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Monday, February 12, 2007

Surprises, quasi-surprises and other thoughts

This morning there is a near consensus among NASCAR writers and bloggers. David Gillialand's pole win is a surprise. I've even seen it dubbed a Cinderella story. Did everyone forget that Gilliland won the last restrictor plate pole at Talladega last October? Or that Yates Engines have captured six of the last nine poles at Talladega and Daytona? RYR's performance has declined in the past few seasons, but the one area that is always top notch is their plate program. It is somewhat surprising that Boris Said qualified fifth, but he won the July pole last year. I thought the bigger surprise was how well the Ganassi cars fared. Both Juan-Pablo Montoya and David Stremme were fast, although something happened with Reed Sorenson's car during the second lap.

-The other prevalent thought among writers and bloggers is that the Bud Shootout proved Tony Stewart will have a big season. I agree Stewart will be a threat in 2007, but not because he won the Shootout. The win enforced that he's a great plate driver and had the best backup car among the field. It's the first action during the season and people love drawing conclusions, but the Bud Shootout has very little bearing on the season. In fact the Daytona 500 itself has little impact on the shape of the season. Races 2-8 will be the real barometer. California, Las Vegas, Atlanta and Texas will show who has the best intermediate package. Bristol, Martinsville and Phoenix will show who did their homework on the Car of Tomorrow. We'll hear plenty about how Stewart has momentum or the Daytona 500 is now a title threat, but ignore it. Jimmie Johnson didn't win or lose the Cup last year because he won the 500. He won because his team was good everywhere.

-I can understand Michael Waltrip's need to push the rules envelope to find a speed advantage. I never understand teams inside the top 35 that try to cheat at restrictor plate tracks, especially during Daytona 500 qualifying. Unless Kasey Kahne and Matt Kenseth really wanted to win the pole, there is no point in cheating. First, they are assured a place in the race. Second, single-car qualifying beyond the top two spots has almost zero bearing on your starting position for the 500. And third, aside from pit selection, the starting position means very little in a plate race. Yet people constantly try to get away with modifications every year.

-Fox's new 3D model to show crashes sounded good on paper. Then they used it during the last lap crash in the Bud Shootout. It showed nothing that the on-board cameras didn't. In fact it was about as cutting edge as the commercial that re-enacts the 1979 Daytona 500. Maybe it will improve during the season.

-In one weekend, I'm already tired of the DirecTV ad with Dale Jr. Ditto for the Subway ad with Tony Stewart. Each ad must have played 10 times each over two days. Stewart (and Michael Strahan) has to introduce his full name, but Jared Fogel just says, "Hi, I'm Jared." Does that bother anyone else? Who is the bigger star here? It's time for some new NASCAR commercials.

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