After the shortest offseason in sports, NASCAR is back. And unlike any sport, NASCAR starts its season off with its biggest event. NASCAR has made this years edition of the Great American Race more unpredictable than others by restricting the use of the two car tandem racing that we have seen over the past few years and created a hybrid of the two car tandem and traditional restrictor plate racing seen at Daytona and Talladega. As the Budweiser Shootout and the Gatorade Duels showed us, this race should be exciting.
Entering the 2012 season there are several big stories about several big names that have and will continue to dominate speedweeks. The obvious attention getter is the first Sprint Cup start for Danica Patrick. Bringing the attention and all of her fans to NASCAR from Indy Car, Danica has become the no. 1 sight for fans to see at Daytona this week. But she is not just here to be a side show. In her duel race on Thursday she showed she can hang with the big boys in Sprint Cup and had a good run going for her until Aric Almirola got into her after being forced down by Jamie McMurray and caused her to take a huge hit against the inside wall down the backstretch and will send her to a backup car for the 500. But in Nationwide qualifying Danica took the pole for the race so her week has had his ups and downs.
Danica’s car owner for the Daytona 500 and defending Sprint Cup Champion Tony Stewart comes into speedweeks as the hottest driver out there. Putting on a clinic in the 2011 Chase, winning half of the races after struggling to compete in the regular season, lead him to his third Championship in NASCAR’s highest series. But the one thing missing on Tony’s resume for the Hall of Fame is a Daytona 500 victory. Could this be his best chance to get it?
As with every year in NASCAR drivers switch teams and move to different cars for the next season, and they are a few this year. Kasey Kahne leaves Red Bull Racing after his one year contract is up and joins Hendrick Racing in the #5 car forming one of the best 4 car teams in NASCAR history with Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Kahne replaces Mark Martin who moves to Michael Waltrip Racing and will run a limited Schedule in the #55 car. Clint Bowyer joins Mark at MWR and will drive the #15 5 Hour Energy car after leaving Richard Childress Racing. After his tirade towards ESPN pit road reporter Dr. Jerry Punch, Kurt Busch finds himself being let go from Penske Racing and joining Phoenix Racing driving the #51 car. Replacing Kurt will be AJ Allmendinger in the #22 car.
Trying to predict the winner of a race at Daytona is like trying to hit a three pointer with a blind fold on so rather than give you one pick for a winner, I will give you 5 drivers I expect to have a chance to win at the end and a few drivers who can surprise some people this Sunday.
Expect To Win
Harvick has to be thought of every time there is a race he is in. Kevin just finds a way to be near the front at the end of any race. Just see the end of the Daytona 500 in 2007. Selling his truck team should help him focus just on the 500 more than other years. Harvick will start 13th in the Great American Race and he should stay up front and have a great chance to get his 2nd 500 victory.
The defending champion has won almost everything in NASCAR except this race and he knows it. He is coming off one of the greatest postseason runs in sports history and is looking to use the momentum of that run to get his first Daytona 500 victory. He has already visited victory lane once this week winning the first Gatorade Duel race and will start 4th for the 500. Look for Smoke to be in the front when the white flag waves.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Yes I know Dale hasn’t won a race in forever but he has made strides towards ending that streak. And what better place to do it than at the place his father owned for years. Dale has always ran great at Daytona including a victory in 2004 in the Daytona 500, and he has to always be a favorite to win every trip to the track. He will start 5th and will keep himself in the front of the pack all day possibly leading him to his 2nd 500 win and his first win in a long time.
Kyle showed how skilled he is behind the wheel of a race car durring his win in the Bud Shootout on Saturday, almost wrecking twice but somehow saving the car both times. Kyle has run good in the 500 but just could never get to the checkered flag first. This year could be the year he finally gets there first.
Roush has brought a lot of fast cars to Daytona but the one car who has been constantly fast all week has been the #16 car of Greg Biffle. Greg qualified on the front row for the 500, was competing for the win in his Duel race, and has been at the top of the charts for speed all week in practice. Him and his race team have got his car hooked up for the 500. They just have to put it all together in order to get his first Daytona 500 victory.
After getting his first career win at Darlington last year, Smith is looking to take the next step in his career. Regan raced well last year in the 500 especially in the Duel race pushing Kurt Busch to a win. Finishing 2nd in this years Duel race again, Smith looks to have a car that can compete this sunday and starting 6th will help him try to get his 2nd career win.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
This may only be a one race deal for the defending Nationwide Champion but this young driver has shown he can race with the best of them. Filling in for Trevor Bayne last year in the Coca Cola 600 at Charlotte, Ricky finished 11th in his first career Sprint Cup Race. Now driving for Jack Roush in the #6 car Ricky has been running fast all week and looks to be just as fast in the 500.
Danica has shown that she can race with NASCAR’s top tier drivers and be competitive. Despite the rough wreck during the Duel race on thursday, Danica was competitive and stayed near the front all race. She will have to start in the back of the field because of going to a backup car so she will have her work cut out for her, but if she can keep her noes clean and stick around till the end, she could find herself in a history making position.
by: Andrew Isaac