Friday, Feb. 4, 2011 | 1:24 p.m.
The front stretch, the backstretch and the 31-degree banks of Daytona are repaved and ready to handle the 43 Cup cars that will be competing in the first race of the 2011 season. And already we are hearing from drivers that this will be a Daytona 500 to remember. After Preseason Thunder testing at the track, words like "wild" and "four-wide racing" were used to describe what we could expect later this month. Martin Truex, Carl Edwards and Mark Martin were just a few of the drivers using the suspense card to help build interest in the few remaining weeks before the event.
It's true that the new surface has more grip and has produced higher speeds. So high, in fact, that NASCAR mandated a smaller restrictor plate to keep the cars under 200 mph. And there was a lot of effective two-car drafting during practice that suggests that the racing will be exciting.
But I'm taking a wait-and-see attitude. Sure, I want this race to be exciting. What fan wants to watch a lackluster, five hundred mile race? If your goal is to take a nap, then that might be the race for you. The Daytona 500 is the Super Bowl of the Sprint Cup season, so it better be exciting.
But what happens on the track during practice and during a race can be very different. One is a testing environment and the other is a competitive environment. Let's see how these cars perform in a pack moving at 190 mph while they are inches from one another. A two-car or even a four-car draft during a practice session isn't the same as 43 cars running together. That kind of drafting takes more concentration and deliberation in order to avoid "The Big One." Also, if a driver wants to have a shot at visiting victory lane, then he needs to be around at the end of a race. As a result, it’s possible we won’t see four-wide racing until mile 400 of the 500-mile event. Several times we have seen drivers at restrictor-plate tracks keep the lid on until the last third of the race.
So I guess I'm a little skeptical of all the hype leading up to the big event. I want to see a great race, but I'm not going to get too excited until I actually see a great race.