DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) - Andy Lally has proven he knows how to get around Daytona International Speedway's road course, with two wins in his last two races.
His expertise might be carrying over to the high-banked oval.
Lally, whose best finish in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series was 19th at Talladega in April, turned in his best qualifying effort Friday at Daytona and will start seventh for Saturday's Coke Zero 400.
``Daytona is hands down my most special place as far as a race track goes,'' Lally said. ``Having come here with the desire as a young kid to not only race in the Daytona 500, but then as my sports car career advanced, racing and winning the 24 Hours of Daytona, this has become the mecca for me. I've got Watkins Glen, which is a close second because I'm from New York, but this is hallowed ground here for me.''
Lally will start between fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. and five-time defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, a pretty cool accomplishment for someone who has spent much of the season running in the back of the pack.
``This is just a cool little feather in the cap that a small team has come up here and done this,'' said Lally, who drives for TRG Motorsports. ``That's pretty neat.''
Lally's team brought the same car to Daytona that ran well in Talladega, but his qualifying was definitely better than anyone expected.
``Every spare moment that these guys have had, which isn't a lot because it's kind of a bare-bones crew here, they've been massaging on this car and doing what they can to make the most of it,'' Lally said. ``Boy, this was good. We felt pretty good yesterday when we did our mock run, but we weren't exactly sure where we lined up because everybody else was bump-drafting out there.
``We were optimistic about maybe a top-20, but to come out of here with seventh is pretty amazing.''
SPONSOR SEARCH: Matt Kenseth didn't think sponsorship issues would crop up in the middle of a strong season, so he was admittedly surprised to learn Crown Royal will end its run as his primary sponsor at the end of the year.
Kenseth, a two-time winner so far this season, goes into Saturday night's race at Daytona International Speedway ranked sixth in points.
``I guess it caught me a little bit by surprise because we've been having a great season on-track,'' Kenseth said. ``I figured they would be cutting back like most people are somewhat, but it caught me a little bit by surprise that they're totally leaving everything.''
Crown Royal will stay on as title sponsor of the ``Your Name Here'' program at Richmond International Raceway. But parent company Diageo said it was ending its role as an official NASCAR sponsor.
Kenseth isn't sure what will happen at Roush Fenway Racing, where officials only have one of four primary sponsors signed for next season. He's had Wiley X Sunglasses as a primary sponsor this season, and Affliction Clothing just added two more races as a primary to bring its total to four.
``I drive the car and I kind of leave that to the marketing people and the sales team to figure that out,'' Kenseth said. ``I feel like it's a great opportunity for a company to come into the sport. I think right now the on-track performance of the organization has been really good.''
BEEFING UP THE STAFF: Tommy Baldwin Racing has hired seven crew members, including crew chief Philippe Lopez, as it tries to build its program beyond a start-and-park organization.
TBR, formed in 2009 by the former crew chief, has used multiple drivers in its No. 36 car. The team brought cars to Daytona for both Dave Blaney and Geoffery Bodine.
``We have recently hired seven more people and put them in the areas they need to be to make our program better,'' explained Baldwin. ``Philippe is a well-respected crew chief, and someone I can trust to do a good job for TBR. I'm excited that now this allows me to dedicate more time toward the future of TBR from both the competition and business sides.''
Lopez and Baldwin were crew chiefs together at Bill Davis Racing. He will be working with Blaney for the third time: They were together in 2005 at Richard Childress Racing, and 2001 at Bill Davis.
HUMANITARIAN AWARD: The NASCAR Foundation is accepting applications for the first Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award, which will award $100,000 to the children's charity of the recipient's choice.
The award honors the commitment Betty Jane France, who created Speediatrics, a pediatric unit with a racing theme at both the Halifax Health Medical Center in Daytona Beach, Fla. and at the Betty Jane France Children's Emergency Center at Homestead Hospital in Homestead, Fla.
``Since 2006, The NASCAR Foundation has been inspired by the selfless dedication of our NASCAR fans to improve the lives of the children,'' said Betty Jane France. ``We have champions in every community and we are thrilled to recognize them with this Humanitarian Award.''
The deadline for nominations is July 18.
INFINITE HERO: The Infinite Hero Foundation has branched out into NASCAR with sponsorship of both of the Rusty Wallace Racing cars in Friday night's Nationwide Series race.
The foundation is dedicated to raising awareness and funds to meet the needs of military heroes and their families, and the sponsorship was timed to coincide with the July Fourth weekend. The promotion is a partnership with 5-Hour Energy and Oakley, Inc., which released a special edition line specifically to support the Infinite Hero Foundation.
Oakley will donate a proceed of every purchase from the line of products to the foundation.
``The products will give people the opportunity to show their support of the military service men and women who fight for our freedom and must carry the scars of their sacrifice, as well as the families of heroes who never make it home,'' said Oakley CEO Colin Baden.

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