Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Daytona 500 Storylines

Junior is 10/1 to win Daytona 500
Throw back. Old school. Retro. Use whatever moniker you like, and it’d fit this past weekend in NASCAR.

First you had the Shootout at Daytona, the annual fan-favorite preseason race at Daytona International Speedway. After an offseason – and more – of testing and fine-tuning, pack racing is back. For the most part, drivers abandoned the two-car tandem for the big packs of old. It made for a wild race, and a sparkling finish. Kyle Busch’s slingshot move on defending series champion Tony Stewart gave him his first Shootout victory. The margin of victory of .013 seconds was the closest in the race’s history.

Now fast forward to Sunday morning. As competitors put the finishing touches prior to Coors Light Pole qualifying, a major announcement hit the mailboxes of media everywhere. Next season’s eligibility for the Shootout had been released. Pole winners from 2012 and past winners of the event would be locked in, eligibility rules mirroring those from 1979 to 2008. It was a return to the event’s roots.

Shortly after, at 1 p.m., Daytona 500 qualifying began. Carl Edwards, taking advantage of a powerful engine and an opportunistic qualifying draw, laid down a lap of 194.738 mph. It was the fastest Daytona 500 pole winning lap since 1999 – more than a decade ago.

Last weekend set the strong foundation for the second and final week of Speedweeks. Up first is the two Gatorade Duel races, a final chance for those not already locked into the Daytona 500 to make the show.

On Friday night, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series opens its season at Daytona in the NextEra Energy Resources 250 at 7:30 p.m. on SPEED.

On Saturday afternoon, the stars of the NASCAR Nationwide Series run their season-opener at Daytona in the DRIVE4COPD 300 at 1:15 p.m. on ESPN.

And, of course, the 54th annual Daytona 500 culminates Speedweeks. NASCAR’s biggest race starts at 1 p.m. on FOX.


99 Has No Problems On Pole Day
After turning the fastest lap in Daytona 500 pole qualifying since 1999, Carl Edwards will attempt to become the 10th driver to win the Daytona 500 from the pole and first since Dale Jarrett in 2000. Edwards finished second last year in The Great American Race and had a ninth-place finish in 2010.

Edwards leads an all-Ford front row, as Roush Fenway Racing teammate Greg Biffle captured the second spot). A win would be the manufacturer's third Daytona 500 victory in four seasons and the second in four years for Roush Fenway Racing, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this season.

Roush Fenway Racing’s next victory – be it in Saturday NASCAR Nationwide race or in the Daytona 500 – would be the team’s 300th in NASCAR national series competition.

The first and second starting positions have accounted for the most wins in Daytona 500 history with nine and seven respectively, combining for 30 percent of the victories in the previous 53 events.

Bayne Locked In And Loaded For Great American Repeat
With the fastest time among drivers not in the top 35, Trevor Bayne locked himself into the 54th running of the Daytona 500 along with Tony Raines, David Stremme and Terry Labonte, who can use a past champion’s provisional.

Bayne, who turned 21 on Sunday, will attempt to join Richard Petty (1973-74), Cale Yarborough (1983-84) and fellow Tennessean Sterling Marlin (1994-95) as the only drivers to win back-to-back Daytona 500s. A win would extend 2012 NASCAR Hall of Famer Glen Wood's win record at Daytona to 16.

Champ Seeks First 500 Win On His Own
Stewart is 10/1 to win first Daytona 500 (Getty)
Three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart has three Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola wins, three Budweiser Shootout crowns, two Gatorade Duel wins and two triumphs in IROC cars. His six DRIVE4COPD 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series wins (including the last four consecutive victories) is second only to Dale Earnhardt's seven, and Stewart is also tied for second with Bobby Allison on the all-time victory leader list at Daytona with 16 behind Earnhardt, who had 34.

In 13 previous starts, Stewart has three top-five finishes, including a runner-up run in 2004.

Danica Makes Highly Anticipated Debut
When the green flag flies on FOX at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday, Danica Patrick will become the third woman to start the Daytona 500, following Janet Guthrie (1977, 1980) and Shawna Robinson (2002). She'll also attempt to join last year's race winner Trevor Bayne as the eighth driver to win her first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in the 500. The club consists of Tiny Lund (1963), Mario Andretti (1967), Pete Hamilton (1970), Derrike Cope (1990), Sterling Marlin (1994), Michael Waltrip (2001) and Bayne (2011).

Of the two women who have raced before her in the Daytona 500, neither has a top-10 finish with Guthrie coming home 12th in 1977 and 11th in 1980 and Robinson finishing 24th in 2002.

Not Old, But Experienced: Martin Looks To Make History
In his 28th Daytona 500 and 25th consecutive Great American Race, Mark Martin is back in his quest to win his first Daytona 500. Turning 53 on January 9, Martin would not only break NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Allison's record as the oldest driver to win the 500, but become the oldest winner in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series history. The current oldest winner is Harry Gant at 52 years, seven months and six days.

It's the fifth anniversary of his loss at the line to Kevin Harvick as Martin begins a new chapter in his career with Michael Waltrip Racing. A win for Martin would break Dale Earnhardt's record of 20 races before his first win in the Daytona 500.

Junior Gaining Steam Heading Into 500
Dale Earnhardt Jr., owner of a 129-race wins drought, has the feel of someone who appears on the verge of a breakthrough.

Before getting caught up in an accident in Saturday night’s Shootout, Earnhardt led 12 laps, bringing the fans to their feet with each one.

On Sunday, Earnhardt narrowly missed sitting on the front row of the Daytona 500 for the second consecutive year, turning the third fastest lap in qualifying.

A win in the Daytona 500 would be Earnhardt’s second, joining his trophy from 2004.

This Time, It IS Go Or Go Home
Thursday’s Gatorade Duel at Daytona races mean everything to a select 10 drivers.

Those who have yet to secure a spot in the Daytona 500: Kenny Wallace, Dave Blaney, Michael Waltrip, Michael McDowell, Joe Nemechek, Bill Elliott, Mike Wallace, Robert Richardson Jr., JJ Yeley and Robby Gordon.

They’ll need to race their way in on Thursday. The top two “non-35 drivers” in each Gatorade Duel make Sunday’s Daytona 500.

- NASCAR Media Services

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