NASCAR

All eyes on Toyota in the Budweiser Shootout

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Larry McReynolds

Larry McReynolds has more than 30 years of NASCAR experience as a mechanic, Daytona 500-winning crew chief and broadcaster. He earned 23 Sprint Cup wins as a crew chief, including two victories in the prestigious Daytona 500, as well as a pair of non-points victories in the annual all-star race. Follow him on Twitter.

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In the first race of the year — the Budweiser Shootout — a lot of new combinations will be on display as they hit the track for the first time.

Two Toyotas will run, and everyone will want to see what kind of strength they show. Most believe they were lying in the weeds and hiding their speed during testing. They're probably going to be much stronger than they were last month during Preseason Thunder. Dale Jarrett will be in one Camry with new crew chief Matt Borland, who used to be the head wrench for Ryan Newman's team. Crew chief Doug Richert and Brian Vickers will be the other new Toyota team trying to get their feet wet. If one car is a little better than your other car, you will save the better piece for the big money race, the Daytona 500. For most of the top-caliber teams, their second-best car isn't far off of their best car, but a win can certainly get your week and your season rolling. Obviously, last year's winner Denny Hamlin had an awesome season after starting the year in Daytona's victory lane. Of the 21 guys in the race, 12 to 14 have a legitimate shot at winning. Like any other restrictor plate race, it will come down to who makes the right move at the end and who can get out front, keeping the car down on the white line. You can expect Dale Earnhardt Jr. to be strong.

Who to Watch

  • Joe Gibbs Racing: Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart will be awfully strong, like they were last year. Stewart won the last two July races at Daytona. Hamlin won the Shootout a year ago, and Stewart was strong in the 500 until he let his emotions go crazy so I look for those two guys to be awfully strong.
  • Hendrick Motorsports: Third among teams in wins at Daytona with 10 (behind only the Wood Brothers with 14 and Petty Enterprises with 11) we know the Hendrick cars will be strong, and three of the four are in it — Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson.
  • Mark Martin: Even though it's probably not dialed way up on his radar, keep a close eye on Martin because he's got a car with a Hendrick engine. He's got more of a bounce in his step, not to say that he didn't have confidence in his Roush cars. Before his engine blew up three years ago after seven laps, he had as much confidence in his race car for that 500 as he ever had. But when you've got a Hendrick engine under your hood, your confidence level jumps up quite a bit. For the first time in almost 20 years, he'll be driving a Chevy, not a Roush Ford.
  • Dodge: With the new Charger nose, I have an inkling that the Dodges in the race may be awfully strong. Evernham has all three of his cars in it. Both of the Penske cars are in it.
  • Toyota: Dale Jarrett knows his way around that place, and Brian Vickers won the last restrictor plate race. The Camrys should have good balance and power so don't take your eye off of them.
  • What to Watch

  • Extra test: Teams will use the race as a test session, and it probably will be the best test session of the year, even though it won't be with Daytona 500 cars. It will be real race conditions with fairly long runs. Racing at Daytona is about how much engine teams have and how slick you've made your bodies. But it will come down to handling once again. The track is different from the one they experienced during testing in January because the 24-hour cars were on it. It's going to be a little slicker.
  • Fuel for thought: All of the years that we ran down there with the normal 22-gallon cell, we could run about 53 to 55 laps. Last year with the 13 1/2 gallon cell, the cars ran about 36 to 38 laps. The 17 3/4-gallon fuel cell has added about 10 to 12 laps so the window is around 46 to 48 laps.
  • Rubber match: Goodyear knew NASCAR was going to use a bigger cell so they created a harder right-side tire. They just wanted to build in a little insurance. It gives up pretty fast, and cars starts sliding around early in a run. From the Shootout to the Duels to the actual 500, crew chiefs will have to weigh the reward of putting new tires on the car vs. the risk of putting drivers back in the pack.
  • Finding a balance: The 17 3/4-gallon fuel cell will come into play because of the harder tire and the bigger cell. It's a package deal because 10 to 12 more laps is a long way for a tire that's already starting to slide around. To the best of their ability, teams have to figure out what will let the driver stay wide open on the throttle for the longest period of time and not give up a lot of speed doing it.
  • Speed Mail Larry McReynolds
  • Key turn: Coming off of Turn 2 is the biggest challenge at Daytona. The later it gets in a run, the more the car's nose starts sliding. The driver will have to start rolling out of the throttle. If a crew can allow the driver to run a long time without having to lift in that turn, that team will have a pretty good race car in the Duel 150 races (Thursday, 2 p.m. ET on SPEED).
  • Winning isn't the only thing: While winning is usually the only thing that matters to racers, drivers like Brian Vickers and Boris Said — who are not locked into the Daytona 500 — are trying to find out all they can about handling so they can apply it to Wednesday's practice sessions. The last thing they want to do is tear up a race car because it's normally a backup Daytona 500 car. But some teams have a third car standing by during Speedweeks. For example, Said only had two good cars so he rented a third car from Roush Racing to run the Shootout.

  • FOX race analyst Larry McReynolds has more than 25 years of NASCAR experience as a mechanic, crew chief and broadcaster. He and his fellow Crew Chief Club members take you behind the wall at www.crewchiefclub.com.

    "How to Become a Winning Crew Chief" is on bookstore shelves, or you may order your own autographed copy from www.DWStore.com.

    Tagged: Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Newman, Dale Jarrett, Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Boris Said, Brian Vickers

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