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Daytona 500 notebook: Ganassi drivers eye better results in qualifying duels

| Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013, 6:45 p.m.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Fox Chapel native Chip Ganassi wasn't overly pleased with his drivers' performances during qualifying for the Daytona 500. But he knows the real challenge awaits his team in the qualifying duels Thursday.

Only pole winner Danica Patrick and three-time champion Jeff Gordon on Sunday guaranteed their starting positions.

Montoya and McMurray, who didn't have a top-5 finish between them last season, will try to fight their way toward the lead pack on the starting grid during the 150-mile dual races.

• Patrick watched anxiously as her boyfriend, rookie Ricky Stenhouse Jr., threatened to bump her off the pole. But Stenhouse got loose in Turn 2 and couldn't recover quickly enough to challenge her. “The car was as good as it's been all weekend as far as speed,” Stenhouse said. “The guys did a good job of getting the car ready between practice and qualifying.” Patrick, who finished third in the Indianapolis 500 in 2009, said it wouldn't have mattered had Stenhouse worked his way on the front row. However, she acknowledged it would have been interesting with the two of them racing side by side at the start of The Great American Race. “No, he's never been another number,” Patrick said. “He's always been someone who has helped me and given me advice. He's always been fair to me on the track.”

• Stewart-Haas Racing bested Hendrick Motorsports using Hendrick engines. Stewart-Hass drivers posted the fastest lap (Patrick) and fourth- and fifth-fastest (Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart, respectively). Hendrick was second (Jeff Gordon), sixth (Kasey Kahne), 11th (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) and 21st (Jimmie Johnson). “I don't think we're doing anything different than the Hendrick cars,” Stewart said. “But we've been working for years to find something for the restrictor-plate races.”

• It shouldn't have come as a surprise that Patrick won the pole. She turned the fastest lap (196.220 mph) during Saturday practice sessions.

• Michael Waltrip, Aric Almirola, Johnson and Kahne were among 1,400 participants in the Daytona Beach Half Marathon on Sunday morning. Johnson posted the best time among the Sprint Cup drivers with a time of 1 hour, 29 minutes and 48 seconds.

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