- Did you mean:
Post-Race Reactions: Heluva Good ! Sour Cream Dips 400
The top 5 drivers along with an upset Dale Earnhardt Jr. give post-race comments.
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;
Daytona Days: A France family affair
RELATED : Key moments in family history " NASCAR is France family business It's been one year since a red ribbon was cut to signal the official opening of DAYTONA Rising, a $ 400 -million overhaul of NASCAR's iconic venue—the Daytona International Speedway (DIS). It was an exciting time for Brian France, Chairman and CEO of NASCAR, and his sister, Lesa France Kennedy, CEO of International Speedway Corporation (ISC) and Vice Chairperson of the NASCAR and ISC Board of Directors. This year brings similar excitement as they gather for Daytona’s three NASCAR national series races, highlighted by Sunday's 59th running of the DAYTONA 500. There are a number of reasons why. A green-and-white checkered flag will wave twice during each race, followed by the traditional black-and-white checkered flag at the finish. More than just colorful flags, they will usher in a dynamic format in which races will be contested in three stages designed to deliver more dramatic moments over an entire race, where every lap matters and every moment can have a massive impact on a season. While Kennedy’s ISC projects include a modernization of Phoenix Raceway and construction of ONE DAYTONA, the premier mixed-use retail and entertainment destination sprouting across the street from DIS, France looks to continue to build on the collaboration that has impacted the NASCAR industry over the past several years. MORE: France talks key to running family business “Brian has such diverse talents,” says Kennedy. “He has a great feel for the racing side of the sport, yet he’s also great at marketing, a true visionary. He doesn't always get the credit he deserves for running this sport, but he was there early thinking ‘big’ alongside my father (Bill France Jr.), and he’s still thinking big today, not only with our family but also now with the entire industry.” "I am so proud of what Lesa has done here, from DAYTONA Rising to ONE DAYTONA -- and that's only in the last few years,” says France. “She's done it with passion and persistence, two of her biggest attributes. Lesa is without a doubt the best developer in the family. We are ushering in the next era of motorsports entertainment facilities, something this industry needs as our sport continues to focus on modernizing itself for the next 10, 20 and 30 years.” IN-DEPTH: Daytona rises even higher
SUBWAY to sponsor Daniel Suarez at four races in 2017
BUY TICKETS: See the Daytona 500 live! Subway announced Thursday its commitment to sponsor Joe Gibbs Racing rookie Daniel Suarez in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series . Suarez, who is taking the wheel from the recently retired Carl Edwards in the No. 19 JGR Toyota Camry, will pick up Edwards' Subway sponsorship at Auto Club Speedway , the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway , the Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway and at Talladega Superspeedway in October. "I'm extremely grateful to Subway for their continuing sponsorship of our Joe Gibbs Racing team this year," Suarez said in a release. "I enjoy eating healthy, and Subway has always been my go-to choice to refuel my body when I'm on the road or at home. I'm looking forward to a great 2017 season in the Subway Toyota Camry." Suarez, whose favorite sandwich is the Footlong Subway Club, will also appear in upcoming TV commercials for the SUBWAY brand. &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Key moments in France family history
RELATED: NASCAR is France family business MORE: Daytona Days: A France family affair December 1947: Bill France Sr. organizes a meeting at the Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach, Fla., to discuss the future of stock car racing. NASCAR is incorporated. 1971: RJ Reynolds is introduced as the entitlement sponsor of NASCAR's premier series, creating a sponsorship structure that still exists today and introducing the "modern era" of NASCAR. 1972: The founder of NASCAR, Bill France Sr., hands over the reins of leadership to his son Bill France Jr., who becomes the second president in NASCAR's history. 1996: Lesa France Kennedy’s leadership launches Daytona USA (known later as the Daytona 500 Experience) at Daytona International Speedway , opening the destination’s first year-round motorsports attraction and museum. 1999: Brian France, Bill Jr.'s son, leads effort to consolidate the television package. NASCAR announces multi-year partnerships with FOX, NBC and Turner Sports. 2000: Bill France Jr. announced that he would serve as chairman of a newly formed five-member board of directors for NASCAR that consisted of him, Jim France, Brian France, Lesa France Kennedy and Mike Helton with responsibility for developing policy and vision for the sport. 2002: Kennedy led two development projects, creating Kansas Speedway and Chicagoland Speedway , and expanding ISC’s portfolio into two major Midwest markets. 2003: As a result of Brian France’s major successes consolidating the television rights, increasing sponsorship and various other areas, he is named NASCAR Chairman and CEO. NASCAR also opens the 61,000-square foot NASCAR Research and Development Center. This has led to the safest era in NASCAR history and the unveiling of cutting-edge technology including the Air Titan, Pit Road Technology and the Digital Dashboard. 2004: Brian France announces the formation of The Chase, a playoff format for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He also creates NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program dedicated to bringing more minority and female drivers into the sport. 2013: Brian France negotiates the largest television deals in NASCAR history, with 10-year agreements with FOX and NBC reported to be worth $8.2 billion. 2014: Brian France enhances the Chase format, introducing the first-ever elimination style playoff format in motorsports. 2016: Kennedy opens the World’s First Motorsports Stadium, a $ 400 million reimagining of an American icon – Daytona International Speedway , for the Rolex 24 Hours At Daytona and DAYTONA 500. Brian France leads the industry in forming a Charter business model for the teams. At the end of the season, he announces that Monster Energy will be the new premier series partner of NASCAR. 2017: Brian France leads the industry in the introduction of a new three-stage format of racing across all three national series racing. On the eve of Daytona Speedweeks, Kennedy unveils a flagship tenant, Bass Pro Shops, at ISC’s ONE DAYTONA, a 300,000-square foot premier mixed-use and entertainment destination across the street from Daytona International Speedway .
Dale Jr. emerges from concussion rehab stronger, centered and ready to win
BUY TICKETS: See the Daytona 500 live! RELATED: Dale Jr.'s complete Daytona 500 history NEW YORK CITY -- A production assistant pins a lavalier microphone to the lapel of Dale Earnhardt Jr .'s suit jacket in a newsroom studio inside FOX News on Sixth Avenue. "One, two, three, four, five. Hello, hello," the 14-time NMPA Most Popular Driver says instinctively, without instruction from the PA. You can tell this -- the sound test, the back-to-back-to-back-to-back (and then some) interviews, the traipsing around the "Big Apple" to promote the 2017 Daytona 500 , everything -- feels normal to him, like second-nature. Not long ago, there was no such thing as normal for Earnhardt. The Hendrick Motorsports driver will make his return to points-paying competition in Sunday's "Great American Race" (2 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) after missing the second half of last season following concussion-like symptoms from wrecks at Michigan International Speedway in June and at Daytona International Speedway in July. The road back was a lengthy, arduous, winding trail filled with uncertainty and confusion. "You'd be doing something during the day and something would happen and you'd go 'Whoa, what was that? That was weird,' " Earnhardt told NASCAR.com, who tagged along with him for the day. "Just these little moments when you might get dizzy or you might forget about something that you think you shouldn't forget about. That used to happen all the time." Dale Earnhardt Jr . gets mic'd up. Earnhardt was cleared to race in December after months of rehabilitation and doctor appointments. He says he's fully healthy and recovered from his concussion, but don't hold your breath on him throwing out that cliché preseason line about being in the best shape of his life. RELATED: Watch Dale Jr.'s full interview from Daytona Media Day "I think I was probably at my peak physical condition at … 1? But since then it's all been downhill," Earnhardt joked. "I feel healthy. Mentally, I'm always sort of self-analyzing so I'm not having these things that would bring (the concussion) to my attention anymore. "The further you get removed from that stuff, the less you even remember it happening, or the less you think about it. When you go a day or a week never even thinking about the injury or the past, you're free from it. I feel great. Like I said, the doctors have given me a lot of confidence, just talking to them. They're like, 'Man, you're good . We feel good about this. We feel good about you racing. We feel good about you crashing.' You've got to have those." To get a sign-off from his doctors on crashing -- a near-certainty to happen over the course of a 36-race season -- is massive. The risk of another concussion will always be in the back of Earnhardt's mind after this most recent one kept him sidelined for so long. But he can't let that apprehension occupy him behind the wheel. "The wrecks and stuff are inevitable and I do worry. There's been crashes that I haven't had issues with, but there's been a few wrecks that I have had issues," Earnhardt said. "I don’t know … my doctors told me basically that I was healthy and if they thought I shouldn't race, they would let me know. They said, 'Look, we feel good about you racing. We feel like anything that happens … it's a dangerous sport and you're going to be at risk no more than you were before. Anything that happens to you, we can fix.' " Dale Earnhardt Jr . signs autographs for fans on the streets of New York. Talking to Earnhardt, it's clear 2016 was a year that challenged on many levels. It was also a year of tremendous growth and reflection that culminated -- quite literally -- with a marriage to longtime girlfriend Amy Earnhardt (née Reimann) on New Year's Eve, a topic that took center stage throughout his media tour at the "TODAY Show," FOX News, "The Dan Patrick Show," Inc. Magazine and "Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen." RELATED: Dale Jr., Amy Reimann get married on New Year's Eve Even if she did miss a question or two on the unofficially official " Dale Earnhardt Jr ." quiz on The Dan Patrick Show ( watch it here ), Earnhardt touts Amy's support and gives her nearly all the credit for his transformation. "I think I feel like a stronger, more complete person thanks to her. I hope that this isn't just a mood, that it's more permanent. I think we'll find out as we just get into the grit of the season, week-to-week and going from track to track and being tugged in all kinds of different directions by my responsibilities. Hopefully this sticks." With health in hand and a family life starting to come together at 42 years old, nobody would have blamed the 26-time winner in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series for walking away before the start of his 18th full-time season. RELATED: Dale Jr. regals listeners with family storytime Dale Earnhardt Jr . with Andy Cohen of 'Watch What Happens Live' But the big news of the past week was Earnhardt's looming contract extension, with his current deal set to expire at year's end and a talented replacement champing at the bit for a full-time opportunity in Alex Bowman . RELATED: Dale Jr. discusses contract status Earnhardt won't walk away "until the gas tank is on empty," but he can't quite pinpoint when that'll be. He says any extension would be "no less than two, no more than three" years, but has put off negotiations with team owner Rick Hendrick until he knows he can commit, health-wise, long term. "I don't know (how much gas is left in the tank.) If I told you, 'Man, I've got three years,' I don’t know if I'd be telling you the full truth," said Earnhardt, a two-time Daytona 500 winner. "I can't see, I can't feel it. I know I want to finish this year and if I finish … everybody keeps asking me about my goals for a successful season, and that's to finish every race. If I'm in every race, and not injured and not missing races, then that's a successful season. "I think that will propel me into a new extension. The only thing holding me up, really, is knowing that I can do it, health-wise. Knowing that I can be there every week. If I'm going to sign a deal to be there and work for my owner … I love this man like a father. And I don't want to tell him I can be there for three more years if I can't. I'm going to get a few months under my belt and get the confidence that we can start working on the extension and I think if we get there, I'm signing that extension with the intent of doing that contract. "Now, that might be the last one but I don't know. You just don't know these things. I mean, I know drivers -- and I won't say names -- but I know very, very successful drivers in this sport that five years ago were ready to hang it up, just fed up. And they're happier today than they've ever been." Earnhardt mentioned that he nearly walked away from the sport earlier this decade, but credited his support system for pulling him back. And he's thankful it did. "I've been down, down in the dumps," he said. "Hell, if I didn't have the right support system around me, I probably would've quit in 2010, 2011. I'm glad I didn't. We got this ship righted and got to winning some races and I've had the best time behind the wheel that I've ever had in my career for three or four years now. "So who says that if I stick around that it can't get even better? I want to see, I want to wait." RELATED: Dale Jr. on front row for Sunday's Daytona 500 &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;span _rtetemp=&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;quot;spchk&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;quot; style=&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;quot;background-color: #ffffaa;&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;quot; _rtespchksugg=&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;quot;Lt"alt"ult"flt"let"lit"lat"lot"ltd"t&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;quot;&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;am&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/span&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;p;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Back-to-back Daytona 500s? Hamlin knows 'odds are stacked against (me)'
BUY TICKETS: See the Daytona 500 live! RELATED: See every winner of the Daytona 500 DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Denny Hamlin was all smiles and backslaps as he navigated the crowded Daytona 500 Club for NASCAR’s annual Media Day. He joked with Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth in the midst of Kenseth’s live internet interview and later kidded with Kevin Harvick about his golf handicap. RELATED: Hamlin teases Harvick about his golf game Times are good for the reigning Daytona 500 champion. In another four days, however, Hamlin will have to defend his title. And consecutive wins in this event are rare. Sterling Marlin is the last driver to earn back-to-back trophies (1994-95) in the Great American Race. Only three men in the race’s great history: Marlin, Richard Petty (1973-74) and Cale Yarborough (1983-84) have won back-to-back Daytona 500 s. Hamlin knows the challenge and the historical record. But he’s fast. And he’s a favorite. His No. 11 FedEx Toyota led 48 of the 75 laps in Sunday’s The Clash exhibition and was out front when he collided with Brad Keselowski on the last lap. A couple hours later, he was sixth in Daytona 500 pole qualifying. "The odds are stacked against you," Hamlin acknowledged Wednesday of winning back-to-back Daytona 500 trophies. "If this were Martinsville I’d say the odds are really good , or Richmond. But at Daytona we know the entire field could win the race. We’ve seen surprise winners. There’s just more drivers that can win this week than say, next week in Atlanta. And it makes it very, very hard to repeat." Hamlin’s competitors acknowledge the route is tough. The late Dale Earnhardt made a great effort -- winning in 1998 and finishing second in 1999. His son, Dale Earnhardt Jr . was runner-up in 2012 and 2013 and won in 2014 before finishing third in 2015. RELATED: See Dale Jr.'s full 'Great American Race' history Ryan Newman won the 50th Anniversary edition of the Daytona 500 in 2008. He finished 36th the next year. And that’s an equally as common turn of events. " It is that hard to win a Daytona 500 in general," Newman said, allowing a smile. "So doubling up isn’t easy. It is challenging. You can have the best car and get shuffled out. You can have a not-so- good car and be stuck in the middle all day. It’s not easy. A lot of it is luck that you create. You have to put yourself in the right position. In 2008 we were fortunate to do that. "And," he added, "I think it was easier to have a package that would dominate say 10, 15, 20 years ago. Just the way the rules are and everything else, we all kind of know some things like the No. 4 car ( Kevin Harvick ) guys did. You can’t do that kind of stuff anymore. So it becomes harder because of that. I think those rules have kind of communized the garage performance-wise." Kevin Harvick hoisted the Harley J. Earl trophy in Daytona's Victory Lane in 2007 and finished 14th both the year before and the year after. He acknowledged that the last to win two straight here, Marlin, competed in a vastly different time in restrictor plate racing. "Those guys were dominant back in the 90s during that particular time period with the Kodak entry," Harvick recalled of Marlin’s wins. "When you get to superspeedways like this there are so many things that can go wrong. There are more things that can go wrong than right. If you have a fast car or a slow car you can get caught up in a wreck, a miscue on pit road, hit a bird. You just never know what can go wrong or what could go wrong. Usually if it’s going to happen there’s usually some crazy event that happens during the Daytona 500 , you just never know. "And," he paused, "It’s just really competitive." RELATED: Drivers with multiple Daytona 500 wins Michael Waltrip is a two-time Daytona 500 winner and very nearly captured three straight Daytona wins -- with victories in 2001 and 2003 and a fifth place in 2002. While acknowledging the odds are against a driver having both a super fast hot rod and everything fall right in competition, he immediately offered confidence in Hamlin becoming the first back-to-back Daytona champion in more than two decades. "We might see it this year," Waltrip said. "Denny obviously was in a position to win Sunday (in The Clash), so we could very well see it this year. I know, like I had the best chance ever in '02, and I finished fifth but that's just what the results say. "Part of my suspension fell off my car and went through Junior.'s radiator, took him out, and my car just drove terrible all day long, and we were the best car in '02, and then we finished fifth. So it's always something. This race is so difficult, and anything in the world can happen, and it's hard to predict. "But Denny could be the guy that does it." And that’s something Hamlin absolutely agreed with. "I do feel like over the past four years or so, I’ve always had a great shot," Hamlin said. "I’ve been smart enough to make the moves necessary to win it, but last year was the first time I did it. "I always feel like we have a chance, that our cars were good enough to do it. I know that. But it just seems like we didn’t win it for some reason or another. But last year things came together for us and we executed a plan great. "And this year I just feel like, if the chips fall right, we could do the same thing." &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;gt;
Johnson's humble start in sport make quest for title No. 8 more remarkable
BUY TICKETS: See the Daytona 500 live! RELATED: Johnson ready to tackle new format DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Words of encouragement and inspiring slogans fill the window separating Daytona International Speedway 's "Fan Zone" and Jimmie Johnson 's garage stall. There are dozens of congratulatory messages alongside several "I love yous" scribbled in yellow marker. One note simply says "win." Even fans wearing other drivers' souvenir hats and memorabilia make a point to stop by, peer in and see what the reigning seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship team is up to. People are lined up five and six deep outside Johnson's pit stall window all day, every day. "I think people used to boo Jimmie when he was constantly winning, but people are understanding now (that) he's an awesome driver and they're starting to like him more," said Kevin Waring, 43, of Schenectady, New York -- donning Jimmie Johnson gear from head to socks. He brought his whole family -- including his Harvick-Elliott-Logano-loving wife Tammy and kids Chase, 12, and Chelsea, 8 -- to their first ever Daytona 500 . And he's quite optimistic about seeing "his" favorite driver walk away with a trophy. And a historic eighth Cup championship. "Jimmie is a down-to-earth guy, you see it every time he does an interview and he's a family man like I am," Waring said. "He's won a championship every way you can, by points, in the Chase, and they're changing things again this season. And I think people are beginning to respect that more. I think they're coming around. I really do." The two-time Daytona 500 winner Johnson will start the "Great American Race" from the last row on Sunday. He had to go to a backup No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet after an incident in Thursday's Can-Am Duel qualifying race. MORE: Johnson to run in backup car His fans aren't overly worried by the circumstance, however. Johnson claimed his record-tying seventh Cup championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway last November by winning the race despite starting last in the field. One of the most easy-going, popular drivers among his competitors, Johnson himself has noticed a distinct -- some would say seismic -- shift in the sport's vast audience. Fans may not have initially been sure what to think of this laidback, California dirt-bike racer-turned one of the greatest NASCAR champions of all time. He was too nice, too approachable, too humble, too talented -- and somehow that didn't immediately play into the comfort of NASCAR fandom. But the fans now seem to appreciate the hard work Johnson has always put in and certainly, if nothing else, the opportunity to watch a legend become legendary. "I think it was ... not only did I stop giving him advice, I started going to him for advice," said Johnson's former teammate-turned FOX Sports analyst, Jeff Gordon . In some regards it's been easier for Johnson to earn trophies than it has to convince NASCAR's hardcore fans to accept and appreciate his championship form. He still has a good laugh at the reception he often gets -- although the boos are noticeably softer. How can someone be disliked because -- as fans are quick to claim -- he is too good or too nice? But it has long been a common anomaly in this sport. "Certainly more fans are eager to get the autograph," he acknowledged, laughing and shaking his head, still admittedly unsure what is expected of him. What he expects of himself is a far simpler notion. He is quick to say he has surpassed his own expectations. At just 41 years old, Johnson has already become the youngest seven-time champion in NASCAR history (younger than both Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt when they hoisted their seventh title). His 80 wins are most among active drivers and he needs only 14 more to pass Jeff Gordon for third place on NASCAR's all-time Cup wins chart. David Pearson's 105 wins are second to the great 200-race winner Richard Petty. Johnson has won no fewer than four races a year in the last five seasons. He's won multiple races in all 15 years he's competed fulltime -- including a personal best 10 trophies in 2007. These are marks -- from race trophies to championship rings -- unlikely to be repeated anytime soon, if ever. So the question Johnson gets now is whether he can win that historical eighth Cup championship. His team owner, recent NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Rick Hendrick, joins many who think it should be considered a very legitimate opportunity. "You know I think Jimmie is in the prime of his career with the way he goes after things, the way he works out, Chad and their time together," Hendrick said. "I think to me, getting the seventh (championship) was the challenge. It's hard to explain but I think it took some of the pressure off just getting the seventh. "And now, he can just race and if eight happens, great. I think he's got as good a shot as anybody out there. It's exciting. And one of the neatest things was to watch the crowd when he won (at Homestead) and see all the people in the stands get up. They saw history. We've said it before but Dale Earnhardt will always be "The Intimidator" and Richard Petty will always be "The King" but Jimmie has a shot to do something that, through different situations, he can be in a position all on his own. "He's as cool about it as I've ever seen him. I don't think there's any pressure on him. And we don't feel the pressure now that we've tied it. I think he's got as good a shot as anyone and now until the end, he knows how to win. "We're just honored to have what we have but looking forward to having the opportunity to do something no one else has done." If the thought of eight titles is head-shaking to fans, it is equally as jaw-dropping to Johnson. His start in the sport was humble, with a surplus of networking and winning paving the road to success. His stardom in the sport is a combination of hard work, talent and grit. "I got a phone call to run a late model race in 1997 for Hendrick Motorsports ," Johnson recalled. "Five days later I bought a one-way ticket, called (former Camping World Truck Series champion, Ron) Hornaday and moved to Charlotte and just spent every day of the week going to lunch spots and passing out business cards. "Any business card I got, I'd write a letter and send to the person. I got a fax machine so if I got a business card from someone I would add their fax number for the Chevy press release that went out after my off-road races. "I was obsessed with networking and establishing myself." Johnson smiles when recalling his humble start, something he thinks people forget about when they see him now as a NASCAR superstar. "I don't think I could have had this healthy lifestyle doing what I had to do then," allowed Johnson, who is a successful triathlete in addition to winning in his race car. "I wouldn't have made it. I wouldn't have stood out as the guy super hungry who wanted it so badly. Plus, it took some time to learn these cars and learn the industry. "I think the timing has worked out well for me and helped me prolong the second half of my career, but the first half I really had to be the guy at Big Daddy's restaurant eating hushpuppies or that gas station by DEI (Dale Earnhardt Inc.) where there was barbeque on the side. "I'd literally go over there and sit with a big sweet tea and pass out business cards. It's all kinda served its purpose." It has indeed. And so Johnson begins his historic quest for eight -- with the wonderful and rare security of knowing that he's already legend-worthy. His dedication to being fit, to being prepared mentally, to maintaining a competitive edge, isn't really about making history, however. It's about the thrill of winning, of making a living doing something he so genuinely enjoys. And is so incredible at. "No, I don't (feel I have to) win eight," Johnson said breaking into a grin. "But I'm sure as hell going to try." &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Penske proves plate tracks take more than just luck
BUY TICKETS: See the Daytona 500 live! RELATED: Logano signs new long-term deal DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- If the headline to this story doesn't read: Logano says, 'I don't know what the hell I'm doing,' don't blame the Team Penske driver. "That's the headline right there," Logano says, laughing. Clearly that isn't the case. When it comes to restrictor-plate racing, Logano, 26, obviously knows a thing or two. In fact, he and teammate Brad Keselowski have become two of the best at understanding the nuances of the draft and pack racing on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series ' two biggest venues -- Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway . Since the fall Talladega race of 2014, the two have won six of nine races at the two tracks, including Logano's win in the Daytona 500 two years ago. Last season, the duo went three-for-four in plate races. "I've learned a lot about this whole thing, mainly because I just started studying it," Logano said of his recent success in plate races. "I had to." There was a time, he said, when he bought into the belief that success on the restrictor-plate tracks was simply a product of luck. Finding oneself in the right place at the right time. Choosing the right line instead of the wrong one. Guesswork at 200 mph. "But when you look at statistics, that's not the case," he said. "If it was luck, there would be a different winner every single time. But it's not." It's strategy. Understanding the draft and not only which moves to make, but when to make them. Likewise, the crew chiefs have to understand "what to do and when to do it. Spotters understanding everything," he said. "I guess as a driver and as a team we put the effort into it and we see some results because of it. What does Roger (Penske, team owner) say all the time? 'The harder I work the luckier I get?' " It's also being able to process all that information, combine it with what a driver knows about his car and those around him and making decisions in the blink of an eye. Something of what Keselowski describes as a "culture change" at Team Penske has had an impact as well. "I think we got really tired of people saying that restrictor-plate tracks were about luck," the 2012 series champion said. "And the culture really changed for us when, as a company, we decided this isn't luck anymore, this is a concerted effort to put on your best moves, your best face, your best cars and quit saying it's luck. "As soon as we stopped saying that at Team Penske we had a lot more success. I think it's a lot more about culture than anything else." RELATED: Logano nabs victory at 'The Clash' after wild final lap Physically, restrictor-plate racing might be the easiest form of NASCAR competition. Mentally it's the most taxing. "Mentally you're just completely shot," Logano said. "It's like your computer is just on overload with all the information. And some computers work quicker than others, right? It's a mental race." Hendrick Motorsports driver Dale Earnhardt Jr ., who will start on the outside of the front row for Sunday's Daytona 500 (2 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR) is an accomplished plate racer. So too are Denny Hamlin ( Joe Gibbs Racing ), the defending Daytona 500 champion, Kevin Harvick ( Stewart-Haas Racing ) and Kyle Busch (JGR). Toss in Matt Kenseth and Jamie McMurray as well. Logano said he isn't surprised that those are the drivers most often competing for wins and finishing in the top five on a regular basis at Daytona and Talladega. "They just get it," he said. "They know what to do. They make these moves on the race track and you go 'Yeah!' You'll see only those guys do it. "Every now and again you'll see those moves happen and you're like 'They knew what the hell was going on.' It all came together. And then you see other people that go for it and sometimes it doesn't work out; they may luck into one every now and again, they may completely lose it and go all the way to the back. Some guys just ride and they pick them off as some cars go backwards. But you're never going to get to the lead that way. "You have to be confident in your decision and the only way you're confident is through prep. Without preparation you can't be confident in anything. That's how I look at it." Keselowski scored his first Monster Energy Cup Series win in a restrictor-plate race, at Talladega in '09. It was career start No. 5 and helped open the door to his arrival at Team Penske . Five of his 21 career wins have come on the plate tracks. Looking back on past races, Keselowski said he's "almost embarrassed" by what he sees. "Because I see all the moves that were open," and not taken, he said. "I think that speaks to just having the experience and to learning the tactics and those changing, evolving, being developed. "Certainly the sport has changed and the drivers continue to get better. But the basics continue to be the same -- you've always had to have a good car to win this race. You're going to have to have a good car to win it this year, but you're going to have to have those tactics right."
Duel win slips away, but no rust on Junior's return performance
BUY TICKETS: See the Daytona 500 live! MORE: Duel 1 results " Duel 2 results DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Dale Earnhardt Jr . was two laps away from potentially winning for the first time since November of 2015, leading the second of two Can-Am Duel qualifying races here Thursday night at Daytona International Speedway . Then Austin Dillon cleared the No. 41 of Kurt Busch , slid up in line behind second-place Denny Hamlin and Earnhardt's goose was cooked. With no drafting help from behind, Earnhardt could do little but watch as car after car zoomed by on the high side. By the time the freight train had passed, Earnhardt was battling just to get back inside the top five with one more trip around the 2.5-mile layout remaining. "I was hoping he would go with me but I would have probably done the same thing he did," Earnhardt said of Dillon's move. "He finished fifth. He pushed that 11 in the lead, he was in second; it didn't really work out that awesome for him." Dillon's No. 3 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing finished just one spot ahead of Earnhardt's No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, which led 53 of 60 laps. It was Earnhardt's first competitive appearance since mid-season of last year. He sat out the final 18 races of the season after suffering concussion-like symptoms. WATCH: Hamlin, Dillon slide by Junior If there was any rust, it wasn't evident. Earnhardt, who will still start on the front row of Sunday's Daytona 500 (2 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR) battled briefly with Hamlin in the early portion of the qualifying race before settling down to lead 23 laps. Ryan Blaney ( Wood Brothers Racing ) won the race off pit road and led three laps before Earnhardt moved back on point at Lap 31. And for most of the remaining laps, it was vintage Earnhardt, one of the series' best at restrictor-plate racing and a two-time winner of the Daytona 500 as he was able to move high and low to keep the lines of traffic in his rear-view mirror. Until the very end. "I felt great," he said. "I felt like I'm a really good plate racer, there are some guys out there that are sure picking it up. Denny is one of them, (Joey) Logano ... there are a few other guys that sure make it harder to win these things each time we come here. But I felt great out there." Hamlin is the defending Daytona 500 winner. Dillon is a four-year veteran but still searching for that first trip to Victory Lane in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series . Both had capable rides Thursday evening. "I think that we just worked together the entire race," Hamlin said of Dillon's move that got him to the front. "It's no different than if it was the other way around ... I'd have a hard time not pushing him to a win." As long as the drivers ran side-by-side behind Earnhardt and Hamlin, the two lines of cars kept each other in check and unable to make a run on the front two. That changed when Dillon was able to slide in behind Hamlin and leave a big gap with no help behind the race leader. "Maybe if he would have gone with me we might have run first and second," Earnhardt said. "You never know. He did what he had to do and I might have done the same thing. "Denny had such an awesome run. The 3 (of Dillon) is feeding off that energy and had that same momentum. He's got to take his opportunities to try to get to the front. Hell, he might have won the race, you never know, if a couple of things had worked out for him." </p>