Daytona 500 Early Pre-Race Thoughts: Let’s Go Testing, Boys!

The Daytona 500 starts Sunday, February 20th, in two weeks on the newly paved track and new rules and points system.  The Great American Race will start a week after the Budweiser Shootout on the same track the week.  The Shootout will give most racers a chance to adjust to the track in real-time racing conditions as well as earn some pocket cash into the upcoming Sprint Cup season of NASCAR.

It will be interesting to note the engine and chassis adjustments due to testing on the new Daytona track, even if minor from the previous year. I am also curious on the issue of the strategies of the teams and individual drivers.  With the three-wide track, there should be lots of drafting — side drafting and normal drafting and which cars will choose to favor the dirty approach or the clean approach for their cars.  Lastly, I will be interested to see how sponsors of drivers will be limited or changed by which series these drivers chose to accrue points in.

Testing occurred more than a month ago, where several drivers, including Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Mark Martin, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, Juan Pablo Montoya among others tested and compared their old engine setups.  Additionally, some tested the consumption of the new ethanol-blended fuel in their cars, and they tested the new Goodyear tires as well. Most drivers acknowledged the track grips better and the cars generally went faster than before on the new Daytona track.  Majority of them compared it to Talladega Superspeedway, and fortunately for them, there aren’t any giant potholes to contend with on this racetrack — yet.

The change in the points system will make the tallying of the better drivers easier.  Jamie McMurray, last year’s winner, and Jimmie Johnson, last year’s Championship winner, don’t find the new points system much concern.

Interestingly, four drivers will enter the Daytona 500 due to point swaps during the 2010 season.  Paul Menard, Trevor Bayne, Steve Wallace and Grand-Am driver Andy Lally will be participants.  Offseason point swaps occurs when the ownership group  of one organization moves into ownership with another team. These will be particularly interesting factors in this race.

Lastly, with crew chief Chad Knaus making adjustments to the crews of Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Jeff Gordon as necessary for Hendrick Motorsports, this could be a particularly interesting affair this upcoming season.  Which driver will benefit the most will most likely depend on their performance, and given past seasons, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon appear to be the immediate beneficiaries.

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