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Lead Lap: Chasing Daytona

NASCAR Kicks Off This Weekend LIVE On CBS Sports 1140
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(Jonathan Ferrey/GettyImages)

(Jonathan Ferrey/GettyImages)

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By Steve Goss – CBS Sports 1140

Unless you’ve been under a rock for the last week, you already know that Danica Patrick will lead the field to the green flag in Sunday’s 55th running of NASCAR’s Daytona 500.

Pole position means less at Daytona on race day than it does at so-called “intermediate” (1.5 mile) tracks where starting position is a huge factor in finishing position.  On the 2.5 mile Daytona International Speedway, where big pack racing leads to frequent spot-swaps and “The Big One (a multi-car wreck),” the only thing certain is that NOTHING is certain.

Patrick’s pole win is historic.  And, thanks in large part to the efforts of Crew Chief Tony Gibson and the #10 pit crew, Danica has a legit shot at winning “The Great American Race.”  But there are broader implications…

As talented as she is as a driver, Danica is the biggest “brand name” in racing today.  Her pole win and the resulting media attention guarantee more fannies in seats on Sunday; more eyes on television and more ears to radio coverage.  WINNING the race could catapult NASCAR to even higher levels of notoriety….which the sport needs badly at the moment, as it struggles with declining attendance and soft year-to-year television ratings.

DAYTONA 500:  FACTS AND FIGURES

Daytona International Speedway, 2.5 mile oval

Race distance:   500 miles (200 laps)

Pole sitter:          Danica Patrick (first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pole)

Purse:                   $19,339,134

Winners Share: $1,444,850

Green Flag:         Approximately 10:15am Sunday, February 24

LIVE coverage:  9am, CBS Sports 1140 (streaming at CBSSacramento.com and on Radio.com mobile app)

WHAT TO LOOK/LISTEN FOR:  Within the first ten laps, look for pack racing to ensue with plenty of three-wide racing, with lines of cars five to eight cars deep.  Business usually picks up in the final ten laps with aggressive passes and drivers looking to get as low on the racing surface as possible.  This one truly isn’t over until the checkered flag flies, and don’t be shocked if the winner leads just one lap – the last one.

What you’re not likely to see is “bump drafting.”  NASCAR’s new “Gen 6” cars don’t line up bumper-to-bumper like they used to.  Drivers and crew chiefs have noted a pocket of air between the rear bumper and the front spoiler that keeps the cars from locking up completely.

CHEVROLET RUNS DEEP:  Chevrolet has three of the top four starting spots in Sunday’s race.  Danica’s #10 leads from the pole with three-time Daytona 500 winner  Jeff Gordon’s Chevy alongside the front row.  Kevin Harvick, winner of the first of Thursday’s twin 150-mile qualifying races, takes his Chevy to the second row next to Toyota driver Kyle Busch, who took the checkered flag in the second of the Thursday races.

LIFE OF A RACER:  After Kevin Harvick’s Duel win Thursday, SPEED observed him seated in a chair outside his motorcoach enjoying a Budweiser (Harvick’s sponsor) – and not necessarily by choice.  It seems Harvick’s wife Delana barred him from the motorcoach…because their 7-month old son Keelan was having a nap.

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