Two weeks ago the NASCAR
Nextel Cup circuit ran at the Daytona International Speedway just as it
does twice every year. From the early days of NASCAR racing which
featured drivers literally driving along the beach at Daytona, the
speedway has grown into a race fan's Mecca. The track not only
features Nextel Cup events but according to their website, the track
features "the most diverse schedule of racing on the globe", earning it
the title of "World Center of Racing." The track has hosted
NASCAR races since its inception in 1959, including the prestigious
Daytona 500, the "Super Bowl" of NASCAR at the beginning of each
season. With all the history that surrounds Daytona, a win there
is something every driver dreams of, but few drivers achieve.
In last week's Pepsi 400, Tony Stewart became the most recent man to
add his name to the list of winners at Daytona. Over the past
several years some drivers and teams seem to have gotten a leg up on
the competition when it comes to restrictor plate racing.
plate regulates the flow of
oxygen to the engine, thus reducing power and speed. Unlike other
tracks on the circuit that depend more on engine tuning and gear
ratios, Daytona and Talladega (the two restrictor plate tracks) feature
a more leveled playing field. This allows closer racing with the
driver's skills and the draft playing a more important role.
Drafting is using the airflow off someone else's car to increase speed.
Let's face it. NASCAR is a sponsor driven sport. Just like any
sport, without the money invested by sponsors NASCAR would be
nothing. What the sponsors desire is exposure. For a Nextel
Cup driver, leading laps and winning races is the best way to get that
exposure. To maximize exposure however, drivers want to win the
big races. A single win at Daytona can make a career.
Derrick Cope, a name many recognize, won only two races in his
career. However, that included a surprise win in the 1990 Daytona
500, by far the biggest win in a career that continues even
today. Winning at Daytona can make a career, or could provide a
young driver with enough recognition and sponsor help to propel him to
the next level. However, wins at Daytona have been hard to come
by in the last several years.
For years NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt dominated restrictor plate
racing, and with more wins than any other driver in the history of the
track, specifically Daytona. After his death, it was the team he
owned that would carry on the legacy. Under the ownership of Dale
Earnhardt Inc., the combination of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Michael
Waltrip has been a true force at the restrictor plate tracks. DEI
has won five of the ten points races at Daytona since Dale Sr.'s death
in 2001. Jeff Gordon has also stepped up at the historic track
with 6 victories, and five Daytona 500 wins. With so few drivers
having success, it puts an even larger premium on wins at
Daytona. Since 1995 there have been 22 points races at Daytona,
but only 11 different winners.
The Daytona International Speedway continues to be a huge part of
NASCAR racing. Many drivers race for years without winning at the
historic track. In fact, two of NASCAR's most popular legends,
Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin, will be retiring at the end of this
year. Neither has a win at Daytona. Congratulations to Tony
Stewart for adding his name to one of the most honorable lists in