Daytona 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.

Qualifying was rained out, but Daytona and Talladega are the only places where starting position is irrelevant. Literally, you'll see a guy go from 3rd to 30th and back to 3rd or 1st for that matter in a single lap. At most tracks, practice times typically let you know which drivers have a shot at the pole and will run well in the race, but Robby Gordon was fastest in Happy Hour and knew that he was going to be way down the sheet on pole day. Kevin Harvick started 34th in the Daytona 500 and wasn't really a factor in the race. He just got a great run on the last lap and was able to get by Mark Martin. If there ever was a wide-open race, this is it. The cars are so equal that — taking nothing away from the drivers — so much of it is being in the right place at the right time.

Who to Watch

  • Tony Stewart: Elliott Sadler told me that Tony Stewart is going to win the race. "He was so fast in practice," Sadler said, "that I didn't think he had a restrictor plate on." That's quite a comment coming from a competitor. Stewart is a very good bet to tie David Pearson with wins in three consecutive 400-mile races at Daytona.
  • Kurt Busch: Coming off of a disappointing finish — not necessarily a disappointing run — he was good at Loudon, N.H. With only nine races left, time is running out to get in the Chase, and Busch has always been comfortable at Daytona.
  • Richard Childress Racing: Clint Bowyer, Jeff Burton and Kevin Harvick knew their qualifying efforts weren't going to be good, but they weren't very concerned about it. The way they raced in the Daytona 500 — with Harvick winning and Burton finishing 3rd — they have to be considered.
  • Jeff Gordon: Any time you go to a plate race, you've got to talk about Gordon. He has 11 plate race wins, tying him with Dale Earnhardt.
  • Jimmie Johnson: The No. 48 team's program is so complete that Johnson will be a factor.
  • What to Watch

  • Handling over horsepower: On a 2 1/2-mile superspeedway, you typically just think about horsepower. But Tony Stewart said it's much more difficult to race at this track in July than it is in February because the track is slicker. Daytona is considered a handling racetrack, and teams have to figure out how to make the car get through the corners and turn left.
  • Pit partners: When you hit pit road, you have to have a partner. When you hit the pits, you're going to lose the draft so you've got to get help to get back to the lead pack. Everybody talks about having a drafting partner on the track, but you'd better have a partner to get on and off of pit road. You'll see teams cut deals to make sure that they don't come to pit road by themselves.
  • High-speed chess match: Drivers will experiment with where they're running and with whom they're running. It's a high-speed chess match. You're probably not going to show your hand early on. The smart drivers will quickly determine which drivers have the fastest cars, and they will try to hook up with them later in the race. Typically at Daytona, Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. like to hook up.
  • Playing possum: A lot of it is gamesmanship. Drivers experiment because they know if they drop back, deep in the pack, they can make their way back to the front. On any given lap, you're going to see a lot of movement, or you can see somebody riding around. If your favorite driver is 35th, don't despair. He might just be taking it easy back there.
  • Letting loose: Teams will fight grip. They all feel like they're kind of loose at a very high speed. You can make air pressure adjustments and tune on these cars, but you can't make as many adjustments here as you can at Charlotte, where you try to keep up with the track as night falls. Daytona isn't a track where somebody hits the right combination and just takes off. It's really a peculiar racetrack, especially since it's slick on a summer night.
  • Reasserting rules: This week, NASCAR sent a message that they're not going to tolerate crew chiefs at the track. All sports go through cycles like this one. In basketball, you'll hear that you can't hand-check anymore. In the NFL, you can't hit the quarterback. NASCAR is just trying to adjust to the sport. The people in the garage are smart, and you can't blame them for trying to stay involved. But NASCAR is trying to keep up with the times and the way things are changing.
  • Speed Mail Steve

    Pit Perspective

    Teams do their best to hold the position that they have on the racetrack, but if a driver loses a bunch of positions on a given lap, you won't see a whole lot of panic. Crew chiefs will do their best to calm down the driver. You'll also hear the spotter — who is very vital to the driver's success — clear him through traffic. It's very important that the spotter lets the driver know where other cars are, all around him. During pit stops, it's also important for a crew chief to let a driver know that he's clear to get off of pit road and exit his pit stall. Although it's one of NASCAR biggest tracks, there are a lot of little things that can determine a good finish.

    Finish Line

    Drivers have to be in position to go to victory lane and then lose before they can actually win one so experience means a lot. Ricky Rudd will make his 60th start, and he's never won a race there. Only Richard Petty has more starts here at Daytona. He's as smart as anybody, and it would be a tremendous story to see him win. Speaking of the Pettys, it's significant that no Petty will be in the field for the first time since 1965, but the Pettys are resilient and will be around for a long time. If the Pettys were in danger of going out of business, it would hold greater significance, but Petty Enterprises isn't going anywhere.

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

    Tagged: Jeff Burton, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ricky Rudd, Kevin Harvick, Elliott Sadler, Tony Stewart, Clint Bowyer, Mark Martin, Robby Gordon

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