Friday, February 22, 2013

New cars, unknown make for a nervous 500

Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews can be seen on the business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website – via the “GALLERY: Reviews of new cars” link at

Sacramento, California – Forty-three cars will start Sunday’s Daytona 500, the crown jewel of NASCAR’s top tier, and I figure a dozen drivers have a very good chance of winning it.

Another 20 could win it.  So place your bet on one of those 32, and you could make yourself some money.

Yeah, I know, parity sucks.  But NASCAR has built an institution on it.  And when it comes to this year’s Sprint Cup Series season-opening spectacular, parity really doesn’t come close to telling the tale.

The introduction of the new “Generation 6” cars has thrown the science of race predicting for a 25-yard loss, and if you’ve been watching these cars run over the past couple of weeks at Daytona, you know what I’m talking about.

Several large crashes have jolted the drivers, who nevertheless seem generally enamored of their new rides.  Many freely admit that they’re still trying to “figure out” what the cars will do.

Wow, what a job! On Sunday, a monster pack of 43 drivers will head off for a nose-to-tail roller coaster ride at around 200 miles per hour.  Not exactly the most comfortable setting to continue figuring things out.

The new cars have more angles and cuts.  They no longer fit together like building blocks for an ideal bump draft.  Literally no one seems to know what 43 cars moving in a tornado of wind will do.

This makes me nervous.  You always expect the “big one” – aka a high-speed crash involving many cars – at Daytona, but I’m fearful of it coming early in the race, instead of later.  And if the drivers behave and it doesn’t come early, reset to default and expect the big one late when driver patience has left the grounds.

So, who will come out of it on top?  Kevin Harvick seems to be toying with the competition.  Maybe the team he’s scheduled to leave at the end of this year has this thing figured out.  The Tony Stewart-bossed cars likewise look good, although I expect pole-sitter Danica Patrick (pictured) to suffer the same fate she did on Thursday – getting freight-trained by a pack of cars locked into the fastest lane around the track.

How about reigning series champ Brad Keselowski?  Yeah, I’ll bite.  He’s shown increasing patience and skill since his rookie year, enough to stare down five-time champ Jimmie Johnson in the run for the series title a year ago.

How about Johnson?  Sure, but he sure seems to have lousy luck at Daytona.  Yes, he’s won the thing.  More often, however, he’s ended up in the fence or the garage earlier than he would have liked.

My pick: How about good ol’ Jeff Gordon?  He’s a multiple winner at Daytona.  Likes the place.  He has a great car.  He seems really content to see Danica in the spotlight while he starts right alongside her on the front row.  If I had to pick one driver to win on Sunday, he’s the one.

What I think will happen is that eight drivers will be in position to win at the start of lap 199 of the 200-lap race.  That’s the time to start paying attention if you’re watching on television.

Once the checkered flag falls, everyone will start talking about who will make the Chase for the Cup in September.  Long-term, I like Johnson to take series title No. 6.  His team gets high marks for handling past conversions to a new racing car.  I’m betting that experience carries them to the crown come November.

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