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Racing, Not Just Romance, Talked-Up At Daytona

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, February 15 2013

Defending Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski found himself in heavy traffic at media day. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Sprint Cup rookie of the year contenders Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Danica Patrick’s romance dominated the conversations during Thursday’s media day at Daytona International Speedway.

But there was plenty of other racing news to come out of the annual gathering that signals the start of the stockcar racing portion of Budweiser Speed Weeks.

Two-time Nationwide Series champion Stenhouse will take over the ride at Roush-Fenway Racing vacated by Matt Kenseth, who moved to the Joe Gibbs Racing camp during the offseason.

Greg Biffle has expectations for his new RFR teammate.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if (Stenhouse) wins a race this year,” Biffle said. “There are some race tracks that he is really good at and is comfortable. We have really good cars and you look at the way the 17 team ran last year.

“It is basically the same team and same car. Different body but different internals. Winning two championships in the Nationwide series, I won a championship and it is every bit as tough to win those as it is to compete in this series. He will do well.”

There will be two races on Saturday on the 2.5-mile tri-oval. ARCA will run their annual 200 mile event late in the afternoon. It will precede Saturday night’s Sprint Unlimited.

But a third race will be conducted at the World Center of Racing early Sunday morning.

NASCAR drivers Aric Almirola and Michael Waltrip will be among a large group of runners who will participate in the Daytona Half Marathon. The 13.1-mile foot race will include a lap around the speedway. It will also feature a run to-and-from the Atlantic Ocean on International Speedway Boulevard.

“I ran my last marathon in 2005 and I ran the biggest marathon in 3 hours, 55 minutes,” the 49-year-old Waltrip said. “I haven’t really run since then. I’m using this as motivation just to get back into better shape. My training over the last few years has been basically cross-fit, a little weight lifting and a little bit of aerobics. And that’s about it.

“My body feels great. I’m nervous because I haven’t done one in a long time. If I can run in 2 hours, 9 minutes on Sunday, I’m going to be happy.”

After winning five consecutive Sprint Cup championships, Jimmie Johnson has watched Tony Stewart and Brad Keselowski lay claim to the most-coveted trophy in stock car racing.

Now, Johnson is eager to regain his dominance.

The driver of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet said Thursday he’s proud of the effort he and his Chad Knaus-led team delivered last season. But he admitted the 2011 season is still hard to digest.

“I think back to the five in a row and really how special that time was,” Johnson said. “We were very fortunate to get that done. When I look at 2011, I’m disappointed in the way we performed and the way we were involved in the Chase.

But, last year was quite different. I’m very proud of the effort we put in. I think that last year kind of showed how much of a team sport NASCAR racing really is.We seem to forget that at times and how many variables do play into winning the championship. We go to Phoenix and our issue. We go to Homestead, a couple of issues.

“There is a lot more to it than just Chad and I and what we do in the car. At the end of the day I’m very proud of what we did last year.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was named the sport’s most popular driver for the 10th consecutive season last fall.

Despite his popularity, the driver of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet may be short of sponsorship for as many as 13 races in 2013.

“Well, we’ve gotten some great sponsors onboard,” said Earnhardt, who will welcome back the National Guard for 20 races and Amp/Diet Mountain Dew for five events. “We have a number physically

that we need to reach in order to fund the race car. You can’t sell yourself short. It wouldn’t be fair to our partners.

“We’re just looking for the right corporations that are a good fit for us, that are long-term, they want to be in the sport for a while, that we can build on, Hendrick can build on. You don’t just take

the first guy that comes along. You have to find the right fit.”

Last year’s Daytona 500 is best-known for being delayed until Monday night and Juan Pablo Montoya’s No. 42 Chevrolet suffering a part failure that caused him to crash into a jet dryer.

Montoya said on Thursday that he still receives grief over the incident today.

“People are dumb enough to think I hit the thing on purpose, like I really want to try and kill myself,” Montoya said. “It is kind of crazy. That was a freak accident, and in a way, I was

very very lucky to walk away from that one. Not only myself, but the guy driving the jet dryer. To walk away with nothing out of that it was a miracle. I was glad it was over.”

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, February 15 2013
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