It’s incredible how just two days of events can change one race in so many aspects. But, then again, the Daytona 500 gives that opportunity since there’s one week between qualifying and the actual race. With Monday and Tuesday having no track activity, Wednesday started a chain of events that set the course on what to expect for the big race.
NASCAR implemented changes to prevent the two-car packs that were most evident in the Bud Shootout, in that a pressure release valve would be put on the cooling system and must be at 33 psi. The issue was cars were getting water temperatures above 260 degrees, yet also stayed in line. Now, the question was how long the two-car teams could hold up before needing to get some air.
Then, a change in the restrictor plates on the carburetors was sent down. As little as it sounds, the holes in the plates were shrank by 1/64th of an inch. But here’s the comparison. Speeds at one point in the Bud Shootout were above 206 mph in the draft. At it’s peak, after the change, speeds barely got above 200 mph.
Unfortunately, the changes didn’t do much for one driver…because speed was the enemy.
In Wednesday’s practice session, pole-sitter Dale Earnhardt Jr. was involved in a wreck with Martin Truex Jr. after having to slow up in order to avoid a slower pack of cars. The result was a destroyed race car, the team pulling out the backup car, and having to forfeit their starting spot. Not only that, but also the team now had to get another car ready to be the backup to the backup. So, the No. 88 team went back to the shop and began repairing the car that was run in the Bud Shootout to be the new backup car.
So, all this drama and all this craziness led up to the Gatorade Duel qualifying races, which would set the entire field for the Daytona 500. But I didn’t get to this point as a fan of NASCAR and not realize some of the trends in these races.
Usually, the first race is ho-hum and not as exciting, while the second race usually includes some big drama, and more accidents. Once again, things never changed.
The first race had a lot of lead changes, in fact it set a record since the qualifying races went from 125 to 150 miles in length starting in 2005. A total of 15 lead changes happened, with a few minor accidents and a blown engine.
In the end, Shootout winner Kurt Busch went 2 for 2 as he took the checkered flag in the first qualifying race. His victory earned him the inside starting spot in the second row. Once the green flies, however, on Sunday he’ll be on pole once Junior falls to the back of the field.
The second race, completely different story.
Fans and media alike saw Joey Logano go sliding down the track and nail the inside wall, meaning he too will have to go to a backup car for the race. As the laps continued, the two-car draft seemed to once again be the talk as despite the effort to break the cycle, it was seen that in order to go fast, one must have some backup. Ironically, if that pack became a three-car tandem, the cycle was broken because the third car in line wouldn’t keep up with the pack.
Teammates were huge in the second race as Roush-Fenway, RCR and Gibbs teammates were always in pairs to get to the front. But, another two combos were a major talk. First, the duo of Jeff Gordon and rookie Trevor Bayne were attached together as if they were chained bumper-to-bumper. Bayne stayed on the back of Gordon’s car so much the Chevrolet logo was worn off.
Unfortunately, at the end of the race that team had a little scuffle as Gordon came loose off the last corner, then Bayne checked up and a multi-car wreck ensued. Gordon had damage to his right side after grinding against the wall, then a slight dent in the left after getting hit by the front of Bayne’s car.
In the end, David Ragan was also involved, and it appears as though both Bayne and Ragan will be in backup cars for the race. It is horrible for Bayne as he was so fast during the practices and qualifying.
Meanwhile, out front it was a battle right to the finish between the Richard Childress Racing teammates of Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer. At the stripe, by five-thousandths of a second, Burton pulled out the win, his first checkered flag at Daytona since July of 2000.
What these races mean is that the 53rd Annual Daytona 500 is going to have a lot of drama, a lot of mystery, and many expectations. The 2011 campaign begins Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. on FOX. Let’s go racing everyone.
STARING LINE-UP: DAYTONA 500
(ROW: Inside (speed where applicable), Outside (speed where applicable)
ROW 1: Dale Earnhardt Jr-#88 Amp Energy Chevrolet (186.089 MPH), Jeff Gordon (#24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet (185.966 MPH)
ROW 2: Kurt Busch-#22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge, Jeff Burton-#31 Caterpillar Chevrolet
ROW 3: Regan Smith-#78 Furniture Row Chevrolet, Clint Bowyer-#33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet
ROW 4: Kevin Harvick-#29 Budweiser Chevrolet, Michael Waltrip-#15 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota
ROW 5: Matt Kenseth-#17 Crown Royal Black Ford, #18-M&M’s Toyota
ROW 6: Kasey Kahne-#4 Red Bull Toyota, Brian Keselowski-#92 K-Automotive Motorsports Dodge
ROW 7: Juan Pablo Montoya-#42 Target Chevrolet, Jamie McMurray-#1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet
ROW 8: A.J. Allmendinger-#43 Best Buy Ford, Brad Keselowski-#2 Miller Lite Dodge
ROW 9: Mark Martin-#5 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, Denny Hamlin-#11 FedEx Express Toyota
ROW 10: Paul Menard-#27 Peak/Menards Chevrolet, Martin Truex Jr-#56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota
ROW 11: Ryan Newman-#39 U.S. Army Chevrolet, Carl Edwards-#99 Aflac Ford
ROW 12: Jimmie Johnson-#48 Kobalt Tools/Lowe’s Chevrolet, David Reutimann-#00 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota
ROW 13: Tony Stewart-#14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet, Greg Biffle-#16 3M Ford
ROW 14: Brian Vickers-#83 Red Bull Toyota, Robert Richardson Jr-#37 North Texas Pipe Ford
ROW 15: Bill Elliott-#09 Phoenix Construction Chevrolet, Robby Gordon-#7 Speed Energy Dodge
ROW 16: Bobby Labonte-#47 Kroger/USO Toyota, Trevor Bayne-#21 Quick Lane Tire and Lube Center/Motorcraft Ford
ROW 17: J.J. Yeley-#46 Red Line Oil Chevrolet, David Ragan-#6 UPS “We Love Logistics” Ford
ROW 18: Marcos Ambrose-#9 Stanley Tools Ford, Steven Wallace-#77 5-Hour Energy Toyota
ROW 19: Andy Lally-#71 Adobe Road Winery Chevrolet, Joey Logano-#20 Home Depot Toyota
ROW 20: David Gilliland-#34 Taco Bell Ford, Travis Kvapil-#38 Long John Silvers Ford
ROW 21: Joe Nemachek-#87 AM FM Energy Toyota, Dave Blaney-#36 Tommy Baldwin Racing Toyota
ROW 22: Terry Labonte-#32 U.S. Chrome Ford
DID NOT QUALIFY
Derrike Cope-#64 Sta-Bil Toyota
Kevin Conway-#97 Extenze Toyota
Todd Bodine-#60 Tire Kingdom/Valvoline Toyota
Michael McDowell-#66 HP Racing LLC Toyota
Casey Mears-#13 Geico Toyota