Thursday, February 17, 2011

My Take: Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Burton find victory lane in the Budweiser Shootout, Pole Day and The Duels – But what about the 2011 Daytona 500…

Welcome ladies and gentlemen, for just about the past week, I have been for the most part watching a lot of the on-track action from practice and qualifying to the kick off races on TV and I have to admit that unlike in past years during speedweeks in Daytona, I don’t know what to expect in the Daytona 500 at all this year.

Nevertheless, here’s my take on the 2011 Budweiser Shootout, Pole Day, The Duels and predictions for the Daytona 500.

* Last Saturday night in the Budweiser Shootout, fans, media, drivers, teams and NASCAR saw a preview of a different type of racing that includes the high speeds over 200mph and two-car packs instead of 195mph and a huge pack of cars and (in my opinion) it was a different show. I actually found the racing to be a bit better than normal.

Consider this, I’m not a fan of restrictor plate racing to say the least, as a matter of fact, at least once a year I call this racing a “demolition derby”. It’s a wreck fest. However this for the most part wasn’t. Yeah we saw a few spins and one wreck with a big pack, but it was better than normal. But it was the controversial end to the shootout that left most people saying what.

Personally it was Kurt Busch making the right moves and Denny Hamlin making the wrong moves going below the yellow line and they meant dead even at the line. But NASCAR made the right call and awarded Kurt Busch with the victory. NASCAR has to keep consistant with there calls, they ruled Regan Smith didn’t win a few years ago at Talladega and in this case, they had to rule against Denny Hamlin here.

* Sunday’s Pole Day in my opinion is a joke and a waste, in the fact that there are already “the duels” and they need a better format for the Daytona 500. But until then, this is the current format and it just is what it is. And in the end though, JR Nation saw there guy Dale Earnhardt Jr. take the pole for the Daytona 500 with his teammate Jeff Gordon along side.

But the victory was sort lived as in yesterdays practice session, Dale Jr. received a triple-hit as he crashed his primary car, as a result Dale Jr. would have to start from the rear in both his Duel race and the Daytona 500.
Nevertheless, even after Dale Jr’s pole, but having to start from the back, it still once again brought out the conspiracy theories that NASCAR once again gave Dale Jr. a break and fixed qualifying so Junior would be on the pole.

You know I ready don’t know why some people including some members of the media have to rain on fans short-lived parade, but they do. And this time we have a unknown female reporter saying she believed there was a 60 percent chance that Junior qualified with a car not quite up to code and people looked the other way. Of course this was repeated and added to by Tony Kornheiser with his accusations that he made on Tuesday’s ESPN's show "Pardon the Interruption".

Hay Tony, I believe you made your accusations to get your 15 minutes of fame, so here’s your 15 minutes of fame, use it in good health. (Read more over on “From the Marbles blog”) …time’s up.

* The Duels at Daytona: The first Gatorade Duel race was a tamed race with a few bits of action compared to the second one. However that didn’t stop the action on-track as a few drivers did have problems. But in the end, it was Kurt Busch holding off Regan Smith to pickup his second win of Speedweeks heading into Sunday’s Daytona 500.

However it was the second race that for sure got my attention especially with Trevor Bayne in the #21 Wood Brothers drafting with Jeff Gordon. That combination sure did work for a while there, but it ended in a big cloud of smoke as Trevor Bayne and David Ragan both had to walk away with wrecked race cars. However it was the two races up front that were the big story as Jeff Burton with teammate Clint Bowyer coming to the line in dead heat with Burton picking up his first Duel victory.

But the Duels aren’t just about who wins, but who races their way into the field and those two honors belong to Michael Waltrip with finished third and Brian Keselowski with drafting help from his brother Brad to finish fifth. That’s a good one, I’ll be interested in seeing how both drivers do in the Daytona 500 on Sunday. All in all, both Duel races had better racing than in past years, but NASCAR does need to change the cooling system back to normal to even out the playing field again. Otherwise your looking at the Ford’s having the upper hand on Sunday and that’s not right.

* Predictions for the Daytona 500: Over the past few days, I’ve read a lot of predictions from Darrell Waltrip saying Dale Jr. has got a legitimate shot to win the 500 on the FOX Business Network morning show, singer Nick Lachey, Gavin DeGraw among others picking “5-time” Jimmie Johnson, while Holly Madison, Rodney Atkins, Joe Namath among others picking Dale Jr. saying he’s overdue, to Brad Paisley picking Jeff Gordon and WWE Superstar picking Carl Edwards to win the Daytona 500, just to mention a few.

As for me and since I’m the writer, I’m going to pick three drivers, Dale Earnhardt Jr. as a personal pick (I’m a member of JR Nation), Tony Stewart because he’s good on the plate tracks like Junior is and overdue for a Daytona 500 victory and the favorite Kevin Harvick. But let’s be honest, picking a winner for the Daytona 500 can as of now include half of the field and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a first time winner come Sunday.

One thing is for sure, Speedweek’s at Daytona is just getting started and between now and the Great American Race, the Daytona 500, everybody will be talking about this one.