- Last Updated on Wednesday, 11 February 2009 19:54
- Published on Wednesday, 11 February 2009 19:54
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If last Saturday night's Bud Shootout is any indicator, Sunday's Daytona 500 should be a real barn burner.
As contrived as the process for selecting the starting field was, the race itself was great. It pretty much had something for everyone. Fan favorite and last year's shootout winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. led on several occasions before getting taken out in a late race wreck.
The race had a record 23 lead changes and a record 8 caution flags. When the race came to an end as the caution flag waved for the final time on the last lap of an attempted green, white, checkered flag finish, the surprising winner was Kevin Harvick. Prior to the final lap Harvick’s only claim to fame on the evening was being involved in two or three of the earlier race accidents. It was Harvick’s first win since his last lap victory over Mark Martin in the 2007 Daytona 500.
The lack of off season testing was readily apparent as the cars appeared very unstable throughout the race. The shootout had to be a great benefit to the drivers who had a chance to log some extra seat time prior to Sunday's 500.
Before Saturday night's race Dale Earnhardt Jr. talked about the importance of his win in last year's Bud Shootout. “Winning the first race of the year, whether it’s for points or no points is always special,” Earnhardt said. “There’s no better way to start a season than by winning the first one right out of the gate. It doesn’t necessarily determine how the rest of your Speedweeks will go, because we run different cars for the Daytona 500. But, it’s the opening act for a new season, and everyone wants to start off with a bang. I guess it’s more important for bragging rights.”
Last season, Jimmie Johnson became the first driver in 30 years to win three consecutive Cup championships. In 2009, he’ll try to make it four straight, something that’s never been accomplished in NASCAR history. With crew chief Chad Knaus back atop the pit box, and the resources of Hendrick Motorsports behind him, all the ingredients are there.
One problem, the bullseye on the back of the No. 48 team is even bigger this season. Plenty of teams are looking to knock them off. .
This close. That could have been the catch phrase for both Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch in 2008. Only a couple of missteps derailed their respective championship hopes. Edwards won a series-high nine races in 2008, finishing second in the points standings. Only an accident at Talladega and engine troubles at Lowe’s Motor Speedway during the Chase for the Sprint Cup kept him from hoisting the championship trophy.
A winner of eight regular season races, Kyle Busch came into the Chase as the top seed, and runaway favorite. Once the final ten race Chase began, the young man from Las Vegas was totally snake bit. The normally reliable Joe Gibbs Racing engines failed in first two Chase events and completely derailed his title hopes.
NASCAR’s original wunderkind, and four time champion Jeff Gordon went winless in 2008 for the first time in 14 years. Prior to last year, Gordon had won at least two races every season since 1994. Speaking of wunderkids, the young man they are calling “Sliced Bread,” Joey Logano will make history Sunday by becoming the youngest driver to start a Daytona 500 in the race's 51 year history. Logano will be 18 years, 9 months and 22 days old when he straps into Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 Home Depot Toyota Sunday.
“I went down here the last five or six years and I’ve had to watch from the sidelines. To be involved in the race this year is really exciting,” Logano said. “There’s just so much history and to be able to be on the same track that so many legends have won at is really an honor.”
Former Champion and now Fox TV racing analyst Darrell Waltrip had the best line about the youthful Logano, Waltrip said on last Saturday night's broadcast, “ Joey Logano looks like he should be carrying a backpack and heading off to high school. “
There are 56 cars present at Daytona competing for the 43 starting spots in the field. With all the driver and sponsor changes, even long-time race fans will need a program to sort out who is driving what car.