Friday, February 18, 2011
Sprint Cup 2011: Race 1, Daytona 500 -- Same place, new track
Right Minded Fellow is proud to kick off its third season of Daytona through Homestead commentary and analysis of NASCAR Sprint Cup Racing. Attempting to say thoughtful and incisive previewing the 2011 Daytona 500 is a most daunting task as “speed week” has provided no standout favorites and many complex issues with no obvious conclusions. We will do our best to preview the situation and indicate what those questions are. One way or another, they will be answered on Sunday. We hope to see a competitive safe race with the faint hope that perhaps 2011 will provide a Daytona race with no “big one.”
The 2011 NASCAR season begins with one of the most puzzling set of circumstances in years certainly perhaps even more so than the introduction of the “car of tomorrow. “ With the repaving of the Daytona International Speedway, the entire race has essentially been remanufactured. The handling characteristics and speed of the cars, given that the auto technology of the last quarter century has produced cars capable of far exceeding 200 mph a speed at which cars can become airborne with the slightest tap, are functioning entirely differently than with the old surface. With a consistent smooth surface and tire rubber that works with fresh modern asphalt two cars working in drafting tandems can exceed 200 mph. Such was seen Saturday night in the Bud Shootout. First, NASCAR attempted to reduce speed by altering the cooling systems so engines would overheat quicker in the draft forcing drivers to ease up. Now a smaller restrictor plate will also be employed. These are both fixes initiated once cars have begun to practice. The smaller plates being added as a last minute fix with little time to practice.
Sizing up the field and trying to project favorites to win the race couldn’t be more daunting when even the best performers so far might respond differently with a further choked down engines, but so far the Childress cars and Kurt Busch in the Shell/Pennzoil Dodge easily mistaken for Kevin Harvick’s car since he drove those colors last year are the most impressive. We can also infer that Fords and Toyotas are not likely to win. The Hendricks gang can never be ruled out.
The best laid plans can go up in smoke in a moment at Daytona. We could see the Childress and Hendricks cars looking great going into the last quarter of the race, and then there’s the “big one” eliminating a large chunk of the field creating more a war of attrition.
What’s shaping up as clear, fans will see a new style of racing on Sunday as teams and technology try to tame a new racetrack while taming the challenges of high speed racing.
The field lines up as follows noting that Dale Earnhardt Jr. will move to the back of the field since he is driving a backup car since his primary car was destroyed in practice.
1. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet
2. Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet
3. Kurt Busch, Dodge
4. Jeff Burton, Chevrolet
5. Regan Smith, Chevrolet
6. Clint Bowyer, Chevrolet
7. Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet
8. Michael Waltrip, Toyota
9. Matt Kenseth, Ford
10. Kyle Busch, Toyota
11. Kasey Kahne, Toyota
12. Brian Keselowski, Dodge
13. Juan Montoya, Chevrolet
14. Jaime McMurray, Chevrolet
15. A.J. Allmendinger, Ford
Note that Regan Smith racing for the Furniture Row team is running with Earnhardt/Childress power plants and a Childress chassis leaving only newcomer, Paul Menard, who starts 19th the only Childress entry not in the top 7. Michael Waltrip is racing a part-time schedule and had to race to make the field. Brian Keselowski, Brad’s little brother, is a private single car ride owned by his father, Bob, who ran in the ARCA series. Their equipment is from Penske.
Other noteworthy drivers start as follows: Mark Martin, Chevrolet, 17th; Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 18th; defending champion, Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 23rd, and Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 25th.
In addition to Earnhardt, David Reutimann and Joey Logano, both driving Toyotas will move to the back of the field for being in backup cars.
Five drivers, all driving Toyotas, none considered competitive rides and possible start and park entries did not make the race: Derrike Cope, Kevin Conway, Todd Bodine, Michael McDowell, and Casey Mears.
We feel compelled once again to voice our anger over what a horrible mess the official NASCAR website, NASCAR.com has become this year. It is very difficult to glance over and find timely information in an organized fashion. The overall appearance is busy and disorganized. Turner Sports & Entertainment Digital Network maintains the site and must be held accountable for what is a woefully shoddy product. In their ten year association with NASCAR, they have consistently delivered a substandard browsing experience for race fans only approaching marginally acceptable at their very best. Race fans deserve much better.