Saturday, February 17, 2007

Gut Feelings and stuff (Daytona 500 Preview

You hear it over and over again pertaining to NASCAR racing--"anything can happen." Anyone who doesn't believe this hasn't watched enough NASCAR, or much of any kind of racing for that matter.
The truth is not only anything, but everything can happen, especially at Daytona.
Part of everything is the weather. It has been colder than normal in Florida, and the hard tire compound used at Daytona will make a difference as to how the cars handle in relation to how they handled Thursday, when the weather was normal. There will be good effects, such as less tire wear and more grip, and bad effects, as in the car being harder to turn due to "push," or cornering and maneuvering problems just because the cars will be faster than usual. "Fast" doesn't always mean "good." With the cars moving close to 200 mph and inches apart, as they do at Daytona, this could cause problems. This is why it is so hard to be sure about anything when it comes to picking winners.
Still, the experienced drivers like racing in cold weather. That is, if they are running up front, away from the heavy traffic though the field. The best thing a team can do is avoid any situation that would make them have to deal with the middle of the pack.
With the hard tires and the cold weather, pit strategy will be important. It is difficult to pit out of sequence at restrictor plate races, because to be left out of the draft of other cars means being left behind, so nobody will pit by themself, there will always be drafting partners pitting together. The ultimate dirty trick, aside from purposefully wrecking somebody in retaliation, would be to tell a drafting partner you are going to pit, and then keep going while they are left alone in the pits and consequently left high and dry.
Hopefully, good sportsmanship will prevail and we won't be seeing any of that.
My predictions outcome of the Daytona 500 were already made in my "Season Preview" posts, but since those were quite lengthy, here it is in a nutshell. The drivers who start out front will stay out front, unless something goes seriously wrong with their car. The drivers who start in the back will have to be very alert and careful moving toward the front. Jeff Gordon, due to a rules infraction during Thursday's dual 150 qualifying races, will start in the back, but he is a driver who likes cold weather conditions, and master racer that he is, should be able to move up through the field while avoiding trouble. My pick is for The Gordon to finish in the top ten, if only because he has used up all of his bad luck for the season. Elliott Sadler, Matt Kenseth, Kenin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt, Jr, Kasey Kahne, Mark Martin, and Michael Waltrip are also very capable of moving up when they need to.
The Yates cars are fast, and are starting on the front row. David Gilliland proved himself in plate racing last Saturday, when he finished a close second behind Tony Stewart. If Ricky Rudd and Gilliland can stay together, if they fall back, they should not run into too much trouble, and could both finish in the top ten. If they separate and fall back, however, they may have trouble finding drafting partners.
Tony Stewart, on the other hand is one of the most popular drafting partner among the other drivers. If he falls back, he can find Denny Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Kevin Harvick, or even Jeff Gordon, all who can draft well with him. I think, after last Saturday, he should probably avoid Kyle Busch.
It doesn't matter, Stewart has everything going for him going into this race. He will more than likely take the lead early, or failing that, he will bide his time near the back of the lead pack and make his move when he needs to. He will win the race, barring mechanical misfortune or driver anger.
The rest of the top ten finishers should be, not necessarily in this order:
Dale Earnhardt, Jr
Kevin Harvick
Kyle Busch
Denny Hamlin
Matt Kenseth
Jeff Burton
Michael Waltrip
Dave Blaney
Jeff Gordon
Correction: I mentioned Aric Almirola--though I misspelled his name--as a Cup rookie. I'm pushing his career further along than for which he is ready. 2007 is his full time rookie year in the Busch series. Starting on the pole and finishing in the top twenty, for his first restrictor plate race at Daytona--the trucks don't use restrictor plates--was not a bad start.
ESPN'S role as full time broadcaster of the Busch Series is taken very seriously. The prerace and postrace shows were better produced than the Cup coverage on the other networks.
Congratulations to Jack Sprague and Kevin Harvick. Sprague celebrated his first Daytona win after a very exciting and close finish in the Craftsman Truck Series race, and Harvick had his first Daytona win in a very good Busch Series race.

CTS image photo credit: AP Photo

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