DAYTONA ROUNDUP News and notes

Why test? Kevin Harvick was widely criticized for skipping the January testing session at Daytona, a practice session most teams use as a tune-up for the season-opener. Turns out, Harvick didn't need the extra work. Harvick posted the fourth fastest lap in Sunday's qualifying for the Daytona 500, a race he and his Richard Childress Racing team are usually very competitive in. "I wish everyone would be quiet and give [crew chief] Todd Berrier and this team some credit," Harvick said after turning his lap. "Just leave us alone and let us do our thing. We've really taken a lot of flack this offseason for not showing up to the test." Harvick and Berrier did not attend the test, sending an old car and driver Kerry Earnhardt to wheel it around the track. The test is not mandatory, but viewed as critical to get the season started off right. Harvick was not alone in skipping the test: Tony Stewart also stayed home. But he wasn't as strong on Sunday, qualifying 28th.
Leave the fast stuff home: Ricky Rudd knows his Ford is fast at restrictor-plate tracks. A year ago, he put the No. 21 on the front row twice at Talladega and qualified it third at Daytona. But strong qualifying laps weren't carrying over into the races and Rudd couldn't parlay his good starting spots into Top 10 finishes. It led him to make a radical decision in preparation for the Daytona 500: Rudd left cars he knew could challenge for the pole at home in favor of cars that would be stronger on race day. "When we made the decision to bring this car we knew we waved off on a chance for the pole," Rudd said after qualifying ninth. "The car we sat on the front row with at Talladega, we brought it here for the test and it was quite a bit quicker than this car. But it didn't race as drive as good." New qualifying procedures allowed Rudd to change his strategy. Because the top 35 teams in the points last season are guaranteed starting spots, Rudd knew he was making the race no matter how he qualified. So he didn't have to worry about making the race on speed and instead could focus on trying to win the 500. "With the new format we said we want to race good and we knew we were locked in on a starting position, so lets get a car that really races good," he said.
Fire! Sitting in his motorhome watching qualifying on television, Greg Biffle learned his shot at winning the pole had gone up in flames -- literally. Biffle's No. 16 Ford caught fire while sitting on pit road because of a short circuit in an oil tank line. The fire was put out, but much of the cockpit was charred in a car Biffle considered strong. He still made his qualifying lap, ending up 14th, and a little nauseous from the experience. "I knew that there was going to be some of the fire extinguisher chemical inside the car and it was the worst taste ever in my mouth," Biffle said. "That was the most thing I was worried about making my qualifying laps was that it smelled so bad inside the car with all that chemical in there -- under the seat and everywhere. That was probably the worst time I've ever been in a race car." Biffle said his Roush Racing team will attempt the clean the car out and continue to use it this week instead of going to a backup Ford. But after a promising fifth-place finish in Saturday night's exhibition race, the fast start to the season that Biffle had hoped to get off to had been derailed. "It just seems like our season isn't starting out like we need it to," Biffle said.
Associated Press

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