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Published: Thursday, 2/12/2009

Almirola fastest so far at Daytona


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Aric Almirola set the pace during Sprint Cup practice at Daytona International Speedway yesterday, while defending Daytona 500 champion Ryan Newman and two-time 500 winner Michael Waltrip ran into a bit of trouble on the 2.5-mile tri-oval.

Almirola posted a lap of 191.436 mph in his No. 8 Chevrolet during the afternoon session, the fastest lap in either of the hour-long practice runs the day before final qualifying for Sunday's race.

Matt Kenseth (191.347), Jeff Gordon (191.335) and Kyle Busch (191.054) also topped 191 mph during the afternoon session. All four times were faster than the best laps turned during the morning session, when Kasey Kahne led the way with a lap at 190.994 mph.

Waltrip and Jamie McMurray will both have to go to a backup car for today's 150-mile qualifiers after colliding during afternoon practice.

The two were in a group coming out of turn four when Waltrip got a little too close to Kasey Kahne. Waltrip's No. 55 Toyota dipped inside, collecting McMurray's No. 26 Ford and sending them both spinning onto the grass.

McMurray, who finished second in the Budweiser Shootout last Saturday, said it looked like Kahne and Waltrip were bump-drafting just before the wreck.

"When the 55 hit me it didn't really tear up a lot, it just left a tire flat and then most of the damage was hitting the dirt," McMurray said.

Newman had a bumpy morning session, blowing the engine on his No. 39 Stewart-Haas Chevrolet. He returned for the afternoon run but ran 40th best with a top lap of 187.036.

Sprint Cup rookie Joey Logano's tough week continued during the morning session when his No. 20 Toyota scraped the wall, sending him to the garage six laps in. Logano was unhurt, and the car was in good enough shape to return for the afternoon. The 18-year-old escaped his 20-lap stint unscathed with a best of 188.320 mph.

Still, it wasn't the best of days for the youngest driver ever to start a 500. He finished second during the ARCA race on Saturday but lasted just three laps during the Shootout.

Pole-sitter Martin Truex, Jr., ran 37th in the morning session before improving to 29th in the afternoon with a lap of 187.746. Mark Martin, who will start on the outside pole Sunday, was ninth in the morning and 23rd in the afternoon.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr., said NASCAR's most storied track, which hasn't been repaved since August, 1978, is long overdue for a new surface.

"The track is old," Earnhardt said. "It's a terrible time to ask anyone to pave a race track, but if anyone needs it, it's probably Daytona."

DIS president Robin Braig said the track has a $20 million repaving project planned for 2012. Braig said it has not been decided exactly when the track would be resurfaced - either after the season-opening Daytona 500 or after the July race.

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