The longest and most convoluted qualifying procedure in motorsports is finally over, and the field is set for Sunday’s Daytona 500. Danica Patrick played it safe in the first Duel qualifying race on Thursday, keeping her car intact and finishing 17th. However, she will start on the pole by virtue of being the fastest qualifier last Sunday. Jeff Gordon, who set the second-fastest qualifying time on pole day, will start alongside Patrick. Gordon was much more aggressive in the second Duel race, leading the first two-thirds of the event. Unfortunately, a pit road speeding violation and the subsequent drive-through penalty dropped him to 12th at the finish. Duel 2 went green all the way, with Kyle Busch taking the win over Kasey Kahne. Kevin Harvick won Duel 1, which featured a wreck involving Denny Hamlin, Trevor Bayne and Carl Edwards. It was Edwards’ fourth crash during Speedweeks so far. If the team can’t repair the car, he will have to go to the rear of the field for the start of the Daytona 500.The Gen 6 Sprint Cup car has proved to be a much different animal than its predecessor. Drivers need to be much more precise, and drafting techniques are much different. Harvick talked about the precision required to stay up front after the race, and Kahne said that passing for the lead probably won’t be a matter of a last-lap slingshot move. It should be a very interesting race, with lots of lead changes and a high probability of a “big one” or two.What I particularly like about this new car is that each make is distinctive and resembles its street counterpart more closely than the previous iteration did. Although the body components are noticeably changed from the old car, all the safety improvements were carried over, as were the basic chassis and suspension components. But it means that every team is starting from square one as far as finding the optimum setup. Last year’s notebook might as well be written in Sanskrit for all the help it will be. And making adjustments during the race will be a hit or miss proposition until the teams have collected more data on how the cars respond to those adjustments. Yes, teams had fairly extensive test opportunities compared to last season, but testing isn’t racing.•••Carson City’s Mackena Bell made her first Daytona appearance on Monday in the Whelen All American Late Model segment of the inaugural UNOH Battle at the Beach. Bell finished 13th in her heat race and qualified for the main. Unfortunately, she dropped out after only 19 laps and was credited with a 27th place finish. Kyle Larson, Bell’s teammate at Revolution Racing last year, won the main event. The 20-year-old driver has local ties, having raced Outlaw Karts against many of our area drivers. He was a teammate of Gardnerville driver Tanner Thorson a couple of years ago. Larson is immediately quick in anything he drives, as he has proven in karts, midgets, sprint cars, and stock cars. He won the K&N Pro Series East championship in 2012, and came within a hairsbreadth of winning one of his Camping World Truck series starts. Larson will run the 2013 Nationwide series for Turner Motorsports. He finished second in the Daytona ARCA race earlier this past week, a prerequisite for NASCAR certification to run today’s Nationwide event there.Bell will be at the wheel of a K&N Pro Series East Toyota for Revolution Racing when their season kicks off at Bristol on March 16. I will be following her progress throughout the season, which I hope will be a successful one.
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