Duel #1: What To Watch
*Length Of Race:* 60 Laps
*Who Will Automatically Transfer:* Top 15 finishers _not_ including Danica Patrick
*Who’s Locked In To The 500 No Matter What:* Polesitter Danica Patrick, Trevor Bayne, Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, Greg Biffle, Kurt Busch
*Starting At The Rear:* Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
*Who Can ONLY Make The Race Through The Duel:* Brian Keselowski
*What I’m Watching…*
– *Dale Earnhardt, Jr.* will be starting from the rear after losing an engine during Wednesday’s practice. Earnhardt also reportedly had motor issues in the last segment of Saturday night’s Sprint Unlimited; so what gives? Will they play it safe or will the No. 88 work its way through the field and go for the win? Of note, it seemed like Earnhardt could make his way through this “old school” draft with ease when he had full power – I had him marked as the second-fastest car, next to Matt Kenseth before the horsepower started going sour.
– Several teams had a noticeable amount of what crewmen called “slick tape,” to the point on Ryan Newman’s and Matt Kenseth’s cars they stuck out of the rear bumper. According to one, it’s designed to “grab” the car behind you, making sure the bumper slides underneath instead of turning someone the wrong way. I’m interested to see if there is a wreck, it’s with one of the cars that have this “protection” on them or if it’s one that’s decided to minimize this “addition” on the rear.
– *Joe Nemechek and Brian Keselowski.* As always, the Duels come down to fascinating stories of these underdogs trying to make the starting lineup. Unfortunately, Keselowski has had all sorts of problems during Speedweeks and been well off the pace; should he, along with Nemechek struggle to keep up with the lead draft there’s less incentive for those in front of them to race hard as only two drivers out of 45 total entries will go home. Nemechek can still make it through a provisional, but Keselowski must finish 15th or better (or 16th if Danica is ranked ahead of him) in order to make his second career 500.
– *Danica, Danica, Danica.* How safe will she play it? Everyone, from GoDaddy execs, to NASCAR suits up in Daytona Beach and even owner Tony Stewart are desperate to ensure she starts from the pole on Sunday. In a way, that puts more pressure on this race because a wreck or any sort of mistake ruins the momentum as, under NASCAR’s rules a backup car means she starts dead last. Expect a lot of protection from Smoke, in this race and starting behind her in the No. 14 and perhaps an early parking down the stretch if things get hot and heavy. I don’t blame them, either; after learning a bit, the risk of disaster in the final ten laps is just too great.
– *Pick To Win: Joey Logano.* In his new ride with Penske Racing, Logano was a top-5 car in the Sprint Unlimited and has plenty to prove with his second chance. In a race where some might settle in, happy with a 7th and a reasonable pit selection winning for Penske here would make a statement for Sliced Bread. He starts fifth and certainly has the speed to get it done.
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