The 54th annual Daytona 500 -- NASCAR's biggest and most prestigious race -- will carry a record purse of more than $19 million as well as a new contingency award that will pay out $200,000 to the driver leading at the completion of Lap 100.
The posted awards for the Great American Race are $19,142,601 with the winner collecting a minimum of $1,431,325.
The Daytona 500 Mid-Race Leader Award will reward the driver leading the midway point of the historic 200-lap, 500-mile race with a $200,000 bonus. If the race is under caution at Lap 100, the leader of the race at the completion of the fifth consecutive green flag lap following the caution will receive the award.
"There is plenty of incentive for drivers to run up front the entire race but even more so at the halfway point and the last lap of the Daytona 500," Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood said. "This year's Great American Race stands to be one of the most exciting and thrilling ever seen, and will serve as a great kick-off to the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season."
Cassill gets 500 shot
Wednesday evening, Landon Cassill, the Iowa youngster who formerly was a Hendrick Motorsports development driver and made a bunch more fans in 2011 through his near-full season of work in James Finch's Phoenix Racing Chevrolet, had an opportunity for the Daytona 500 in a Front Row Motorsports Ford. But Thursday morning, he let Front Row general manager Jerry Freeze know he couldn't do it.
"We gave [Cassill] an out if he got a full-time racing deal," Freeze said. "And it sounds like he has one. No idea on who we'll get for now."
Cassill joined Finch in the 2011 season's fifth race and kept the independent owner in the top 35 in the owners' standings all season, resulting in a locked-in 2012 Daytona 500 start for Finch's new driver, Kurt Busch. Freeze had no details on Cassill's new deal.
Front Row's No. 26 Fusion currently has sponsorship from Morristown Driver's Service, an over-the-road trucking company based in Tennessee which is owned by Front Row principal Bob Jenkins. Jenkins' third car last year wore No. 55, but Michael Waltrip Racing took that number in conjunction with its sponsor, Aaron's, 55th anniversary, for the 2012 season.
Reutimann a lock, but not for 500?
The deal announced this week by Tommy Baldwin Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing to form a partnership that makes Danica Patrick's No. 10 Chevrolet a guaranteed starter in her first Daytona 500 via the points accrued last year by Dave Blaney in TBR's No. 36 Chevrolet had a spinoff beneficiary.
David Reutimann, who was looking at 26 2012 Sprint Cup races in a second TBR car as Blaney's teammate, now will join Patrick to contest all 36 races in the No. 10. By competing in every race, that car has a good chance to remain in the top 35 in the owners' standings and thus, remain a guaranteed starter each week no matter who's piloting it.
The bad news is TBR won't field a second car at Daytona for Reutimann, who will miss his first Daytona 500 since 2006. A TBR spokesperson also said there is no plan at this time to field a second TBR car at any of the other nine races Patrick is scheduled to do. As it is, Baldwin was quoted in media reports saying he was struggling to find enough sponsorship to field Blaney's car in all 36 races.
Reutimann, who told Sirius XM NASCAR Radio that sponsorship was not yet secured for his 26 guaranteed starts, either, still will benefit from the guaranteed starter status. TBR's spokesperson also confirmed the points earned by the 10 car this season would remain with TBR for the 2013 season. That means Patrick would again be in the market for a guaranteed starting position for the 2013 Daytona 500, which will be her first race in her first full Cup Series season for Stewart-Haas.
Another Nemechek on the horizon
When a race car driver can get Kyle Busch's attention -- particularly in a positive way -- he's really done something. When it's a 14-year-old getting high props, it elevates the respect quotient even higher.
That was the case for John Hunter Nemechek last weekend as the son of Sprint Cup and Nationwide series owner/driver Joe Nemechek -- in only his second start in a super late model car -- held off eventual Speedfest winner Busch for more than 60 laps at Watermelon Capital Speedway in Cordele, Ga.
Busch told young Nemechek "ur day isn't too far away #staysmoothe" on his Twitter feed shortly after the race. Joe Nemechek, who works with his son on his car as much as his schedule allows, has been with John Hunter for his first two SLM events -- the first of which came at New Smyrna Speedway in Samsula, Fla., about a half-hour south of Daytona International Speedway, earlier this year.
At January's Daytona Sprint Cup test, the elder Nemechek smiled and said he enjoyed working with his son's late model cars because teams were still able to twist, tweak and tune them, unlike current Sprint Cup cars, which NASCAR's rules package keep in a pretty tight box "that you can't do anything with," the ever-creative Nemechek said.
The teenage Nemechek plans to race the 10-night SLM schedule during February's World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing at New Smyrna and his father plans to be there as much as his busy DIS schedule -- where he'll compete in both Cup and Nationwide cars -- allows.
2013 Cup cars on track
NASCAR recently said its next on-track test for all four 2013 Sprint Cup Series models -- of which only Ford has revealed its Fusion to the public and none of the cars have officially been "aero-matched" by NASCAR -- didn't remain a secret for long, thanks to Twitter.
Kyle Busch said Tuesday that he was looking forward to testing the 2013 Toyota Camry on Wednesday. During the test , Busch tweeted a barb at Matt Kenseth, who by inference was testing Ford's 2013 car. New Hendrick Motorsports driver Kasey Kahne went even farther on his Twitter feed. Kahne said he was testing the new 2013 Chevy at Homestead and he was "excited to see how it feels."
Busch did admit that he was dying to show his fans what it looked like but he couldn't, as the car is set to be previewed later this month.
A.J. looking grand for Indy?
After winning his first race in more than five years, last weekend's 50th annual Rolex 24 at Daytona, A.J. Allmendinger was spinning off on all kinds of tangents. He talked about a trip to California for a commercial shoot for his Cup sponsor, a Grand-Am media opportunity, a Cup Series test at Disney World and, according to Grand-Am team owner Michael Shank, another Grand-Am race date on his calendar and maybe a little payback when Allmendinger gets his first Sprint Cup win.
On Tuesday, per a promise Shank made Allmendinger at a December test, the owner had Allmendinger's initials shaved into his hairdo. On the teleconference, Shank told Allmendinger he'd get his, namely getting the "MSR" logo for "Michael Shank Racing" shaved into Allmendinger's head.
"[Allmendinger] doesn't know that he agreed to it, but he'll have to cut his hair," Shank said, laughing. "I told him for his first NASCAR win, and I told his boss that this morning. So it's all clear there, A.J."
As he had all weekend, Allmendinger was quick with a retort, though he was serious about the Rolex Series' first date at Indianapolis, in conjunction with the annual Sprint Cup weekend in July that will include IMS's Nationwide Series inaugural event.
"I keep telling Shank, if he puts me in the car more than Daytona, I'd love to do that -- he hasn't done that yet for seven years," Allmendinger said. "So I would love to run Indy. For me I've always told Mike any time he needs me, I love driving the race car, so I'm there. Indy we've put on the schedule to try to make it happen, and hopefully the schedule and everything works out to that point. It's going to be a special race there."
Leave it to Shank, who altered his driving rotation to give Allmendinger the final, race-winning stint, to issue the final zinger.
"He's got to get a little bit better before I fully trust him," Shank said. "So once that happens, I'll put him in a little bit more."
Geoff Bodine still mining a ride
Former Daytona 500 winner Bodine last year opened a Honda motorcycle shop in Melbourne, on the mid-Florida "Space Coast" near Kennedy Space Center. But as Speedweeks approaches, he's more concerned about placing his sponsorship support for the 2012 Sprint Cup season from Luke & Associates, which is based near Bodine, with a partner team.
Bodine this week said he's still looking for a 2012 partner for 12 to 15 races after he made four 2011 starts for Baldwin's team.
NASCAR getting ready to get 'dirty'
Kenny Wallace this week started a road trip to Florida in which he'll race his dirt modified cars at no less than three storied Sunshine State tracks while also plying his normal trades -- as RAB Racing's primary Nationwide Series driver and part of SPEED TV's NASCAR broadcast crew.
Bobby Labonte and Clint Bowyer each own dirt late model teams that compete during the DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Fla. -- a half-hour north of Daytona -- while NASCAR veteran Ken Schrader and Austin and Ty Dillon all race dirt modified cars. Reutimann usually helps his dad, dirt legend Buzzie Reutimann.
Toyota's 'Super' prediction
A random sampling of more than a dozen key members of Toyota's Sprint Cup lineup of drivers and crew chiefs revealed a 10-4 edge for the New England Patriots defeating the New York Giants in Sunday's NFL Super Bowl. But before you think pure on-field prowess weighed too heavily into this, think again.
"I really don't have a favorite team," Denny Hamlin's new crew chief, Darian Grubb said. "I really don't want New England to win it -- more so I can pick on some of the guys on my race team."'