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Countdown to the Daytona 500

The calm before the storm begins again. 

A wildly successful Rolex 24 went into the books Jan. 28 and 29 with Penske Racing’s first-year driver AJ Allmendinger taking the checkered flag for Michael Shank Racing. A harbinger of the season to come, perhaps, the Daytona International Speedway infield was packed with fans before the start of the 50th anniversary of the twice-round-the-clock affair.

Now everyone takes a deep breath before the engines fire again. Speedweeks 2012 resume on

Friday, Feb. 17, when practice gets underway for the Budweiser Shootout. The traditional opening event of the year, 75 laps around Daytona’s 2.5-mile high-banked superspeedway, will run at 8:10 p.m. ET on FOX.

With this year’s Daytona 500 scheduled a week later than usual – on Feb. 26, live on FOX at 1 p.m. ET – teams receive a bit of extra prep time before assembling in Florida. Even so, there remain plenty of pre-season storylines upon which to chew. Several follow. 

AJ Aims At Historic Double

AJ Allmendinger attempts to become the first driver to win the Rolex 24 overall title and the Daytona 500 in the same season. (Casey Mears won the 2006 Rolex 24 and finished 2nd in that year’s Daytona 500 to Jimmie Johnson.) True to form, Allmendinger, the top Closer in the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, ran the final three hours or 12.5% of the race for the win.

After winning the Rolex 24, a follow-up victory in the Great American Race would celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first time the No. 22 won the 500 – in 1962 with Fireball Roberts. It’s been 10 years since Ward Burton won in the 22 in 2002. Roger Penske seeks his second victory in the Daytona 500 in five years, after winning the 50th running of NASCAR’s biggest race with Ryan Newman behind the wheel in 2008. 

Harvick Heads Home a Hall of Famer

This week, Kevin Harvick will be inducted into the Bob Elias Kern County Sports Hall of Fame in Bakersfield, Calif., his hometown. Harvick is just the fourth race car driver to be inducted, joining four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears, off-road champion Roger Mears and many-time Indy 500 competitor George Snider. Harvick told the Bakersfield Californian: “To get this honor while still racing, it sort of makes me feel old. It’s a pretty cool deal for me. You know how much this town and race track (Mesa Marin) supported my career.

“We’ve been fortunate all the way through my career to win championships,” Harvick continued. “The Daytona 500 is the biggest race and to win that was great. Obviously, the biggest we want is the (NASCAR Sprint) Cup championship and we’re still working towards that.”

Last Wednesday during the Richard Childress Racing stop on the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour, hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway, Harvick announced that he and wife DeLana, both raised in racing families, were expecting a child this year.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Hits Tampa In Advance Of Daytona 500 Debut

Defending NASCAR Nationwide Series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will visit Tampa on Thursday on his way to making his Daytona 500 debut Feb. 26 on FOX. Stenhouse hopes to become the second NASCAR Nationwide Series champion to follow a title with a win in the Great American Race, following the example set by 2006 champ Kevin Harvick who went on to win the 2007 Daytona 500. Stenhouse will drive the No. 6 car, which won the last NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Daytona, the Coke Zero 400 last July. David Ragan piloted the ride in that event.

Stenhouse will attend the Carolina Hurricanes-Tampa Bay Lightning NHL game as part of a tour around Tampa, the hometown of Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood III, who will accompany Stenhouse.

Another Different Daytona 500 Winner?

Trevor Bayne became the 10th consecutive different Daytona 500 winner in 2010 – a streak that began in 2002. Only three drivers have won the Great American Race in consecutive seasons: Richard Petty (1973-74), Cale Yarborough (1983-84) and Sterling Marlin (1994-95). While the Daytona 500 has validated the careers of many NASCAR superstars, the race also has produced some huge surprises. Bayne had just turned 20 years of age and became the race’s youngest winner in his second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start. Who might be next? Danica Patrick, bidding for her first Daytona 500 start, no doubt hopes it will be her.

You may reach Pete Barber at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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