Ken de la Bastide
RUSHVILLE — With the Daytona 500 set for this weekend there are plenty of unknowns as NASCAR kicks off the 2013 season.
It will be the first time the new "Gen 6" car will be in competition with a full 43 car field and the verdict is still out on whether or not it will improve the racing on the track.
One has to wonder if the Daytona 500 will become a two-car dance step as was the case last year?
There will be some indication of the racing the new car will produce in the two qualifying races on Thursday.
Unlike in previous years where there were numerous teams looking to make the field for the Daytona 500, only 45 drivers are looking for a spot in the race. Two teams will pack up after Thursday and wait for the next race.
Brian Keselowski and Mike Bliss posted the two slowest times during qualifying on Sunday and will have to race their way into the "500". With either one or both of these drivers sit back and wait to see if another team develops a problem and can’t finish the qualifying race or until there is a multi-car incident, opening up a starting position.
The other thing to watch this weekend is how many start and park cars will back the Daytona 500. Looking through the entry list I can envision six teams turning a few laps, parking for the day and leaving Florida with a decent paycheck.
I include on that list of potential start and park drivers, Josh Wise, Michael McDowell, Scott Speed, J.J. Yeley, Travis Kvapil and Joe Nemechek.
It does strike me as odd that the national press bemoans the fact that only 33 teams or a slightly higher number enter the Indianapolis 500 and how their might not be enough cars for a full field. But there has been no speculation on why there are only 45 cars entered for the Sprint Cup race, 45 cars in the Nationwide Series event and 39 in the Camping World Truck Series.
As long as there are start and park teams in all three NASCAR series, full fields will not be a problem. The problem is they’re not competitive.
Although Danica Patrick captured the pole position for the Daytona 500, I don’t expect her to emerge as the winner. Someone suggested to me this week that NASCAR might have given Patrick’s car a little edge for qualifying, but I can’t believe that is the case.
Patrick was fast all weekend during practice and her Chevrolet is powered by engines developed by the powerhouse team of Hendrick Motorsports.
Five of the top ten qualifiers had Hendrick’s horsepower under the hood. Surprising was the fact that Jimmie Johnson was the slowest qualifier at 21st.
In other racing news: Michigan native Jeff Bloom, a multi-time winner of the Pay Less Little 500 at Anderson Speedway will be inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame this spring. A well deserved honor for someone who has been competing in sprint cars for more than three decades.
• Cody Coughlin, a regular with the JEGS/CRA All Stars Tour recorded his first ever late model victory this week at Speedweeks in Florida.