Earnhardt dominates rainy day at Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — There wasn’t a lot of panic in the NASCAR garage area when rain washed out a lot of practice for today’s pole qualifying for the Daytona 500.

Most teams were focusing on getting their car comfortable, not fast, at  Daytona International Speedway. And they know a good starting spot for next week’s Daytona 500 doesn’t always translate to a good finish.

But for some, the chance to run fast, even for a few minutes as rain approached, was important.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the fastest in the abbreviated practice session Friday. His Hendrick Motorsports teammates, Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon, were second and third, respectively.

Today’s qualifying session (1 p.m., Fox-Ch. 54) will lock in the top-two starting spots for the race on Feb. 14. The rest of the starting spots will be determined after a pair of 150-mile qualifying races on Thursday.

Earnhardt was happy to be in the car after a two-month layoff. He also was happy to go fast.

“I’m really looking forward to getting in the car, do some driving,” he said. “We didn’t do a lot of testing in the off-season. I do like to drive, so I’m looking forward to that.”

Earnhardt’s Chevrolet was clocked at 188.679 mph. Martin was second at 188.616, followed by Gordon in third at 187.950. Bill Elliott was fourth, followed by Robby Gordon in fifth, Ryan Newman in sixth and Kurt Busch in seventh.

Only two Daytona 500 winners started from the pole in the past  21 years – Gordon in 1999 and Dale Jarrett in 2000. Matt Kenseth won last year’s race after starting 39th, and Ryan Newman won in 2007 from 34th.

LAS VEGAS INVITES OBAMA: Days after President Barack  Obama warned people not to “blow a bunch of cash” in Las Vegas, officials at  Las Vegas Motor Speedway extended an invitation for him to be the grand marshal for the Shelby American race on Feb. 28.

The speedway said it hoped he could see firsthand the benefits of tourism in Las Vegas.

“It’s a shame that the president doesn’t realize the impact of tourism on the Las Vegas economy,” said track president Chris Powell. “Telling people not to visit Las Vegas is the same as telling them not to buy vegetables would be to a farmer in the Midwest.”

DANICA PACES INDY PRICES:  Indianapolis Motor Speedway has offered a unique ticket deal involving Danica Patrick.
The track will reduce the price of its Tower Terrace tickets by $1 for every lap she leads in today’s Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200 for the ARCA Series.