Happy Daytona Day!

Even a WNY lifer such as myself has to admit that it has seemed like a long, cold Winter. The days are short, the nights are long, and the Sun is scarce.

But a light shines at the end of the proverbial tunnel, and today millions of people move towards it with the feeling that all is right with the world again…at least for a few hours.

Happy Daytona Day.

NASCAR is back on the track, and there seems to be more backstories and angles to follow than there has been in quite some time. As we talk about previewing this year’s race, the thing that jumps out at me first is that there will be no Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Let that sink in. Marinate it. Swirl it around.

No. Dale. Earnhardt. Jr.

You have to go back to 1978 to find a Daytona 500 that did not include someone named Dale Earnhardt. Junior has retired from active racing and is widely lauded as the best restrictor plate racer ever. We can guess as to why Junebug retired, but to do as such would be pure conjecture. Some say his wife made him. Some say it is because of his issues with concussions, and subsequent symptoms. I say the reason why is none of my business, and I do wish him happiness.

This, the 60th running of the Daytona 500, is the official debut of the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. For a Camaro guy such as myself, this is a long-awaited and much-anticipated event. The Z is off to a good start winning the pole with rookie Alex Bowman (we will talk more about him shortly), and winning one of the qualifying Can-Am Duels under the hands of Chase Elliot. Bubba Wallace set fast time in final practice…in a Camaro.

Last season belonged to Toyota. Heading into “The Great American Race” the Camaro and Fords are quick.

By the way, a Camaro won the opening salvo of the season in the XFINITY Series race on Saturday, in what was the closes finish ever when rookie Tyler Reddick beat veteran Elliot Sadler by 0.00 seconds…who was also in a Camaro.

So now we go from talking about Earnhardts to the new blood in NASCAR. The quintessential Young Guns versus Old Gunslingers battle with names like Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, and Matt Kenseth being replaced by Alex Bowman, Ryan Blaney, and Chase Elliot. The youth movement in racing is a real thing. It has begun to take over the sport, and to sweep the nation. We are seeing younger and younger drivers move into the elite ranks, and the good old “back-in-the-day” era that we old timers like to bandy about has been supplanted by online racing, race simulators, and more entry-level opportunities for young racers.

This will be the last scheduled NASCAR race for Danica Patrick. Some have called her a pioneer in the sport, but I think that distinction belongs to others like Janet Guthrie and Shirley Muldowney. Danica has shown that women can compete in a sport that is male dominated from top to bottom. Here is where everyone throws down the smack that she was always in a wreck, and never won a race. Here is where I slap down that smack by saying that she has an estimated net worth of over $60,000,000 and she did not get there by simply breathing. She worked her butt off on the track, which put her in a position to be able to earn money away from it. Patrick is slated to race in the Indianapolis 500.

As you may recall, at the end of last season we discussed the rule change that NASCAR implemented that dictates that only 5 pit crew members will be allowed over the pit wall during pit stops to service the racecar, as opposed to the previous six. We wondered how this will effect pit stops, and their inner workings. The Daytona 500 qualifiers have given us our first look at the new setup, and it has had a profound effect. Pit stop times have been slowed from 12 seconds to 16-17 seconds, there is more work per person, and attrition may come into play as the long season goes on. We have witnessed teams trying different configurations on how to complete stops as quickly as possible, and as eluded to previously I think that teams will platoon pit crews. I am also calling my shot that this rule will be executively revisited before midway through the season, and amended to make it easier on teams.

My Daytona 500 prediction: Brad Keselowski may be poised to become the new ‘Best Restrictor Plate Racer’ but he will have to wait until after Sunday to do it. The Super Bowl Of Racing belongs to the new jacks, and they are named Chase Elliot and Kyle Larson, and they will both be jockeying Camaros.

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