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Darrell Waltrip

Darrell Waltrip — winner of 84 career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races and a three-time champion — serves as lead analyst for NASCAR on FOX. He was selected for induction into the prestigious NASCAR Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2012. Want more from DW? Become a fan on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.

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When the 2010 season started back in February at Daytona International Speedway, we were having a great Daytona 500.

It was shaping up to be another one of those wild-and-crazy Daytona finishes. As everyone knows, the ol’ pothole reared its ugly head and brought things to a screeching halt. Naturally, it really broke the flow of the race.

Mike Joy, Larry McReynolds and myself were up in the TV booth trying to update the fans at home and keep them interested in staying with the broadcast. Unfortunately, the race stopped and started a couple times while officials tried different combinations of materials to fill the hole.

What we didn’t know was the track folks had come up with the idea of putting body filler – Bondo – in the pothole.

That was a pretty great idea for a short-term Band-aid to be able to finish the race. So it served its purpose. Being up in the booth, we had no idea the team’s hauler drivers were being told to go to their haulers and bring all the body filler they had on their rigs to the NASCAR trailer.

To me that was an interesting bit of information that we simply didn’t have. After the race was over with and we found out what the track and the NASCAR officials had used to fix the problem, I asked the question of everyone, “How come we didn’t know that?”

The response I got back was, “Well, it’s all over Twitter.”

Well, heck, at the time I had no idea what Twitter was. I had heard about it, naturally, but I was still utilizing e-mails and text messages. So when I left Daytona, I made a point to go learn about Twitter.

Well, what I learned was there is a lot of information that goes across Twitter that you might not see or hear otherwise. So I have been doing Twitter for almost a year now, and, I have to say, it is probably the most fun and entertaining thing I have done in a long time. You get peoples’ opinions. You get their feelings, both good and bad. So I have found Twitter to be very valuable.

An interesting case in point is Brad Keselowski. He was on Twitter saying he had been informed that he would not be able to run for the Nationwide Series championship again in 2011. At the time, that was simply a rumor floating around out there and had not been confirmed. Hearing it coming from a driver was the confirmation most of us needed.

I made a mistake early last year on Twitter. I was a rookie, and as rookies do, I made a mistake. I had been given information confirming Dale Earnhardt Jr. was going to run the No. 3 car at Daytona. As most of you know, I have been a very vocal advocate of him running the No. 3 car. So being very excited when I got the news, I went on Twitter and made a comment. The problem was, the information I had been given, which I thought had already been released to the public, had not. So I inadvertently set the Junior Nation world on fire. So I apologized to Dale Jr and learned my lesson early on in my Twitter career.

So I learned and used Twitter. I then expanded during the summer months to Facebook. Now I am going a step further and doing some pieces that will be on YouTube. They are just thoughts and ideas to share with the fans.

It’s interesting how social media has been come so important to our society, and you need to utilize it. I’ve really enjoy learning about and using all these various social media. It’s given me another way to stay connected to the fans and let me hear what they have to say. I look forward to interacting with the fans even more in 2011.

Going back to Daytona for a second, testing kicks off next week and all the teams will get a shot to try out the new surface down there. There’s so much these teams have to learn in a short period. Think about all the notes and setups that are out there for the old surface with no grip. Setups for handling all the dips and the bumps the old surface had in it. Those setups aren’t going to serve these teams very well anymore.

The tire test in December let the teams use telemetry on the cars, and that helped get them a baseline. Now these three days next week will give them a lot more on-track time again with telemetry, which will give them the data they need to help determine the setup they want to run.

So by the time Feb. 20 rolls around for the running of the Daytona 500 on FOX, the teams will be dialed in on what they need for this new surface.

Where it really wouldn’t work before because of the differences in the surface, now I think the setup for Talladega Superspeedway will probably work for Daytona. With the new surface and the incredible grip these cars are going to have, the cars naturally will be a lot faster. The speeds are going to be higher and they will be entering the turns faster, so that will change the setup a little bit.

I know I keep bringing it up, but you simply can’t overlook what the 24-hour race at Daytona does to affect that racetrack. That has to be factored in, or it could come back to haunt you.

I am also expecting a somewhat different Daytona 500 this year. I expect pack racing the majority of the race. I think you will see one big wad of cars going around and around all day long. That’s going to make for some interesting racing.

See, while the grip level may be equal to Talladega, Daytona isn’t as wide as Talladega so the things you can get away with on the track won’t be the same. There’s just so much more room at Talladega, where there isn’t at Daytona.

All the lead-up events to Feb 20 – the Bud Shootout, the Gatorade Duels, etc. – will help the drivers focus on where they want to be as the 500 winds down. Do you want to be in the lead? At Daytona, that seems to be the best spot. Remember, there’s the difference with Talladega. The start/finish line at Talladega is all the way down toward Turn 1, so there’s more time to make a move on someone. At Daytona, you really don’t have that extra time coming off Turn 4 like you do at Talladega.

So look for things to be somewhat different at Daytona this February. The drivers will need to tweak their driving style a little bit. The yellow line will still be their best friend, so they will need to protect their inside and force you to go around them on the outside.

I am anticipating a wild-and-crazy Daytona 500. Something tells me the folks who buy seats in the grandstands won’t be using them very much. I really think they will be standing up for 500 fast miles on Feb. 20.
 

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