The Daytona 500 is the first race on the 36-race NASCAR Nextel Cup schedule, and the series’ biggest race. The Nextel Cup Series will visit the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway twice in 2006. DIS is the second-longest oval track on the Nextel Cup circuit. It is a tri-oval with 31 degrees of banking in the turns, 18 through the tri-oval, and 3 on the straightaways. The field will include the 2005 pole-sitter Dale Jarrett and defending race winner Jeff Gordon.
Current qualifying rules for the Daytona 500 lock the top 35 teams in 2005 owner points into the field as well as the top three qualifiers and most recent Cup champion not already guaranteed a spot. The initial round of qualifying locked pole-sitter Jeff Burton and second-place Jeff Gordon onto the front row for Sunday. The field then races for position in the Gatorade Dual 150’s, a pair of races that sets the starting grid and for just four transfer spots for teams not locked in by point standings or qualifying times. This years Dual 150’s were won by Elliott Sadler and Jeff Gordon. The qualifying record at DIS is 210.364 MPH, set in 1987 by Bill Elliott, before restrictor plates were required.
What To Expect
Expect the pack to be relatively quiet for roughly the first third of the race-teams won’t risk equipment to get to the front early; in fact, look for many top teams to hang near the back of the pack early on, trying to avoid the Big One, the multi-car crash that is a by-product of the close racing at restrictor plate tracks. A plate race rarely reaches its conclusion without it.
While teams look for momentum from the start of a very long season, the Daytona 500 winner rarely goes on to become the Nextel Cup series champion. Jeff Gordon was the last Daytona 500 winner to win a points title, in 1997. While the race is important to the overall season, winning it is the priority"¦a priority that will shift toward consistency as the season wears on and points position becomes more crucial.
Who to Watch
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a perennial favorite at DIS, with a 500 win and a summer win to his credit. The Hendrick Motorsports cars were strong at testing and throughout Speedweeks, and Jeff Gordon knows how to find DIS Victory Lane as well as anyone. Teammate Jimmie Johnson had his qualifying time thrown out for a rules violation which also got crew chief Chad Knaus sent home for the week-this could either light a fire under Johnson and company, or throw them off their game. If they get fired up, they will threaten on Sunday. Elliott Sadler won his qualifying race on Thursday and knows his way around Daytona, and defending Cup champ Tony Stewart has knocked on the door to victory in the 500 before. Dark-horse candidate? Go with Ken Schrader and a Wood Brothers team that has run with the best of them all week.
Did You Know:
-That Tony Stewart started his 2002 championship season with a 43rd-place finish in the Daytona 500?
-That Chevrolet leads all manufacturers with 34 DIS victories?
-That eight times the winner at DIS has been the only car on the lead lap? It last happened in 1976, and today’s aerodynamic package makes the possibility slim, at best.
-That when Bobby Allison passed his son Davey for the Daytona 500 win in 1988, he became the oldest Daytona 500 winner? Allison was 50 years, two months, and eleven days old at the time of that win.
You Don’t Say"¦
“I’m really excited about getting my 50th start. I read that the other day, and I can’t believe that I will have driven 50 Nextel Cup races; I didn’t ever think I’d get to drive one. It’s just awesome and it means the world to me. I am really glad to be a part of the sport at this level. Hopefully, there is another zero after that start number before I quit.” – Driver Carl Edwards, who will make his 50th Nextel Cup start in the Daytona 500
“I know everyone has heard me talk about this but there is no comparison to winning this race. I think the best way for anyone to understand is to go back and look at two wins where we had champions in this sport wait a long time to finally get that Daytona 500 trophy and that is Darrell Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt. To see how Darrell Waltrip reacted after winning that race, and then to see Dale Earnhardt finally get that win in 1998 – that pretty much sums up what this race means to each of us. We had watched a guy like Dale Earnhardt win pretty much everything else there is to win here but that reaction after winning the Daytona 500, well nothing compared to it and that is probably the best way to describe just how special a Daytona 500 win is.” -Three-time Daytona 500 champion Dale Jarrett on winning NASCAR’s premiere race
“Restrictor-plate racing is always white-knuckle racing. You try and remain cool and patient, but there are 42 other drivers out there that have to remain patient also. It’s hard, especially on the long runs because it’s tough to pass and if your car is handling well you want to get up front. You have to have friends out there.” -Driver Casey Mears on the importance of patience in plate racing
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