DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – What a wild, crazy month of February it’s been. I don’t know if I can remember a Speedweeks with more rules changes… and it’s only Saturday (Feb. 19). NASCAR is doing everything they feel necessary to make this Daytona 500 one of the greatest ever, but so far the racing has been average at best. Never has there been a weekend more unpredictable, but one thing that is for sure is that we should see some good finishes.
Off to the questions.
Is it OK to not like this two-car tandem thing?
Sure it is. I, for one, am not a fan of it either. I had no problem with the two-car draft when the cars were running well over 200-plus mph a week ago, but the onslaught of rule changes to try and eliminate the duration of the pairing and then the plate change to slow them down altogether has been a bit of a letdown. The plate racing we’re used to with big packs was nothing but a lottery, but there was a sense of guaranteed excitement attached. Now, not only are the two-car tandems undoubtedly a “pick-a-friend” lottery, but the way they race creates mind-numbing boredom for the fans.
All we’ve seen so far this Speedweeks is a shuffle of pairs of cars alternating positions based on who has to switch between front and back before they overheat. That’s why you can’t pay attention to the record number of lead changes in the Duel 150s… these drivers have no choice but to give up the lead.
But at the same time, it’s exciting for the drivers and the finishes can’t help but be memorable. My early take on this tandem thing is that it’s something we’ve never seen before and it’s going to take some getting used to, but it has potential to produce some historic finishes. Sunday will definitely be unpredictable, that’s for sure.
So what will be the most exciting race: Nationwide or Cup?
Depends on what you deem as exciting. The Nationwide race hosts a bunch of NASCAR’s future stars and Cup Series regulars (and the cars look cool), but you’ll still see the two-car tandem and drivers have complained about the inability to pass. Then, of course, the Daytona 500 is the weekend’s main event where there won’t be any inability to pass in the closing laps. Still though, this is Daytona. It’s plate racing. It’s the season opener, which means each of the two remaining races will have its highlights, lowlights, excitement and the likelihood of a great finish. Best of all, the 2011 NASCAR season is here.
Could NASCAR really be rigged?
Never that I can remember seeing a journalist come out and claiming publicly there’s a possibility NASCAR (or any sport, for that matter) may be manipulated. But such was the case this week when Liz Clarke of The Washington Post spouted off a surprising statement on ESPN Radio:
“People who covered racing for a long time, a lot were just laughing when they heard Junior won the pole because of the rich NASCAR tradition of ginning up storylines and outcomes. There are a lot of questions still about Richard Petty‘s 200th win, which came the day Ronald Reagan was there. Everything Americana happened to fall into place that particular day.”
When host Tony Kornheiser asked what the odds were that NASCAR may have rigged qualifying, Clarke added: “I’d say better than 60%.”
NASCAR journalists have long joked about some memorable finishes having the “almost too good to be true” feel, but with that said, those who cover the sport know this isn’t likely. Racing is too unpredictable to have a hand in it. And as much as fans and writers alike may snicker at something like Dale Earnhardt Jr. winning the pole, an accusation like this is nothing to laugh at.
The last thing NASCAR needs is casual sports fans who may tune into a race every once in a while to think this is like wrestling. We all want this sport to grow to what it once was, and for that to happen it needs credibility. Hopefully this is a non-issue.
Who are some longshots who can win the Daytona 500?
The list is long, my friends. Anything can happen on the plate tracks and this isn’t any different. Watching the Duel 150s, however, I’m a big fan of Ford’s ability to push for longer periods of time without overheating. Because of that I’m a big fan of Trevor Bayne and AJ Allmendinger.
Switching over to the Chevy camp, don’t be surprised to see Regan Smith back up his Duel 150 run (he’s got a history of success at plate tracks) and Paul Menard be there at the end. In reality, I can give you probably 30 drivers who can on Sunday and that’s what’s going to make the Daytona 500 exciting regardless of the rules. It should be a good one!
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