It may be the opening race of the 2004 Nextel Cup Series, but any team that wants to be in a position to win the Daytona 500 on Sunday better be in mid-season form. Robert Yates Racing garage area. Photo by Eric Gilbert. There is some...
It may be the opening race of the 2004 Nextel Cup Series, but any team that wants to be in a position to win the Daytona 500 on Sunday better be in mid-season form.
"You do have to have a lot of things on your side," says Jeff Gordon, who won NASCAR's crown jewel race in 1997 and 1999. "You've got to have a fast race car, a good driver, a heck of a pit crew, great communications, staying cool all day, and having some good luck on your side. It's going to be the team that makes the fewest mistakes that wins."
Quick pit stops are critical at every race, but with restrictor plate racing, a slip up on pit road during a green flag stop can be catastrophic. If you lose the draft and leave the pits by yourself, it's nearly impossible to catch up to the pack.
"The pit crews are all fired up and everybody has had cabin fever all winter," says Elliott Sadler, who will start on the outside of the front row in his Robert Yates Racing Ford. "It's just a three-hour chess game getting on and off pit road with no mistakes there and no mistakes on the track. I think you have to be perfect to be successful in this race."
NASCAR responded to the pleas of fans, media and the teams to come up with a package that gives the driver more control over their car. A new tire construction from Goodyear and a bigger spoiler at the plate tracks have helped to spread out the field during Speedweeks in Daytona.
"I think this helps a team like ours be more competitive and get to the front and stay there," Gordon says. "It's a 500-mile race. We're going to take every mile of that and try to work our way to the front. We'll use the entire team aspect of it to win this race."
It's unique to NASCAR to have its highest profile event at the beginning of the season, but the tradition of the Daytona 500 is unlike any other race. It is clearly the trophy that every NASCAR driver hungers to add to his shelf.
"There is so much expectation and preparation that goes into this race," Gordon says. "It really is the event that we all want to win and we all want to be a part of. It's one of those things that when you win it, it's one of the highest highs and when you have a bad day it's the lowest of the lows."