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Preview: 55th Running Of The Daytona 500

February 24, 2013 1 comment

Daytona 500

In American sports, there are three single-day sporting events that take precedent over all other forms of entertainment including the Super Bowl, Indianapolis 500 and, the biggest of all today, Daytona 500.

NASCAR’s most respected venue and largest valued race in any season will take place on FOX at 1:29 p.m. as the green flag will be dropped by two-time NFL champion, and recently retired, Ray Lewis.

Headlines have been countless over the last week since Sprint Cup Series rookie Danica Patrick took pole and became the first woman to record the fastest qualifying lap in NASCAR’s premier series. Four-time champion Jeff Gordon will start outside Patrick to start The Great American Race.

The debut of the Generation 6 has been talked about in Speedweeks and has been the most important focus of all teams and media throughout the last week. With the style of the bodies looking like the cars you would see on the showroom floor, teams and manufacturers are happy to see a racy, brand identity machine that brings the stock, back in stockcar racing.

Throughout the races and practices held so far with these new cars, we still don’t know the type of racing we will see. Besides the two-car tandem now being inexistent, we know the pack racing will be back in full-force, but there seems to be new complications with the draft drivers are still trying to figure out.

kyle larsonHaving a pack of 43 cars will be something we all should look forward to in finding out what the racing environment will be like.

After a stunning race, in multiple ways, Saturday in the Nationwide Series, it left double-digits of cars wrecked crossing the finish line and 28 fans injured, some critically. All fans that were taken to the hospitals in the area of Daytona International Speedway were listed as stable this morning and some were released.

Fan safety is an area that is not talked about much when it comes to racing. The unfortunate reality that is motorsports is cars running near 200 miles per hour can become airborne leaving the possibility of flying into the catchfence where debris can become part of the grandstands.

Here is to a successful day where storylines are plentiful during the timeframe of 500 miles on a 2.5-mile high-banked oval. Speeds will be close to 200 mph and competitors will fight inches apart, sometimes three-wide, for the coveted Harley J. Earl Trophy.

danica gordonWill it be a former Daytona 500 champion, with nine of those drivers in the field, to win again? Will it be Tony Stewart to win his first 500 in his 15th try? Drivers to win their first Daytona 500 in their 15th try were Bobby Allison, David Pearson and Michael Waltrip. Will it be Danica Patrick? She will be the only female in the field, and will become the fourth woman driver to compete in the Daytona 500. Or will it be a first time winner?

The unknowns are great for the 55th running of the Daytona 500, and I know I will be glued to my TV for the entirety. Are you ready?

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From the Marbles: Budweiser Shootout

February 16, 2012 Comments off

The 34th running of the Budweiser Shootout will take the green flag Saturday Feb. 18, as 25 drivers are on the entry list.

The eligibility rules have been altered once again, for NASCAR’s exhibition season opener at Daytona International Speedway. From the previous year, the Bud Shootout’s qualifying criteria was very difficult to understand, but this year they have simplified it a bit easier with still some room from improvement.

In 2011, drivers were eligible by being past Rookie of the Year winners, past winners at Daytona, Chase drivers from the previous season and active past champions. In 2012, NASCAR and Budweiser simplified the criteria by allowing only the top-25 drivers from 2011 standings and any driver with a win at Daytona (Daytona 500, Coke Zero 400 or Budweiser Shootout).

The race is still a very open race and quite easy to get in to, with a lot of issues where drivers who had poor seasons in 2011 are rewarded. Even elderly drives such as Ken Schrader, Terry Labonte, Geoffrey Bodine and Derrike Cope are eligible because of past victories at Daytona.

It’s exactly true what was said on Twitter by @nascarcasm when he tweeted Miss Wisconsin is now qualified for the Bud Shootout for winning the Miss America pageant in January.

Might as well throw in Eli Manning. Or Adele.

Back when Budweiser was the sponsor for the Pole Award, the Shootout field was set by those who won at least one pole during the previous season. In 2011, 18 drivers won at least one pole, but since Coors Light is now the sponsor of the award, Budweiser had to provide a new criteria and eligibility to race in the first exhibition race of the season.

25 drivers is still a good number of racecars. Despite being eligible for the Bud Shootout on Saturday, there are still a few drivers who will not be racing. Trevor Bayne, 2011 Daytona 500 winner, will not race due to not having a racecar provided by the Wood Brothers. Brian Vickers will also not race due to not having a racecar after Red Bull Racing closed its doors.

There are drivers who will begin their season Saturday with their new teams for the first time such as Kurt Busch (Phoenix Racing), A.J. Allmendinger (Penske Racing), David Ragan (Front Row Motorsports), Clint Bowyer (Michael Waltrip Racing) and Kasey Kahne (Hendrick Motorsports). These drivers will be looking to start their season with positive momentum heading into the 36-race season.

We will find out whether pack-racing will return this Saturday, and if NASCAR’s wholesale changes to the racecars will be enough to take away the two-car tango all together or if it will not allow teams to tango for long periods of time.

Either way, the race will be exciting and full of 50 laps of hard, quality racing.

And, at the end of the day, Speedweeks 2012 is finally back.

From the Marbles: What to expect from Danica Patrick

January 25, 2012 Comments off

Danica Patrick talks with the media during Media Tour on Tuesday. (Getty Images)

Kyle Busch was the most talked about NASCAR driver in 2011, but his crown will be swept away by Danica Patrick in 2012 as she will attempt her first full season behind the wheel in the Nationwide Series.

Driving for JR Motorsports, Patrick will be maneuvering her way, as comfortably as possible, through the ranks. Piloting the No. 7 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet in Nationwide, she is one of the early contenders to come out of the gates and be successful.

She will be doing double-duty weekends between Nationwide and the Sprint Cup Series, driving the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing, and will be racing in the Daytona 500 in late February. They have announced she will compete in 10 Cup races in 2012, and will forgo the Indianapolis 500 to be in the Coca-Cola 600 in May.

With many tracks on the schedule she hasn’t raced competitively on, she looks for 2012 to be a season of many ups-and-downs through her course of progression.

So what is there to be expected from Patrick in 2012? Let’s take a look-see …

First, she will succeed this season. Maybe not to the degree that some would love to watch, but success can be measured in many terms. She drives for one of the top-tier organizations in the Nationwide Series in JR Motorsports, and will be more comfortable than ever behind the lead of Tony Eury, Jr.

Danica Patrick and Tony Eury, Jr. will begin their third season together in the NASCAR Nationwide Series this season. (All Left Turns)

One top-five and three top-10s in 25 races may not be the success people expected from Patrick over her past two seasons. Or maybe it was for some fans. However, entering her third season behind the wheel, her average finish of 17.4 in 2011 will work its way down over the course of this season.

It’ll never be expected she be a favorite at any racetrack in 2012, but there are tracks that are “winnable.” I do believe she will win a race this season in the Nationwide Series. It will not come on a track where she is competing the double-duty workload, but to count her out in the equipment she races with is hard to argue.

She will not be a title contender in 2012. There are many issues with her learning curve that will halt her chances to become a champion. The road courses, tracks she has not raced on and other racing incidents she will encounter will be too much of a deficit to overcome when it comes to other competitors such as Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Elliott Sadler and Reed Sorenson.

Experience is a word fans will hear a lot about Patrick this season. Leading laps, finishing races and capturing as many positions as possible toward the end of the race is what needs to be expected from her. Her fourth place finish at Las Vegas in 2011 was the highlight of her season where she will need to build momentum from. Having consistent finishes without issues on pit road, entering or exiting, accidents or altercations with other drivers will allow Patrick to have a successful year she can build from in 2013 and beyond.

If Patrick will “make” it in NASCAR, success will be determined by winning races.

For today, tomorrow and 2012, Patrick and Danica-mania will enjoy the life in NASCAR, looking toward the future starting at Daytona.

Trevor Bayne makes history winning the Daytona 500

February 21, 2011 1 comment

Trevor Bayne takes the checkered flag at Daytona International Speedway to capture his first win in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at the Daytona 500. Credit: Facebook.com

In the 52 years of the Daytona 500, Lee Petty was the only driver to ever arrive at his first Daytona 500 and win, until today.

A driver of 20 years and one day from Knoxville, Tenn. made history in the Wood Brothers No. 21 as the youngest Daytona 500 winner and he goes by Trevor Bayne (website says “Official site coming soon”). Bayne scored his first Sprint Cup Series victory at Daytona International Speedway,the sport’s most prestigious track, in only his second start.

Bayne has jumped from a few teams in the Nationwide Series before meeting with the Woods to enter the first five races of the 2011 Sprint Cup Series. He drove the paint scheme formerly driven by newly inducted hall of famer David Pearson who drove to the last Woods’ Daytona victory 35 years ago.

For a driver who chose to run for a Nationwide title this season, his life will forever be changed as his name is etched into one of the most famous trophies in the sports. He joins some of the best names in racing such as Pearson, Foyt, Yarborough and Lund to drive to victory in a Woods’ Daytona 500 winning car.

It is doubtful those names could have completed the obstacles Bayne overcame and surpassed over the course of Speedweeks. Bayne worked the draft, two-car tango and other competitors the best out of every rookie and possibly veteran driver in the field. He earned the respect of Jeff Gordon in the Gatorade Duel on Thursday, but also pushed multiple cars to the front of the field in yesterday’s race.

So how can a virtually ‘unknown’ driver’s life change, so to speak, from being just another driver in the field to being a Daytona 500 champion?

An hour after Bayne’s victory, he noticed he went from 6,000 followers on Twitter to over 16,000 (now over 23,000). It is possible this victory will allow Bayne’s 17 guaranteed starts this season to increase to a possible full season opportunity with one of the most professional owners in NASCAR history.

In the end, he was the rookie looking like an upcoming veteran holding off past Daytona 500 champion and Cup Series champion Bobby Labonte, Carl Edwards and David Gilliand.

For a team owner who missed the Daytona 500 in 2008 for the first time in four decades Eddie Wood only had words for the future of Bayne.

“He reminds me of the great ones,” Wood said. “He will be a great one. I told somebody the other day that I felt like he just might be the next big deal, and I think he is.”

Trevor Bayne poses with the Daytona 500 trophy after his victory Sunday. Credit: Yahoo! Sports

BAJA Sports: To ‘The Birthplace of Speed’ for 53rd running of the Daytona 500

February 18, 2011 Comments off

The Daytona 500 will be ran at 1 p.m. on FOX. Credit: visitwestvolusa.com

BAJA Sports bloggers Thomas Hitch, Jeremy Lukaszka and C.J. Bowe will discuss topics of “The Great American Race” at Daytona International Speedway coming this weekend. NASCAR’s top-three series will visit the Florida track, where drivers will attempt to win the 53rd running of the Daytona 500.

1. The 53rd Daytona 500 being run Sunday will mark the 10th anniversary of the race since Dale Earnhardt’s death in 2001. How much do you think NASCAR has changed over the past decade? Overall, has NASCAR succeeded since his tragic death?

Thomas Hitch: Since Earnhardt’s death in 2001 a lot has changed for NASCAR over the past 10 years. The biggest improvement would be to the safety features around the track such as the SAFER Barrier, HANS device and the tighter drivers’ seats. I might be one of the believers of if Earnhardt was still here today, I do believe NASCAR would have made the same changes to the points system and we would have seen the same champions.

Jeremy Lukaszka: As a person that didn’t truly become a NASCAR fan until 2004, I never experienced the impact of Earnhardt’s death and the effect he and his death really had on the sport. If the events on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500 never happened, I honestly believe the sport would be just as safe as it is now but with the consequences of somebody else’s life. The only way I know NASCAR racing is the way the sport is today, in which case I believe every change the organization has made since then has been a successful one.

C.J. Bowe: NASCAR has changed quite a bit since the passing of  Dale Earnhardt.  The best thing that came out of everything was the obvious dangers in the sport and what could be done to fix it.  At this day in age its hard to even imagine NASCAR drivers without the HANS device or SAFER barriers.  There was a streak of tragedies in NASCAR back in the early 2000’s with Kenny Irwin, Adam Petty and Dale Earnhardt and if it was not for Earnhardt’s passing who knows when or if these safety precautions would have ever been put into effect.

Thomas Hitch: Now drivers and teams are driving the Car of Tomorrow, which has been attributed as being a major safety change from NASCAR. When you guys look at the COT, do you see it as NASCAR’s way of adding to the safety improvements or trying to improve the overall racing?

C.J. Bowe: I think of the COT as another safety precaution.  The racing was just fine with the old car, but the safety of the old car could be improved. I think looking at the changes they’ve been making to the COT to make it more like the old car is a sign that COT was meant to make racing more safe.

Jeremy Lukaszka: The Car of Tomorrow is safer without a doubt. However, I don’t believe NASCAR intended on making it safer as much as they did to build a better car for racing and to look different from what we’re accustomed to seeing. Think about it, if they were really worried about safety at the time, then the Nationwide Series would have switched to the COT as well since the cars used to be completely identical.

2. Fans have already witnessed the change in racing after Daytona’s new pavement. Will it change the outcome of who has a chance to win the 500-mile race?

Jeremy Lukaszka: Before I saw more than one car hit the track at a single time, I was predicting the 2011 Daytona 500 to be the best ever and see three-wide racing throughout the entire race. After seeing the Budweiser Shootout, I am almost positive this will be the worst Daytona 500 in history. The “two-car tango” is not what any fan expects at Daytona and the fact that we are not going to see pack racing will definitely hurt some drivers’ shot at victory.

C.J. Bowe: I think it definitely changes the outcome.  It was hard to predict before who would win the 500, but now it is down right impossible.  With the two car draft I would say anybody within the top 15 on the last two laps has a shot, it all depends on if one car gets hooked up with another car at the right time.

Thomas Hitch: After watching the Budweiser Shootout, fans had to be in complete disarray in the stands of what they were seeing. The fact is: Daytona is a different race track now, and if it provides different racing we, as fans, will learn to like what we see until NASCAR bunches the cars back together.

3. What drivers will visit victory lane in NASCAR’s top-three series Camping World Truck Series, Nationwide Series and the Sprint Cup Series this weekend?

C.J. Bowe: For Friday nights truck race I’m going to have to go with Kyle Busch although I will be pulling for Austin Dillon. I have high hopes for a good race on Saturday and would love to see Jr. get a win, but when Tony Stewart comes to Daytona in a Kevin Harvick Inc. Nationwide car my money has to be on him.  Then we get to the main event, thee Daytona 500.  I am really hoping it is exciting and we get to see some pack racing with three-wide racing, but at the end of the day the guy sitting in victory lane will be Dale Earnhardt Jr. Nobody in sports needs a win as bad as this guy, he NEEDS this one.

Thomas Hitch: When I look at the entry lists for these three races there are a lot of names who could be racing in all three series this weekend. I will be pushing for Aric Almirola driving the No. 51 Toyota in the Truck Series. In the Nationwide side of the garage, it is obviously February at Daytona and Tony Stewart is piloting a KHI vehicle, which puts him to the top of the leaderboard as my favorite. Not only because of his past record at the 300-mile race, but he is driving a racecar sponsored by Oreo. In the Cup garage it will be a tough choice to pick one driver. I believe it will come out of the Hendrick or Childress stable, and I will be pushing for the green and white AMP Energy Chevrolet piloted by, no other than, Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Jeremy Lukaszka: The Truck Series race is going to be the best race of Speedweeks 2011, and the man in victory lane will be Todd Bodine just like it usually is at the superspeedways. The Nationwide Series race is so unpredictable with the new track surface and the new car which many drivers have never driven. However, with the driving similarities it has compared to the Cup car I can only expect a Cup Series driver to win the Drive4COPD 300. The Daytona 500, NASCAR’s most prestigious race, will undoubtedly be the most difficult to predict. I cannot guarantee a winner, but I am almost positive I can guarantee the car leading the race out of turn four will be spinning backwards across the start-finish line coming to take the checkered flag.

Thomas Hitch: Obviously the Truck Series will provide the most action-packed racing throughout the race Friday, and I agree it could be the most exciting to watch as fan of superspeedway racing. I am not too sure about a Todd Bodine selection though, unless his shiney forehead blinds the other drivers toward the end.

C.J. Bowe: I’m not going to be a flip flop on my pick, but looking at the Duels today it proves the only thing we as race fans already knew, this race is impossible to pick a winner for. I personally dislike the two car draft and think it has ruined plate racing.  Still hoping to see some kind of pack racing finish, but if I had to guess how the 500 will end, it will be two guys breaking away on a green-white-checker, putting the gap between second and third to about 1.5 seconds.  I am sure it will be a photo finish, but where is the excitement in two cars completely breaking away from the pack?

Jeremy Lukaszka: After watching the Gatorade Duel at Daytona on Thursday I am neither for or against the two car draft. I certainly miss the pack racing we used to get, but I believe with 43 cars on the track Sunday afternoon the race will be beyond exciting. As long as the Daytona 500 does not go flag-t0-flag (which I highly doubt it will) I think the field will finish in one pack, assuming there are cars left to have a pack toward the end of the race.

NASCAR field set for 500 miles at Daytona

February 17, 2011 Comments off

Tony Stewart drives through Daytona International Speedway's garage area during practice. The Daytona 500 will take place Sunday at 1 p.m. on FOX. Credit: 4ever3blog.com

Today the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series set the field for the 53rd running of the Daytona 500 during the Gatorade Duel 150s.

Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 22 Pennzoil Dodge, and Jeff Burton, driver of the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet, won the two 150 mile races today at Daytona International Speedway. Because Dale Earnhardt Jr. was forced to a backup car, Busch will lead the field to the green flag on Sunday with Jeff Gordon on the outside.

Drivers in the first duel will fill in the inside row (odd positions) for the start of the race, and the drivers in the second duel will fill the outside row (even positions).  Drivers who missed “The Great American Race” are Todd Bodine, Kevin Conway, Derrick Cope, Michael McDowell and Casey Mears.

Teams will have three more practice sessions to prepare for their biggest event of the year. There will be two practices on Friday and Happy Hour will take place Saturday morning before the Nationwide Series take the track for the Drive4COPD 300 being aired on ESPN2 at 1:15 p.m.

Here will be the starting lineup for the race Sunday on FOX at 1 p.m.

1. #22-Kurt Busch

2. #24-Jeff Gordon

3. #78-Regan Smith

4. #31-Jeff Burton

5. #29-Kevin Harvick

6. #33-Clint Bowyer

7. #17-Matt Kenseth

8. #15-Michael Waltrip

9. #4-Kasey Kahne

10. #18-Kyle Busch

11. #42-Juan Pablo Montoya

12. #92-Brian Keselowski

13. #43-A.J. Allmendinger

14. #1-Jamie McMurray

15. #5-Mark Martin

16. #2-Brad Keselowski

17. #27-Paul Menard

18. #11-Denny Hamlin

19. #39-Ryan Newman

20. #56-Martin Truex Jr.

21. #48-Jimmie Johnson

22. #99-Carl Edwards

23. #14-Tony Stewart

24. #00-David Reutimann

25. #83-Brian Vickers

26. #16-Greg Biffle

27. #09-Bill Elliott

28. #37-Robert Richardson Jr.

29. #47-Bobby Labonte

30. #7-Robby Gordon

31. #46-J.J. Yeley

32. #21-Trevor Bayne

33. #36-Dave Blaney

34. #6-David Ragan

35. #9-Marcos Ambrose

36. #77-Steven Wallace

37. #71-Andy Lally

38. #20-Joey Logano

39. #34-David Gilliland

40. #87-Joe Nemechek

41. #38-Travis Kvapil

42. #32-Terry Labonte

43. #88-Dale Earnhardt Jr.  (B)

*B – going to rear because of backup.

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