The first weekend of Daytona International Speedway’s Speedweeks has been completed and even though there was plenty of action to come from the giant 2.5-mile oval, there are a few questions that we will have to wait on to get an answer. With that thought in mind, here are a few things that we do know as we work our way through to the Dual races and the Daytona 500.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s win in the Budweiser Shootout showed the rest of the series that there is indeed room for him at Hendrick Motorsports.
Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart’s crash during Friday’s practice for the Shootout once again showed that these two drivers just can’t be trusted to play together.
Jimmie Johnson’s third-place finish and Jeff Gordon’s fourth in the Shootout in backup cars seems to support the idea that the COT can be used at several different tracks.
Toyota placed four cars in the top 10 in qualifying for the 500 with Michael Waltrip sitting on the outside pole.
Richard Childress Racing may have a hard time backing up its 500 win last year with Kevin Harvick, as the best the threeteam operation could qualify was a 33rd by Harvick followed by Clint Bowyer in 44th and Jeff Burton in 46th.
Daytona’s unique qualifying procedure creates an unsure atmosphere for every team that didn’t qualify on the front row or sitting safely inside the top- 35 in owner’s points. It’s those drivers that are not locked in the starting field that leave us with these questions.
• Several teams’ dream of starting on Sunday is tied to which driver will get to use the past champion’s provisional. Kurt Busch is struggling and if he can’t drive his way in on Thursday, former champion Dale Jarrett may be in danger of missing his last 500.
• Open wheel drivers trying to make the field for the 500 struggled on Sunday as Patrick Carpentier’s 11th place finish was the best among Dario Franchitti, Sam Hornish Jr. and Jacques Villeneuve, who are all trying to make their first 500.
• Yates Racing’s Travis Kvapil, who finished seventh in qualifying, has yet to sign a sponsor for the full season. The team is safely in the first five races thanks to finishing in the top 35 and with the car now carrying Yates¿ famous #28, it just seems to be too good not to have a fulltime sponsor. K&N Engineering has signed on for the 500.
• The Dual 150’s still will not show us what it will be like with a full 43-car field on the track. Friday’s practice for the Shootout has some believing that it could be an old-fashioned slugfest, while the results of the Shootout itself revealed that the cars should be able to race in tight quarters.
When we take what we do know and look forward to the running of the Dual races on Thursday, all signs point to a great race on Sunday. The car that for so long wore the tag “Car of Tomorrow” is now the car of today, and while it may not be a fast car when it comes to qualifying, it sure looks like a good race car in traffic. You have to give NASCAR credit in developing the car as it didn’t rush the process and the results have been a race car that may have done more to even up the playing field than any move made by the sanctioning body in quite some time.
The new car has really thrown out most of the conventional wisdom when it comes to trying to pick a winner on Sunday. The addition of Joe Gibbs Racing to the Toyota camp plus the fact that most of the Toyota teams unloaded fast race cars has many thinking that this the 50th anniversary of the Great American race may be won by a foreign manufacturer. But it is still hard to discount Hendrick Motorsports’ lineup that features Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Casey Mears. They already hold the trophies for the Shootout and the pole this week and I am sure that Rick Hendrick could find room for another 500 trophy.
Race Preview – Event: Daytona 500. Track: Daytona International Speedway (2.5- mile tri-oval with 31 degrees of banking). Date: Feb. 17, 3:30 p.m. TV: FOX. Radio: MRN. Defending champion: Kevin Harvick.