Friday, February 21, 2014

Falling in Love Again: Five Questions for Daytona

The first Budweiser Duel gets underway Thursday at Daytona.
Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/NASCAR via Getty Images
Race week.

It’s been so long since that phrase was used, and it feels comforting to finally type what we’ve all been waiting to exclaim.

RACE WEEK!

A puzzle piece has been returned to its rightful place, and all is right with the world. The off-season has been rough on me personally, yet it was also a gift; I needed time to slow down. Teams and their drivers needed that, too.

That relaxation is over. It’s time to race.

The Daytona 500 packs a punch, one that awakens your soul and opens your eyes. High speeds and risky moves are guaranteed. It’s that rush that shakes the cobwebs off your soul. Somewhere between the erratic heartbeat and scattered thoughts, you recognize the surge. Suddenly, you can’t find any flaws.

Suddenly, you’re falling in love again.

Racing is a lot like love; it takes years to master. Experience goes out the window during a heated disagreement. Through thick and thin, the strongest always survive. It’s all fun and games until you slide across someone’s nose and end up rolling across the infield grass.

OK, maybe not the last one.

With the return of NASCAR brings the return of Five Questions, and I am pumped to get this year going! With out further ado, I give you my inquires for Daytona International Speedway’s first race of the season.

Can Jimmie Johnson repeat? Last year, the No. 48 team went to Victory Lane, shocking nobody. This kick-started his campaign for a sixth championship, which all of us know was successful. Is it possible for another Daytona 500 win? I personally say no; with how Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus have looked during Speedweeks, things are rocky. Not only did the car wreck during the Sprint Unlimited, but multiple practice sessions show that his car continues to bottom out in Turn 2. That’s something no team wants to deal with, and it could hinder their efforts. However, Knaus always has something up his sleeve, and maybe he can make the car and team ready to win by Sunday afternoon.

Is it OK to expect help during Daytona 500 week? Dave Blaney was caught up in a wreck during Sprint Cup Series practice Wednesday afternoon, and it’s sad to report that he won’t be racing in Sunday’s event. Many fans on Twitter were upset that someone didn’t step up and offer him a ride or a helping hand. However, is expecting that sort of assistance right? NASCAR is different from other sports because the biggest event begins the season. It is also different because everyone in the garage is one big family. The truth is that the stakes are high, and times are tough on everyone money-wise. People help when they can, but some just can’t make it happen.

Which series will produce the best season opener? There is no doubt that the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series produces some of the best racing. The aerodynamics of the trucks, combined with the inexperience and short tempers of the competitors, makes for thrilling races and surprise winners. The title may soon shift to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, though. This year’s spoiler on the Sprint Cup machines is half an inch taller, measuring four-and-a-half inches rather than last year’s four. As a result, practice sessions have become insane. Can you imagine how the actual race will play out? It’s tough to say, but I think we’ll see some surprises.

Ford dominance rises again? Ford engines run very well at Daytona, and it’s a well-needed change from last year’s statistics. The manufacture made it to the winner’s circle six times, nothing compared to Chevrolet’s 16 visits. Last Sunday’s qualifying session showed glimmers of hope. Though two Chevys claim the front row, Ford made itself known. Toyota wasn’t as strong as expected, so the Blue Oval Gang needs to step into the spotlight and shine. It’s definitely possible, but we’ll wait and see.

What important lessons will be taken away from this chaotic weekend? It’s hard to take things away from a race that’s mostly a crapshoot. There are some useful anecdotes: racing with the new spoilers, wrecks aren’t fun, and some teams will flex muscle sooner than others. However, the sad truth is that this race, though prestigious, is a difficult way to start the season. Despite this, I doubt the drivers would have it any other way. I know I wouldn’t.

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