WBKR NASCAR Preview: Daytona 500

 Danica Patrick and Jeff Gordon sit on the pole. Details coming up. But, first Blake Smith’s look back at yesterday’s Duel and his preview of Sunday’s race

The starting line-up for Sunday’s Daytona 500 has been set after Thursday’s Budweiser Duels at Daytona.  45 cars vied for a spot in the 43 car lineup. At the end of Thursday’s first Budweiser Duel, Kevin Harvick found himself in Gatorade victory lane for the second time in 5 days. The second duel win went to Kyle Busch. The two drivers who were forced to go home after Thursday’s races were Brian Keselowski and Mike Bliss.

 A multi-car accident in the closing laps of the first Budweiser Duel was the only caution of the day for teams. The accident involved Carl Edwards, Trevor Bayne, Denny Hamlin and Regan Smith. Bayne’s #21 team and Edwards’ Fastenal #99 team will both have to go to backup cars and start from the rear of the field on Sunday. Ryan Newman will also be going to a backup car following damage sustained to his #39 Chevrolet while entering pit road.

Daytona 500 defending champ Matt Kenseth says his victory last year was, “the greatest single event win you can have as a stock car racer”.

A developing storyline for this weekend could be from the Hendrick Motorsports engine department. Juan Pablo Montoya’s team had to change engines after they expired an engine in Saturday’s practice session. Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s #88 Chevrolet went up in smoke and flames on the back straightaway on Wednesday during the morning practice session. Both of those drivers started in the rear of the field in the first Budweiser duel. Montoya will start seventh on Sunday and Earnhardt will start from the 19th starting position. It hasn’t been confirmed if the problems were related. Teams are able to change engines once between now and Sunday. Most teams will make that engine change after Saturday’s final practice.

Following a dismal result in last year’s qualifying race, Owensboro’s Michael Waltrip raced his way into Sunday’s Daytona 500. Michael Waltrip will pilot the #26 Sandy Hook School Support Fund Toyota from the 29th starting position on Sunday. “It's just an honor to be able to race this car.  We went to Newtown a couple weeks ago and met with the town.  Couldn't wait to give them something to smile about.  It's been obviously a tough couple of months.  Obviously all the fans are texting Newtown, 80888, rebuilding the town, whatever they need that money for, we're glad we can help out. Secondarily, we know we're going to give them something to cheer about in the 500.  There are so many race fans in the northeast, it's an honor to race it.” (NASCAR PR)

I mentioned in my Duel preview that teams would have different agendas regarding aggressiveness on the track during the Budweiser Duels. Carl Edwards, Trevor Bayne and Ryan Newman were involved in accidents in Thursday’s first race and will all be going to back up cars and to the back of the field for Sunday’s race. Denny Hamlin and Regan Smith’s teams were able to repair their primary cars. With that said, not all teams are “out of the woods” yet. Three practice sessions remain for Sunday’s race. In order to make improvements to their cars in the draft, teams will have to run in a pack to see how their cars react. This leaves the chance of an accident occurring and causing these teams to face the same fate as the 21, 99 and 39 teams.

Thursday’s weather conditions were warm and sunny in the first Budweiser duel with an ambient temperature of approximately 75 degrees. The second duel was held later in the afternoon as the sun began to hide behind the grandstands resulting in cooler track temperatures. According to raceweather.net, Friday’s predicted weather conditions during practice sessions are partly cloudy with temperatures in the upper 70’s. Saturday’s forecast is for variables clouds and a temperature of 83. The forecast for Sunday’s race is cloudy with a high near 75 degrees. The temperature and presence of sunlight will affect the team’s setups for the cars. Cloudy skies and cooler temperatures will increase speed as well as grip for the drivers.

Danica Patrick starts off in the coveted pole position, the first woman to ever win the pole in the Sprint Cup Series. She says at Daytona the key is avoiding crashes. “When there’s an accident, given the speed that we’re going, there’s a lot of time nowhere to go”.

Kevin Harvick will take to the track on Sunday with the opportunity to become the first driver in history to win the Sprint Unlimited, Budweiser Duel and Daytona 500. With his pal, Gil Martin back on the pitbox, the #29 team is sure to be a contender for the win on Sunday. Harvick, in his last season at Richard Childress Racing is my pick for the Daytona 500 and NASCAR history books.

Tune into Sunday’s coverage of the Daytona 500 beginning at 11AM on WBKR and WBKR.com! For updates throughout this weekend and racing season, follow me on twitter @RodneyBSmith

-Blake Smith

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