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Yates, Penske lead charge vs. Chevy

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Larry McReynolds

Larry McReynolds has more than 30 years of NASCAR experience as a mechanic, Daytona 500-winning crew chief and broadcaster. He earned 23 Sprint Cup wins as a crew chief, including two victories in the prestigious Daytona 500, as well as a pair of non-points victories in the annual all-star race. Follow him on Twitter.

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As Darrell Waltrip said early in Speedweeks, it's almost like we spent 2006 looking ahead to the changes in 2007, from the Car of Tomorrow to the arrival of Toyota and Juan Pablo Montoya running a full-blown Nextel Cup schedule as a rookie of the year candidate. Sixty-one cars showed up at Daytona, and only one second separated pole-sitter David Gilliland from Brian Vickers in 45th place. When the cars get in the draft on Sunday, it's going to make the competition even closer because the draft is the equalizer. Chevrolet has had a stranglehold on this race track and the Daytona 500. They've won four of the last five Great American Races, but it's not because the Bowties have better aero or engines. There are just more Chevys than any other manufacturer working with these restrictor plate packages. Not to exclude the new kids on the block, Toyota, but they are the Fords and Dodges look like they are catching up. They swept the first four positions in qualifying. In the Budweiser Shootout, Gilliland looked awfully good in a Ford, and Kurt Busch looked good.

Who to Watch

  • Jimmie Johnson: In practice, the No. 48 car has been strong. If you're running with him, you're probably running pretty well. That team just seems to keep on keeping on.
  • Tony Stewart: With wins in just about everything there is to win at Daytona — from IROC on the road course to his second Duel win on Thursday to his third Budweiser Shootout win last Saturday night to the last two July Cup races to the last two February Busch races — he's due to win the Great American Race. I'm willing to bet his 500 car is probably a little better than his Shootout car so he will be a factor.
  • Kurt Busch: With some pretty good runs at thsi track, including the Shootout last Saturday night, Busch demonstrates that he really understands Daytona, and the Dodges are much better this year. He could be a sleeper this year. His teammate, Ryan Newman, ran third here a year ago and looked awfully good in practice so this could be a breakout restrictor plate race for those Penske cars. It's hard to believe Roger Penske has never won a restrictor plate points race. Dodge has done its homework on its new nose and improved the driveability of the Charger.
  • David Gilliland: Based not on his pole-winning effort as much as how he ran in the Budweiser Shootout and his Duel 150, this kid accomplished more besides seat time at a racetrack where he's never raced before. He gained a lot of confidence, and he earned and gained a lot of respect from his fellow competitors. It's going to be very interesting to keep an eye on the pole-sitter and his Robert Yates Racing teammate Ricky Rudd. We know they're fast. Gilliland ran well in the Shootout and his Duel 150. Can he run up front for 500 miles? That's going to be the tale of the race.
  • Roush Racing: Jack Roush's camp is showing a little bit of strength. Like David Gilliland, rookie David Ragan needs to gain respect from his competitors and gain confidence. Carl Edwards is happy with the way his car is driving, but he seems to be off on speed. If I had to pick a Roush driver, I would probably lean toward Matt Kenseth. Remember, he had a strong car a year ago until Tony Stewart's emotions got away from him.
  • What to Watch

  • Tough tires — harder to handle: Most teams aren't excited about Goodyear's harder right-side tire that doesn't have as much grip as last year's tire. But they didn't just wake up one morning and say, "We think we'll take a harder right side tire to Daytona." With a bigger fuel cell carrying 4 to 4 1/2 more gallons for a 45 to 48-lap pit window, they knew teams were going to run about 10 or 12 more laps so Goodyear decided to toughen up the tire. We're still going to see some huge packs of cars, but handling is going to be at such a premium.
  • Speed Mail Larry McReynolds
  • Four sure: We've got a bigger fuel cell, but we're going to see more pit stops. I just don't think there's going to be any substitute for four fresh tires. To my surprise, Darrell felt like two tires was the way to go in the Budweiser Shootout until he watched drivers like Kyle Busch get out of shape as others drove by him like he was tied. It's not that four tires make you faster. They just give you more maneuverability on an ever-changing racetrack.
  • Out of control: We hope the wind stays calm on Sunday because it affects the performance of these cars at over 180 mph. During practice this week, I don't know that I've ever seen so many cars lose control by themselves, scrape the wall and require work pounding out their right sides. The list included Denny Hamlin in the No. 11, Elliott Sadler in the No. 38, Kasey Kahne in the No. 9 and Scott Riggs in the No. 10. There was quite a list of cars that were in the garage area, getting the right sides pounded out.

  • FOX race analyst Larry McReynolds has more than 25 years of NASCAR experience as a mechanic, crew chief and broadcaster. He and his fellow Crew Chief Club members take you behind the wall at www.crewchiefclub.com.

    "How to Become a Winning Crew Chief" is on bookstore shelves, or you may order your own autographed copy from www.DWStore.com.

    Tagged: Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Scott Riggs, Ricky Rudd, Kasey Kahne, Elliott Sadler, Tony Stewart, Juan Pablo Montoya, David Ragan, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Brian Vickers

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