2010 Daytona 500 Preview and Pick

Race: Daytona 500
Date: Sunday February 14th, 2010
Track: Daytona International Speedway
Time: 1 pm ET
Channel: FOX

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Daytona International Speedway brings us a flury of craziness in the days leading to the ultimate race, the Daytona 500. We’ve already seen the Shootout, which was last Saturday, where Kevin Harvick became the 4th driver ever the win consecutive shootouts. This week, we are going to be treated to the Gatorade Duels on Thursday.

Essentially, the Shootout is just an all-out fan race, where no points are on the line and the drivers are there for one reason and one reason only: to win. The Shootout determines nothing, really, except who has the guts to go all-out and bring everything to the table. This year’s race was no exception with some serious speed and bump-drafting going on. The Gatorade Duels are two races where the winners determine the starting lineup of the 500. There is a lot at stake for these guys because of the front-row potential and also the need to not tear up the cars since there are only 3 days until the big race.

The Duels are comprised of 2-150mile qualifying races. Last year’s winners, Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch, led the way to victory lane, thereby making them the front-row drivers for the 500. The Daytona 500 is the big daddy of the races. It’s a race of endurance for both driver and car but most importantly, it’s a race of patience. Because of the distance and the potential wear on equipment, drivers must calculate their way through the race to be there at the end.

When racing at a superspeedway, tires are critical. We saw this in the Shootout. When the caution came out on lap 70, two drivers stayed out while the rest came in for fresh tires. On the restart, the two drivers who stayed out got blown by as the fresh tires clearly overtook the old ones. Handling is also a critical element at Daytona. Fighting a loose or tight racecar can ruin a driver’s day. Because of the draft, a driver must be able to maintain his position without being jostled around too much because of an ill-handling car. If he can’t do that, the results are oftentimes disastrous.

When we talk about drafting at the superspeedway, we are talking about the flow of air around the cars. When a line of cars hooks up, bumper to spoiler, the cars create a tunnel for the air making a favorable aerodynamic pathway. This causes the longest lines of cars to move the fastest. What drivers have to be careful of is getting too close and bumping another car, especially in the corners, which could potentially spin that car out of control. Another thing that we are going to have to watch for this year is the reinvent of bump drafting. In the last couple of years, we’ve seen NASCAR put huge restrictions on where and when a driver could bump-draft, leaving us with boring races and drivers too scared to actually race because of the fear of outrageous penalties. This year, though, NASCAR is loosening up the rules, letting drivers have more say in what is acceptable on the track. We saw this in the Shootout.

Another aspect of the bump drafting is the increase in speed because of the larger restrictor plates this year. With NASCAR officials increasing the plates, drivers have more horsepower and the potential to move those lines much faster than before. With this being somewhat of an ‘experimental’ run, NASCAR is opening up that option as to how far drivers are allowed to go.

It’s nice to see NASCAR giving the drivers more say in how to race. I mean, NASCAR was built on the premise that ‘rubbin’ is racin’, so to see that theory dissipate over the years has been a bit disappointing. I think that NASCAR is trying to bring a lot of the excitement back to the fans and the drivers alike, showing that they don’t want full regulation like in IRL.

Looking at the makeup of Daytona, it’s easy to see where the speed comes from. This superspeedway is a 2.5 mile tri-oval with 31 degree banking in the turns and 3 degree banking on the straights. The massive straights also give us that speed with the fronstretch boasting 3800 feet and the backstretch boasting 3000 feet.

If we take a look at the past winners here, it’s hard to deny that this race in particular is very unpredictable. We have winners ranging from the multiple wins of Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon to the one time winners of Jamie McMurray and Ryan Newman. Taking a pick for this race is one of the hardest of the year, but I am going to stick with my Shootout pick Tony Stewart. I think that Tony made an extremely strong run during last Saturday’s race. He’s an awesome superspeedway driver and knows how to make the draft work for him. Some others that you will undoubtedly see up fron include Jeff Gordon, along with other Hendrick teammates Martin and Johnson. Michael Waltrip usually does well here if he can manage to stay out of trouble, although that’d be unusual. Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth are also two drivers to watch here.

Look for the duels this Thursday to determine our front row. Qualifying is important, but not necessarily a determining factor here as with some other tracks because of the length of the race and the potential for drafting your way to the front.

Get ready for an amazing start to the 2010 season at Daytona International as we see an increase in speed and bump drafting, which is sure to set some tempers flaring right off the bat! And don’t forget to at leat say Happy Valentine’s Day to your sweetie, gentlemen. Daytona sounds like a pretty good Valentine’s to me!