Despite What Has Gone On to Date, the Daytona 500 Is a Crap Shoot

I’ve often wondered about the first race of the season. It’s called Speedweeks for a reason. Of course, it really lasts only 11 days. I guess they count the 24 Hours of Daytona in that, and that’s alright. Regardless, it usually begins on a Thursday. After that, we practice for the Sprint Unlimited exhibition race, practice for the Daytona 500 pole qualifying, run the exhibition race, and by Sunday, we establish the front row. Then it’s three days until the two qualifying races, now known as the Budweiser Duels. Once upon a time, they used to be called the “Twin 125’s,” but that was a long time ago. It makes the beginning of the season a big event.

The two qualifying races are unique to Daytona and I’m so happy they didn’t change that format when they changed the rest of the qualifying. It gives the underdog a chance to qualify for the season’s biggest race, for one thing. It also puts Daytona on the map as the World Center of Speed, which has been the track’s motto for years. I look forward to the two qualifying races each year.

From early indications, it’s apparent that Richard Childress engines seem to have the edge in power and durability this year. Dominating the practice sessions, the ECR engines have been strong and propelled Austin Dillon to the pole in the resurrection of the No. 3 by putting it on the pole for the big race. Alongside will be Martin Truex, Jr. in the Furniture Row car which also had an ECR engine under the hood. With Hendrick engines having three failures in practice, it appears that the hiring of more crackerjack engineers by Childress has paid off. More surprising was the performance of the Fords.

It’s been a long time since any of the Fords seemed even competitive. Yes, Matt Kenseth in a Roush Fenway Ford has won the Great American Race lately, and David Ragan won Talladega last year using a Roush-Yates engine, but the whole team has seemed overmatched by the Toyota, Hendrick and Childress contingent. That may be changing. In the Sprint Unlimited, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano from the Penske shops looked strong. In looking at qualifying speed, Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, and Keselowski were fast. It also appeared, even with Denny Hamlin’s victory in the Unlimited, that Toyota was a little behind, but the bigger story was that a rookie, with his car sporting a famous number, sits on the pole for the big race. It was more than NASCAR could have wanted. The No. 3 was on the pole, and that’s ratings magic.

Truth is, like Truex said after he nearly nipped Dillon for the pole, anyone can win this race. I’m sure the rookie will come out in Dillon, Hendrick will solve his engine problems, the Toyotas will prove that Denny Hamlin’s Unlimited was not a fluke, and Biffle and Edwards will somehow find a way to drop to the back of the pack, but calling a winner for this race is more than difficult. In fact, it’s impossible.

And yet, the multitudes will insist Junior Earnhardt will win and others will insist that Dillon has the inside track to victory lane. Truth is, they could be right in a race that lasts 500 miles. The likely winner will be someone you never thought of in this crap shoot. As one who hates plate racing, I wouldn’t dare pick a winner without first seeing the Duels. As for now, it looks to be ECR power vs., Toyota handling vs. Hendrick Engines getting things sorted out vs. the Fords getting in a big wreck that includes all their cars early on. In other words, it is a crap shoot. And that’s part of what keeps them coming back.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of


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