DAYTONA, Fla. – Final preparations were made for Thursday's Gatorade 150s. Here's what we learned Wednesday at Daytona International Speedway:
1. The field is still wide open.
That much we know after Aric Almirola clocked the fastest lap (191.436 mph) in Wednesday's afternoon practice.
Jeff Gordon did find his way near the top of the charts. He was third quickest.
But once again, the story remains how wide open things appear to be. Five of the top 10 in the afternoon practice were not in the Chase last season. On the opposite end, Carl Edwards continues to struggle, coming in at 24th-fastest in the afternoon, while last year's winner Ryan Newman, who blew an engine in the morning practice, was 40th-fastest.
2. Look for Edwards to be aggressive in his Duel.
Edwards, who has never won a restrictor plate race, wants to qualify near the front for Sunday's Daytona 500, and so he will be gunning for the front in Thursday's qualifiers.
"If we're anywhere near the front, I'm gonna race hard and try to win the twin so we can start up front because on Sunday I think it's gonna string out, too, and I want to be in the front," Edwards said. "So we're racing hard."
3. If you didn't like the racing in Saturday's Bud Shootout, Kevin Harvick doesn't care.
"Tell 'em to watch something else," Harvick said to fans who complain about the racing. "I think they're going to complain just to complain. It was an exciting race from start to finish."
4. It will be a win if Joey Logano sees the checkered flag on Sunday.
The 18-year-old is having a tough time getting the handling on his car in traffic. He's got the speed – he was sixth-fastest in Wednesday's first practice – but was all over the place in Saturday's Bud Shootout (where he got caught up in an accident), and hit the wall just six laps into Wednesday's first practice.
5. Off the track, Ray Evernham said there is no way he'll ever come back as a crew chief.
There has been speculation that Evernham might reunite with Jeff Gordon, with whom he won three titles. That's not going to happen. Evernham has a multi-year consulting agreement with Richard Petty Motorsports. The agreement includes a non-compete clause, which prohibits him from working with any other NASCAR team.
Regardless, Evernham said after eight years as an owner it would take him two years to re-learn the job of crew chief, "and I'm too old for that," he said.