The five-minute guide to America's favorite race: Daytona 500
Michael Waltrip leads the list of drivers most likely to cause a crash
Kyle Busch and Tony Stewart are among the favorites to win the Daytona 500
Ryan Newman and Terry Labonte may have trouble finishing the race
Now that the field is set for the 51st running of the Daytona 500, with a pair of Martins on the front row (Martin Truex, Jr. and Mark Martin) and two-time Cup champion Terry Labonte bringing up the rear in the 43-car field, it's time for our annual five-minute guide to the Great American race.
Five Things to Keep an Eye on During the Race
1. Which team adjusts its car to work best when day turns to night: The green flag for Sunday's race doesn't wave until after 3:30 p.m. ET, so the Daytona 500 will end under the lights a little after 7 p.m. That means crew chiefs will adjust their cars to work best in darker, cooler conditions when the grip level of the track should increase. The cars with the most adjustability between day and night conditions should be set up for a mad dash to the checkered flag in true Daytona 500 fashion.
2. Long green flag runs before mayhem breaks out: If past Daytona 500s are any indication, there will be some long stretches of green flag racing before lunacy breaks out at the end of the race. The final 20 or so laps are usually punctuated by crashes as drivers start to feel the pressure to get to the front before the checkered flag drops. This is a major reason the Daytona 500 always builds to a breathtaking, heart-stopping crescendo.
3. Any driver who stays on the lead lap is still in contention to win: It doesn't matter what position a driver is in during the first 150 or so laps of the 200-lap race, as long as he remains on the lead lap he's still a threat. Dropping a lap or more down with less than a quarter of the race remaining virtually eliminates a top driver unless he can take advantage of the "Lucky Dog" (the first driver one-lap down if the yellow flag waves gets get put back on the lead lap).
4. Trying to be a hero without a drafting partner: Many drivers make the mistake of getting too impatient and pulling out of the drafting line without a drafting partner. That's like watching a boat anchor sink into the Atlantic Ocean as the laws of aerodynamics and physics come into play. Of course, if a driver has more horsepower than his competitors, he can sometimes mystify and dispute this theory, such as when Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was at the peak of his restrictor-plate game at DEI. Back then, Junior could seemingly pass cars all by himself because of a superior engine. Don't expect that to happen on Sunday.
5. Always expect the unexpected: Rarely has the Daytona 500 held true to form. And in a year in which there was no sanctioned offseason testing, the race could be more wide open than usual. "I have not seen two better races than last Saturday night [in the Budweiser Shootout] and today's race in a long time here at Daytona," said three-time Daytona 500 champion Jeff Gordon after winning Thursday's first Duel. "I can't wait until Sunday."
Five Drivers Most Likely to Cause a Crash
1. Michael Waltrip: Although he is a two-time Daytona 500 winner, Waltrip seems to find trouble on the track. Starting alongside teammate David Reutimann, who sent Ryan Newman into the wall during Thursday's qualifying race, and Sam Hornish, Jr., this trio could become the "Three Stooges" of the Daytona 500.
2. David Reutimann: See above. Let's make him "Larry" to Waltrip's "Moe."
3. Sam Hornish, Jr.: It's sad that the greatest IndyCar driver of his generation has been relegated to the role of "Shemp," but in his second season as a Sprint Cup driver, Hornish can still be counted on to slide up the track at least once or a twice a race.
4. Joey Logano: At 18, he has youthful exuberance on his side, but not experience. He'll probably try to put the car in a hole in which it doesn't fit, leading to a crash and caution.
5, Scott Speed: Another rookie driver who is known for driving over his head, Speed lives up to his last name on the track, which is why he'll probably end up doing something squirrelly.
Five Drivers Most Likely Not to Finish
1. Ryan Newman: He has been in the wrong place at the wrong time so far in SpeedWeeks. He suffered a blown engine in practice and was put in the wall by Reutimann on Thursday. That doesn't bode well for Sunday.
2. Terry Labonte: The old veteran was brought out of retirement by team owner Phil Parsons. They achieved their goal of making the race, but don't expect this car to be on the track very long.
3. John Andretti: Although Andretti knows his way around Daytona, he's with another of the startup independent teams that is happy just to be in the race.
4. A.J. Allmendinger: He had tears in his eyes after making the race in Thursday's Duel. He'll have tears in his eyes again on Sunday after dropping out.
5. Bill Elliott: Last Sunday, he was a favorite to win the pole. After a poor effort in the Duel, Elliott starts 40th -- back where too many squirrels are fighting for acorns.