Daytona success a mixture of factors

I think the folks who watched the Budweiser Shootout last Saturday night on FOX saw a perfect example of how driving your butt off can win you the Daytona 500 this Sunday. Kyle Busch was not going to be denied. He was involved in a couple of incidents, yet fought back and won the race.

In that case, there was no luck involved. It was all a guy who was on a mission. The Daytona 500 will be no different. You have to make good moves and have your fair share of luck. Obviously you have to have good fortune next Sunday.

Whether it’s the caution flag falling at the right time, a call in your favor from an official or simply the guy or gal ahead of you not messing up and ruining your day, it is going to take that type of commitment behind the wheel like you saw the other night from Kyle combined with good luck. You simply don’t luck into winning the Daytona 500. It’s a combination of many things, and the bottom line is they all have to go in your favor for 500 miles.

Daytona defines NASCAR. As a driver when you wake up on the Sunday morning of the Daytona 500, well, it is your day. This is the single biggest day of the year for us. You have to soak up and savor every moment of it leading up to the time when you climb in the car.

Once you are in the car, don’t let anyone kid you, it is not just another race. This is the Daytona 500, and you are in it. You and the team have been here for 10 days at this point. Hopefully your car is as close to where you want it. Then you as a driver have to be prepared mentally to go and deliver. You want to be on your game for the biggest race of the year. To be honest, I don’t see how any driver couldn’t be on their game because this place is just that special.

The spotter at Daytona and Talladega plays such a huge role. Naturally they play an important part in every race, but at those four restrictor plate races, the spotters really are the center of attention. A driver simply has to have their help every step of the way.

A lot of times you can’t see where you are going, and you need them to be your eyes. They also have to anticipate and see things up ahead of you developing. Like anything else, communication is the key. You and your spotter are partners. You’ll sit down before the Daytona 500 and go over the practices and all the preliminary events.

I liken it to an NFL player doing film study. You review the calls. Maybe as a driver you point out places where you need a little more help or information quicker. Obviously priority No. 1 is avoiding the crashes. Whatever the circumstances are, the spotter just has to communicate that to the driver.

Sometimes it is fairly easy to miss a wreck if you can see it. Heck, there are even times when you can see it and still can’t miss it. It’s the ones where the driver really can’t see what’s ahead of him and needs the spotter to help him miss whatever the issue is up ahead.

Saturday night we saw a lot of wrecks. Hopefully Sunday there won’t be quite as many. It is tougher being in the outside line when a wreck happens because everything goes up before it goes down. Thus if you are on the inside and on the bottom, you can stay low while the stuff is going up the hill.

That’s why I talk about a driver having to be on his game and mentally sharp. This is 200 laps around the Daytona International Speedway, and you have to be around at the end for a chance to win the biggest race in NASCAR and write yourself into the history books.

Fans have already been asking me who is on my short list to watch Sunday. When it comes to restrictor plate racing, you have to watch Kevin Harvick. He is really, really good at figuring this stuff out. Again I go back to the amazing, amazing job that Kyle Busch did Saturday night. Plus I am pretty partial to Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr. Those two looked really strong in the Budweiser Shootout. They are plenty fast in their Toyotas.

So I say Martin and Clint, Kevin and Kyle. A bunch of kids, well OK, compared to me they are. I can’t wait until Sunday. Again, it will be the biggest and brightest day in the lives of NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers. By the evening of Sunday, Feb. 26, someone’s racing career is going to change forever.