Daytona II: Round 17 preview

'Race To The Chase' Begins With Series' Return To Daytona International Speedway DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (June 27, 2006) -- At a most-important point in the season, the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series arrives at a most-appropriate venue. What better...

'Race To The Chase' Begins With Series' Return To Daytona International Speedway

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (June 27, 2006) -- At a most-important point in the season, the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series arrives at a most-appropriate venue.

What better place to start the "Race to the Chase" than Daytona International Speedway, NASCAR's most historic track? Saturday night's Pepsi 400 begins the extremely crucial 10-race stretch prefacing the "Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup" that covers the season's last 10 races and determines the series champion.

Beyond the obvious championship implications, the "Race to the Chase" can be viewed as a metaphor for the current, ever-evolving state of NASCAR, a sport mindful of tradition but moving toward the future. The 10 races are held at several of auto racing's truly hallowed venues -- Daytona, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Watkins Glen International, Bristol Motor Speedway among them -- in addition to relatively new facilities in two of the nation's three-largest markets, Chicago and Los Angeles.

While the next 10 weeks may personify NASCAR's past, present and future, in pure competition terms they present a variety of challenges to drivers trying to qualify for the Chase:

The high-speed, high banks of Daytona; The twisting, testing road course at the Glen; The 500 arduous laps on Bristol's cereal bowl of a half-mile. It starts Saturday at Daytona and the inherent importance aside, there also is the inherent intrigue of restrictor-plate racing to consider.

"Daytona is any man's race," said Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge), the 2004 series champion.

Last summer, it was Tony Stewart's (No. 20 The Home Depot Chevrolet) race. His victory and celebratory frontstretch fence-climb helped fuel his charge to the series title.

"Daytona is a 190 mph traffic jam and a chess game with 43 players," Stewart said. "It's a constant juggling match trying to figure out where you need to be, when you need to be there, who you go with, and who not to go with. And it seems like the July race at Daytona becomes more about handling, which you don't really hear about at restrictor-plate tracks."

This year at the Pepsi 400, as defending race champion and reigning series champion, Stewart is trying to end the sudden restrictor-plate success of Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet). Johnson has won the year's first two "plate" races, the Daytona 500 and the Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway and returns to Daytona as the series' point leader.

"The thing I have learned in restrictor plate races is patience," he said. "That has worked twice this year and I hope it works again Saturday night."

-nascar-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Tony Stewart , Kurt Busch , Jimmie Johnson