Column: Enough With Practice: Next Up Is The Great American Race; Getting Ready For The Daytona 500

Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – DAYTONA BEACH, FL – Toyota drivers hope no practice makes perfect.

Ford drivers, on the other hand, think they found something en masse during Saturday’s final practice for the DAYTONA 500.

At least Brad Keselowski believes he did.

Needless to say, the final practice for the Great American Race brought radically different approaches from the three NASCAR Cup Series manufacturers.

The Fords drafted in a large pack, with Keselowski setting the top speed in the session at 191.201 mph (47.071 seconds).

A handful of Chevrolet drivers lacked the same level of organization, looking for tweaks they could make to their individual cars.

From the Toyota camp, Tyler Reddick practiced pit entry and pit exit but didn’t complete a lap in his No. 45 23XI Racing Camry. The rest of the Toyota contingent eschewed practice entirely.

Keselowski found practice in the draft with his fellow Ford drivers extremely productive.

“The best practice is not when you get it right; it’s when you can’t get it wrong,” Keselowski said. “I think we’re practicing to where we can’t get it wrong and looking for any little hole and what we have to be able (to do) to remedy it.

Keselowski ran 14 laps during the session while his RFK Racing teammate, Chris Buescher, remained in the garage.

“I think Chris’ car was dialed in really well and they were in a great spot, and they still are in a great spot,” Keselowski explained. “I was a little less happy with mine and wanted to try to find something, so I’m happy to put that work in this morning to see if we could find it—and I feel like we did.”

AJ Allmendinger was fastest among the Chevrolet drivers and seventh fastest overall at 190.811 mph. For the driver of the No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet, practice was another chance to learn and gain familiarity with the NASCAR Cup Series Next Gen car, and it helped Allmendinger set his strategy for Sunday’s race.

“I think, as we’ve all seen, it’s hard to get a third line working around here,” Allmendinger said. “In the past, I was always one of those guys that would kind of just sit back early on in the race and just let it develop. Some of it, at those times, maybe I didn’t quite have the speed to consistently run up front. So, it was more about trying to time when to get up front and stay there at the end of the race.

“With this car, I feel like you have to have more track position early on. So, with 100 laps to go—I think 60 to 70 to go—you need your track position. It’s hard to try to get back up there. What I fought in the (Thursday’s) Duel was I felt like we were pretty decent, but it’s just hard to make moves. So, I think trying to get up front—however we do that—and obviously trying to stay there, especially after halfway, is going to be really critical.”


The “King” Cherishes His DAYTONA 500 Crowns

Deservedly so, seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Richard Petty will join a group of nine drivers who have won both a NASCAR Cup Series title and the DAYTONA 500 trophy to deliver the starting command for the Great American Race (Feb. 19 at 2:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

The high-profile names include Petty, Jeff Gordon, Bobby Allison, Bill Elliott, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Jarrett. Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick, and reigning series champion Joey Logano will give the command Sunday as the sport celebrates its 75th Anniversary. Three of them – Johnson, Harvick and Logano – will then climb into their cars and compete in the DAYTONA 500.

Among those champions, NASCAR Hall of Famer Petty is the all-time winningest DAYTONA 500 competitor with seven victories.

“It’s really hard to say,” Petty said of choosing his favorite victory. “I’ve been fortunate to win seven races and two or three I probably shouldn’t have won but then there was two or three we had trouble and should have won. So, it all equals itself out. The one that really haunts me is the ’76 race when [David] Pearson and myself crashed in Turn 4. That still bothers me, did I made the mistake, or did he make the mistake, must have been I made the mistake because I ran second.”

“If you look back at Richard Petty races, and probably the thing that made people stand out and pay attention was that I was winning the DAYTONA 500,” he continued. “If you win the DAYTONA 500, you’re a winner all year long. … Winning the DAYTONA 500 is winning NASCAR’s Super Bowl.”

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