2011 Daytona 500 speedweeks planner
It’s finally here!
For two weeks, NASCAR’s three major touring series will practice, qualify and, finally, race once again as the 2011 season gets into gear.
More than 100 hours of coverage documenting the on-track, and off-track, action at Daytona International Speedway will air on FOX and SPEED.
So what should you be paying attention to? When's everything taking place?
We've got you covered, so let's get started.
Thursday, Feb. 10
It’s time to spend just a few more hours predicting success and plotting championship strategy before getting on track for the race itself.
The hot topics this season will be the 10th anniversary of Dale Earnhardt’s fatal crash in the 2001 Daytona 500, the impact of the points system recently announced by NASCAR officials and, as usual, can anyone end Jimmie Johnson’s reign of five consecutive Cup titles.
Throw in a few unusual questions, some personality-filled responses and it’s a fun day for fans to get a little more insight into what the season offers.
FOXSports.com senior NASCAR writer Lee Spencer and senior editor Jorge A. Mondaca will have you covered right here. SPEED will have coverage of the day's event in a special show at 7 p.m. ET.
It’s the first day of action and the chance for the ARCA drivers to shine. Watch as a crop of grizzled veterans take on a pack of young drivers aiming to some day run in NASCAR at this track.
Friday, Feb. 11
Finally, cars will be on the track in a competitive format. First, the ARCA cars qualify with a field that includes motocross star Ricky Carmichael, Toyota Showdown winner Jason Bowles, IndyCar driver Milka Duno and a diverse field that ranges from rookie Ty Dillon to veteran James Hylton.
Then the Cup cars take a shot. The Shootout field has vastly expanded this year, meaning that these practices will be more critical and could offer more insight into what the race could offer this season when NASCAR's best drivers take to the 2.5-mile track for the first two practices of the season for the Budweiser Shootout. All of the 2010 Chase drivers are in the field, so look for added competitiveness there.
As with all the Sprint Cup practices this year, FOXSports.com will provide lap-by-lap times of the Shootout practices.
Who gets the advantage of starting first? We’ll soon know.
Saturday, Feb. 12
The pace picks up Saturday as two actual races play out on the track.
The ARCA Series will be the first to give a true test to Daytona’s new asphalt as part of its 80-lap showdown. A crop of young drivers will be testing the veterans in this race.
Then, we get a first taste of Cup racing for the 2011 season with the non-points Budweiser Shootout. How will drivers race the new surface? How fast will they go with the slightly smaller restrictor plate? Who will avoid the “Big One?” And who will strike first with a trip to Victory Lane?
Last year, Kevin Harvick made the early move with the win in this race – and look how well that set up his season. Who will take the checkered flag this time?
Tune in, log on and find out for yourself.
Sunday, Feb. 13
This is the day when the front row for the Daytona 500 is set. Winning the pole, or a front-row slot, here gives a team the chance to relax a little more during those wild Gatorade Duels – and to know that a shot at earning that opening bonus point for leading a lap is there. But it’s not just the pole position that bears watching. Teams outside the top 35 in owners points will try to be high enough on the speed chart to be in position to bypass their counterparts – regardless of what plays out in the Duels.
Monday, Feb. 14-Tuesday, Feb. 15
Teams universally get a two-day break from the action as Daytona goes silent in preparation for the upcoming five-day extravaganza of on-track action.
Wednesday, Feb. 16
After the two-day layoff, practice really picks up at top speed.
First, the Sprint Cup drivers take to the track in the drafting practices that will usher in the Gatorade 150s qualifying races on Thursday. This is the last chance for drivers and teams to get their cars ready for the fast, short and critical qualifying races. Then the Nationwide Series teams debut at the track – meaning the return of Danica Patrick to the NASCAR circuit as well as championship favorite Elliott Sadler, who takes over the Kevin Harvick Inc. Chevrolet this season. This will be preparation for the first race that can have drivers racing for wins with no points on the line as the Cup championship contenders can’t race for the Nationwide title. Finally, the day closes with the season-opening practice for the Truck series, where defending drivers champion Todd Bodine and owners champion Kyle Busch will have their teams back in action.
Thursday, Feb. 17
This is the day to lock into both the Daytona 500 and the Truck race. Certainly, the top 35 are set in the field, but where will they qualify behind those front two? And who else will make it into the race? How rough will the action become as drivers fight for the chance to race in the season’s premier event? This is the lone points-paying Cup race in which drivers battle for starting position. Things can get a little wild here, so watch carefully. It’s one of the most riveting events of Speedweeks. In addition, the Truck field will be set for the Friday night showdown in that series.
Friday, Feb. 18
The Cup cars take to the track for an hour of practice, then are done for the day. The afternoon sees a different crop of drivers take command of the track. The Nationwide Series has its qualifying session, though no practice, and the Truck drivers then enjoy their season-opening event. Timothy Peters took a surprising win in this event a year ago. Can he repeat?
Saturday, Feb. 19
It’s almost here. The final practice for the Daytona 500 takes place, leaving fans slightly more than 24 hours before the Cup season begins. Take a sneak peek at several of the Cup drivers who will be competing on Sunday as they take on the action in the Nationwide Series. All they are driving for now is the win. Will that impact the way they race against the Nationwide regulars in pursuit of their own title? Or will those drivers step up the pace and leave the Cup drivers behind? Last year, the top three finishers in the race were Cup regulars. Will it happen again?
Sunday, Feb. 20
This is it. The green flag waves on the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season – and on the hopes and dreams of a field of championship contenders. Certainly one can recover any points lost in this opening race, but the confidence factor arising from running well or winning this race cannot be discounted. Last year, Jamie McMurray won the 500 in his return to racing for team owner Chip Ganassi – and went on to win two more Sprint Cup races during the season. Who will take the checkered flag this year? This will also be a day ushered in with memories of Dale Earnhardt, who lost his life 10 years ago in the Feb. 18, 2001, Daytona 500.
For continual updates on the action, tune in to FOX and log on to FOXSports.com.