Daytona 500

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One big party

As sporting events go, they just don't get much bigger

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Posted: Sunday February 18, 2001 10:25 AM


By John Donovan,

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- More than 167,000 racing fans will cram their way into Daytona International Speedway today for what NASCAR likes to bill as the Super Bowl of stock-car racing. The Daytona 500.

Think about that. One hundred sixty-seven thousand people. That's almost three times the population of Daytona Beach. That's two Super Bowls worth of fans, with a Bengals' game worth of fans left over.

It's more than a seven-game NBA Finals worth of fans. It's darn near a four-game World Series sweep of fans. It probably is if you consider the 167,785 tickets sold for the 43rd running of the Great American Race don't include thousands and thousands of fans who will camp in the infield of the 2.5-mile track to watch the 200-lap race. And do a good deal of partying, of course.

This thing is huge. Every year, people wonder about the wisdom of kicking off the stock car season with the biggest event. But that's what NASCAR does. Judging by the people in the stands and the millions more expected to watch on television, it'd be difficult to rip that decision.

This is the Daytona 500. One hundred sixty-seven thousand people can't be wrong.

The weather
It's cooled off from the mid-week mid-80s range and should be partly cloudy and in the mid 60s here. No chance of rain. Barring any wind gusts, that's about perfect racing weather. Drivers stay relatively comfortable. Track doesn't get too hot for tires. Perfect.

The field
Bill Elliott has the pole, Tony Stewart won the Budweiser Shootout, Mike Skinner and Sterling Marlin won the Gatorade 125s, defending 500 champ Dale Jarrett the IROC race. Dale Earnhardt has run well all week, Jeff Gordon has been right there, Winston Cup champ Bobby Labonte has been close, the new aero package has leveled the field ... heck, you pick the winner.

The show
FOX kicks off its inaugural season televising Winston Cup with this race. The network has practiced with the smaller races all week, but this is the big one. We've liked the sounds features (though the graphics on it are unnecessary), the commentary has been informative, the reporting top notch. The fight with NASCAR with the ads on the graphics, supposedly, has been fixed. Time to roll. .

Mark Martin
His 191.156 mph Happy Hour trip was smoking. Plus, you gotta like any man who's secure enough with himself that he can tool around in a baby blue car advertising Viagra.

Drivers Mentally, one slip and they're dead.
Physically, three hours of getting banged. Yeah, they're athletes
The 500 Just goin' 'round waitin' for wrecks? Yeah, but the beauty is in the details
The call on Fords NASCAR's decision not to change package the right decision. Let's race this thing
Speedweeks A gearhead's dream
Beer-swilling slob fans They're everywhere. And it's not noon yet!

Picking a Daytona 500 winner is never easy. There are so many variables. And this year, with this aero package, it's anybody's race. You wanna know how tough it is? You won't be able to pick the winner of this baby with one lap left, let alone 199 of them. Well, you could pick one. Earnhardt. The junior one. There. You happy now?

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