Monday, February 14, 2011

Daytona 500 Storylines: High Hopes For Eanhardt Jr Nation Lead the Way

As if there wasn’t already enough anticipation for the NASCAR season to begin, the new surface at Daytona International Speedway produced an event-record 28 lead changes in Saturday’s Budweiser Shootout.

The Shootout, it’s a 75-lap race. The 500 – 200 laps. Do the math.

The conclusion of Daytona Speedweeks features three season-openers: The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series NextEra Energy Resources 250, the NASCAR Nationwide Series DRIVE4COPD 300 and, of course, Sunday’s Great American Race – the Daytona 500.

There’s plenty to dissect and much to discuss as the season quickly approaches. Here are a few of the top-line items…

For The ‘Record’: Budweiser Shootout A Sign Of Things To Come?

Last Saturday night’s Budweiser Shootout ratcheted up anticipation for Sunday’s Daytona 500, big time. There were a race-record 28 lead changes in the 75-lap event. The overall record for lead changes at Daytona is 60 lead changes, a number that could conceivably be reached if the Shootout’s trend continues.

New For Daytona: Restructured Points; Chase Format Adjusted
The Daytona 500 will be the first race under the restructured point system. First place will pay 43 points, second 42, third 41, etc. An additional three points will be added to the winner’s total. A one-point bonus will be awarded to any driver who leads a lap, and another point for leading the most laps. The highest possible points total for the winner will be 48 points

Eligibility for qualification into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup has also changed slightly this year, with wins at a premium. The top 10 in points after race No. 26 will make it in, but spots 11 and 12 will go to the drivers outside the top 10 with the most wins, provided they are in the top 20 in points. That means the winner of the Daytona 500 – who will be the points leader AND the wins leader – will have a big advantage, after only one race.

Destiny For Dale At Daytona?
Dale Jr. captures the Daytona 500 pole on Sunday
Everything’s lining up perfectly for a storybook ending, one that includes Dale Earnhardt Jr. in Victory Lane.

NASCAR’s most popular driver – he’s won the postseason award eight consecutive times – hasn’t won a points event in 93 races. But there’s a sense – call it fate – that the drought might end.

A few reasons:
- This Daytona 500 is the anniversary of his father’s death on the final lap of the 2001 edition of the Great American Race. To commemorate the life of Dale Earnhardt, driver of the iconic black No. 3, there will be "silent lap" on the third lap of the Daytona 500.

- It’s a major personal milestone for Earnhardt Jr. – 400 career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts.

- On Friday night, during the Budweiser Shootout draw party for starting positions, Earnhardt pulled the flag that read "POLE."

- And yesterday, Earnhardt won the pole for the Daytona 500. It is his first Daytona 500 pole, and the third time he’ll start from the front row in the biggest race of the season.

The stars are aligning, so much so Jeff Gordon had this to say: "Things are certainly lining up in an interesting way. I mean, he pulled the pole for the Bud Shootout, wins the pole for the Daytona 500, the lights went out the other night [during final Budweiser Shootout practice]. Some strange activity happening around Daytona right now."

Gatorade Duel Races: One Last Shot
Only two drivers – Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon -- know where they’re starting on Sunday. Earnhardt will start first, Gordon second, as a result of posting the two fastest times in Sunday’s qualifying.

The rest of the positions will be decided on Thursday, after the two Gatorade Duel races.

Here’s what we know:
- The top-35 cars in the 2010 owner points are locked into the field.

- The top-two finishers in each Duel who are outside the top 35 will make it.

- The remaining spots will go to qualifying speeds from Sunday.

Thanks to their speed from Sunday, Bill Elliott, Travis Kvapil and Joe Nemechek are guaranteed a spot in the field. Terry Labonte is also guaranteed a spot, with the past champion’s provisional. BUT, they can race their way in as well.

One name to watch on Thursday: Michael Waltrip. Looking to make his 25 th consecutive Daytona 500, Waltrip needs to race his way into the field. There’s a way he can get in if he fails in the Duel, though. If either Elliott, Kvapil, Nemechek or Labonte race their way in, Waltrip makes it on his qualifying speed.

Simply put: Nine drivers are vying for the four remaining spots.

Looking for a favorite on Sunday? A driver with an Earnhardt Childress Racing engine under the hood might be a solid pick.

ECR engines swept the 2010 restrictor plate races (Jamie McMurray and Kevin Harvick at Daytona; Harvick and Clint Bowyer at Talladega).

It was the first time an engine manufacturer completed the sweep since DEI and RCR worked together in a technology partnership as part of RAD (RCR, Andy Petree Racing and DEI), sweeping all four plate races in 2001.

- NASCAR Media Services

No comments: