I am not much of a NASCAR fan, although my parents started watching some 12 years ago or so, and have been avid watchers ever since. Like fans in sports the world round, they chose sides, my mother favoring Jeff Gordon, my father taking up the Miller Lite colors of Rusty Wallace.
I chose to stay out of the battle, as I had no vested interest in the outcome, although I did admire the hard driving style of the late Dale Earnhardt, and now finding myself, more often than not, in the corner of his son, Dale Jr., and his number 8 Budweiser ride. But all of this is neither here nor there, for it is that time once again. This Sunday, February the 18th, will be the 49th running of the Daytona 500.
NASCAR is the only sport that I can think of that features its premiere race at the start of the season. All of the other sports, that I can think of, place it at the end of the year, culminating with the coronation of a new champion. Of course, NASCAR does not crown their champ at the start, they still have the championship awarded at the end of the season, yet there is something magical, something revered, and something that every driver so greatly desires in the Daytona 500. It marks the start of a new season of motorsports, and could be equated to the Super Bowl in terms of anticipation and build up.
The Daytona 500 has the largest televised audience of any race during the year, it attracts the largest in person attendance, and also offers the largest purse to the winner. It is a race that all the greats have won, although it does take some longer than others, with Dale Earnhardt winning it after 20 years worth of attempts, others win it early in their career, like Jeff Gordon, who won in only his second full season on the circuit.
This year, 43 drivers are competing for the prestigious prize. Like every year, the field is wide open. There is no way to predict whom the winner is going to be; of course the favorite is inevitably the pole sitter, although it is all but a sure thing. NASCAR Nextel Cup racing may look like a sprint, due to those incredibly high speeds, but it is more akin to a marathon, as you have to factor in the length of the race, fuel and tire consumption, speed of the pit crews, and a whole host of other variables.
It seems just as likely for someone to win from the back of the pack as it is for those at the front. In the 49 years that the race has existed, there have been 30 different winners, with 5 going on to win the championship that same season.
Heading up this year's field is David Gilliland, driving Ford #98 emblazoned with the M&M's logo. This will be his first full year on the circuit, and this is his first Daytona 500, and there he is, starting at the top of the field in the big one. Rounding out the top five are Ricky Rudd, two-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. To show that there is star power throughout the field, Jeff Gordon will be starting from the 42nd position.
Following last weekend's qualifying, there was much to be reported on. There were infractions, major and minor, wrecks, and suspensions all emanating from Daytona International Speedway. Each year delivers its own set of news and controversies, and this year is no different.
Four team directors were suspended, two for four races, the other two for two races. Directors for Kasey Kahne and Matt Kenseth received the four race suspensions, while Elliot Sadler and Scott Riggs will lose their directors for two races each. In addition to the suspensions, there were point deductions and monetary fines levied against the various teams involved.
Then there was the infraction found on Jeff Gordon's car, his spoiler was found to be below regulation height, and he has been forced to drop from his qualified fourth position all the way down to 42nd. Michael Waltrip, a two time Daytona 500 winner, has hit something of a crisis, involving a seized car, and loss of money and points.
The specifics of all of these occurrences escape me, as there are so many specific and stringent rules and regulations governing every aspect of each car. Considering my level of enjoyment, I doubt that I will ever know, although it is interesting to see the results of the infractions, as they can be quite severe.
In better news, there are a bunch of firsts in this years race. Including pole sitter Dave Gilliland, there are four rookies in the field, the other three being David Reutimann, Juan Montoya, and David Ragan. Joining the four rookies will be the first attempts by Toyota to get into the NASCAR circuit. Previously, the stock car racing business has played host to Ford, Chevrolet, and Dodge. There are four Toyota Camry’s in the starting field, including Michael Waltrip. It will be interesting to see how they compete; Ford and Chevrolet have the most cars in the field.
You may have remembered way back at the start of this, I mentioned that I wasn't much of a fan. That is a fact that must have you asking yourself why I wrote this. Well, it is pretty simple, the race is around the corner, and it does have some interesting aspects to it, and I thought I would add a little bit of the outsider looking in. I may even watch the race.
Oh yeah, for the record, I predict Dale Earnhardt, Jr. will win his second Daytona 500. If you have read my predictions for other areas of entertainment, you will also know that I have been known to be wrong. From time to time.