crew chief Mike Bugarewicz said. "It says a lot about this company and how hard everybody has worked -- our R&D group, everyone in the body shop, the aero engineers, everybody. "Having two cars in the top 12 (also seventh place Kevin Harvick ) we had a reasonable shot at it. We're happy. This team has been through a lot the past two years and now meeting up with Clint, we're excited and looking forward to working with him. I think we're going to have a lot of fun this year. "When the organization that's been working so hard, sees speed in the car, that's a good thing. And him climbing in for the first time … this gets him pumped up and everyone in the car excited and ready to go." Bowyer has four top-10 finishes in the Daytona 500 , including back-to-back fourth-place efforts in 2009-10. He says this restrictor-plate style of racing is something he said he looks forward to. This opportunity with SHR is something he's ready to seize. 'It's Daytona," Bowyer said of the importance of his efforts. "It feels good to be competitive again. I was down here last year and we were way off the pace. It was crushing because you know deep down you don't even have a chance and when you've got a car like this -- a hot rod like this and a team like this -- I've got a chance.’’ &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;gt;
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."
Post-Race Reactions: Good Sam Roadside Assistance 200
James Buescher and Johnny Sauter comment on their strong runs at the Rock, while Nelson Piquet reflects on his pit road mistake.
Logano nabs victory in 'The Clash' after wild final lap
RELATED: Results " SHOP: Logano gear BUY TICKETS: See the Daytona 500 Live! DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- When Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin collided in Turn 2 on the final lap of Sunday's rain-delayed Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona International Speedway , Joey Logano was there to seize the moment. Charging to the outside and grabbing the lead near the entry to the Superstretch at the 2.5-mile speedway, Logano took the checkered flag 1.121 seconds ahead of runner-up Kyle Busch , who beat third-place finisher Alex Bowman to the stripe by .018 seconds. Danica Patrick dodged the Turn 2 melee to surge from 10th to fourth on the final lap to post her first top-five finish in any Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, though the result is not official because "The Clash" is an exhibition event with a limited field. Kevin Harvick , driving a Ford for the first time at NASCAR's highest level, came home fifth. Daniel Suarez , in his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start, finished eighth. Logano's victory was the first in "The Clash" for a Ford driver since Dale Jarrett took the checkered flag in 2004. Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas settled into the first four spots after a restart on Lap 65, but Team Penske teammates Keselowski and Logano sped toward the front in the outside lane, successfully side-drafted and broke up the Camry armada. The race was decided when Keselowski challenged defending winner Hamlin for the lead on the final lap. Keselowski, who came home sixth, powered his Ford to the bottom of Turn 2. Hamlin tried to protect his position, and the cars collided, Hamlin's Toyota spinning wildly and Keselowski's Ford losing momentum off the corner. Logano pulled out to a 100-yard lead and maintained it as Busch and Bowman battled side-by-side behind him. "That was the play," Logano said of the side-drafting strategy. "The Toyotas are so selfless, I guess is the way to look at it. They're able to work together and think of one car winning, and they're really good at that. "We had to think that same way as Ford (drivers), and we Stewart-Haas and the Penske cars, we were able to get a good enough run to work together enough to break them up and make the passes, and then there at the end, it was kind of a mess. "Everything was going really fast, and I was just in the right place at the right time." Even though "The Clash" featured a mandatory caution at Lap 25, and even though the cars had been set up for racing under the lights, drivers were uniformly aggressive in the opening segment, often running three-wide in an attempt to gain track position. On Lap 17, Kurt Busch fell victim to a handling problem with reigning Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Jimmie Johnson 's No. 48 Chevrolet. Johnson got loose in Turn 4 and spun into the right rear of Busch's No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, turning Busch hard into the outside wall. "I was just minding my own business in the low groove and we got tagged in the right rear," Kurt Busch said after exiting the Infield Care Center. "It's kind of a shame -- all of the hard work and the effort everybody puts into the off-season -- Doug Yates and his engines and everybody from Ford and everybody at Stewart-Haas, all of the effort put toward building a car and we didn't even make it to the first pit stop, so it's kind of a bummer." Johnson car survived that wreck, but the handling remained evil, and on Lap 49 he spun again off Turn 4 and clobbered the inside wall near the entrance to pit road. The wreck put Johnson out of the race, his sixth straight DNF in the season-opening exhibition event. With 14 laps left, Martin Truex Jr . tried to fill a hole that wasn't there and clipped the right front of Kyle Larson 's No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. Truex spun in Turn 3, rocketed toward the outside wall and caught the left rear of Chris Buescher 's No. 37 Chevrolet, which needed two trips to pit road to repair the damage. That wreck set up the wild 11-lap run to the finish that saw the opportunistic Logano take advantage of the last-lap tangle between Keselowski and Hamlin. &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;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;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Tweets to the Winner: Everything is Joey's fault
MORE BLOGS: Inside Groove page Joey Logano took advantage of a last-lap incident to win the Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona, injecting momentum into the No. 22 team's Speedweeks. While Logano and his fans were ecstatic to watch the familiar red and yellow Ford drive into Victory Lane to end the long offseason, others didn't have such nice things to say. Some folks were just flat-out mean -- and weirdly specific. #joeylagano won the race! What a weasel! — Paula Sandt Miller (@FlyDC989) February 19, 2017 @joeylogano PUKE IN DAYTONA — susieq (@kbuhurico) February 19, 2017 @NASCAR @joeylogano Joey Joey Joey is a kids name — Joe Post (@Joepost43) February 19, 2017 Other Logano haters felt it was more appropriate to dismiss the win altogether, despite the fact that the No. 22 wasn't involved in the late-race crash between Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski . @NASCAR @joeylogano you only got that win because others crashed. @joeylogano the way you were driving out there. — al provost (@ambergriffin123) February 19, 2017 Way to go Logano - payback won't be fun. #NASCAR — Koreen M (@czarinakem) February 19, 2017 At least some fans had Joey's back ... @MonsterEnergy the girl who offered @joeylogano the towel, wiped herself first then offer it to him? Gross. Good thing Joey didn't take it — Bridget Reeves (@trakmom2013) February 19, 2017 Logano? More like LoWINgo — ÿøęł (@novus_discipula) February 19, 2017 ... but there always will be the people who don't like when you have a good day. Will someone please Punch Joey Lagano he is always so happy — David Kemp (@davidkemp88) February 19, 2017
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;
Gaughan, Sadler lock spots in Daytona 500
BUY TICKETS: See the Daytona 500 live! DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Veteran drivers Brendan Gaughan and Elliott Sadler secured positions in next weekend's Daytona 500 (Feb. 26, 2 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) thanks to their qualifying efforts Sunday at Daytona International Speedway . Sadler and Gaughan were fastest among six drivers without secured spots in the 40-car field, guaranteeing their chance to race next weekend by virtue of their two-lap qualifying runs Sunday. Thirty-six of the 40 starting positions are secured through team charters. The other four spots on the Daytona 500 grid include the two best qualifiers among Open teams (Sadler and Gaughan), plus the top Open finisher in each of Thursday's Can-Am Duel races. The 40-year-old NASCAR veteran Gaughan secured just his second Daytona 500 starting position thanks to his speed of 189.294 mph in the No. 75 Beard Oil Distributing Chevrolet -- helping the young Beard Motorsports team to its Daytona 500 debut. The speed was 33rd overall among 42 entries, but fastest among the Open, non-Charter teams. Gaughan finished 19th in the 2004 Daytona 500 , which was his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series debut. It also is his only scheduled Monster Energy Series start as he will compete full time again in the NASCAR XFINITY Series for Richard Childress Racing . "This is a team that's never made a Cup race," Gaughan said. "Nice owner and very nice group of guys. You never know what will happen, but I know how hard it is to do this Cup stuff. Jay Robinson gave the owner of this race car, Mark Beard, some advice. He said, 'Go buy a speedway car and a big motor from (Earnhardt Childress Racing),' and that's exactly what he did, and then they called me to come drive it. "This man has tried six or seven times to make a race, and his first Cup race is the Daytona-freaking-500. I'm so glad to do it for him." Sadler, meanwhile, was 36th fastest overall in Tommy Baldwin Racing 's No. 7 Golden Corral Chevrolet at 188.561 mph, good for second-best among Open teams. This will be the 41-year-old Sadler's 14th Daytona 500 start. His best finish was a runner-up showing to Ward Burton in 2002. Baldwin was Burton's crew chief for the victory. "It's a good start for the week," a grinning Baldwin said. "It allows us to relax the next two or three days and just focus on the 500. We finished eighth in last year's Daytona 500 and hopefully we just stick to that plan. I've got all the notes from that." Drivers Reed Sorenson , D.J. Kennington, Corey LaJoie and Timmy Hill are vying for the final two spots in the Daytona 500 . &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;gt;
Patrick adds more history to her Daytona resume
BUY TICKETS: See the Daytona 500 live! DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Danica Patrick stood on Daytona International Speedway pit road early Sunday afternoon smiling after a fourth-place finish in the NASCAR season-opening, 75-lap Advance Auto Parts Clash exhibition race. Even she was quick to remind the gathered press this wasn't a points event. But, she conceded it was a nice way to competitively start a season and that can't be a bad thing. Her fourth-place showing didn't earn her any points, but it did mark the highest finish for a woman in a NASCAR-sanctioned race at Daytona. And she was the top performer Sunday on the Stewart-Haas Racing team -- something her team owner Tony Stewart recognized following the race, stopping by for a congratulatory pat on the back and some words of encouragement. As she walked into the garage to prepare for Daytona 500 qualifying a couple hours later, there were loud and rousing cheers from fans acknowledging her work. "If you're gonna have one track where I've had good races, you kind of hope Daytona is one of them or maybe the one," Patrick said. "It would be great to get a 500 win, but it's great to run up front." In fact, Patrick's work in six years of NASCAR starts on the Daytona high banks has been both historic and praiseworthy. She sat on the pole for the 2013 Daytona 500 and has two top-10 finishes in nine starts here -- including an eighth-place in the 2013 Daytona 500 . "We definitely had some luck on our side today with a couple cars spinning down below (on the last lap)," Patrick said. "It felt like a 'Days of Thunder' moment where you see the smoke but hold it wide open and hopefully come out the other side. But that's the name of the game. "There were certain times I felt like we were competitive and running up there and certain times I felt like I got pushed out. That's the nature of this racing. As there were less cars out there, it got harder and harder to recover from those moments where someone hung you out. But we had a good result and that's what we show up for." </p>
Suarez earns high marks in Monster Energy Series debut
BUY TICKETS: See the Daytona 500 live! RELATED: Where will Suarez line up in the Duels? DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The education of Daniel Suarez has been an accelerated course. Just three years ago, he was competing at Daytona International Speedway under much different conditions, racing a K&N Pro Series car on a temporary .370-mile oval on the large track's backstretch. This year, it's a much different stage that greets the Mexican-born driver, a move that's equivalent to a prodigy starting work on a graduate degree. "I really felt like I went to school," Suarez said Sunday, after his first competition in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series provided him valuable experience as he nears his debut in the Daytona 500 . The 25-year-old rookie wound up eighth in the 17-car Advance Auto Parts Clash exhibition after a late-race shuffle, but now has a feel for competing in NASCAR's major leagues as he progresses through his first Speedweeks in the sport's top series at Daytona. Suarez avidly studies video footage before each race, but said that nothing could quite prepare him for actually driving his Joe Gibbs Racing No. 19 Toyota in a pack against the sport's best. Suarez said he gained an understanding about the nuances of tire wear and how his car handles, but perhaps the most valuable lesson was learning the differences between the Monster Energy Series and the XFINITY Series, where he spent the last two years and claimed the 2016 championship. "Those guys are aggressive and they race hard as soon as they see the green flag," Suarez said on pit road post-race. "I felt like I learned a lot. I felt like it was a very productive race for me and for my team and hopefully we can put everything we learned on the table for next week." RELATED: Suarez's five-year plan heads for new heights The next phase for Suarez is a run through Thursday's Can Am Duels (7 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), the 150-mile qualifying races that will help determine the Daytona 500 lineup. The preliminaries add another 60 laps of actual race conditions to the 75 now in his portfolio after Sunday's Clash. Crew chief Dave Rogers, preparing to work with his fourth driver in the last four seasons at JGR, said Sunday's exhibition was an educational event for him as well. The veteran wrench connected with Suarez's feedback early and then watched his driver make prudent decisions down the stretch. When Penske teammates Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski joined forces and freight-trained their way past him in the penultimate lap, Suarez lost momentum and slipped back from the second-place position he'd held for much of the event's second segment. Though the choice ultimately dropped him from contention, a more hawkish move to block the Penske pair's advancement could have left his peers with crumpled cars and an unfavorable first impression. "At the very end, I think he got a good taste of how these Cup guys play," Rogers said as he walked back to the garage, his car still in one piece. "He just made a smart decision there at the end. He could've tried to roll up in front of the Penske cars and block them, and then we end up with a bunch of torn-up race cars, so he made a wise move, which I'm proud of him for. "You know, he's a young kid in his first Cup race, he only wants to finish really well but he let common sense prevail and didn't cause a big wreck and earned the trust and respect of some competitors. So that was good , and I think we'll just get better throughout the week." &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;gt;
Numbers crunch: Can Logano, Busch keep trend?
BUY TICKETS: See the Daytona 500 live! While we understand this may be more of a coincidence than a correlation, results from the season-opening Advance Auto Parts Clash could be an accurate predictor for a championship push. Since the postseason format shifted to an elimination-style setup prior to the 2014 season, one finisher in the top three of the season-opening, non-points race has advanced to the four-driver Championship Round at Miami. That's good news for Sunday's winner Joey Logano , runner-up Kyle Busch and third place … uh, Alex Bowman . Bowman doesn't have a full-time ride for 2017, so while he filled in beautifully for Dale Earnhardt Jr . in "The Clash," we don't expect him in the championship round. That leaves Logano and Busch as the drivers looking to carry the torch here, and they are two perfect candidates. In three postseasons, Busch (2016, 2015) and Logano (2016, 2014) have each made it to the championship battle twice. Both were in the field last year when Jimmie Johnson sped to his record-tying seventh title. Here's a look back at the previous three years in the Advance Auto Parts Clash: 201 6 1. Denny Hamlin 2. Joey Logano (Made Championship 4) 3. Paul Menard 2015 1. Matt Kenseth 2. Martin Truex Jr . (Made Championship 4) 3. Carl Edwards 2014 1. Denny Hamlin (Made Championship 4) 2. Brad Keselowski 3. Kyle Busch