NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
 
        === Earnhardt Jr. quickest in final practice for Daytona 500 ===
 
 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.
 
 02/23 13:42:10 ET

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