Day One: NASCAR Preseason Thunder At Daytona International Speedway
There was no shortage of conversation – or anything off-limits – during Day 1 of Preseason Thunder at Daytona International Speedway. From spoilers to drafting to beards – all were topics du jour. A full field of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers tackled Daytona International Speedway for the first of a three-day test as teams make their final preparations for the 54th running of the Daytona 500, February 26. “It’s important for us to test down here, not only for the teams, but for us,” said Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton. “We’ve had track tests at Daytona and Talladega and we’ve been in the wind tunnel several times. We think we’re making some great strides. The test is going pretty good for us. The teams are learning about their equipment and the limits they will be under with water temperatures and things like that. We’ve seen softer springs, a smaller spoiler and a reduction in downforce. We’re pleased with the progress we’ve made so far.”
Jeff Gordon led 31 cars during the morning session of practice with a top speed of 192.773 mph. Teams practiced single and two-car runs in the morning session, but for most, the excitement of returning to Daytona and the thrill of the “The Great American Race,” only 45 days away, certainly added to the intensity of the day. “A lot of effort goes into this race,” said Dale Earnhardt, Jr. “Winning the 500 is the biggest race of the year. It is the greatest feeling. The effort is quadruple when it comes to how much goes into the engines just for that race and the bodies of the cars. So it’s a pretty big deal when you win.” -- The winning car of this year’s Daytona 500 will be the first car in the history of the sport to score a victory with a fuel injected engine. “I feel like there is a crack in the floodgates,” said veteran driver Mark Martin. “I think there is a huge amount of electronics and adjustments and so much that can be done by those guys on the computer, instead of all those years I spent with Jack [Roush] with the carburetor apart up in the trailer.”
The afternoon drafting session belonged to the Toyotas of Kyle Busch and Joey Logano, respectively, with Busch posting a top speed of 202.402 mph. What will tomorrow bring for these teams? More knowledge for them to get ready for one of the biggest races of the year. “We’ll gather our information and we’ll talk with the teams,” said Pemberton in regards to practicing different forms of drafting. “That’s why we have a three-day test.” -- Among the lighter moments of Day 1 was a wager involving Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth. Earnhardt threw a 1970s-themed party during the offseason, and Kenseth grew a mutton-chop beard for the occasion. Earnhardt bet Kenseth $2,500 that Kenseth wouldn’t keep the beard through this week’s testing sessions. The winner? Well, a clean-shaven Kenseth walked into the Daytona deadline room during Day 1 of testing.
Robby Gordon Loses More Ground After Stage 11 In Dakar Rally
Robby Gordon's slim hopes of winning the Dakar Rally took another nosedive on Thursday as Stephane Peterhansel increased his lead by winning stage 11. Having lost over 17 minutes to Peterhansel and dropped to third the previous day, Gordon set a hot pace as the rally left the Chilean town of Arica and headed towards Arequipa in Peru. The Hummer driver had pulled back nearly three minutes on Peterhansel's X-raid Mini by the third of eight checkpoints on the 297-mile stage. But he slowed dramatically shortly afterwards, falling six minutes behind Peterhansel over the next 60 miles, and then stopping for over an hour in the dunes during the second half of the stage.
Gordon, already competing under appeal after event organisers disqualified him on Tuesday for running an illegal tyre re-inflation system, was 1h13m off the pace at the penultimate checkpoint due to a mechanical problem sustained on the link road between the day's two timed sections of the stage, meaning he is likely to drop to fourth spot by the end of the day. Peterhansel's stage win came by 3m44s from his X-raid team-mate Nani Roma and increased his overall advantage over the Spaniard to 22m49s with only two stages remaining. Former Dakar winner Giniel de Villiers was fourth quickest through the stage and is now a comfortable third overall; the Toyota driver 1h11m behind Peterhansel and a likely 20 minutes clear of Gordon. Leonid Novitskiy retained his fifth place with the fifth fastest time, while Krzysztof Holowczyc recovered from his Wednesday maladies with sixth fastest. There was bad news for Carlos Sousa, who began the day sixth. His Great Wall stopped in the dunes inside the first 100 miles of the stage. Despite losing almost an hour, he should hang on to his position, albeit now much further behind Novitskiy. (autosport.com)
Robby Gordon Disqualified But Races On Pending Appeal
Hummer driver Robby Gordon has refused to give up on his dream of winning Dakar 2012 despite a clash with rival Stéphane Peterhansel that cost him more than 14 minutes on the event's final day in Chile before the border crossing into Peru on Thursday.
Gordon started Wednesday's 10th stage from Iquique to Arica, which featured a 234-mile competitive section, less than six minutes behind X-raid Mini pilot Peterhansel, albeit running first on the road. The rivals swapped position on several occasions before disaster struck for the American Gordon nearing the end of the special stage. “I hit a rock with both right-side tires, and we've got some broken parts,” Gordon told Dakar.com. “Do I think I can win again? Of course. I was passing him [Peterhansel], he didn't move over and I clobbered a rock and got two flat tires at the same time. So, we've got our work cut out for us. We've got a damaged race car that we're going to have work on and there's a lot of damage from what I can see. Now we'll push, push, push even harder.”
Gordon's delay means he slips to third in the overall standings, 19 minutes, 51 seconds behind Peterhansel. But his efforts to reverse that deficit could be in vain if his appeal against exclusion from the event is unsuccessful. Event organizers issued a statement early on Wednesday confirming that Gordon's Hummer had failed to comply with the technical regulations, which resulted in his disqualification from the rally. However, Gordon appealed the decision, and until the appeal is heard, the Californian will continue in the event. While disqualification would be a huge blow for Gordon and his Hummer team, it would provide welcome respite for Peterhansel, who conceded that he'd faced a tough fight to keep Tuesday's stage winner at bay. “Today it was a big fight with Gordon,” Peterhansel said. “At the beginning he was a little bit slower than us. We overtook him when he made a navigation mistake, but at the end, he overtook me again.”
Of the incident with Gordon, Peterhansel added: “He was really fast on a very short corner to the left, very tight, and he went straight on and jumped off a small cliff. I was sure that he rolled, but when I saw again through the dust, he was on his wheels.” Peterhansel's Spanish teammate Nani Roma won Wednesday's stage to move into second overall, 19 minutes, 5 seconds behind the Frenchman. However, it was a day of woe for Krzysztof Holowczyc, who started the day in third position but slipped back when his Mini's power steering failed after a little more than 30 miles of competitive action left. (autoweek.com)
Gordon Wins Stage 9, Teammate Al-Attiyah Forced To Quit Race
The longest stage of the 2012 Dakar Rally, the 556km Stage 9 from Antofogasta to Iquique, was both a triumph and a tragedy for the Hummer contingent, as Robby Gordon won the stage, to slice yet more time off overall leader Stephane Peterhansel's advantage. But defending champion Nasser Al-Attiyah was forced out of the race as his fast but temperamental car continued to suffer from mechanical gremlins - despite setting the fastest times on the second and seventh stages. Gordon had been highlighted by Peterhansel as the dangerman after Monday's stage and the American didn't do anything to dissuade him from that point of view as he further ate into the French Dakar legend's lead. Gordon, whose best Dakar finish was third in 2009, completed Tuesday's marathon in 4hours 35min 21sec, 1min 38sec faster than Peterhansel, while Monday's stage winner, Peterhansel's Mini team mate Nani Roma was third, 8min 37sec adrift.
Peterhansel - a six-times motorcycle and three-time car Dakar winner - holds an advantage of almost six minutes on the Nascar veteran going into the final five days of the race. Gordon said that he had no option but to attack in what remained of the Rally but he sounded full of confidence. “We're in a different position to Peterhansel,” said Gordon. “He has to conserve his time and I've got to make it. We've got four days left, four real days of racing left (the final stage on Sunday is just 29km long) and the Hummer's strong.” Peterhansel admitted that Gordon had got the better of him but took the retirement of Al-Attiyah as a boost for him and his Mini team. “We're going to fight to hold on to the slender lead we have over Gordon,” he said. “I started to wonder if Nasser was having technical problems when I saw that he wasn't catching me up. “It means that Gordon is on his own now and for us that makes things a little bit better. There are flaws with the Hummers. I just hope that we'll be able to take advantage of them.”
Gordon's joy was in stark contrast to that of his fellow Hummer pilot Al-Attiyah who had been plagued by problems since the start in Mar Del Plata on New Year's Day. He lined up for Tuesday's ninth stage in sixth position overall, eight minutes behind Peterhansel, having struggled to make up the loss of 10 minutes on the opening stage. Al-Attiyah, who is hoping to compete in his third Olympic Games in shooting at London 2012, lost more precious time when he was forced to make three unscheduled stops, finally throwing in the towel at the 174km mark. Initial reports suggest his American-backed Hummer had suffered problems with its alternator. (www.iol.co.za)
Jason Leffler To Drive For Kyle Busch Motorsports
Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM) announced today that Jason Leffler will be the primary driver of the team's No. 18 Tundra in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for the 2012 season. The veteran driver will be behind the wheel for at least 14 races this season, beginning with the season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway. Dollar General, the nation's largest small-box retailer, will serve as the primary sponsor for Leffler's 14-race schedule. Leffler has been a fixture in the NASCAR Nationwide Series throughout the last decade, finishing in the top 10 of the final point standings each of the last five seasons. In 292 career Nationwide Series starts, the 36-year-old driver has recorded two wins, eight poles, 42 top-five and 106 top-10 finishes.
In 46 career Truck Series starts, the California native has registered one win, 19 top-five and 29 top-10 finishes. Leffler's 10 career poles rank him 10th on the series all-time list. In 2002, he captured a series-leading eight poles, ranked second with 494 laps led and collected 11 top-five and 15 top-10 finishes en route to a fourth-place finish in the final Truck Series point standings. In 2010, KBM's No. 18 Tundra became the first team since the Truck Series originated in 1995 to win an owner's championship in its inaugural season. In just two seasons of competition, the team has already visited Victory Lane 16 times and produced 32 top-five finishes in 50 starts. In 11 races with Dollar General as the primary sponsor, KBM has registered four wins - including its historic first victory at Nashville Superspeedway in 2010 - and eight top-five finishes.
Robby Gordon Moves To Second Place Overall In Stage Eight
International fans were treated to American V8 thunder as Robby Gordon launched an all-out attack on today’s Stage 8 of the Dakar™ rally. The determined Gordon surged forward with his #303 SPEED Energy / Toyo Tires HUMMER to finish second place in the stage, moving him to second overall in the 14-stage rally. The route traveled 477km northward from Copiapó, Chile to the town of Antofagasta on the Pacific Ocean. Gordon is now easily within striking distance of the overall lead of the Dakar. Teammate Nasser Al-Attiyah, drove his #300 Qatar HUMMER to a fifth place finish in the stage and sixth overall. Both HUMMERS are equipped with Toyo® Open Country M/T®-R tires.
Nani Roma completed a great day for Spain by winning his second stage of the race in the car section in his Mini though French Dakar legend Stephane Peterhansel retained the overall lead. Coma had been over seven minutes behind Despres going into the 477km stage from Copiapo but the Spaniard benefited from his fellow KTM rider having problems early on when he got stuck in a boggy patch which had not been highlighted in the racebook. Despres eventually came in 17min 20sec in arrears of Coma but race stewards took into account his time spent in the bog and amended his time accordingly to 9min 14sec — he trails Coma by 1min 26sec in the overall standings.
Coma’s fourth stage of the Rally saw him finish in a time of 5hr 03min and 52sec, seven minutes faster than his team-mate Portuguese rider Ruben Faria while the latter’s compatriot, Yamaha rider Helder Rodrigues, was 7min 10sec adrift in third. Roma — a former winner in the motorbike section — finished in a time of 4hr 25min 44sec, five seconds quicker than American Robby Gordon, driving a Hummer, while former overall leader and fellow Mini pilot Krzysztof Holowczyc was third 2min 04sec adrift. Peterhansel — a six-time Dakar motorcycling champion and three-time car winner — came in fourth 5min 38sec slower while defending champion Nasser Al-Attiyah of Qatar was fifth in his Hummer but lost more time on the overall leader as he was 8min 09sec adrift. Gordon slashed three minutes off 46-year-old Peterhansel’s overall lead and trails him by 7min 36sec.
Mark Martin To Drive For JGR In Nationwide At 'Vegas
Mark Martin, slated to run a limited Sprint Cup schedule for Michael Waltrip Racing in 2012, will compete in the Nationwide Series at Las Vegas for Joe Gibbs Racing. No other starts with the team are currently scheduled for Martin. Gibbs officials did not indicate whether Martin’s appearance would be in the team’s No. 20 or No. 18 entry. Martin, 52, has 49 career victories in Nationwide competition, in addition to his 40 career wins in Cup. He made four starts for Turner Motorsports last season in the Nationwide Series, earning the team its first series victory with a win at Las Vegas. JGR driver Kyle Busch passed Martin last year and is the series’ all-time win leader with 51 career victories.(scenedaily.com)
Tiny Lund's Widow Found Dead
Wanda Lund-Early, who was married to NASCAR star DeWayne “Tiny” Lund when Lund was killed in the 1975 Talladega 500, died Thursday night from what Waynesville, N.C., police are treating as a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Lund-Early, 65, was found dead at her home after police received a call asking for it (to) do a welfare check on her, said Waynesville Police Department Lieutenant Chris Chandler. A final determination on the cause of death will be made following the report issued by the medical examiner, which could take months, Chandler said. He said the investigation remains open but they are not looking for any suspects at this time. Notice of her death was posted on TinyLund.com. “We know Wanda is at the 'big track in the sky' laughing it up with her beloved Tiny once again,” the post said.(scenedaily.com)
Stage Seven: Nasser Al-Attiyah First, Robby Gordon Second
Defending champion Nasser Al-Attiyah of Qatar won Saturday's seventh stage of the Dakar Rally with Stephane Peterhansel of France finishing third and keeping the overall lead. A day after a Dakar stage was canceled because of a snowed-in Andes pass, competitors took to soft sand and dunes in a 260-mile loop course around the northern Chilean city of Copiapo in the Atacama region, one of the driest places on Earth. Al-Attiyah, whose Hummer has been fast but plagued by bad luck, finally dominated to the end of a stage. He beat second-place American teammate Robby Gordon by 7 minutes, 30 seconds. Peterhansel was 7:53 behind in his Mini and happy to concede a 1-2 finish to the Hummers, who aren't title contenders for now. Peterhansel, a nine-time Dakar champion, was atop the overall -- 11:22 ahead of Krzysztof Holowczyc of Poland and 13:09 in front of Gordon. Al-Attiyah was 43 minutes behind the leader. "Our objective is to claw back seven or eight minutes every day," Al-Attiyah said. "We have no choice if we still want to win the Dakar." -- Sunday is a rest day. The rally ends on Jan. 15 in Lima, Peru.(ESPN)