February 23, 2013

Earnhardt tops final practice for Daytona 500

By MARK LONG, The Associated Press

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Quiet most of Speedweeks, Dale Earnhardt Jr. made a little noise Saturday.

Earnhardt topped the speed chart for the final practice session before Sunday's season-opening Daytona 500.

The 2004 Daytona 500 champion turned the fast lap by averaging 198.592 mph around the 2½ -mile superspeedway. David Gilliland was second, followed by Clint Bowyer, Marcos Ambrose and Aric Almirola.

Pole-sitter Danica Patrick and Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Tony Stewart were among 10 drivers who skipped the 1½ -hour final tuneup.

Three-time Daytona 500 winner Jeff Gordon, 2010 Daytona 500 champ Jamie McMurray, Casey Mears, Terry Labonte and Joe Nemechek also sat out the session. So did Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth.

Before Saturday, Earnhardt had done little during Speedweeks. He finished eighth in the Sprint Unlimited and ninth in his qualifying race.

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