The Shootout is completed. The Duels have been run. The Field has been set. Just a few more practice sessions, a Truck Series race and a Nationwide race, and we’re there. 3 Months of off season completed and the fans are ready to show their support for their drivers. Big time names have been floating around all week about who is running fastest laps, who has looked goon in the duels, where the qualifiers sit. Now all we need to do is race.
The Daytona 500 is the biggest race of the NASCAR season. Some may ask, “Why would you put your Superbowl at the beginning of the season?”
I am glad you’ve asked. NASCAR, unlike other sports, has 43 teams competing for a win, at the same time, every week. Other sports may have an equal number of teams competing over the course of a week, but this is 43 teams competing in the SAME race on the SAME day, week in and week out. The off season for NASCAR this year was 95 days. (Nov 21 2011 – Feb 26 2010) Having their biggest race of the season as their opener shows the dedication of the teams, and recognizes the work they have done, the advancements they have made, and the determination that they can win. 43 teams all have a shot to win it, and 43 teams put everything into making that happen.
Putting the events on for a full week before the first official race of the season adds even more to the excitement. The Budweiser shootout is a no holds barred, winner take all, big check and bragging rights race that reminds us all the the season is about to begin. Following the shootout the drivers prepare to qualify the next day to test the speeds their car has at the ready and to determine who will start on the front row. Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle, both from the Roush Racing stable, had the best qualifying times putting Ford out front to start the Great American Race.
The final factor deciding where the racers will begin their adventure from is the Gatorade Duel races. 2 races back to back, 60 laps each, determining the starting position of the rest of the field. First race is open to all of the drivers who qualified into an odd numbered position, and will place them in order of completion down the odd numbered side of the field to start the 500. With Tony Stewart being the winner of the first race this places him behind the pole sitter on the odd numbered side of the grid in 3rd, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr in 5th and so on down the line. The second race is for the drivers who qualified into an even numbered position and their starting positions mirror the first race. Matt Kenseth winning that one will start in 4th position behind his Teammate Greg Biffle in the second row, followed by Regan Smith in 6th and again, so on down the line.
This is the most confusing qualifying method of the year, but it certainly brings a ton of attention and pageantry to the week leading up to the Daytona 500. It draws additional television coverage, advertising dollars, and of course, the attention of the millions of devoted fans looking to see their drivers back on the track after the longest off season in NASCAR history.
36 races from here the Champion will be determined at Miami Homestead, the last race of the season, where Tony Stewart stood victorious in the closest points race in NASCAR history. While it had ended in a tie, Tony Stewart won it for having more wins than Carl Edwards. Carl Edwards is now seeking redemption and is looking to bring home his own Championship in 2012, but he has 42 other teams looking for the same result. Dale Earnhardt Jr is looking for a win, any win, any where, to break his more than 3 season long drought to an end.
After finishing second in his Duel race Jr had this to say about his results.
“I feel good about running second and for bringing the car home in one piece. Hopefully we will get through the next couple of days without any troubles as far as we don’t want to bring out a back-up.We want to start the 500 in this car.”
“I just want to win – anywhere” said Dale Jr. “I just want to go ahead and get that done so, I can think about the next one and get the streak over with and get back to victory lane.”
“We lost over a million dollars last year by not being in the Winners Circle Program. The team could use that money. There are just so many benefits to getting in the winners circle. It’ll help our team, it will validate what me and Steve (LeTarte) have been trying to do the last couple of years.”
When asked if he would like to end his streak here in Daytona he said, “It’s the Daytona 500. It’s the biggest race of the year. It would be pretty spectacular for me personally to win it, but it would do so many other things that I can’t even list right now, for the team, for the company going forward. It would be awesome.
Tony Stewart has been to victory lane here 17 times, in every race except the one he wants, the Daytona 500.
“Obviously having won here 17 times and not on the right day is proof it’s no guarantee, obviously. But it’s nice to win here, it gives you confidence going into Sunday” said Stewart after after winning his Duel race.
“I think we have shown the rest of the field that we have a car that has good speed. I want those guys to see that we’ve got strength. I think it’s an advantage to do that at this point in the game.”
So get the beers chilling, and get the snacks ready race fans. The wait is almost over, and our Superbowl is almost here. Let us all be ready to cheer on the beginning of the 2012 season and to cheer our drivers on to the win.