Race: Daytona 500 Picks
Date: Sunday February 23, 2014
Track: Daytona International Speedway
Time: 1 pm ET
by Virginia Vroom, NASCAR Handicapper, Predictem.com
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As you may have learned, there have been many changes this season. The most notable changes are the qualifying structure and the Chase format. We will have to wait and see towards the end how the new Chase format works, but the qualifying changes will be seen after Daytona. Because of the nature and history of this track, the qualifying system is one all its own. We have our pole sitter already. Austin Dillon won the pole by winning the Sprint Unlimited last Saturday night. The outside pole belongs to Martin Truex Jr. Let’s just take a moment and give credit where credit is due. Austin Dillon is racing for Rookie of the Year this year and Martin Truex Jr. is starting his first year with a brand new team. Not too shabby for such huge changes! The rest of the qualifying will be set mostly by the Duels that will take place on Thursday night. There are 2 150-mile races that will set positions 3-32. Spots 33-36 will go to the four fastest cars from qualifying that haven’t earned a spot yet. Positions are considered provisionals for the 500, with the 6 cars highest in 2013 owner points that have no already qualified their way into the race. Finally, the 43rd position is given to the car owner who has the most recent eligible past NASCAR Sprint Cup champion that did not make the field by any other qualifying effort.
regular qualifying. Daytona is simply its own beast. It makes its own rules. This track is extremely unique and rich in history. This track is a 2.5 mile tri-oval. It has 31 degree banking in the turns, 18 degrees through the tri-oval and 3 degrees on the straights. The straights are nothing to sneeze at, with the frontstretch coming in at a whopping 3800 feet and the backstretch coming in at 3000 feet. Last year, we saw the return of long-line drafting instead of tandem drafting, which NASCAR has essentially made impossible with the setup of the Gen6 cars. I expect to see much of the same this year.
Strategy is huge here. Drivers have to have friends here. If they don’t, it’s essentially a death wish at this track. Another way to lose at Daytona is old tires. Depending on pit strategy, some drivers may have significantly older tires than others. When that happens, they are passed, and passed quickly! The draft plays a large role in that. Typically, the leaders will line up and just freight train the guys with the old tires. Another factor is the drivers in that lead pack with old tires. They have to be careful drafting because their tire wear may cause issues and some unexpected wrecking because of odd tire pressures, worn tires altogether causing a lack of speed or just tires that can’t maintain proper grip across the track with the rest of the line. Fuel strategy sometimes plays a role, but typically, we’ve been seeing that only when we have green-white-checker finishes here.
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If we want to take a look at potential winners, we need not go farther than the Hendrick garage. We have Jeff Gordon, who has won Daytona 3 times, second only to Cale Yarborough and Richard Petty. Then we have 6-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, who has 2 wins here as well, last year being one of them. Dale Jr. has a win here. Kasey Kahne is the odd man out of the team, but he’s still a heck of a driver! Other notable drivers here are Matt Kenseth,
Kevin Harvick and Michael Waltrip. This is more than likely Waltrip’s only start for the year. Nemechek and Burton will be driving the car for the rest of the season. Harvick only has one win, but he’s a solid contender year after year. Kenseth has multiple wins, and if he’s anything like he was last year, 2014 may be a championship season for him. Overall, here are your potential winners for the Daytona 500:
My Pick to Win the Dayton 500: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Middle of the Road Pick: Jamie McMurray
Dark Horse Prediction: Austin Dillon
Jr. is on fire. His season may have ended in a championship if Michigan didn’t happen to him. That being said, Daytona is just an awesome track for him. With this being the last year with his partnership with Steve Latarte, I think that everyone wants to see big things happen for him. Jamie McMurray is always a strong contender on the super speedways. He’s a sleeper. He cruises along and then charges in the closing laps. Austin Dillon is one to watch for the entire year. He’s got your pole for the big race already, and he is driving the #3 car. I am not one to believe in the superstition, and I know that number has history with Childress, but you better believe that Earnhardt Sr. is going to be watching down this weekend as that car graces the track for the first time since his death. With his talent and a little extra help from up above, Dillon may have a shot.
This weekend is the commencement of a great season in the making. Daytona always brings in some great racing and unexpected finishes. Watch the Duels on Thursday night to get your full rundown on the qualifying for the rest of the field. While it may not mean much, you will at least get a good idea of which teams have the best speeds. Stay tuned for one of the greatest days of the year as we ring in the start of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup season!