By John Ekdahl
Last year’s Daytona 500 was plagued with track problems that forced the race to be delayed multiple times. It was brutally cold (for Florida) and an overwhelmingly frustrating experience for all the fans in attendance. It was also a major embarrassment to NASCAR in what is the sport’s signature race. Hoping to avoid any similar problems in the future, Daytona International Speedway underwent a massive overhaul to the track before this year’s race. The result has been increased speeds and a smoother, more precise surface. That was all part of the plan. The surprise came during practices when drivers found that drafting in groups of exactly two was allowing them to travel about 10 miles per hour faster than alone or in groups larger than two. They also found that remaining the trailing car in the drafting group for longer than a few laps would overheat the engine (there is a grill allowance for Sunday because of the heat). So, the fastest way around the track is to find a partner and swap places every few laps. It has made for some very exciting racing so far this week and Sunday’s Daytona 500 should be spectacular.
This year’s race also marks the tenth anniversary of Dale Earnhardt’s death on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. Anyone interested in the story of Dale’s death (or racing in general) should check out the Speed Channel’s documentary The Day, which chronicles the entire day’s events with photos, videos and never before seen interviews. It’s fantastic. Fans at the race will be holding up three fingers on the third lap of the race to honor him today.
As usual, there has been a fair amount of drivers changing teams, sponsors and equipment. Below is a cheat sheet of all the drivers in the race, in qualifying order.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Car Number: 88 | Sponsor: Amp Energy / National Guard | Make: Chevrolet
Junior is really looking to bounce back after a disappointing season last year. He started off great by grabbing the pole in qualifying, then promptly wrecked his car in practice. He’ll now have to start at the back.
Car Number: 24 | Sponsor: Drive to End Hunger | Make: Chevrolet
Longtime NASCAR fans might have some initial trouble finding Gordon on the track, as he won’t be in his iconic DuPont rainbow paint scheme.
Car Number: 22 | Sponsor: Shell / Pennzoil | Make: Dodge
After driving the Miller Lite #2 for a number of years, Kurt has a new ride.
Car Number: 31 | Sponsor: Caterpillar | Make: Chevrolet
Car Number: 78 | Sponsor: Furniture Row Companies | Make: Chevrolet
Car Number: 29 | Sponsor: Budweiser | Make: Chevrolet
New sponsor for Harvick. New black color scheme for Budweiser. It’s a little odd to see Bud ditching their traditional red scheme. No offense to Kasey Kahne, but I think Budweiser wanted to move away from the clean-cut golden boy feel and go the blue-collar toughguy route. Harvick is the right fit for that.
Car Number: 17 | Sponsor: Crown Royal Black | Make: Ford
Car Number: 18 | Sponsor: M&M’s | Make: Toyota
Car Number: 4 | Sponsor: Red Bull | Make: Toyota
Kasey will be driving the #4 Red Bull car this year before he joins up with Hendrick Motorsports in 2012.
Car Number: 42 | Sponsor: Target | Make: Chevrolet
Car Number: 1 | Sponsor: Bass Pro Shops / Tracker | Make: Chevrolet
Car Number: 43 | Sponsor: Best Buy | Make: Ford
Car Number: 2 | Sponsor: Miller Lite | Make: Dodge
Looks like they added an aluminum Miller Lite pint to last year’s scheme.
Car Number: 5 | Sponsor: GoDaddy.com | Make: Chevrolet
It would have been nice for Valvoline to sponsor Mark in his last year. Oh well.
Car Number: 27 | Sponsor: Peak / Menards | Make: Chevrolet
Martin Truex, Jr.
Car Number: 56 | Sponsor: NAPA Auto Parts | Make: Toyota
Car Number: 39 | Sponsor: U.S. Army | Make: Chevrolet
Car Number: 99 | Sponsor: Aflac | Make: Ford
Car Number: 48 | Sponsor: Lowe’s / Kobalt Tools | Make: Chevrolet
Lowe’s is giving Kobalt Tools a more prominent spot on the car this year. Johnson will be chasing his 6th championship this year.
Car Number: 00 | Sponsor: Aaron’s Dream Machine | Make: Toyota
After a crash in the Gatorade Duel, Reutimann’s team decided to go with the backup car which will move him to the rear of the starting field.
Car Number: 14 | Sponsor: Office Depot / Mobil 1 | Make: Chevrolet
Tony won the Saturday race in a photo finish. Mobil 1 was added as an additional sponsor this year.
Car Number: 16 | Sponsor: 3M | Make: Ford
Car Number: 83 | Sponsor: Red Bull | Make: Toyota
Robert Richardson, Jr.
Car Number: 37 | Sponsor: North Texas Pipe | Make: Ford
Car Number: 09 | Sponsor: Phoenix Construction | Make: Chevrolet
Car Number: 7 | Sponsor: Speed Energy | Make: Dodge
Car Number: 47 | Sponsor: Kroger / USO | Make: Toyota
Car Number: 21 | Sponsor: Motorcraft / Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center | Make: Ford
Car Number: 46 | Sponsor: Red Line Oil | Make: Chevrolet
Car Number: 6 | Sponsor: UPS | Make: Ford
Ragan will be moved to the back of the field after deciding to go with the backup car after a Gatorade Duel crash.
Car Number: 9 | Sponsor: Stanley | Make: Ford
Car Number: 77 | Sponsor: 5-Hour Energy | Make: Toyota
Car Number: 71 | Sponsor: Adobe Road Winery | Make: Chevrolet
Car Number: 20 | Sponsor: The Home Depot | Make: Toyota
Joey will drop back a few spots. He’ll be in the backup car after a crash in the Gatorade Duel.
Car Number: 38 | Sponsor: Taco Bell | Make: Ford
Car Number: 34 | Sponsor: Long John Silver’s | Make: Ford
Car Number: 87 | Sponsor: AM FM Energy | Make: Toyota
Car Number: 36 | Sponsor: Tommy Baldwin Racing | Make: Chevrolet
Car Number: 32 | Sponsor: U.S. Chrome | Make: Ford
Enjoy the long weekend, everyone. Take a screenshot if you see me at the race. I’ll be the guy in the baseball hat and sunglasses. Coverage begins at noon on Fox and the green flag drops at 1:30pm eastern.