The Great American Race Takes Center Stage

POSTING BY JB MADDAWG

The Harley J. Earl Trophy awaits the Daytona 500 victor

Not many sports kick off the start of the regular season with the biggest event of the year.  That being said, NASCAR has always started its points season off with the Daytona 500, crown jewel of the racing world.  The race itself has become legendary, born from racing that took place on the half asphalt, half beach track that eventually would become the 2.5 mile monster we know today.  Lee Petty was the first actual victor of the facility in 1959, and his more famous son Richard would go on to the most 500 victories with seven. If most drivers were only guaranteed one more victory throughout a career, the Daytona 500 would be the choice, hands down.

NASCAR has suffered its bumps and bruises over the past few years, with a change in body style to the cars, and with it, a change in the way drivers approach the race.  The 2011 Daytona 500 was the tipping point of boredom for fans, as most cars paired up in two by two fashion for most of the event.  Gone were the days of the infamous Daytona “freight train” of 15-20 cars packed together nose to tail.  It had seemed the race had become a parody of itself.

Yet, the NASCAR powers that be heard the cries of the fans, and made the first steps to returning the cars to resemble more of what had been missing since 2008…”auto individuality”.  The one size fits all body style is being swept away for what made the sport famous, i.e., a Ford auto that actually looks and fits the Ford template.  Couple that with new fuel injected engines and the sport has the overhaul it severely needed.  Sunday’s Daytona 500 should usher in the new “old” era.

When the green flag drops this Sunday, a full field of autos will try to tame the paved beast for the 500 mile journey that will include failed dreams, crushed metal and for one, the dream come true.  A quick glimpse of the field reveals plenty of interesting stories that will play out come race day.  Will the winner be:

  • Carl Edwards.  The man in the pole position, who has yet to win a Daytona 500.  Odds will reveal, the pole sitter is pretty unlikely to win the actual race.  Edwards is an excellent driver, but a long shot.
  • Dale Earnhardt, Jr.  He’s a fan favorite, not nearly as skilled as his father Dale Earnhardt, Sr. that was killed at Daytona.  Most Earnhardt fans refuse to accept the fact that “junior” hasn’t won a points race since 2008.  He won’t do it on Sunday, either.
  • Jimmie Johnson.  The five time NASCAR points champ won the race in 2006.  Johnson is a threat to win a race whenever he puts his helmet on, and will be a serious contender on Sunday.
  • Tony Stewart.  The defending points champion will be looking for the last diamond to put in his crown.  Stewart has never won the 500 in 13 attempts.  Rumor has it, Stewart has figured out a way to eek the most out of the new fuel injected systems.  Barring major accidents, expect him to be in the hunt at the end.
  • Danica Patrick.  The most popular female driver of all time will have attention and well wishes, but this is her very first Daytona 500.  Look for her to just concentrate on finishing.
  • Kyle Busch.  “Rowdy” Busch is probably the most talented driver never to win the Daytona 500 or a points championship.  He’s due, and Busch has a reputation for escaping accidents that would snare a normal driver.  He’s my personal pick to hoist the trophy at the day’s end.

The only real guarantee is that after the race and fan fare have come to a close, there can be only one winner.  Truly, every driver from second place and back will have lost the race.

*Programming update: Due to the rain cancellation, The Daytona 500 will air live on Fox at Noon, on Monday, February 27th.

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