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Patrick plays it safe to hold onto Daytona pole, other news

Published February 21, 2013

We’ll see how long pole-sitter Danica Patrick can stay out front Sunday when the Daytona 500 gets the green flag.

In the first of two Daytona qualifyers Thursday, Patrick dropped back pretty quickly and trundled around at the back of the pack in order to stay out of trouble, eventually finishing 17th in a field of 23 cars. Her car owner, Gene Haas, had suggested she start-and-park because she could lose the pole if she crashed during the qualifier, as has happened to other drivers in previous years. But she just took it easy and will go off No. 1 on Sunday.

Kevin Harvick won that first qualifier, holding off Greg Biffle just as he did last Saturday night to win the Sprint Unlimited. Kyle Busch won the second qualifier ahead of Kasey Kahne.

Only 45 cars were entered in the 500 this year, leaving the qualifyers to eliminate two cars and drivers. Brian Keselowski, brother of Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski, didn’t make it, nor did Mike Bliss.

The only real excitement in the two races came on the last lap of the first race when Denny Hamlin lost control and Carl Edwards crashed. Regan Smith and Trevor Bayne were also involved.

The Camping World Truck Series will kick off the 2013 NASCAR racing season Friday night under the lights. The Nationwide Series will race Saturday and, of course, the Cup cars go Sunday. I suggest the truck race will be of particular interest to fans in the GTA because the series and many of the drivers will race at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park on Labour Day weekend.

Here is some other racing news to chew on:

- Fernando Alonso was fastest in his Ferrari on the third day of the second open F1 test. Does it mean anything? Nope.

- Cameron Hayley, a 16-year-old from Calgary, Alta., won the late-model portion of the UNOH Battle At The Beach at Daytona International Speedway earlier this week. The modified portion was won by former NASCAR Cup driver Steve Park.  

Racing was conducted on a .4-mile short track on Daytona’s backstretch.

Hayley capitalized on a last-lap bump-and-run move involving two other drivers to win the 150-lap NASCAR K&N Pro Series event.

“I went to the outside, and (Gary Gaulding) kind of pushed me to the wall a little bit and I had to back out,” Hayley said of the green-white-checkered restart. “But I just kept on it hard, hard into (Turns 3 and 4), and we ended up with the win. It was pretty crazy.”

NASCAR Canadian Tire Series champion D.J. Kennington finished in the top ten.

Hayley will kick off his second full season in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West March 2 at Phoenix International Raceway.

- Speaking of rising stars, Canada’s Robert Wickens has made the cut for a second full season in the German Touring Car Championship. Wickens, of Guelph and Toronto, will drive again for Mercedes alongside 2005 champion Gary Paffett, ex-F1 star Ralf Schumacher and young guns Roberto Merhi, Christian Vietoris and Daniel Juncadella. They will be mentored by Mercedes F1 driver Nico Rosberg.

Said Wickens: “The DTM is one of the world’s best and most popular racing series and I am very pleased that Mercedes-Benz has given me the chance again this year to see how I measure up against the best touring car drivers, competing at the highest level. I know that I have a lot to learn for 2013 but Mercedes has given me the opportunity to learn as fast as possible. I can’t wait to progress to the next stage this year.”

The championship was won in 2012 by Canadian Bruno Spengler, driving for BMW.

- Nelson Mason of Niagara Falls won the first race in the European F3 Open championship at Circuit Paul Ricard in France at the weekend. Mason is using the F3 series to promote maseRace developments and the City of Niagara Falls, Canada.

- Sick Bay: “Crazy” Leo Urlichich won’t compete at this weekend’s 100 Acre Wood Rally in Missouri. The Canadian driver will miss the Rally America event because of a concussion and broken bones in his chest and hands due to a skiing crash in Austria. And Jacques Villeneuve Sr. remains in hospital in Quebec in serious condition after being hurt in a snowmobile race.

- Iowa’s Ryan Winchester has been signed by Karl Thompson’s Toronto-based Compass360 Racing team to partner Aaron Povoledo at the next Grand-Am Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge round at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Tex., next weekend. Winchester will stand in for regular team driver David Thilenius, who was injured in a crash at the Grand-Am season opener at Daytona International Speedway on Jan. 25. . . .

- The next Brian Graham-led Team Canada Canadian Driver to the Formula Ford Festival in England program will see two young Canadians go up against the world instead of one, as has been the case the last two years. Xavier Coupal nearly won the thing the first year, in 2011, and 2012 rep Garett Grist has since signed with Andretti Autosport to contend the U.S. Formula 2000 series in 2013.

“We are so pleased to expand our program and go to England with not one but two shots at glory,” said Graham, a Team Canada Scholarship founder who has been supported by Grote Manufacturing and The Race Drivers Guild of Canada. “We will be announcing some new partners shortly and will be revamping the website (www.teamcanadaracing.org ) to give weekly updates and let people know about some events we will be holding during the year to raise funds as well as awareness of the Scholarship.”

- B.C.’s two main Sportsman Racing Series have merged and will run under the ASA OK Tire Sportsman Series presented by Advance Testing banner. The series will run the existing OK Tire Sportsman Series schedule throughout British Columbia on the Hoosier 970 tire run last season by the ASA Advance Testing tour. All other rules will remain unchanged.

- Jayski reported this the other day: “NASCAR will end its policy of providing estimated attendance figures in its race reports this season. Spokesman Kerry Tharp said tracks still will have the option of providing crowd estimates, but it will be their prerogative. ‘NASCAR’s race reports generally becomes a box score for the media, and box scores from sporting events do not generally provide estimates,’ Tharp said. Of the 23 tracks that play host to races in NASCAR’s premier series, 21 are owned by publicly traded companies such as International Speedway Corp. and Speedway Motorsports Inc. Officials with those tracks have said they don’t provide attendance figures because they don’t want to provide earnings guidance.”

Right. They don’t want to provide earnings guidance.

Sure.

In fact, they don’t want to say publicly that there were only 20,000 paid admissions in a 75,000-seat stadium – the same reason the Honda Indy Toronto won’t release attendance figures.

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