DAYTONA, Fla. – The first full practice of the season was held Saturday at Daytona International Speedway. Fifty-six cars took to the track in preparation for Sunday's qualifying for the 51st running of the Daytona 500.
Here's what we learned:
1. Bill Elliott can still go fast.
Elliott clocked the fastest time in both practice sessions – 187.645 in the first, 187.950 in the second. All of which was surprising on two fronts. First, Elliott is 53 and not a full-time driver, and second, Elliott drives for the underfunded Wood Brothers Racing.
"You can't tell about this business," Elliott said. "Right now, we just need to beat the go-or-go-homers. That's where we need to concentrate and let the rest of it fall where it may."
Elliott is one of 22 drivers who has to qualify for the Feb. 15th race on the criterion of speed.
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has a fast car.
Saturday's practices sessions were single-car affairs as teams tried to simulate qualifying conditions. Earnhardt clocked the third-fastest lap (187.348 mph). Assuming he's good in the draft – and he's always good in the draft – expect Earnhardt to once again be up front in the Daytona 500.
3. Penske Racing could be in trouble.
4. It looks like Carl Edwards still has work to do on the restrictor-plate tracks.
Edwards was once again way down on the speed chart on Saturday (36th fastest in the morning session, 34th in the afternoon).
While he won nine races in 2008 – 16 in his career – he's never won a restrictor-plate race. In fact, Edwards has just five top 10s in 17 restrictor-plate events.
5. A.J. Allmendinger is proving to be the fastest … again.
Allmendinger, consistently the fastest of the newly branded Richard Petty Motorsports cars in Friday's Bud Shootout practice, finished ahead of Kahne in both practice sessions on Saturday.
Allmendinger, who wasn't offered a full-time ride by RPM, must race his way into the Daytona 500 by virtue of speed.