Two sure sign that spring is on its way – pitchers and catchers reporting, and the running of the Daytona 500.
NASCAR is unique in the sports world as their biggest race of the season is also the first race of the season. This race has left us with some great story lines, both happy and tragic. The 1979 fight between Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison is credited with putting NASCAR on the map of the sporting world landscape. The 1993 race where gentleman Ned Jarrett, while broadcasting the race, openly rooted for his son, Dale, who would eventually win the race by a nose. Afterwards, Ned apologized to Dale Earnhardt who finished second, for losing his objectivity. Dale smiled and was quoted as saying, “I’m a father, too.”
Speaking of Dale Earnhardt, the sadness and emptiness left by his tragic death still resonates among the legions of NASCAR fans.
This year’s Daytona 500 has already given us a great moment. Danica Patrick sits on the pole (funny.. so many one-liners come to mind) for this year’s race creating a much needed buzz for NASCAR. Jeff Gordon, who starts beside Danica on the front row, joked that he was glad his qualifying time did not knock her off the pole (also funny) as a lot of people would have been angry and disappointed. As usual, the cars are so equal it’s anybody’s race. It should be fun. My pick? Kevin Harvick.
My picks for the 2013 Chase:
- Brad Keslowski – The blue deuce had tremendous driving luck last season to capture his first championship, but week in and week out his car was one of the best at the track. That type of consistency wins championships.
- Jimmy Johnson – “Old Five Time” is gearing up to make another championship run. If not for his tough luck in last season’s final race in Homestead he might have been crowned the champion yet again.
- Tony Stewart – Smoke seems to will his way into the chase and once he gets there, watch out. There is not a fiercer competitor out there. Smoke will be in the hunt.
- Jeff Gordon – As good as Keslowski’s luck was last year it was just that bad for Gordon. If Gordon can avoid that same tough luck on the track this season he will be tough to beat.
- Kyle Busch – Engine problems kept Kyle from making the Chase last season. You can bet Coach Gibbs and company have invested a few dollars into their engine program. Do not expect those problems to repeat themselves. A talented driver who will win a Chase someday.
- Matt Kenseth – Moving to Joe Gibbs from Jack Roush will not slow Mr. Consistency down at all. Week after week NASCAR fans are heard mumbling to themselves, “Where did he come from?” He always seems to be there at the end.
- Kevin Harvick – Kevin is another driver famous for his late charging expertise. He is nicknamed “Happy Harvick” because of his temper. That drive will make him a serious contender this year which is also his last season with Richard Childress Racing. It has been reported that he will race with Steward Hass Racing in 2014.
- Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Junior, the sport’s most popular driver, had a very successful season last year under Crew Chief Steve Letarte and look for that to continue. Continued improvement on the mile and a half tracks might just get him to the top.
- Denny Hamlin – Denny Hamlin had a 15 point lead on Jimmy Johnson going into the last race in the 2010 chase. He hasn’t been the same driver since. That might change this season. Look for the 2010 version of Hamlin at the track this year.
- Ryan Newman – Ryan is a talented driver, and with another year under his belt with Stewart Hass Racing he should be ready to make a charge to the top. I think he’ll make the Chase but will need a lot of luck to be a serious contender.
- Greg Biffle – One of the most talented drivers on the circuit. There always seems to be certain tracks that Biffle does not perform well at and it’s hurt his chances of being a serious contender. How much of an impact will losing Matt Kenseth from the Roush stable have on his season? We’ll find out early I think.
- Kasey Kahne – Like Earnhardt Jr., Kasey has another year under his Hendrick Motorsports team and should win a couple races to make the chase. Will he be consistent enough in the Chase to be in the hunt going into Homestead? I think not.
Some dark horses: Juan Pablo Montoya and Marcus Ambrose
Top it off: The weather forecast for Daytona at race time is partly cloudy with a 30% chance of an isolated storm. Temps in the low 70’s …………… The National Anthem will be sung by Clay Cook, the singer from The Zac Brown Band …………… James Franco, the actor known for his roles in “Pineapple Express” and “127 Hours” will be the Grand Marshall for this year’s 500 …………… Last season’s average NASCAR Nielsen Rating was 3.6 representing 5.8 million viewers. Down 5% and 10% respectively from the precious season …………… Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who are dating, are both scheduled to race in the 500. Wouldn’t it be great if during the final laps these two are paired together? Who pushes who? Could be ugly…………… Gil Martin is Kevin Harvick’s new Crew Chief …………… The coolest paint scheme of the week goes to the #33 car driven by Austin Dillion …………… Good guy Michael Waltrip will drive the Sandy Hook car to help solicit donations for the Sandy Hook School Fund. To donate $10, text NEWTOWN to 80888.
And there you have it! Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter - @JimLaPlante as well as the site – @LastWordOnSport
Main photo credit: Hoosierguy Jeff via photopin cc