NASCAR Budweiser Shootout Top Five:
1) Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS, 72 laps
2) Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 8 Dale Earnhardt Inc. Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS, 72 laps
3) Tony Stewart, No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS, 72 laps
4) Scott Riggs, No. 10 Evernham Racing Dodge Charger, 72 laps
5) Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS, 72 laps
• Burton Takes Daytona 500 Pole: Jeff Burton captured the pole for the Daytona 500 in qualifying on Sunday afternoon, edging defending Daytona 500 winner Jeff Gordon by 0.069sec. It was an outstanding performance both for Burton, not known as a qualifying demon, and his Richard Childress Racing team, who have obviously done a lot of homework over the off-season. Burton’s lap of 47.581sec/189.151mph was not a thing of beauty to watch, but then again neither was anyone else’s. Watching qualifying at Daytona, where each car makes two agonizing laps around the 2.5-mile tri-oval choked by their restrictor-plate engines, is like watching paint dry. Nonetheless, a lot of work goes into the engines and bodywork to achieve the feat, and Burton was the man on Sunday. Robert Yates Racing teammates Dale Jarrett and Elliott Sadler were third and fourth, followed by Gordon’s teammate Jimmie Johnson. Bobby Labonte brought smiles to a lot of faces by running sixth-quick in the legendary No. 43 Petty Enterprises Dodge, with Burton’s teammate Clint Bowyer, Roush Racing’s new hire Jamie McMurray, “Awesome” Bill Elliott and Kyle Busch rounding out the top 10. Following post-qualifying inspection, though, Johnson and Terry Labonte, driving for the new No. 96 Fame Racing team (owned by Dallas Cowboy legends Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman) were both disqualified. Johnson’s car was found to have an illegal wedge bolt adjuster that actually raised up the rear window glass to aid aerodynamics, and Labonte’s car had an illegal carburetor. Burton and Gordon are locked in for the front row for next Sunday’s race; the remainder of the field will be decided based on the results of Thursday’s two 150-mile qualifying races. And although it’s been proven many times that you can win from anywhere on the grid at Daytona (and its sister track, Talladega), being on the front row at least ensures that one will probably avoid any possible early-race melees.
Daytona 500 Qualifying Top Five:
1) Jeff Burton, No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS, 47.581sec
2) Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS, -0.069sec
3) Dale Jarrett, No. 88 Robert Yates Racing Ford Fusion, -0.076sec
4) Elliott Sadler, No. 38 Robert Yates Racing Ford Fusion, -0.086sec
5) Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS, -0.098sec
• Davis Loses Dodge Suit: The NASCAR U.S. District Court in Detroit announced last week that it had decided in favor of DaimlerChrysler in its breach-of-contract lawsuit against Bill Davis Racing, and ordered BDR to pay $6.5m in damages. BDR, which was contracted to field Dodges in the Nextel Cup, was accused of giving confidential information to Toyota, for whom it was building Tundras for the Craftsman Truck Series. Davis. Davis has continued to campaign Dodges in the Nextel Cup, albeit without factory support, and will be one of Toyota’s flagship teams when the Camry hits the Nextel Cup circuit in 2007. Davis indicated that he will ask the court to set aside the verdict or, failing that, appeal the decision in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.
• Hendrick Plane Crash News: The National Transportation Safety Board issued its initial report on the tragic Hendrick Motorsports plane crash near Martinsville, Va., on October 24, 2004 that claimed the lives of all 10 people aboard. The report attributed the crash to pilot error, saying that confusion over navigation instruments and a consequent failure to follow correct abort procedures were the likely causes. Also last week, it was reported that Diane Dorton, widow of Hendrick engine guru Randy Dorton who was killed in the crash, filed suit in December against Hendrick Motorsports and the estates of the plane’s two pilots, alleging that the team showed “conscious and intentional disregard” for Randy Dorton’s safety by requiring the team plane to fly in dangerous weather. Team owner Rick Hendrick denied the allegations at Daytona, describing Diane Dorton’s claims as “…a cheap shot and disappointing and not true.” The suit seeks compensatory damages from the defendants, plus punitive damages from Hendrick Motorsports.
• Panther Revived: Panther Racing, which won the IRL championship in 2001-02 with Sam Hornish Jr., seemed to be near death’s door in recent weeks, with personnel with sponsors gone, personnel laid off and equipment being sold. The team has apparently snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in recent days, and announced last week that they’ll be back in the IRL for 2006, having re-signed longtime sponsor Pennzoil and recruiting highly regarded Brazilian driver Vitor Meira. It will be a homecoming of sorts, since Panther gave Meira his IRL rookie test in 2001. He has driven for Rahal-Letterman Racing for the past two years, and finished seventh in the championship last year after finishing second at Indianapolis and Kentucky.