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It Appears We Have A Favorite

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, February 17 2011

Kurt Busch is on a roll at Daytona. Two races have resulted in two victories. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Jeff Hood | Senior Writer

Daytona Beach, Fla. – Kurt Busch continued showing a hot hand during the stock car portion of Speedweeks by winning the first Gatorade Duel at Daytona on Thursday.

The 2004 Sprint Cup champion earned his first restrictor plate win in Saturday night’s Bud Shootout on the 2.5-mile tri-oval.

Busch will lineup third in Sunday’s Daytona 500 on the pace laps but start on the pole when polesitter Dale Earnhardt Jr. drops to the rear of the field prior to the start. But he isn’t necessarily embracing the role as the favorite to win this weekend’s big prize.

“I don’t like to be a favorite, I like to be an underdog,” Busch said. “When you’re tabbed or dubbed the

Kasey Kahne, left, and Kurt Busch talk before Saturday's Shootout. Busch went on to win the race and won his qualifying race on Thursday. Do we have a favorite to win on Sunday? (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

favorite, you try to block the outside emotions on what the day is going to be on Sunday and focus on what’s important.

“I’m going to lean on (crew chief) Steve (Addington) and my guys to keep me in check and get me through these 500 miles.”

When asked if Busch should be labeled as the favorite for Sunday, Jeff Burton, who captured the second Duel race offered a quick response.

“Hell, I just thought we won,” said Burton, with a sly grin. “You know, I don’t know how you would call anybody a favorite. I mean nothing against what Kurt has done. He’s won the two (races) he’s been in.

“But looks to me like the Roush guys have their package, their cooling package. They’re probably ahead of the game on everybody.

“I wouldn’t turn my head on them because it seems to me they could push longer than anybody else.”

For much of the second race, Trevor Bayne, who turns 20 on Saturday, kept the Wood Brothers No. 21 Ford near the front of the field and conjured up memories of a young Jeff Gordon winning a

Trevor Bayne at Daytona. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

qualifying race at Daytona during his rookie season in 1993.

But Bayne’s fairytale run came to an end a couple hundred yards shy of the finish line when he was tagged by drafting mate Jeff Gordon.

“Everybody is racing like it’s the last lap of the big race, so when we got down to it we were three-wide at the end with a big run and I think we just ran out of real estate there and (Gordon) came off the wall and got us,” said Bayne, who will start 32nd in the 500.

“That kind of stinks. I hate it for all these guys because we were doing awesome, but that’s part of it, I guess.

“We knew when we were passing those guys three-wide on the outside we were
going to be in trouble, but that’s racing. We’ll get there.”

Defending Daytona 500 champion Jamie McMurray was a non-factor in the second qualifying race after failing to lead a lap and finishing sixth.

But the driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet is still confident about his chances to hoist the Harley J. Earl trophy on Sunday.

“Our car is really fast,” said McMurray, who starts 14th on Sunday.

“I feel like we have really good speed. It pushes well and that has always been important. But it is more important than ever now that you can push and not get hot.

“I think we have both of those. But Sunday will be different when we get all (43) cars out there and all the good cars in one race.”

One day after his 15-year-old son Chase Elliott signed with Hendrick Motorsports, 55-year-old Bill Elliott showed he has some laps remaining in his career.

Elliott nailed down a starting berth in Sunday’s Daytona 500 by finishing15th in Thursday’s first Duel in a James Finch-owned No. 09 Chevrolet.

“(Chase) comes along and he wants to race and I’m right back in the middle of it,” said Elliott, the 1985 and 1987 Daytona 500 champion. “And I thought ‘well hell, if I’m going to get right back in the middle of it, I might as well get right back in the middle of it.’

“And that’s kind of the way I feel about it. The situation that came with Rick (Hendrick), there again there was an opportunity and the door was open. He’s just going to help with the bits and pieces along the way.

“I’ll still do my deal (with Chase) out of Dawsonville. We’ll still run along here and see how things go, but that kid has done a fantastic job. I’ve watched him race for the last two years in the Late Model stuff. He rolls on. I don’t know what goes through that little head of his, but he figures it out.”

– Jeff Hood can be reached at jhood@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, February 17 2011
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