BETTER HALF – It might have started off as a friendly, lighthearted fundraiser, but the Better Half Dash has quickly progressed into an ultra-competitive event.

This year, the “better halves” of many NASCAR drivers and crew members have gotten serious. They’ve been fitted for seats. They have fire suits. They have their own cars. Their supporters have made T-shirts. And they want that giant pink winner’s trophy.

Oh, and they want to raise money.

But they really want that trophy.

Defending winner Jacquelyn Butler, fiancée of NASCAR driver David Ragan, qualified third for this year’s event. SPEED racing analyst Wendy Venturini won the pole, and Lyn-Z Adams Hawkins Pastrana, wife of NASCAR driver Travis Pastrana, qualified second.

Ragan said he hasn’t offered Butler too much advice prior to this afternoon’s 25-lap Better Half Dash.

“I just told her not to wreck,” said Ragan, proudly sporting a royal blue T-shirt reading, “I love my soon-to-be wife” created by none other than his soon-to-be wife. “I told her to just be smooth, be steady and win. She’s won this before, and she qualified well, so she’s in a good position.”

Kurt Busch’s girlfriend, Patricia Driscoll, will start last after missing Monday’s practice and qualifying session because of illness.

“She’s a little nervous,” Busch said. “She’s only practiced one night. We did as much as we could that one night, but I wish we could have gotten another night, because she didn’t feel that comfortable then, either.”

His advice to her?

“Just when you’re feeling tensed up, try to relax, try to breathe. Everything goes a little smoother when you can be relaxed and breathe.”

The winner of today’s race will receive $10,000 to the charity or her choice.

FREE GOLF – If three full days of racing action isn’t enough, ticketholders for this weekend’s Bank of America NASCAR races can also use their stubs to watch free golf. Race fans can show their tickets for free admission to any round of official tournament play Friday or Saturday at the Greater Hickory Classic at Rock Barn Golf and Spa in Conover, N.C.