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by Dave Grayson
Saturday, February 21, 2009

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. addresses the media for the first time since being involved in a late race incident during the Daytona 500
Jason Smith/Getty Images
Less than a week ago NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Brian Vickers was the focus of a huge controversy following last Sunday's Daytona 500. A run-in with fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr, that triggered a ten car crash in the final moments of the rain-shortened race, put Vickers in a position of having to endure nearly a week's worth of finger pointing and negative comments. This was despite the fact that the results of a nationwide poll, voted on by well over 100,000 fans, said Earnhardt should receive the lion's share of the responsibility for what happened.

There's an old saying that states "when life hands you a bunch of lemons then you should use them to make lemonade." When Vicker's Red Bull Racing team arrived in Fontana-California  last Thursday they were determined to put anything and everything related to Daytona behind them and keep their focus on what was needed to win Sunday's Auto Club 500. Vickers proved he wasn't kidding during Friday afternoon's Auto Club 500 qualifying session. His Toyota ripped off a lap of 39.250 seconds around the speedway's two mile oval. The 183.439 MPH lap held up through the afternoon and turned out to be good enough to put Team Red Bull on the pole position for Sunday's race as well as collecting the check for winning the Coors Light Pole. The effort was Vicker's sixth career pole and it's exactly the shot in the arm this team needed after last Sunday's misery.

The qualifying times were typically NASCAR close. Jimmie Johnson's Lowes Chevrolet will start on the outside of the front row after posting a lap of 183.164 MPH. The effort marks the eighth time the three time NASCAR champion will be starting a race on the front row at the Auto Club Speedway. Jamie McMurray's Crown Royal Ford will start on the inside of row two following a qualifying lap 182.653 MPH. In somewhat of a surprise the outside of row two will be occupied by Kurt Busch and his Miller Lite Dodge after he ran a lap at 182.556 MPH.

Other fan favorites in Sunday's line up includes Tony Stewart who will start 11th in his Old Spice/Office Depot Chevrolet. Robby Gordon in his Jim Beam Ford garnered a lot of praise for his 12th place berth. The always popular Mark Martin will start 18th in his Carquest/Kellogg’s Chevrolet while Kevin "Happy" Harvick will start along side of him in 19th in his Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet. Kasey Kahne in the Budweiser Dodge lines up 22nd along side of Denny Hamlin in his FedEx Freight Toyota. Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth, in his Carhart Ford,  lines up 24th along side of Roush Fenway team mate Carl Edwards in the Aflac Ford.

If there were some surprises in the qualifying session for the Auto Club 500 it may be with super rookie Joey Logano who could only manage a 34th starting berth in his Home Depot Toyota. Equally surprising was the driver who will start next to him. Dale Earnhardt Jr's Amp Energy/National Guard Chevrolet had a terrible lap well off of the leader's pace and will have to start 35th. Another big surprise came in Jeff Burton's extremely slow two lap run. The driver of the Caterpillar Chevrolet will be starting 41st on Sunday.

On the opposite extreme A J Allmendinger, in the Charter Dot Comm Dodge, was the fastest among the go or go home brigade and earned an extremely impressive 8th starting spot. Scott Speed, driver of the Red Bull Toyota, was the fastest among the 2009 rookie class and will start an equally impressive ninth.

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MORE ENGINE FAILURE THAN ANYONE NEEDS.

Crew members representing drivers Michael Waltrip, David Reutimann and Marcus Ambrose  had a very anxious moment on Thursday while in the process of flying into the Ontario Airport adjacent to the Auto Club Speedway. According to FAA officials the private plane. a Canada Air CL60 registered to Michael Waltrip Racing, lost oil pressure in the left engine and had to be shut down. The plane was rerouted to the McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. During the course of landing the plane's right motor got locked in a reverse thrust. Emergency officials, led by the Clark County Fire Department, were on hand to cover any possible emergency which thankfully didn't happen.

Unfortunately the engine failure that plagued Michael Waltrip Racing didn't end at the Las Vegas Airport. During Friday's qualifying the engine in Waltrip's Napa Toyota simply wouldn't fire. When the car failed to come out on the track to qualify NASCAR had no choice but to list Waltrip as a DNQ. Fortunately Waltrip is within NASCAR's top 35 in owner's points and will start Sunday's race at the rear of the field.

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TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS

To no real surprise it was announced yesterday that Yates Racing and driver David Gilliland will officially part ways. This is due to economics and the team's failure to find a sponsor for the #38 Ford. The parting is very amiable and both sides had nothing but warm regards and high praise for each other. Gilliland recently signed a four race deal to drive a Chevrolet for TRG Motorsports. He will start 32nd in the field for Sundays Auto Club 500.

It's looks like we will be seeing a lot more of the Aflac Duck on the hood of Carl Edward's Ford this year. Last May the well known insurance company signed a full primary sponsorship deal with Roush Fenway Racing, reported to be three years at $26 million per season. They planned to cover the sponsorship themselves for 20 to 25 races with the idea of selling the sponsor rights, for the remaining 11 to 16 events, to other corporations. Aflac did sell three races to Subway Restaurants and one race to Claritin. But since that time the economy changed. But so did Carl Edward's status in NASCAR Sprint Cup racing. Edwards had a super season in 2008 with a series high nine wins and was also a major player in the Chase For The Championship. Now it appears that Aflac is no longer that interested in selling those extra races. A corporate spokesman indicated that Aflac won't sell any more the races at this time and if they do it's going to have to be to a company that's a perfect fit with Aflac's business model.

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