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Saturday afternoon live from Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- I've settled in for the day in the Houston Lawing Press Box, which provides a spectacular view of the 2.5-mile track. The press box overlooks the start/finish line at the tip of the tri-oval, but with the banked turns you can literally follow cars the entire way around the track.

I'll post some pictures a little later to show the view. It's a little hazy and overcast at the moment. I'll be working here on a few stories right up until the Nationwide race this afternoon at 1 p.m.

10:16 a.m. Yesterday, following the live chat, I was slammed working with some stories during a long day -- and honestly it didn't seem like a day for blogging. Anyone who finds out I'm from Buffalo shares the same awful feelings we all have about the crash of Flight 3407.

I'll say this: I don't think I've ever been more proud to be a reporter from The Buffalo News. Throughout the horrid unfolding of events, it has been surreal to be out of town and hearing and reading about so many local references and people on CNN and other media in what is obviously a national story. Our newsroom is doing some amazing work on buffalonews.com. The reporting has been outstanding. Thursday morning I read stories on our site and then later heard CNN anchors discuss the same information (and attributing it). The blog that was updated during the day was an excellent way to share information and how The News went about getting it, as well as being an emotional outlet for readers far and wide. The evolving list of the victims -- and their stories -- continues to be heartwrenching. The photo slide show on the homepage is stirring. My sports department colleagues' documenting of the Sabres' reaction to the situation was handled deftly and with the perfect perspective.   

10:26 a.m. When I signed into the press box as representing The Buffalo News, the gentleman working security at the door was the latest to express dismay about the crash.

10:30 a.m. My signing in on the sheet also alerted Jim Fickenscher to my presence and he said hello, proving yet again that there is a Buffalo connection just about anywhere. Fickenscher is an East Aurora native who now lives in Charlotte and is in his ninth year working as an account executive for Performance Racing Network, which handles the radio broadcasts for the tracks owned by Speedway Motorsports, Inc., including Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte.

10:50 a.m. Sprint Cup practice has begun and, like I said, it's a great view. This is the final practice before the Daytona 500 and you wouldn't expect much drama from this session.

10:52 a.m. Check that -- Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman -- teammates -- have spun out coming off Turn Two. Wow. Major bad news for both. Newman, driving ahead of Stewart, appeared to blow a right rear tire, sending him sideways and leaving Stewart with nowhere to go. Stewart T-boned his teammate but apparently the rest of the cars nearby evaded the mishap.

The rear of Newman's car is completely tore up. That is already the backup No. 39 Chevy because Newman was wrecked by David Reutimann in Tuesday's second qualifying race. Seconds after the accident, Stewart's team unloads his backup car from the No. 14 hauler.

11:45 a.m. I've been doing a little work, including some on my primary beat over at the Prep Talk blog. The practice session has been fairly uneventful since the major event of the Stewart-Newman crash -- Joey Logano scraped the wall -- and it will be ending shortly. The Nationwide cars have been lining up -- they are along the fence behind pit lane, snaking back to the Nationwide garage -- and are awaiting the end of Sprint Cup practice.

11:47 a.m. Stewart is on the track in his backup No. 14 Chevy just before the session is to end.

11:48 a.m. Stewart-Haas public relations man Mike Arning notified the media that the car Stewart is practicing in right now and using for the Daytona 500 is the car he drove to third in the Bud Shootout. Ryan Newman will be driving his third car of Speedweeks in the 500 -- right now that car is adorned in Stewart's red-and-black No. 14 because it was Stewart's backup car; that car was to be used if the Bud Shootout car had been unavailable. That car will be redressed in Newman's black-and-gold No. 39 for Sunday's 500.

Arning's announcement was made in the infield media center where I worked the last two days -- the audio (and video for postrace interview sessions) is piped up to the press box so that all reporters are getting the same information.

12:04 p.m. Another announcement piped up to the press box was that the Associated Press' Mike Harris will be retiring July 1. Harris has covered motorsports for the Associated Press for three decades -- the longest tenure in AP history for a national beat. Sunday will be his 30th Daytona 500. Wow. Talk about a great legacy: a fine reporter who has done fine work, year-in, year-out. He was always genial to this sportswriter even though I show up at races less often than Boris Said (Watkins Glen and Daytona). To use a sports expression, Mike Harris is The Man.

I'm bummed I wasn't down there for that announcement. And as a proud sportswriter, I'm certainly bummed I wasn't there for the free cake.  

12:40 p.m. Stu Grant of Goodyear just concluded a press conference in the media center. He said that Newman's blown right rear tire was a "classic case" of a "clear puncture" and it had nothing to do with issues that Stewart and Goodyear had with tires previously this week. Later Grant elaborated that that sounds like what it sounds like -- Newman just ran over something. Just like you and I do sometimes. None of that has soothed a seething Tony Stewart, however.

1:02 p.m. Almost time for the Nationwide race. It's pretty interesting to see the prerace activities from this angle. Shortly beforehand, fans are allowed onto the grass area in front of the tri-oval so they pack around the temporary stage that is trucked out and cheer for the drivers. The grass lawn's famous and huge "Daytona" lettering, as well as other smaller logos in the grass, are protected by a lot of track staffers who hold a yellow rope around the perimeter -- so no fans walk on the lettering. 

1:05 p.m. Some quotes were just handed out from Stewart and Newman, who are understandably not happy with Goodyear.

I was kicking myself for being up here when so much news was going on in the garage. However, it sounds like reporters have been in danger down there.

Check out Stewart's comments after being asked about the situation:

"Ah, it's just a Goodyear right rear tire. So, same thing everybody has been talkig about all week. Same stuff that we always talk about every year is the failures that Goodyear has. I think that's part of their marketing campaign. The more we talk about it, the more press they get. I think they forget that it's supposed to be in a good way, not a bad way."

Were the tires recalled yesterday enough?

"Apparently not renough. Apparently this is their marketing strategy to get press. I'm just tired of talking about them; tired of them being an issue. And us talking about them right now isn't going to change anything because it falls on deaf ears and that won't change."

(And now, not the smartest question:) How much does this affect your chances of winning the 500?

"I don't know, rocket scientist. I'm sitting here with a back-up car, what do you think?"

What do you have to do to this back-up car to get it ready?

"I don't know. Talk to [crew chief] Darian Grubb. We've got a lot of work to do. I'm ticked right now. I'm not happy, I'm not cordial, I'm not nice, I'm not anything right now, and I shouldn't be. If it was beacause two guys wrecked and it was a driver's mistake, that's one thing. But a manufacturer that has the sole deal here, they don't have any competition and they can't vgive us something to keep us from having problems like this. So I don't know. I'm just amazed at how much everybody kisses their butts right now." 

Are you going to talk to Goodyear?

"Don't get them anywhere near me. Don't bring them anywhere close; don't let them come close. I don't want anything to do with them."

Here's Newman:

"The right rear tire exploded in the middle of one and two. It gave me 100 yards of sign that it might. It started the very, very slightest vibration. I was getting ready to come in and it was too late. It was just unfortunate. We took out my teammate. Just disappointed in the situation Goodyear has put us in.

"I was getting ready to pull off of two just to see what it was and that Goodyear tire didn't give me that opportunity."

Are you going to talk to Goodyear?

"Hopefully they will come talk to us to see if they might be able to help work on the race cars a little bit this year."

1:26 p.m. By the way, the fastest lap in practice, the only one under 47 seconds, was Reed Sorenson in the No. 43 Dodge (46.979 seconds; 191.575 mph).

1:29 p.m. I just heard the familiar NASCAR-track voice of Mike Paz for the first time. Paz, a native of Spencerport, does the public address announcing on the track -- including during races when radio broadcasts go to commercial. You can hear him at Watkins Glen and, of course, Genesee Speedway in Batavia. 

1:36 p.m. Green flag for the Nationwide season as the Camping World 300 is underway.

2:08 p.m. As promised, a semi-panoramic view from my seat:

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2:15 p.m. Check out a separate post on the Nationwide race

3:46 p.m. Stewart wins the Camping World 300.

4:48 p.m. Stewart has still not headed to the media center for his postrace press conference. Check those times. Wow.

4:49 p.m. Speak of the devil: Stewart is in the media center. Not really his fault -- there are a lot of obligations for the winner -- he had a ton of pictures and perhaps an ESPN studio interview as well.

5:21 p.m. Obligations over (I think). Stewart just finished his postrace press conference, where he was joined by Nationwide car owner Rick Hendrick.

5:23 p.m. We're signing off to finish our stories and hopefully get some Santora's Buffalo Pizza & Wings just like I did last year. See you tomorrow on Great American Sunday.   

6:02 p.m. I'm still working at an empty Daytona International Speedway, and so is Keith Urban. The cool dude country guy is rehearsing for tomorrow's prerace festivities -- along with a few hundred kids holding all manner of flags and banners and signs and stuff. 

The bass from the rehersal is pumping so much it is shaking the windows of the press box.

"Sounds just like being home with my neighbor and his music," says a press boxer. Funny stuff. You can always count on a press box for some grousing. 

6:42 p.m. CORRECTION. That's Keith Urban's music, and that's Keith Urban's band, and that's his name up on the screen, but that's not Keith Urban. Only when they cranked up the jumbotron for some closeups did I realize that it's some schmo standing in for Urban. A few years ago, the actual Kelly Clarkson was on hand for her rehersal.

---Keith McShea

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