25th Annual Leaf Lookers GEMBOREE :: Friday, October 17 - Sunday, October 19 at the Macon County Community Building

- published 8/21 (Larry) old link: http://www1.cfnc.org/applications/NC_Community_College/apply.html?application_id=1527

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Martin Truex Jr. was only half-joking when he said he was right where he wanted to be: leading the field to green in the second of last Thursday night's Budweiser Duel at Daytona 150-mile qualifying races.

That means, of course, that Truex was second-fastest in Sunday's Daytona 500 time trials at 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway, second to Austin Dillon's No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet.

Dillon won the pole for NASCAR's most prestigious Sprint Cup Series race, and he'll start from the front in Thursday's first Duel race. In this case, Truex is content to play second fiddle.

The Furniture Row Racing team that fields Truex's cars gets its engines and chassis from RCR. So, forget the notion of Truex trying to upstage the monumental story of the No. 3's triumphant return to Sprint Cup racing after a 13-year absence. After all, Truex wants to make sure he continues to get top-quality engines from RCR.

"Definitely glad I didn't knock the 3 off the pole,” Truex said with a smile. "That's all I'm going to say. We'll wait until July to get ours.”

click image to zoomDAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Martin Truex Jr. was only half-joking when he said he was right where he wanted to be: leading the field to green in the second of last Thursday night's Budweiser Duel at Daytona 150-mile qualifying races.

That means, of course, that Truex was second-fastest in Sunday's Daytona 500 time trials at 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway, second to Austin Dillon's No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet.

Dillon won the pole for NASCAR's most prestigious Sprint Cup Series race, and he'll start from the front in Thursday's first Duel race. In this case, Truex is content to play second fiddle.

The Furniture Row Racing team that fields Truex's cars gets its engines and chassis from RCR. So, forget the notion of Truex trying to upstage the monumental story of the No. 3's triumphant return to Sprint Cup racing after a 13-year absence. After all, Truex wants to make sure he continues to get top-quality engines from RCR.

"Definitely glad I didn't knock the 3 off the pole,” Truex said with a smile. "That's all I'm going to say. We'll wait until July to get ours.”

With strong qualifying efforts that represented substantial improvement over January's Preseason Thunder testing, the Roush Fenway Racing Fords of Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards will start on the outside of the front rows of the first and second Duel races, respectively.

"We came down here [in testing] and just weren't as fast as we wanted to be and went home, did our homework and worked really, really hard,” said Biffle, who qualified third.

Ryan Newman and Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start behind Dillon and Biffle in the first Duel event; Brad Keselowski and Jeff Gordon will line up on the second row for the second race.

Earnhardt was the first driver to make a qualifying run Sunday, and his lap speed of 195.211 mph stood up until Biffle, the 32nd driver to make a run, knocked him off the provisional pole.

"I scuffed the side skirt just a little bit on the apron in Turn 2, trying to run tight on the line there, and that's never good when you're dragging anything,” Earnhardt said. "So that cost us a little bit of time.”

With Dillon and Truex locked into the front row for the Daytona 500, the Duel races will determine positions 3-32 on the starting grid for the Great American Race. Starting spots 33-36 fall to the fastest four cars from time trials not otherwise qualified and the last seven positions go to provisional starters, based on 2013 owner points.

The seventh provisional spot, however, is reserved for the most recent past series champion, if needed.

All told, 49 drivers are competing for 43 positions on the grid. Morgan Shepherd, who at 72 is attempting to become the oldest driver to start the 500, must race his way into the field in Duel race No. 2.

Danica Patrick qualified 25th fastest but will start Duel race No. 1 from the rear of the field because of an unapproved engine change after Saturday's practice. Tony Stewart (who qualified 35th) and Bobby Labonte (44th) also changed engines and will drop to the rear for the start of Duel races No. 1 and 2, respectively.

Those three drivers also must start from the rear in the Daytona 500, assuming they make the field.

Fast start by healthy Hamlin puts 2013 in rear-view mirror

Seth Livingstone - NASCAR Wire Service

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Among the questions Denny Hamlin fielded on Media Day at Daytona International Speedway last week was this gem: "Do you go into the season as the weak link at Joe Gibbs Racing?"

Hamlin handled the inquiry with aplomb.

"I don't think so," he said. "From what I've seen from testing, I believe we're going to be one of the guys that comes out pretty strong, pretty early."

Two days later, Hamlin was in the driver's seat – literally and figuratively – and proved to be a prophet as he powered his way past the field in the final laps to win Saturday night's season-opening Sprint Unlimited.

As Hamlin breezed across the finish line, he delivered just two celebratory words to crew chief Darian Grubb, his team and to his doubters: "Any questions?"

Simply put, Hamlin seemed to have the best car in the field – at any moment during the event. Starting from the pole thanks to his strong practice lap times, he led a racehigh 27 of the 75 laps.

JGR teammate Kyle Busch was not surprised by the performance of Hamlin or his No. 11 FedEx team.

"He's on a mission," Busch said.

For Hamlin, 2013 had been a season to forget. But for a driver who had won five times in 2012 and finished in the top 10 of Sprint Cup points for five consecutive seasons, there also was a lesson to be learned.

"I took for granted just making the Chase [for the NASCAR Sprint Cup] every single year and winning multiple races every year," says Hamlin, whose 2013 campaign was thrown off track early by a compressed vertebrae in his back sustained in an accident at Auto Club Speedway which sidelined him for four races.

"It's something no driver wants to have to go through, but I think it was kind of a game-changer in my outlook and my attitude toward being a Sprint Cup driver. Obviously, is made me appreciate in my own mind what I get to do every week."

Although relegated to 23rd in the final standings, Hamlin made a statement in the final race of 2013, holding off teammate Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Homestead- Miami Speedway, to post his lone victory of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

"That's two in a row for us," said Hamlin, as good with math after Saturday's race as he was behind the wheel. "I think we're building on something big here."

On the physical side, there has been sweat and ongoing therapy, including anti-inflammatory and pain-numbing injection treatments and a Pilates program.

"Pilates has been my best friend," Hamlin said. "I heard that I needed to try it, and once I did, I immediately felt better. I just kind of got addicted to it. It's not pretty by any means – a guy like myself being in a Pilates studio. But it works for me.

"[My health] is better than it's been since I can really remember. It's taken a lot of hard work to get to this point. There's nothing lingering. I've gotten [the back] scanned and everything looks great."

On the mental side, Hamlin is taking a new outlook into 2014, focusing on preparation.

"[In years past] I just showed up and we did it," he said. "Now, with the competition and how we ran last year, you've got to think about preparing. You can't just rely on talent. [It's about] looking over what you struggled with. It's all about debriefing and figuring out in your meeting: How can you get better? [It's] not just chalking it up, saying, 'Oh, it was just a bad weekend.'

"I don't think that you can just show up, sit down in your seat, not know anything about your car and run as competitively as some of the guys that win each week."

Hamlin, 33, knows he has the equipment to contend at most every track. Kenseth and Busch proved that last year.

In his first year with JGR, Kenseth won seven races, including the first two of the Chase. Kenseth, who led the point standings after the 26 regular-season races and with three races left in the Chase, eventually finished second to champion Jimmie Johnson.

"It was great to see Matt come in and be that successful," said Busch, who won four races, had 16 top-fives and recorded his best career finish in the Chase, placing fourth. "It's going to be great to have Denny back and have him healthy hopefully for the whole season."

One problem, Kenseth says: "The bad thing is that when Denny is at his best, it's hard to beat him. I have two teammates that can win each and every week. That makes it hard."

As Speedweeks at Daytona approached, Hamlin was chomping at the bit.

"The only thing that's keeping me up at night, right now, is the anticipation," he said. "I'm one of the few drivers who couldn't get this offseason over quick enough.

"After the win at Homestead, I realized that we run as good as I feel and I feel pretty comfortable in the car. You don't like to talk about what you can do, you want to show people."

Hamlin thinks JGR's performance in the Sprint Unlimited positions all three drivers well for Sunday's 56th running of the Daytona 500.

"The drivers who are part of the Unlimited get to race the rust off," Hamlin said. "We only do [restrictor-plate] racing four to five times a year, so it is an art form. The more you do it, the better you become. So, I think it's a big advantage to get a race under our belts before the 500. It's hard to go into the 500 cold turkey."

So, just one more question: Will Hamlin and the No. 11 team continue to make a statement as the season continues?

"It's going to be a redemption year," Hamlin predicts. "It's going to be a year that we've got to prove to ourselves that we're back. I've got to prove to myself that I can be back to where I was."

Odds and ends from Daytona Media Day

  • Greg Biffle's contract with Roush Fenway Racing is up this year, but the driver of the No. 16 Ford says he started negotiations on an extension last season and fully expects to be back with the organization next year.
  • From six-time champion Jimmie Johnson's point of view, changes in the way the NASCAR Sprint Cup champion is determined won't alter his approach – even with race winners all but assured of a Chase spot and four drivers eliminated after every three races in the Chase. "I still think the way you win a championship is the same," Johnson said. "You've got to win races."




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