Daytona 500 Viewer's Guide

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Steve Byrnes

Steve Byrnes is a host and reporter for NASCAR on FOX. A broadcast veteran, he has covered racing for more than 20 years. Follow him on Twitter.

It's been a long, cold winter, but it's getting ready to heat up, regardless of where you with the season-opening of the Daytona 500.

Two weeks ago, Tony Stewart shocked me in a good way as he drew his position for the Budweiser Shootout. He said he was as happy starting a season as he had ever been in his Cup career. Since then, he won the Shootout and his qualifying race. He's trying to become the first driver to sweep those races and the Daytona 500. Although he has 10 wins at this race track, it would also be his first Daytona 500 victory, and he would become the 31st different winner of the Great American Race. NASCAR is no different than any other sport. It's about momentum. Stewart's car chief, Jason Shapiro, told me the other day that the No. 20 team wanted to win its Duel race because it sets the tone for the season. But Stewart has also proved that a poor performance in the 500 doesn't doom a season. In 2002, he finished dead last in the 500 and still won the championship.

Who to Watch

  • Tony Stewart: Don't just take it from me. Driver Elliott Sadler has predicted that Stewart will be the driver to beat on Sunday.
  • Clint Bowyer: If it weren't for Denny Hamlin's fabulous rookie season last year, Bowyer would have been the Nextel Cup rookie of the year. Starting 11th, I think he could be a sleeper.
  • Jeff Burton: Bowyer's Richard Childress teammate sat on the Daytona 500 pole last year but wasn't a factor in the race. This year, he qualified seventh and said Friday that he could drive his car wherever he wanted.
  • Kurt Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Jeff Hammond says these two drivers are lying in the weeks as Busch seeks Penske Racing's first restrictor plate point win while Dale Jr. is always a threat at Daytona.
  • What to Watch

  • Winners at the back: At the tail end of the field, you've got Dale Jarrett starting 43rd, Jeff Gordon 42nd and Sterling Marlin 38th. That's eight Daytona 500 victories among those three drivers.
  • Lessons learned: In Thursday's Duel 150s, Stewart and Gordon were glad to win, but a lot of guys were talking about learning things for Sunday. Ricky Rudd's crew chief, Butch Hylton, talked about working on his engine, tire wear and fuel mileage. Rudd qualified second, locking in a front-row starting spot last Sunday so he could focus on being ready for the 500 while others had to race into starting positions in the Duel.
  • Strange drafting mates: During practice, drivers learned what they could do with other drivers and other manufacturers. That could come into play as well. For example, Chevrolet's Burton and Ford's David Gilliland worked together in Thursday's first Duel race.
  • Pit Perspective

    There's a lot of grumbling in the garage area. There's been controversy with the suspensions, point penalties and fines suffered by all three Evernham Motorsports teams, Matt Kenseth's team and Michael Waltrip's team. A lot of teams are saying, "Wait a minute, Jeff Gordon was too low on Thursday." He was allowed to keep his Duel 150 win and his only penalty was starting at the rear of the Daytona 500. The other teams understand that the intent wasn't there for Gordon's team to have a broken shock mount, but the guys in the garage are not happy about what they term inconsistent penalties.

    Speed Mail Steve

    "When was the last time they took a win away from somebody," asked Sterling Marlin's crew chief, Slugger Labbe, in the Winston-Salem Journal. "People win, come in low (post-race), and it's 25 points and $25,000 - but you still get the win. Heck, I'd run an inch low to win the Daytona 500, and then take four weeks off (in suspension) and party."

    Finish Line

    Two of Michael Waltrip's team members were ejected from Daytona for a foreign substance that was found in the intake manifold. SPEEDTV.com's Tom Jensen reported NASCAR will announce in a few days what that substance actually is. Waltrip went to a backup car and didn't practice on Wednesday. I thought here was no way he was going to make the Daytona 500. He drove his way into the Great American Race, but Toyota won't tolerate more mistakes. Jim Aust, the president of Toyota Racing Development, told his teams that two of the manufacturer's three strikes have already been used up by Waltrip.

    NASCAR on FOX and SPEED host and reporter Steve Byrnes has covered racing for more than 20 years.

    Tagged: Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Ricky Rudd, Dale Jarrett, Sterling Marlin, Elliott Sadler, Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin, Michael Waltrip

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