By admin | February 19, 2008
Racing With Rich
By Richard Allen
Duel Races provide plenty of information
Thursdayâ€™s Gatorade Duels provided an abundance of information as to what competitors and fans need to look for in Sundayâ€™s 50th Daytona 500.
Toyota: After a disastrous initial campaign Toyota has shown so far that they are intent on becoming a force in NASCARâ€™s top series. The addition of Joe Gibbs Racing has not only added credibility but strength to their line up.
Driver Denny Hamlin gave the foreign auto giant their first significant victory by taking the second of the Gatorade Duels. He along with teammates Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch were front runners throughout the 150 contest and gave little reason to believe they will not be serious contenders on Sunday as well.
However, perhaps more impressive, was the showing of Toyotas other competitors. Teams that provided little to get excited about last year demonstrated remarkable strength on Thursday. Brian Vickers spun early in the first race but was able to recover and race his way into the 500. Also, Michel Waltrip Racing placed all three of its teams in the â€œGreat American Raceâ€ with stron showings by Dale Jarrett and David Reutimann to go along with their bossâ€™s outside pole position qualifying run.
Like it or not, Toyota is for real and they seem destined for Victory Lane sometime soon, perhaps on Sunday.
Tires: No doubt, now that the issue of being the race is settled, the thing that is going to cause the 43 crew chiefs a few sleepless nights is tire wear. Numerous cars on Thursday experienced tire issues. Blistering and separating caused drivers to hit pit road ahead of schedule. Also, tires removed, sometimes after fairly short runs, showed obvious signs of wear.
A key, perhaps the key, to winning the Daytona 500 is going to be tire management. Pitting at the right time, provided runs last long enough for green flag stops, and listening to the driverâ€™s feedback will be paramount for crew chiefs.
Another thing to watch for will be late race cautions and what teams decide to do. Depending on how long their current tires have been on the car and what position their car is running in will cause drivers and their crews to make pivotal decisions in the final laps.
The Car of Tomorrow: Fans, drivers and perhaps most of all, NASCAR have to be breathing a sigh of relief at the performance of the controversial machine. So far, the car has proven to be a handful but the drivers seem to be getting more and more comfortable and the racing seems to be getting better.
Cars were two wide throughout the pack for much of the Duel events. If Sunday provides the same type of action the car will have passed its first major test of 2008.
Rookies: It was a rude welcome to NASCAR for one of the most experienced classes of rookies to ever come to NASCAR at one time. Jacques Villeneuve and Patrick Carpentier both failed to make the Daytona 500 after crashing out of their qualifiers. Dario Franchitti also crashed but will race on Sunday due to the fact that he is driving a car which finished in the Top 35 of last yearâ€™s point standings. Only Sam Hornish, with a 9th place finish in race one, scored a decent finish for the rookie class.
Engines: After reports of possible engines problems for the Toyota camp as well as all teams using Hendrick Motorsports engines, there were a few engine problems on Thursday. Aside from the tire situation, this will be another headache for crew members going into the weekend.
Team work: Teamwork proved to be a necessity. Tony Stewart pushed Denny Hamlin to a win. Michael Waltrip dropped back into the pack to help Jarrett and Reutimann make the 500. The Hendrick cars worked well together.
Winning at Daytona can not be done without help and there is no better place to get help than from teammates. Last July, Roush-Fenway drivers lined up to push Jamie McMurray to victory in the Pepsi 400. Something like that will almost certainly occur the Sunday.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr: Juniorâ€™s departure from DEI is looking like an inspired move. He is now two for two with Hendrick Motorsports. Based on his performance over the last six days it would be difficult to place anyone else in the role of favorite for the 5oth Daytona 500.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association.
His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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