Earnhardt Jr. quickest in final practice for Daytona 500

Daytona Beach, FL (Sports Network) - Dale Earnhardt Jr. posted the fastest lapwhile Danica Patrick opted not to participate in Saturday's final practicesession for the Daytona 500.

Earnhardt, who won this prestigious race in 2004, turned a lap at 198.592 mphin his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. He completed just 11 laps aroundthe 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway. David Gilliland was secondquickest during at 198.421 mph. Clint Bowyer was third, followed by RichardPetty Motorsports teammates Marcos Ambrose and Aric Almirola. Earnhardt willstart 19th in Sunday's 500-mile race after finishing ninth in the first of thetwin-qualifiers on Thursday.

There were no incidents during the one-and-a-half hour practice.

Patrick, who is a rookie contender in the Sprint Cup Series this year and thepole winner for this race, was one of 10 drivers in the 43-car field for theDaytona 500 that did not participate in the last practice. Her teammate andcar owner, Tony Stewart, as well as three-time Daytona 500 champion JeffGordon and defending race winner Matt Kenseth did not run in the session aswell.

"I finally said in the hauler after we were done (in practice), 'We aredefinitely, definitely, definitely starting on the front row for the 500 nowbecause we are done'," Patrick said during a press conference after Friday'spractice at Daytona had concluded.

Her crew chief, Tony Gibson, agreed.

"We have speed, and she can definitely get it done," he said.

Drivers have played it safe on the track during the past two practices, inhopes of not wrecking their primary cars and going to a backup vehicle for theDaytona 500.

Last Sunday, Patrick became the first woman to win a pole position for a racein NASCAR's premier series. She ran somewhat conservatively in the firstBudweiser Duel (twin qualifiers) to finish 17th. After completing 32 laps andrunning in a draft of several cars during yesterday's practice, Patrick feelsconfident that she can win the Daytona 500. She would become the first driverto start on the pole and win this race since Dale Jarrett did it in 2000.

"I know I'm inexperienced, and I know that I'm a rookie out there," she said."I will do the best job I can. I believe I do have a chance to win. I dobelieve experience would help, but it doesn't mean that I don't have a chanceto win."

Tomorrow's race is scheduled to start at 1 p.m. ET. Weather might be a factor,as the National Weather Service has forecasted a 50 percent chance ofprecipitation for the Daytona Beach in the afternoon.


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