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Bubble Breakdown: Previewing The 2008 Battle For The Top 35, Part I

The 50th Daytona 500. It's an upcoming milestone for everyone -- teams and fans alike -- but I'm going to go out on a limb and say some are so busy preparing for the first five races of the year that this 50th anniversary thing is a little detail that may be lost to them. Instead, many are focused on making the magical 35th position in points: owner points, that is.

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Racing At The Beach : Legends Set The Stage, 1971 – 1975

The Grand National Circuit, in the process of becoming Winston Cup, was very different than it had been when the drivers and teams had been there in 1970. The Factory Wars were over: Ford had announced it would not run any factory teams in 1971, and Chrysler was supporting only two cars, Richard Petty in a Plymouth and Buddy Baker in a Petty Enterprises Dodge. Among those left out in the cold as a result was Bobby Isaac, who had claimed the 1970 championship for Dodge. NASCAR had some new rules as well; The winged Mopars were all but banned, with a rule stating they had to run a 305 cubic inch engine as opposed to the 426 and 429 big blocks of the time in other cars. Restrictor plates had also been added between the carbs and manifolds of all cars to slow them down, as the speeds were once again beyond the capabilities of tires of the time.

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Racing At The Beach: Boycotts And Brushes With Greatness, 1965-1970

The Hemi Chryslers had dominated the 1964 Daytona Speedweeks, but it was a very different picture when the 1965 event rolled around. The big Hemis had been outlawed, and Chrysler was boycotting NASCAR racing. Besides the Dodge and Plymouth cars being out of action, so were their factory drivers, sitting on the sidelines at Chrysler's insistence. As a result, attendance at the 500,which had approached 70,000 in 1964, was off to less than 59,000 and even at that some people think Bill France was overstating the number to make it look like less of a disaster. Darel Dieringer held off a determined charge by Ned Jarrett in the final corner of the first qualifier to take the win in a Mercury. The second qualifier was another one of those carnage strewn events Daytona sometimes produced. With the Chrysler teams sitting out, a lot of rookie drivers saw an opportunity to make the big show. Some of them had never competed on any track bigger than a half mile before in their lives. One of them, Rod Eulenfeld, spun out on the very first lap and came back onto the track triggering a 13 car pile up that involved a lot of the other rookies as well. Buck Baker was also injured in the pile up. Throughout the tracks history the Daytona 500 has been marred by terrible and occasionally tragic wrecks involving rookies running on the massive speedway in traffic for the first time. Conventional wisdom is a rookie who gets through his qualifier incident free will be all right in the 500. Many times they do not. Fred Lorenzen appeared to have the second qualifier sewn up when he made a rare mental error. He passed Junior Johnson on the 39th lap of the event, and as he crossed the line thought the race was over and lifted off the throttle a lap early. Junior stormed back past him and won the race the next lap over a highly flustered Lorenzen.

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Racing At The Beach: The 500 Tradition Gains Momentum, 1960-64

The inaugural Daytona 500 of 1959 had been a huge success with blistering speeds and nary a caution to mar the proceedings, so as the Grand National circuit prepared for their second visit to Bill France's high-banked monument to speed in 1960, everyone was hoping for more of the same. Instead, the second version of the Great American Race brought with it a bit of a reality check. Fireball Roberts, who had run so strong in 1959, took the first qualifying race in a Pontiac edging out Cotton Owens by less than a second. It was in the course of that race that Tommy Irwin spun his fleet Ford T-Bird and wound up driving into Lake Lloyd in the center of the track. Luckily, Irwin was able to swim to safety. Jack Smith, in another Pontiac, took the second qualifier, edging out Bobby Johns by two seconds. The track had lived up to its promise of high speeds and close racing.

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2008 Season Preview: Who Is This Year’s Chase Surprise?

Today's Season Preview Topic: Which driver is going to be the biggest surprise in the Chase this season? Kim DeHaven, Senior Editor: "(Tuesdays / Numbers Game)":https://frontstretch.com/staffinfo/357/ *Greg Biffle*. After a mid-to-late season surge last year, I look for Biffle to carry that momentum over into Top 5 and Top 10 finishes in 2008. Even after he announces his 2009 plans and is officially a "lame duck" driver at Roush Fenway Racing, I look for him to rack up a few wins to solidly secure a place in the Chase.

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Racing At The Beach : The Debut Of The Great American Race

To those drivers slated to run in the very first Daytona 500, their first glimpse of the brand new speedway must have been awe inspiring. When Bill France Sr. first proposed a two-and-a-half mile race course with high banked corners, more than a few people scoffed that it would never be built, and some even said it couldn't be built. There had been such long delays in getting the speedway approved and built that a newspaper, the Indianapolis Star, once labeled France's proposed race track the "Pipe Dream Speedway". But there it sat, two-and-a-half miles of fresh black top shimmering in the midwinter Florida sun, with banked corners higher than the tallest buildings in the towns some of the drivers racing on it had grown up in. For a group used to running on short dirt and asphalt ovals, the awe must have been tempered with a bit of fear as well. As Jimmy Thompson, a driver of that era, put it, "There have been other tracks that separated the men from the boys. This is the track that's going to separate the brave from the weak when the boys are gone." Bill France had first proposed the Daytona Speedway during the annual beach/road course race in 1954, and was confident enough in his ability to get the track built he told the drivers there they would be racing on the speedway the very next year.

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2008 Season Preview: Which Driver’s On The Hot Seat This Year?

Today's Season Preview Topic: As always, 2008 will be a year when several driver contracts are on the verge of expiring. So, which driver starts the season on the "hottest seat," and why? Matt Taliaferro, Assistant Editor: "(Thursdays / Fanning The Flames)":https://frontstretch.com/staffinfo/7174/ Click here to email Matt your questions for Fanning The Flames this season - our weekly Fan Q & A column! Although Jamie McMurray's contract does not expire until 2009, I think he has to be on a boiling-hot seat. Yes, the Daytona win last July was impressive - but it was also long overdue. Following a messy departure from Chip Ganassi Racing at the end of 2005, McMurray has recorded all of six Top 5s in two full seasons with Roush Racing. And _this_ is what all the hubbub was about?

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Did You Notice…Dale Jr.’s Memorabilia Was Gone? And That’s Not All That’s Missing…

*Did You Notice* ... All the hubbub surrounding Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s "missing memorabilia" at DEI? Of course you did, because that's all everyone keeps talking about this week during an offseason where news has been so slow people are resorting to manufacturing some. Now, I'll preface this rant by saying I wasn't there ... unlike most of my media comrades, I actually get to take most of January off, bypassing a lot of the testing and preseason hype that's constantly thrown at us to keep NASCAR on the radar screen. But based on what I've heard, the story goes like this - more than 250 people came to DEI for a luncheon where the team was going to speak about the upcoming 2008 season. Now, anyone that's been in some of these race shops knows there's not necessarily the type of room to have a dainty media luncheon for that large a group; so, what the organization did was clean out a section so everyone would be able to sit comfortably. It was an area that happened to house Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s old cars and memorabilia; and after it was cleaned out, there was plenty of room for everyone to file in. That's the irony - the team was actually doing the media a favor, but in hindsight, they should have dumped the luncheon and left out a cheese plate to go with a unified media whine.

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2008 Season Preview: Is There Another Montoya In This Year’s Rookie Class?

Today's Season Preview Topic: After the success of Juan Pablo Montoya last season, the floodgates opened for a number of open-wheel stars to transition into the NASCAR ranks. But after a win and a Top 25 points finish for Montoya in his rookie season, can any open-wheeler in the rookie class of 2008 duplicate that success - especially considering most of them have even less preparation time and stock car experience under their belts? Kim DeHaven, Senior Editor: "(Tuesdays / Numbers Game)":https://frontstretch.com/staffinfo/357/ The open wheelers' racing accomplishments are quite impressive, but I don't see any of them equaling the stock car success of Montoya. Wins and Top 25 finishes don't come easily these days, no matter who you are; and while all these drivers have the talent, none are driving what I consider to be top notch equipment. If that wasn't enough working against them, Carpentier and Villeneuve also have the gargantuan task of qualifying their way into the field each week - meaning they're under additional pressure from the first practice laps at Daytona.

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2008 Season Preview: Will Toyota Become A Sophomore Sensation With Gibbs…Or Enter A Sophomore Slump?

Today's Season Preview Topic: Toyota made a major effort to upgrade their teams in the offseason, making a blockbuster deal with Joe Gibbs Racing. But how much will the other teams in the Toyota fold benefit? Simply put, can anyone else other than JGR win a race this season in a Camry; and for that matter, can that three-car juggernaut compete for the championship themselves in only their first season following a major manufacturer switch? Tom Bowles, Editor-In-Chief "(Mondays / Bowles-Eye View)":https://frontstretch.com/staffinfo/359/ Coming off of January testing, the grumbles I keep hearing and reading about focus on one thing more than anything else. No, it's not the Car Of Tomorrow, and it's not Hendrick's dominance; instead, it's the Toyota Camry engine that has everyone crying foul before Speedweeks even begins. Wow; what a difference a year makes. After a season to forget, the biggest pickup in the Toyota camp appears to be none other than JGR engine builder Mark Cronquist; and with the Car of Tomorrow providing equal chassis for all Sprint Cup programs, it's horsepower more than handling that's going to increasingly make the difference. And while I wonder how well Joe Gibbs Racing will work with others long-term - their drivers aren't necessarily the type that want to even share information amongst themselves - the extra horsepower secrets Cronquist provides should be enough to get teams like Dave Blaney's No. 22 and Brian Vickers' No. 83 in position to become Top 20 points contenders. A win is certainly not out of the question for either, and (I know you think I'm crazy) don't forget about Michael Waltrip on the restrictor plate tracks. Yes, I said it ... Michael Waltrip.

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