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Rain Dashes Clash; Added To Sunday Schedule

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, February 19 2017

There was lots of rain and waiting around but no racing at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday night. The Clash exhibition event was postponed until Sunday morning. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Ashley R Dickerson)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Persistent rain forced NASCAR officials to postpone Saturday night’s Advance Auto Parts Clash until Sunday morning at 11:35 a.m. (EST), creating a Daytona International Speedway doubleheader for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

In addition to the Clash _ a non-points event _ Daytona 500 Qualifying Presented By Kroger will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday. The race will be broadcast live on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio; qualifying will be broadcast on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

The Clash is a 75-lap/187.5-mile race split into two segments, separated by a mandatory caution period at Lap 25. The event features last year’s pole-winners, former Clash champions, former Daytona 500 pole- winners who competed fulltime in 2016 and playoff drivers from 2016. Brad Keselowski of Penske Racaing earned pole position via a blind draw and will lead the 17-car field in the No. 2 SKF Ford Fusion.

Daytona 500 Qualifying will lock in the two fastest qualifiers for the front row of the 59th edition of the season-opening “Great American Race” set for Feb. 26. Sunday’s qualifying also will establish the starting grids for Thursday night’s Can-Am Duel, a pair of 150-mile races that set the field (beyond the front row) for the Daytona 500. For the first time since 1971, the Can-Am Duel races will award drivers and owners points in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship battle.

DIS stadium admission gates for Clash ticket-holders will open at 10:30 a.m. Qualifying ticket-holders will not be admitted until 2 p.m. Qualifying ticket-holders wanting to also attend the Clash can upgrade to a general admission ticket for $30.

Tickets for Daytona 500 qualifying, the Can-Am Duel, the Daytona 500 and all other SpeedWeeks events can be purchased online at www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP. Fans can stay connected with Daytona International Speedway on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest,YouTube and Snapchat, and by downloading DIS’ mobile app for the latest news throughout the season.

Multi-car wrecks, red flags and six cautions could not prevent ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards championship contender Austin Theriault from rolling into Victory Lane at Daytona International Speedway Saturday afternoon.

Theriault, driver of Ken Schrader’s No. 52 Orlando Longwood Auto Auction Chevrolet Impala, raced up-front and out of harm’s way to win the season-opening Lucas Oil Complete Engine Treatment 200 Driven by General Tire. Theriault, who led only four laps, drove around the outside of Terry Jones on Lap 73 and held the point through Lap 75. Theriault was declared the winner after a multi-car incident prompted an extended red-flag period, five laps short of the scheduled 80-lap distance.

“Just an amazing effort from my guys. Ken Schrader Racing brought a great Orlando Longwood Auto Auction Chevrolet,” Theriault said. “I think we would have won even if we would have gone back to green, our car was that strong.”

The race was red-flagged as a result of damage to the Safer Barrier, requiring repairs that would have taken longer to fix than the series’ allotted time. With sprinkles in the air, Jones, driver of the No. 30 NORTRAX Toyota Camry, finished second after leading a race-high 25 laps.

“I was praying for rain late in the race,” Jones said. “This was my best superspeedway finish. We had a good clean run…stayed up-front all day and out of trouble. It would have been so cool to bring the trophy back to Canada. We were just a few laps from winning. We’re not done trying, I’ll tell you that.”

As a single-car team, Theriault, who started ninth, had to rely on help from some of his fiercest competitors.

“The Cunningham cars (Shane Lee and Dalton Sargeant) helped a lot today and played a strong part in getting us to the front,” Theriault said. “I thought the No. 25 (Tom Hessert) did a great job…he pushed us along on the outside. We just had a really strong car all day, especially with good cars behind us. Gained a couple spots on pit road, had a lot of help on the track and we put ourselves in position to win. Me and Kenny are excited to get to the phones and see if we can make something happen. Our focus is to run for the ARCA championship and we made that clear tonight.”

Cunningham Motorsports teammates Lee and Sargeant also enjoyed productive nights, finishing third and fourth, respectively. “Overall, our car was really good,” said Lee, driver of the No. 22 Big Tine Ford Fusion. “We got stuck in a few lines that weren’t working so we had to side-draft a little more than usual but we can’t complain; this is a great way to start the season. The General Tires were great and we didn’t slide ’em. This is a good night.”

Sargeant finished fourth in the No. 77 Phoenix Construction-Billy Ballew Ford. “This is pretty special to come to Daytona with a new Cunningham Motorsports team and come out with a top-five,” Sargeant said. “This is my first Daytona race…you definitely side-draft a lot more than you do at Talladega. Had a lot of fun. Overall, a good night and a solid night for the championship. Fortunately, we were ahead of all those wrecks.”

General Tire pole-sitter Hessert finished fifth in the No. 25 Andrews-Renton Coil Spring Toyota after leading the first 21 laps.

Six caution periods and three multi-car crashes mixed up the order throughout the race, including an incident on Lap 75 that resulted in Justin Fontaine getting upside on the frontstretch. Fontaine was transported to a local hospital for further evaluation. Despite nearly half the field sustaining some level of damage, all drivers were evaluated and released with the exception of Fontaine.

Bret Holmes finished sixth in the No. 23 Southern States Bank-Holmes II Excavation Chevrolet. Ricky Sanders was seventh in the No. 69 Kimmel Racing-Pitboxes.com Ford. Kyle Weatherman gave Mason Mitchell Motorsports its best finish among a three-car team with an eighth-place result in the No. 78 St. Charles Glass-Turn One Condos Chevrolet. Rookie Clint King was ninth in the No. 58 Warehouse Design-Lira Racing Ford. And Weatherman’s teammate Kaz Grala finished 10th in the No. 88 Kiklos Greek Extra Virgin Olive Oil Chevrolet.

Next race for the ARCA Racing Series is the Music City 200 at Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville on April 8. Additional series coverage is available at arcaracing.com.

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NHRA Funny Car driver Courtney Force is serving as honorary pace car driver for the Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona. Force, driver of the Advance Auto Parts

Dale Earnhardt Jr. chatted with IndyCar driver Graham Rahal and his wife Courtney Force on Saturday at Daytona. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Chevrolet Camaro SS, began the 2017 Mello Yello Drag Racing season with a runnerup finish in last Sunday’s Circle K NHRA Winternationals at Pomona, Calif. Force discussed her oval-track experience at Daytona International Speedway with members of the media. An edited transcript follows:

QUESTION: What was it like driving the pace car around this high-banked, 2.5-mile oval, and actually turning left?

COURTNEY FORCE: “This is amazing to be here in Daytona.  I got to take a couple of laps in the pace car.  A little nerve-wracking obviously _ I’m used to a flat, straight track (and car) that goes 0-1,000 feet in just four seconds.  Totally different type of racing for me, but obviously, I’m going a lot slower.  It’s really cool.  I’m totally not used to the banking here.  It’s a lot steeper than it looks for the people that see it from the outside.  It was really cool to kind of be on the track and experience that.  I’m hoping to not screw up and be able to follow the lines.

“I got a little advice from Dale Earnhardt Jr.  He said some people might bump me, so I’m going to watch and make sure I don’t get into too much trouble.  This will probably be the only time I can ever say that there are all those legends of NASCAR in my rearview mirror.  I’m really excited to say that. This is an honor for me and a little bit different from what I do.  Hopefully, everything goes well.”

QUESTION: Have you ever entertained any thoughts about maybe road-racing, oval-track racing…anything beyond drag racing?

COURTNEY FORCE: “Well, obviously, I grew up in the sport of NHRA drag racing, so for me that’s all I have ever known and kind of lived in a drag racing bubble.  I knew about NASCAR and came to races with my dad (16-time Funny Car champion John Force) when I was a kid.  So, it’s really cool to be here and to actually say that I’m going to be in the pace car is pretty surreal.  I think it’s something you have to be around and grow up in to know how to do.  People ask me that question a lot because my husband (Graham Rahal) races in INDYCAR, so they’re always asking, ‘Are we going to do a ride swap?’ You know, I might be a race car driver but you can’t just throw me in whatever and expect me to know how everything goes. I think it would be cool to do it for a time or two, but starting in the pace car is probably best.”

QUESTION: How important is brand identity and support to NHRA drag racing?

COURTNEY FORCE: “We wouldn’t be doing what we do without the sponsors and their backing and their support.  Having Advance Auto Parts come on-board with my Chevrolet this season was huge for me.  I was with Traxxas for five years before that and wouldn’t be out here racing if it wasn’t for Advance coming on-board.  And the same goes for Chevrolet.  They are fully involved, obviously. I drive a Chevy Camaro SS body on the track and they were fully-involved in the development of that and working with everyone at John Force Racing, our engineers and their group teaming up to build the perfect race car.

“I think we’ve kind of proven what a Chevy Camaro is capable of doing on and off the track.  I got to race the Camaro ZL1 and make some smoke on the racetrack over the offseason and then came to testing at Firebird Raceway (Chandler, Ariz.) and went 3.804-seconds/333 mph, which was an unofficial national ET record.  It’s pretty cool to kick-off the season on a positive note.  Sponsors are the reason why we all get to do what we love and the fact that I have a sponsor that is not only involved in NHRA, but also involved in so many other types of motorsports, like here in NASCAR, is a huge deal for me and a cool way to integrate both NASCAR and NHRA and cross paths.”

QUESTION: What was it like the first time you beat your dad in a national event?

COURTNEY FORCE: “I’ve got to be careful because he’s sitting in the back there.  You know, that was probably the proudest moment I’ve ever had for myself was beating my dad.  Because he doesn’t take it easy on me.  All last season was rough for me.  He beat me, I think, four out of the five times I raced him, maybe even every time last season.  But I just raced him this past weekend and finally got my revenge on him.  It’s pretty cool.  I beat him in the semifinal round and went on to the final round of the race. Almost took home the win, but you know it’s fun.

“He taught me everything I know about racing and to be able to know his routine on the starting line, know how he likes to drive his race car and then to be able to use it against him is a lot of fun for me.  It’s bittersweet at the end of the day because obviously, like I said, he taught me everything I know.  When you have to send your dad home and have him pack his bags when he’s the one that really gave me this opportunity to drive one of these cars, it is bittersweet. But it’s still fun.

“We pick on each other.  He always pretends he has no idea he is racing me.  He’ll say, ‘Oh, who do you got next round?’  I’m like, ‘You _ but OK thanks.’  We have fun with it.  I wouldn’t want it any other way.  I don’t think there are a lot of people that have opportunities to race with family.  My sister (Brittany) races a Top Fuel dragster and then to be able to compete against dad is a lot of fun.”

QUESTION: How has your success, and husband Graham Rahal’s success in the Verizon IndyCar Series, kept everything happy at home?

COURTNEY FORCE: “Winning races and being in a relationship definitely is a good thing.  It keeps you positive.  We both went through some rough seasons before we got married and it was due to our racing seasons. Yeah, that’s our ‘rough patch.’  It definitely feels good to have him have such a great season last year (for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing) and then I came off of a great season, too.  I finished sixth in the points.  It’s always a good thing when you can come out of a race and do well.  He was at my race supporting me and I have to try my best to go to as many as I can on his (schedule) as well.”

QUESTION: When Graham raced his open-wheeler at Fontana (Auto Club Raceway in Southern California), were there moments when you couldn’t watch?

COURTNEY FORCE:  “A lot of moments.  I wanted to die.  I was so nervous.  I was literally on this roof-top deck spinning around in circles trying to follow his race car. That race was so close.  I mean, I was just panicked every step of the way.  I’m not used to being a spectator and it’s definitely different for me to kind of stand back and just enjoy watching a race because I like to be in control of the car, be out there competing.  But having someone you love in it is a little bit different.  It’s weird to know what my mom goes through watching all of this.”

QUESTION: As a drag racer, you’re out there in the same traffic as the rest of us. Are you ever temped to out-speed everybody when the light turns green?

COURTNEY FORCE: “I flinch a little bit every time the light turns green.  I’m always yelling at Graham, ‘Go!’ like, ‘You’re just sitting here.’  He’s like, ‘It just turned green!’  I’m like, ‘No, it turned green a little bit ago.’  It’s part of what we do and if you want to win races…(NHRA) races are won and lost on the starting line.  You have to learn how to have great reaction times, but I love what I do. Obviously, signing on a new sponsor I hope to be doing this for a long time and loving every bit of it.  Our goal this season is to go after that championship.  That’s something I’ve got on my mind constantly.”   

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, February 19 2017
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