Saturday, February 19, 2011

Daytona 500 a Crap Shoot, But RCR Drivers, Kurt Busch Keep Tossing Sevens

By Micah Roberts

Kurt Busch has had an amazing Speedweeks; now looking for the Triple.
Over the last two weeks of practices, I have talked a lot about how any one of 30 drivers could legitimately win the Daytona 500 due to some of the changes that have occurred. I still believe that to be true, but after accumulating all the data together from the entire week, then mixing in a little bit of past history and driver tendencies in restrictor plate races, the cream has definitely risen to the top in my final ratings.

If this were another type of race, say at Richmond -- with all the practice information that has come out like this week -- we would be talking about maybe only four drivers with a real shot at winning the race. Naturally we have to factor in what we’ve seen, which is that anyone can get up to speed quickly and pass the top drivers. We also have recent history showing us that the Daytona 500 can be won by unexpected drivers like we have  witnessed three straight years with Ryan Newman, Matt Kenseth and Jamie McMurray winning as long shots.

But when looking at what Kurt Busch, Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer have done all week, on paper, it’s really hard to see them being beat. Busch has won the Bud Shootout and a Gatorade Duel and will look to become the only driver to take the triple by winning the Daytona 500. Only four drivers have won the Bud Shootout and Daytona 500 in the same year.

Jeff Burton has had modest success in plate races with only one win to his credit at Daytona in 2001, but he looks to have the best car of speedweeks even though Busch has more hardware to show off. Burton led the most laps in the Shootout, captured the other Gatorade Duel and during just about every practice session, he has been near the top of the charts.

Burton and Bowyer are hooked up like no other tandem
Burton’s RCR teammates of Bowyer and Harvick make an intimidating force to reckon with, but each of them seem to feed off of Burton better and it will be interesting to see who he chooses to run with. During the final practice session, it was Bowyer who got to run with Burton and they were 1-2 in speeds with Burton pushing.

Harvick is so good, though, he could be argued as the best plate driver in NASCAR right now based on a past that includes winning the 2007 Daytona 500 and taking races at Daytona and Talladega last year. Should Burton choose Bowyer as his running-mate, chances are Harvick will be just fine on his own, because who wouldn’t want to run with Harvick. If an informal poll was taken among the drivers, it would be hard to believe that the majority wouldn’t choose Harvick as their number one choice.

A driver that was quite impressive along the way that doesn’t have the support system of the RCR drivers have is Kasey Kahne, who showed that his Red Bull Racing team might have something for the field if he’s paired up with someone other than his teammate Brian Vickers. Kahne has become much better over the years in plate racing and was runner-up in the Daytona summer race last year.

Because Kahne is starting in the top 10 with several good cars while Vickers is way back, there’s a good chance that Kahne will start a nice relationship with one of the better cars.

As we’ve seen throughout practices and races the last week, most drivers stayed glued to their partners. They pit together, their spotters get communicating well with each other and they keep it going throughout because they all know each others moves and are comfortable. The last thing any driver wants to do is try a new partner later in the race, even if it means that the new partner is his own teammate.

I firmly believe that anyone can win this race, but it’s likely going to be a turn four pass on the last lap against one of these guys.

Enjoy the race and good luck!

Roberts' Top 10 Daytona 500 Driver Ratings Following All Practices 

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