[media-credit name=”David Yeazell” align=”alignright” width=”281″][/media-credit]The two Gatorade Duels are over. The 150-mile qualifying races saw the field go back to pack racing, the kind of racing preferred by the fans, and little “two car tango.” In fact, the drivers couldn’t do much pushing because their cars overheated. Elliott Sadler had overheating problems during his race and Jimmie Johnson was spewing water while pushing Greg baffle. In the end, NASCAR had it all figured out, and accomplished what they set out to do. We did, however, learn some things.
First, the Fords are fast. Doug Yates, who supplies all the engines for Ford stockers, seems to have come up with the most horsepower at least at this restrictor plate track. But the car with the horsepower doesn’t always win, as we saw in the first duel. Marcos Ambrose and Carl Edwards should have had the brute force to win this one, but it was Hendrick powered Chevrolets that won and finished second. In fact, the Hendrick power plants put seven cars in the top 10 in both races and Ford had only five. Earnhardt-Childress put four cars in the top 10 and Toyota Racing Development only two, both in the second duel. Dodge scored only two top 10’s. And yet Kyle Busch showed power in winning the Budweiser Shootout on Saturday night. To sum it up, don’t give the race to Ford drivers just yet. It’s anyone’s game.
Second, there are going to be a lot of cautions on Sunday. With a smaller spoiler, downforce will be lacking and no human is skilled enough to bump draft and push another car without making the occasional mistake. We saw it in the Shootout and we saw it today. And remember, many drivers just did not go all out today while they will in the latter stages of the Great American Race.
Third, Tony Stewart just seems to have the knack for getting to the front and staying there at Daytona, so I look for him to be a factor and maybe even is your winner on Sunday. He’d better pay attention to Marcos Ambrose, though. Ambrose has learned the formula at these restrictor plate tracks. After finishing a strong third in the Shootout, he also finished third in the first qualifying race today. The same could be said for Kevin Harvick, Regan Smith, and Jimmie Johnson. And that’s leaving out Polesitter Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, who dominated the second duel, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who is always good here. Want the truth? It’s anyone’s game.
Finally, the overheating problem will continue unless NASCAR makes changes in the cooling systems before the race. I’ve been told that this is not likely to happen, but who knows? It is supposed to be a lot cooler on Sunday in Florida, but we may see a lot of overheated cars try to push the limit. The dominant theory is that in the last two laps, the drivers don’t worry about whether their engine gets hot and spews water. That could result in disaster if an overzealous driver goes too far and blows up at the front of the pack at 200 mph. Let’s hope “cooler heads” prevail.
As I write this, we are only 61 hours away from the green flag of the Daytona 500. It was a long off-season, but from what we’ve seen, the competition is better and all looks well for a very enjoyable Daytona 500. My only hope is that we can go at least this race without the words points and Chase being used in a sentence by the voices and talking heads on the race broadcasts. After all, this is the Great American Race. The winner should not be known as the guy who is leading the points, but rather the guy who won the race.