Xander Predicts: The Daytona 500
This weekend, NASCAR will be running the 54th installment of the Daytona 500. Now that we have seen the Winter Testing Sessions, Bud Shootout, Gatorade Duels, and Truck race, it will be interesting to see what the new aero package is going to be like on the 2.54-mile superspeedway with all 43 cars. For the majority of NASCAR fans, pack racing is the way superspeedways should always be—never any two car tandems where teamwork is necessary. On the contrary, you can easily also find fans that enjoy this new form of racing, where working together should be the way to win races. Pack racing fans, though, out-number the tandem racing fans.
Since NASCAR has always had a history of accommodating our fan driven sport, this Sunday’s race will be no exception. But what have these latest changes done? The car handling has gone down, which makes it harder to work together as pairs. Still, the two car tangos were still two to three tenths faster each lap, proving that although they are slowed down, you still need to tandem to win the race.
To most of the drivers, all of this arguing is nothing but more public media looking desperately for a story. They see the superspeedways as simply 'crapshoots', where the guy who is lucky and fast can win. Still, if an edge on the field meant two-car tangoing over pack racing, you would see the field pair up just like they have been doing for the past three years.
As for drivers to watch for, it is truly hard to tell. There have been many sponsor and team changes, as well as almost anyone being able to win in this kind of racing. However, I feel like these drivers are the ones you should have on your fantasy list.
Hendrick Motorsports has a new spark with Kasey Kahne in the number five car. With him and Jeff working together, the pair might be unstoppable. Jimmie Johnson did win the 48th Daytona 500, but besides a lucky win at Talladega last year, tandem racing had not been his strongsuit. The same went for his 'dancing partner', Dale Earnhardt Jr., who has not had good fortune at this track since his win in the number three in the NASCAR Nationwide Series back in 2010. Tony Stewart is hot off of his championship from 2011, and had a phenomenal race last year.
Still, I just don't see a repeat for the three-time champ. Carl Edwards was the runner-up to Tony last year, and it looks like 2012 may be a good season for the No. 99 team. Consistency and a calculating way of taking to things, Edwards is looking at finally win the 500, a race that eluded him last year when Trevor Bayne took the win.
Finally, you have Kurt Busch, the unannounced “villain” who is looking to make a comeback and steal the show from the “powerhouse” teams. Although, he spun out his tandem partner multiple times at both Talladega and Daytona in the previous season, so drivers may be reluctant to be helped by him in the pack.
Other sleepers in this race would be A.J. Allmendinger, Brad Keselowski, and Clint Bowyer. If I had to pick drivers that may not have the best of luck, it would be probably be Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton, Denny Hamlin, and Greg Biffle.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.