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Viewers Guide: Veterans to challenge Dale Jr., Gordon at Daytona

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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.

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There are so many exciting things to contemplate as Speedweeks and the 2006 season starts. It's not just whether Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon can make the Chase, but there are new cars, new teams and the Car of Tomorrow on the horizon. Obviously, the favorites at Daytona are Gordon and Earnhardt, but it's hard to ignore the veterans during Speedweeks. I agree with Larry McReynolds that Sterling Marlin will be a favorite. He's won the Daytona 500 twice. He's got Hendrick horsepower, and he's got something to prove. All of the MB2 cars ran well last year with Joe Nemechek, Boris Said and Scott Riggs, who finished 4th in the 2005 500. Before he broke his neck in 2002, people forget that Marlin led the points for 25 consecutive weeks. Since then, he hasn't done a whole lot, but I really feel like he has something to prove. When a veteran guy has the desire and a lot of horsepower — particularly at Daytona — you never underestimate him. Kurt Busch is due for a Daytona win. He really enjoys racing there. It's hard to say how the Dodges will run, but Busch would be good in anything he drove down there. Certain guys seem run well at the World Center of Racing.

Who to Watch: Budweiser Shootout

There's no way to predict a favorite right now. It would be easy to say Jeff Gordon or pick any five guys. There are so many unknowns right now with the Ford Fusion and the new Chevrolet Monte Carlo along with new driver and crew chief combinations. It is so difficult to predict a winner this early in the season. I might have a better feeling for the Daytona 500 after watching the Shootout, but going into it, it's impossible.
  • Ken Schrader won the Budweiser Shootout in 1989 and 1990, and I wouldn't be surprised if he won on Saturday night. Even in that No. 49 car, he had a top-10 finish. He's thrilled with the new Fusion, and race car drivers are not given to hyperbole about race cars. In many cases, particularly at Daytona, they're only as good as their race car so for Schrader to say he's thrilled with his car means a lot.
  • Dale Jarrett: Veterans have so much experience running in the draft and have so much to prove. In Dale Jarrett's case, he won at Talladega, but they struggled all year. He wants to prove that he's a front-runner with a new crew chief.
  • What to Watch: Budweiser Shootout

  • First look: It's not always the greatest race, but there's so much excitement around it because it's our first real look at what these 21 drivers really have.
  • Big advantage: Ken Schrader said the Shootout provides a big advantage for him and the 20 other drivers in the race. While everybody looks at the Duel 150's on Thursday as the barometer and the gauge to find out who's really got what, the Shootout is an extra 150, an extra chance to actually race. Drafting practice gets pretty hairy once in a while, but there's no substitute for live race action. So it's an advantage for the guys in the Shootout, even for those who won't use that particular car in the 500.
  • What to Watch: Daytona 500 qualifying

    Trackside on SPEED Daytona schedule
    (All times ET)
    Date Air Time (Tape) Guests
    Fri. Feb. 10 8 p.m. Dale Jarrett
    Jamie McMurray
    Elliott Sadler
    Mon. Feb. 13 8 p.m. (10:45 a.m.) TBA
    Tues. Feb. 14 7 p.m. (10 a.m.) Brian France
    Wed. Feb. 15 7 p.m. (4:15 p.m.) Jeff Gordon
    Jimmie Johnson
    Tony Stewart
    Thurs. Feb. 16 8 p.m. (6:30 p.m.) Bobby Labonte
    Fri. Feb. 17 7 p.m. Kevin Harvick
    Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  • Surprising speed: Just like the Shootout, pole day is going to be wide open. I'm glad the the sport has become more about the race than qualifying, but there are teams that have huge budgets just for the restrictor plate races. For all those reasons combined, Jeff Green sat on the pole. I don't know if we can look at testing speeds and say one particular guy is going to sit on the pole. Last year, Greg Biffle had a fast car, and they had a problem in qualifying. They aborted their run because he had a fire in the car so it's really hard to say who will do well.
  • Don't rely on tests: I don't believe in looking at testing speeds and saying somebody is a favorite so I'm going to wait to see how they run in practice. I honestly don't think there's a favorite right now. If this were Talladega in May, I'd have a pretty good idea who was going to be your threat for the pole.
  • Drama: There are so many changes and so many new cars that pole day is even more exciting because nobody has a clear-cut idea who the pole-sitter is going to be.
  • SPEED goes inside Daytona

    We've added some different locations for televising practices. We'll be on the SPEED Stage, in the garage and above the garage by the Fan Zone. I watched some of the NFL Network coverage before the Super Bowl, and it's important to provide all-access. Fans want to know who is running well and who is struggling, and they also want to see all that they can see. We'll also tell the stories and try to answer questions. Can Gordon and Earnhardt bounce back? Can the Dodge teams figure out the difficulty that they are having with the nose? How will Kurt Busch adapt to Penske Racing?
    Speed Mail Steve
    It's like going to spring training. Everybody is undefeated as a great rookie class joins veterans who still want to prove their worth. There's so much pressure on getting into the top 10 and making the Chase for the Nextel Cup. There's a lot to be said for having a great race car, but it'll be interesting to see how mentally fresh Jimmie Johnson is after going to Africa with Jeff Gordon. He's been in the top five in points for four consecutive seasons, but he hasn't been able to win the title. Houston Astros relief pitcher Brad Lidge lost two games in the World Series so he went to Ireland for two weeks and didn't even think about baseball. He had a lot of time for introspection, and he thinks it's going to help him. For Tony Stewart, stay fresh, he races sprint cars, midget cars and whatever else he can get his hands on. We'll find out pretty soon how many teams are mentally fresh as the grind of the 2006 season gets under way.


    NASCAR on FOX and SPEED Channel host and reporter Steve Byrnes has covered racing for more than 20 years, and he gives kids a close look at a real stock car and its driver with Ryan's Racecar, a 30-minute video/DVD. For more information, go to RyansRacecar.com

    Tagged: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Sterling Marlin, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Scott Riggs, Dale Jarrett

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