- Associated Press - Friday, February 21, 2014

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) - Five things to know about what’s going on at Daytona International Speedway in advance of Sunday’s season-opening Daytona 500:


RAIN, RAIN: Intermittent showers soaked Daytona International Speedway on Friday and washed out the second of two practices for the Daytona 500. The rain caused concern for several teams that are moving to backup cars for the season opener. Martin Truex Jr.’s crew failed to get his No. 78 Chevrolet on track for the first practice Friday. Truex totaled his primary car during the second qualifying race Thursday night and had to switch to the backup car. But getting it prepped and ready took more time than the team had between the late-night finish and the morning practice. With rain wiping out the afternoon session and with more in the forecast Saturday, there is a chance Truex might not even get to turn a lap before the 500. “That’s not the scenario we want,” Truex said. Six-time and defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson also went to a backup car and failed to get on track Friday. Johnson and Truex were among the 14 drivers who didn’t practice. The list includes Michael Waltrip, Clint Bowyer and David Ragan, all of whom wrecked in the qualifying race, as well as Kevin Harvick, Kyle Larson and AJ Allmendinger.


NEW-LOOK QUALIFYING: With a little help from teammate Danica Patrick, rookie Dylan Kwasniewski won the pole for the Nationwide Series season opener at Daytona. Kwasniewski became the first rookie since Rusty Wallace in 1985 to win the pole at Daytona. He followed Patrick and fellow Turner Scott Motorsports teammate Kyle Larson through traffic in Friday’s qualifying session - the first under NASCAR’s new knockout format. The 18-year-old Kwasniewski topped the speed chart with a lap at 192.078 mph in the rain-shortened session. “I was nervous the entire time,” Kwasniewski said. “I was nervous before I went out. I was nervous while I was running. I was nervous after we ran the lap, sitting there waiting to know what was going to go on. So to be a part of this historical, first-time qualifying effort, and to actually be up top, it’s crazy. … It’s an extraordinary feeling.”


LUCKY LABONTE: Two-time NASCAR champion Terry Labonte needed a little luck to land a spot in his final Daytona 500. Labonte, who insists his 32nd “Great American Race” will be his last, was running 17th with about three laps to go in a qualifying race Thursday night and looked like he would miss the 500 for the first time since 2010. But Casey Mears ran out of gas and had to pit, putting the 57-year-old Labonte in NASCAR’s premier event. A big wreck on the final lap gave Labonte even more breathing room as he finished 12th. “I told (my owner) this is my last 500, and I thought it would (stink) not to make the race,” Labonte said. “Thank goodness we did. Unfortunately some other guys had problems. It’s the first time I’ve ever had to go through that.” Labonte is running at least four races this year for Go FAS Racing, which is co-owned by friend Frank Stoddard.


BALLOT ANNOUNCED: NASCAR champions Bill Elliott and Terry Labonte are among the first-year eligible nominees for the sanctioning body’s Hall of Fame. Mark Martin failed to make the ballot in his first year of eligibility. NASCAR announced sweeping changes to the election process last year, making drivers eligible if they have competed for 30 or more years in NASCAR or turned 55 in the calendar year before nominating day. Previously, drivers weren’t eligible until they had been retired for three years, so drivers can continue to compete and still reach the Hall. The ballot will also include only 20 nominees, down five from the first five classes.


WEIGHTY ISSUE: NASCAR team owner Chip Ganassi and his former driver, Juan Pablo Montoya, have spoken a few times since they parted ways after the 2013 season. One of their topics of conversation: Montoya’s weight loss. Montoya has dropped at least 20 pounds since moving to IndyCar to drive for Roger Penske. “I was a little disappointed about that, to tell you the truth,” Ganassi said Friday at Daytona International Speedway. “But I told him that. But you know, that’s entirely up to him and what he does with it.”

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