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Daytona 500 Preview

February 24, 2013 - Al Stephenson
The Daytona 500 is just hours away. Race fans have been waiting, most of us patiently, for the start of the 2013 Sprint Cup season. It is finally upon us, though yesterday's events have cast a veil of concern over the festivities.

After a week's worth of qualifying, the field is set. Danica Patrick won the pole and that has led her detractors to start making predictions. The comment I have heard the most is that she is likely to wreck the entire field. Let's see if we can determine where that mindset comes from.

Despite the fact that many have a problem with her because she is a woman - male chauvinism at its finest - the more common complaint is that she hasn't paid her dues. Many believe she has her ride because she brings sponsorship dollars with her. I can't refute that. The pretty girl that does racy (no pun intended) TV ads has Go Daddy to bring major bucks to a sport that survives on sponsorship. You can bet that Tony Stewart was fully aware of the cash she would bring to his race team when he signed her.

I would also suggest that Smoke thinks she can compete and to that I agree. She can drive a race car, sponsorship dollars or not, or she would not be where she is today.

Now back to the "wrecking the field" comment. It appears to me that if she does start a major pileup today, she will be joining the ranks of several others that have done just that at Daytona already. Take Matt Kenseth for example. He took responsibility for causing a practice crash. Stewart also caused a big one in his Duel race. Yesterday the big one began when Regan Smith and Brad Keselowski went for the win in the Nationwide race.

Keselowski tried to pass near the start finish line and Smith tried to block setting off a big melee. We have seen that scenario played out many times at Daytona. Unfortunately this time a car (Kyle Larson's) went airborne into the catch fence and parts of the car went sailing into the crowd. Twenty-eight fans were injured, with half that number taken to a nearby hospital. Two were initially listed as critical, but the latest report shows them being listed as stable with no life threatening injuries.

The accident led race winner Tony Stewart to be very subdued afterward. He pointed out that auto racing is a dangerous sport. The drivers, he said, are willing to accept the risk that goes with their sport. When that risk involves the fans, it becomes very thought provoking. Is there more that can be done to insure the safety of the fans? Probably - and Nascar will look into saftey procedures to accomplish that.

For now though, the risks nothwithstanding, we go racing. The view from my seat suggests that we should see a very exciting race today. Let's hope all concerned, drivers and fans alike, will avoid injury today and Nascar's showcase event will start the season off on a positive note.


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