After a Daytona 500 that catered to the more intelligent teams in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage — track position and strategy reigned supreme — one of the two duels this season in the Arizona desert greets America’s best drivers on Sunday.
There are a lot of unknowns with the Gen-6 car taking to a surface and configuration at Phoenix International Raceway that is just three races old. What we do know, and what we could anticipate, is revealed in the numbers.
The Great American Race, for the first 180 laps, looked more like the Great American Parade. Cars ran single-file for much of the Daytona 500, content to ride in packs for fear that pulling out for a pass would leave them slower than the street cars the new Gen-6 models are supposed to resemble.
NASCAR’s new Gen-6 car gave way to a new style of drafting in the Great American Race, while newcomer Danica Patrick once again made history. The ultimate result, though, was all too familiar. Jimmie Johnson scored career Cup win No. 61 by holding off a charging Dale Earnhardt Jr. on a frantic final lap to win the 55th Daytona 500.
Sunday's Daytona 500, the 55th in the long, storied history of The Great American Race, officially has the field set. There are endless stories emanating from NASCAR's biggest event, but here are the five that will most impact Sunday's race.
Daytona. For the casual fan, it’s the one time a year in which tuning in is a must, not an option. For the hardcore fans and industry veterans, it’s a spiritual revival. It suffices as the start of a new NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season when teams have spotless records and sky-high optimism.
“The Jimmie Johnson Era.” Many fans might hate it, but that’s likely how the past decade of Sprint Cup competition will be remembered, as Johnson has made the series his personal playground since he sat on the front row of the Daytona 500 as a rookie 11 years ago. Despite two straight seasons in which he and his team have underperformed (by their standards), many in the sport believe the road to the Cup title still goes through his No. 48 car’s garage stall.
Sports are filled with statistics that uber-nerds and casual fans alike can enjoy. Numbers and records help fans define greatness and settle arguments on talk radio and at the local watering holes on a daily basis.
Who is the greatest quarterback of all-time? What about running back? How about Jordan vs. Kobe? Ruth vs. Aaron? Tiger vs. Jack?
The racing is over. All that remains is for NASCAR to get together in Las Vegas next week, dole out some money and party. Before the banquet arrives, members of the Backseat Drivers Fan Council take a look back at the sport’s TV coverage this season and the racing, while looking ahead to 2013. Here is what they had to say:
Grade the TV coverage of NASCAR Sprint Cup races this season by FOX, TNT, Speed and ESPN/ABC