NASCAR Panel: Daytona 500

Published 4:52 pm Friday, February 12, 2010

What was the biggest surprise at Saturday’s Bud Shootout?

Ken Mays: Dale Junior doing so well to start the season. After last year, I would have thought that he was not as good as I once thought he was. But he might be the biggest surprise of the year.

Jason Cannon: Dale Earnhardt, Jr. doing so poorly. He’s sitting on the outside pole for the race Sunday, usually does well at Daytona and always does well at the Shootout. He certainly didn’t look like someone who needed to come out of the gate hard and fast this season.

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Mark Trest: I was surprised at Dale Earnhardt, Jr. once again having only a mediocre race. After all the fanfare by Hendrick Motorsports in the offseason, stating that the No. 88 car running up front again would be their main priority, something is obviously still amiss with this team. Yes, “Lil E” ran good for a little while, but only to fall back and never challenge the leaders again. The jury is still out as he did qualify on the front row for the Daytona 500. I believe he must contend for wins this year or Mr. Hendrick will make further changes to this team, namely beginning with “Lil E” himself.

Of last year’s winless drivers, who do you think will get a win first?

Ken Mays: I know last week’s race doesn’t count, but I think that you will see Kevin Harvick on victory lane a few times this year. People just do not give this guy as much respect as he deserves. He is good and last week’s win might be just what he needed to get him jump started for the season.

Jason Cannon: Carl Edwards. He was very close to getting a few wins last season but couldn’t hold on at the end and the first few tracks to come up on the circuit suit him pretty well.

Mark Trest: Carl Edwards will once again challenge for wins week in and week out, and is too good a driver to go winless for an entire season again. If not for a wild ride at the checkered flag at ’Dega last season, he might have won that one.

What was an offseason move that you expected that was not made?

Ken Mays: I thought Petty would fight to keep Dodge. The biggest move to me was Petty owning a Ford car. I never in my lifetime would I have thought that I would see the Saints go to a Super Bowl and a No. 43 Ford.

Jason Cannon: I really thought Dale Junior would bring JR Motorsports to the Cup Series and take on an owner/driver role.

Mark Trest: I was beginning to get the feeling that Dale Junior didn’t have it in him to race any longer, and that it was a real possibility that he might step out of his ride with Hendrick Motorsports. Obviously, he didnt do that. I’m sure Rick Hendrick can get the best out of Dale Junior if there’s anything left.

What do you think about NASCAR relaxing the rules a little?

Ken Mays: I love how they have finally listened to the drivers and have let them do their thing on the track. It’s going to be more exciting to watch and it will show all of us fans what real NASCAR is all about.

Jason Cannon: I think it’s going to make the races a lot more exciting. Now that pushing and shoving is legal, the last lap Sunday ought to be a wild one. I’ll bet you the race doesn’t finish under green.

Mark Trest: This is one of the best changes NASCAR has made in a long time. The governing body almost ruined the sport with its politically correct agenda, no bumping, no fighting, no anything rules. This sport was made off of rubbing, bumping, fussing, fighting and trash talk.

Who is your pick to win Sunday’s Daytona 500?

Ken Mays: I am going with my man Tony “Smoke” Stewart. He has won three Daytona summer races but has never won The Daytona 500. It’s time!

Jason Cannon: Tony Stewart. Look at what he did in his first year as owner/driver. Now that he’s had some practice time, this may be the year —and Smoke may be the guy — to knock Jimmie Johnson off the top of the heap.

Mark Trest: Tony Stewart looked strong once again at the Bud Shootout, and I expect he will contend for the win on Sunday.

He has steadily become one of if not the best restrictor plate drivers on the circuit. Don’t bet against him.