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Daytona 500 & Season Preview

Posted by chadmusselman on February 14, 2008

Well, the field is set for the 500, and we’re ready to start a new NASCAR season! Like every year there are several questions to begin the season. We’ll discuss some of them here.

Hendrick Racing
Will Dale Jr. become a consistent driver?

  • He’s looked good early at Daytona, winning the shootout, the qualifying race, and starting 3rd, but he does well here every year.
  • Jr. needs to perform like an elite driver this year. He’s had “potential” since his rookie year in 2000, now he actually needs to show he’s ready to race like a champion.
  • Last year Jr.’s average finishing position was 18.6, the 3rd worst of his career.
    He must step it up this year for Hendrick if he wants to remain in a premier car and not fall to the wayside like Kyle Petty.
  • The bottom line is that Jr. is a good driver, and should make the chase this year, and probably win a couple races.
  • Long term, I don’t see him ever winning a championship. He’s a good driver, not a great driver.

Can Gordon win a 5th championship with the chase format?

  • His last championship was in 2001, and he’d be at 6 already if NASCAR had the traditional point format, and not the chase.
  • Gordon was definitely revived last year and battled neck and neck with Jimmy for the championship, but was the second best driver in the series.
  • His career isn’t done, and he’ll contend for the title the next couple of years at least.
    Will he win one? Don’t count him out, but it’ll be very tough.
  • He’s starting 8th at Daytona, and should be in the top 5 or 10 at the end of the day.

Can Johnson win three championships in a row?

  • Why not? He’s flat out, the best driver in the series.
  • He’s starting on the pole, and is the driver to beat.
  • The Daytona 500 will be his this year.

Will Casey Mears be the forgotten man for Hendrick?

  • Can he perform as well as Kyle Busch did last year?
  • Well, starting 9th at Daytona is a good way to kick off the season.
  • Mears may do okay at Daytona, getting a top 10 or 15, but I don’t expect him to make much noise this season.
  • Kyle Busch is a better driver than Mears and should do much better than him this season, but only time will tell for sure.
  • Finishing in the top 15 in points would make this a successful season for him.

Michael Waltrip

  • Saying Michael had a tough season last year is an understatement. He only qualified for 14 races.
  • He qualified 2nd for Daytona, but then again, he always performs well at Daytona, so is this an accurate gauge of the upcoming season?
  • Only time will tell. I’m cheering for him, since he is a good guy, but he’ll need some luck to become a serious threat to win races this season.

Joe Gibbs Racing

  • Stewart won the Cup in 2002 & 2005, can he do it again this year?
  • He’s qualified in 6th for Daytona, and is always a threat to win every race he’s in
  • Tony could definitely win Daytona, and possibly the championship, but he’ll need Jimmy Johnson to have some bad luck this season to do that.

Can Hamlin become a top driver?

  • Denny has been impressive in his first two seasons.
  • He actually did better his rookie season, having an average finish of 12.5 compared to 14 last season.
  • Denny should be a consistent driver that makes the chase and wins a couple races each season, but not a serious threat for the title.
  • He’s starting 4th at Daytona and will probably run strong. Look for him to finish in the top 10.

So, who’ll contend for the win this weekend?

  • Jeff Gordon – He’s awesome at Daytona. He won in 2005 and was in the top 10 last year
  • Jimmy Johnson – He’s just awesome everywhere. He won it in 2006, and 5th in ‘05
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Finished 3rd in 2005 and 8th in 2006
  • Mark Martin – The 49 year old driver finished 6th in 2005 and 2nd last year
  • Tony Stewart – He’s only finished in the top 10 once the last 3 years here, so he’s due.

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