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Earnhardt Jr. quickest in final practice for Daytona 500

2:42 PM, Feb 23, 2013   |    comments
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Daytona Beach, FL (Sports Network) - Dale Earnhardt Jr. posted the fastest lap while Danica Patrick opted not to participate in Saturday's final practice session for the Daytona 500.

Earnhardt, who won this prestigious race in 2004, turned a lap at 198.592 mph in his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. He completed just 11 laps around the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway. David Gilliland was second quickest during at 198.421 mph. Clint Bowyer was third, followed by Richard Petty Motorsports teammates Marcos Ambrose and Aric Almirola. Earnhardt will start 19th in Sunday's 500-mile race after finishing ninth in the first of the twin-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 the pole winner for this race, was one of 10 drivers in the 43-car field for the Daytona 500 that did not participate in the last practice. Her teammate and car owner, Tony Stewart, as well as three-time Daytona 500 champion Jeff Gordon and defending race winner Matt Kenseth did not run in the session as well.

"I finally said in the hauler after we were done (in practice), 'We are definitely, definitely, definitely starting on the front row for the 500 now because we are done'," Patrick said during a press conference after Friday's practice 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, in hopes of not wrecking their primary cars and going to a backup vehicle for the Daytona 500.

Last Sunday, Patrick became the first woman to win a pole position for a race in NASCAR's premier series. She ran somewhat conservatively in the first Budweiser Duel (twin qualifiers) to finish 17th. After completing 32 laps and running in a draft of several cars during yesterday's practice, Patrick feels confident that she can win the Daytona 500. She would become the first driver to 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 do believe experience would help, but it doesn't mean that I don't have a chance to 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 of precipitation for the Daytona Beach in the afternoon.

The Sports Network

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