Friday, February 22, 2013

Five questions: Welcome to Daytona

Defending series champion Brad Keselowski prepares to go to work
Credit: Jared C. Tilton, Getty Images for NASCAR
55 years ago, history was made with the first running of the Daytona 500. This Sunday history will once again unfold, as for the first time in Sprint Cup Series competition, a woman will lead the pack to the green flag. Even though we've seen a series of tests in the last month, run three races at Daytona this week, and numerous practice sessions, there's still a lot we don't know about the Gen-6 car. Couple that with the excitement of running the most prestigious event of the season first, and anything can happen. It's Daytona and it's sure to be an interesting ride.

As I prepare to watch my 20th Daytona 500 on Sunday, I'm pondering the following questions:

When will the "big one" happen and how many cars will be involved? It's not an original question, but it's one worth considering. In three races this week, The Sprint Unlimited and Budweiser Duel, we've seen roughly half the field on track at any given time. The wreck during the Unlimited took out several top drivers as did the one in the first of the Duel races, but how will the new car fare once all 43 teams are on the high banks and in close proximity? Generally the "big one" comes late in the race. Look for it in the last quarter of the event and for at least eight to ten cars to be involved...if we're lucky. 

How will the Roush Fenway camp fare? Following his wreck in the Duel, Carl Edwards said that he's not yet learned how to drive the new car, but he's learned how to wreck it. Edwards has gotten tangled up in several accidents since unloading last week and could really use a win to start the season after a dismal 2012. It's been over a year since he visited victory lane, which isn't normal by Edwards' standards. I'm putting Greg Biffle on my fantasy team because he's been strong at Daytona recently. He finished second to then teammate Matt Kenseth last season and in his qualifier on Thursday. Biffle might fly under the radar for most of the race, but you can guarantee he'll be in the fight when the laps wind down. Two-time defending Nationwide Series Champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is behind the wheel of the No. 17, the team who won in 2012. It's an important moment in the young driver's career and I for one hope it doesn't get overshadowed by his personal life. 

How many jet dryers will be harmed in the making of this sporting event? Juan Pablo Montoya has been the butt of every joke imaginable since last year's prime time running of the 500. We joke about it, but Montoya and the crew inside the jet dryer were lucky that the crash wasn't more catastrophic. Hopefully we won't see any rain delays or fire delays this weekend, but if it does rain, NASCAR can put their new invention, the Air Titan to work and sweep those pesky rain drops away in a fraction of the time it once took. Kudos to NASCAR for this new technology.

Will the Gen-6 car be the star, or will it just Gen-suck? Remember when Kyle Busch won the first race in the "Car of Tomorrow?" His words in victory lane still live on years later. So far the reports on the Gen-6 cars have been positive, but there's still a learning curve for drivers and teams alike. The bodies looks akin to the street version which is something fans have wanted for years, but the different designs and the nose/tail configuration on different manufacturer vehicles could become a huge issue once all 43 cars are thundering through the turns at nearly 200 miles per hour. Love it or hate it, this girl is glad to see brand identity return to the sport of racing. 

Will we hear the words "fuel conservation" this weekend? If it comes down to fuel mileage Brad Keselowski and Clint Bowyer will be the favorites. Keselowski has made fuel mileage racing a main part of his repertoire in recent years and Bowyer has eked out a few extra miles of his own. Of course with Bowyer, you're never sure he'll make it to victory lane, or have to be pushed there. You can count out Jimmie Johnson if it comes  fuel mileage because he's never been great at conserving, but who am I kidding? It's a new car so throw everything you think you knew about fuel mileage racing out the window.

These questions and more will be answered on Sunday. For the starting grid, click here. To find out what happens when, check the  television schedule here



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