Teams ready to test Daytona surface

BY Jeff Hammond • February 8, 2011

I have to believe the Budweiser Shootout on Saturday night will be a knock-down, drag-out affair.

We got a pretty good idea of how this might play out when we were in Daytona for the three-day test back in January. This field Saturday night is big enough that some of these guys might simply throw caution to the wind.

The Budweiser Shootout is always exciting. This year, it will be even more exciting because of all the unknowns. You have the new nose on all the cars. How will the new fuel perform? You have a new surface on the track for the first time since 1979, so there will be massive amounts of grip for these cars.

It is a perfect opportunity for teams to start building their data banks of info for the Daytona 500. I think we will see some drivers try some things that might leave us shaking our heads. You will see it Saturday night and then again next Thursday in the Gatorade Duel qualifying races. These are two key races that start you, as a driver, on riding that wave, hopefully, right into Victory Lane for the Daytona 500.

With the three-day test at Daytona International Speedway in January, you basically had a controlled environment. On Saturday night, well, look for an out-of-control environment. Why? That’s simple: There is money on the line. These drivers have had their offseason with a long, cold winter, so expect them to be champing at the bit to get things fired up.

From what I saw in testing, I think this could be the year of the teammate. We saw lots of teammates working together in the test, so I expect that to carry over into the races. I think the communication from car to car will be more important than ever.

The other thing to remember is Saturday night is not about points. There are no points. It’s all about cash. They better check their feelings at the gate, too, or we might see an early 2011 version of, “Boys, have at it.” Again, Saturday night will help set the tone for the rest of the week.

I also wanted to mention that I was thrilled to read that NASCAR’s own Les Richter was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Probably a lot of new fans don’t know about “Coach” as we called him. He meant so much to the growth of the International Race of Champions Series. He really was a classy guy and did so much for the sport of NASCAR. He was a big ol’ bear of a man, and everybody simply loved him.

The man had big ol’ bear paws for hands. Every time you shook hands with him, it was like sticking your hand in a big catcher’s mitt. He would almost literally crush your hand on a handshake. It was that football mentality he had. He was such a cool guy.


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