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Friday, February 22, 2013

Drivers To Watch In The Daytona 500

With all of NASCAR's rule changes enveloped in a new car design, this year's Daytona 500 is full of uknowns.  The cars will all be bunched up again into large packs, but the ability of cars to drive up and side draft alone may be greater than it has in years.  With a change in maneuverability and the abandoning of 2 car drafts, it will be each driver for himself (or herself, of course) for more than the last few hundred yards.

This new car design and how it affects the cars in the draft at 195 mph has changed how most drivers view the race.  Some, such as Carl Edwards, say the racing is much more fun.  But others may be unsure about their chances and their strategies entering NASCAR's premier event because they have either never raced this style of restrictor plate racing or they had minimal experience with it prior to the 2 car tandem racing that developed after the COT was put in place.

The wild and aggressive style of racing from this car definitely lends itself to drivers like Kevin Harvick who has won the Sprint Unlimited and his Gatorade Duel.  Also benefited by this style would be drivers like Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, and Greg Biffle, all who like aggressive racing and are very good at handling cars that are moving around.

Some of the drivers who had plenty of experience and success at the old plate racing style, such as Gordon, Earnhardt Jr. and Michael Waltrip, may do well due to their experience at sensing the momentum of various lines and working their way to the front of a pack.  However, Waltrip has had much less seat time in recent years due to his semi-retirement, Earnhardt Jr. has not been pleased with his car's ability it pull up to cars in front of him, and Gordon has not won at a Daytona since 2005 and has an average finish of 20.8 since then.

There are a few new drivers who may do well this weekend.  All of the media's attention is on rookie of the year candidate Danica Patrick for getting the pole for this weeks race.  She does have a very fast car, but more attention should definitely be paid to drivers such as Austin Dillon who finished 3rd in his Gatorade Duel behind Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne.  In that race he had an impressive driver rating of 111 due to his ability to not only finish near the front, but to have maintained that position most of the race.  Also, Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne was quite strong in his Gatorade Duel, leading most of the race prior to wrecking.  If the 21 crew has a strong backup, Bayne may be seen near the front at the end of Sunday's race.

On particular driver who be a bit of a sentimental favorite for many this week is Mark Martin.  Martin has said he does not plan to come back next year for Michael Waltrip, and although he may still drive a limited schedule, the likelihood he will be in a top tier, or near top tier, ride at Daytona in the future is slim to none.  After coming close so many times, it would be great to see him finally win on NASCAR's largest stage.

Whoever wins Sunday, you can guarantee their will be plenty of passes, some extremely fast racing, and yes, some large wrecks.  As drivers are just becoming accustomed to the Gen 6 car's handling and how the drafts and "air bubbles" are being affected, as we have seen in the past week, there will be plenty of torn up cars going back to the garage. 


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