Learning process continues leading up to Daytona 500
Well, we didn't exactly get off to a rousing start at Daytona and we have a lot of work to do. The good news is that we have a lot of time left to do it.
In case you just walked in, Speedweeks at Daytona began this past weekend. Things opened up with practice Friday. Pole qualifying was Saturday and the Shootout was Sunday. The Shootout is the race of all of the pole winners (plus previous Shootout winners and one random-draw driver) from the previous season, 18 cars going 70 laps.
A lot of people learned a lot of things over the weekend. We have some more work to do with this Mobil 1 Taurus; we know that. There are a lot of people in the same boat. The Dodges seem to be sitting pretty good right now. And the Chevrolets and Pontiacs look like they have a lot of things where they want them.
Even after a month of testing and working in the shop, it is amazing how much you find out about your race team during the first weekend of Speedweeks. Once you arrive at the track for that first practice Friday, everything is for keeps. There isn't any "sandbagging" or what some people call "reverse sandbagging." That's when you fudge the rules during testing -- NASCAR is there but the cars aren't inspected -- to go as fast as you can in order to impress potential sponsors or your car owner or whoever.
Everything is on the up-and-up now. Everybody went through a major inspection before they got on the race track Friday. On Saturday, you went through inspection on the way to pole qualifying and, if you qualified pretty well, you went through inspection again on the way back. On Sunday, you went through inspection before the race started and you went through inspection on the way back. There were some teams that spent more time in inspection during the weekend than they did on the race track.
Qualifying showed that the Dodges had taken advantage of the time and their expertise. You had to be a little happy for Bill Elliott to win the pole, and you couldn't be too surprised that Ray Evernham was there, too. Keep in mind those Dodge teams had a lot of significant help. Petty Enterprises had worked really hard on chassis and car design, and a guy named Kurt Rohnburg headed up one of the top engineering efforts Dodge has. Bill Davis' bunch built a lot of the engines. And just about every Dodge ran pretty well.
Is that scary for everybody else the rest of the season? No, not right now. It looks like Dodge has the car to beat on the big tracks, Daytona and Talladega, but nobody is sure yet what they are going to have on the other tracks. We get back to the real racing at Rockingham in a couple of weeks. That will start showing how things are really going to be all season long. And we haven't seen the end of Speedweeks here yet either.
Keep in mind that a Pontiac won the Shootout on Sunday. Yeah, there was only one Dodge in there and that was Bill Elliott, so the odds were heavily against him. But those General Motors cars looked awfully good in the draft.
There was a new format for the Shootout this year and I kind of liked it. Cars went 70 laps, you had to make one green-flag pit stop for at least rightside tires and the race had to end under green. Usually green flag stops can mess up a restrictor plate race because it stretches everyone out, and some cars lose the draft. That happened to a couple of cars this race too, but there was a bunch of cars there at the end too. You still need the draft to win but it made for a pretty good race.
I'd say Thursday's Twin 125s and Sunday's Daytona 500 are going to be really good races.
Jeremy Mayfield is in his fourth year driving the Penske Racing No. 12 Ford. His diary will appear weekly on CNNSI.com in 2001.