NASCAR Sprint Cup: 10 Early Predictions for the 2013 Daytona 500

Sandra MacWattersCorrespondent IJanuary 15, 2013

NASCAR Sprint Cup: 10 Early Predictions for the 2013 Daytona 500

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    No other race on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series circuit is as game-changing for the winner as the "The Great American Race." It not only is the kickoff of the season, but a preview of what fans might expect during the season.

    The 55th running of the Daytona 500 will be one more chance for a driver to notch his name in the record books with a win of the prestigious race. That driver will forever be known for the victory.

    The upcoming race will debut a new generation of race car that could give us racing similar to what we may have seen with cars prior to the Car of Tomorrow (COT) or perhaps racing unlike any we have ever seen on the high banks.

    Speedweeks at Daytona is a big deal for fans who have patiently waited through the offseason for NASCAR racing to begin. It begins Feb. 14 and will be closed of by the Daytona 500 on Feb. 24.

    The events like the Sprint Unlimited, Budweiser Duels and Drive4COPD 300 Nationwide race provide great racing that leads up to the big race. Each race may include unexpected happenings that could be talked about for the entire season.

    This slideshow will cover 10 early predictions that could very well play out in the Daytona 500. There are many variables in any one race, but some factors may pretty much be a given. See if you agree.

1. More People Will Be Interested in the Race

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    The debut of the Gen-6 race car and the high level of competition in NASCAR's top series should draw more fans to the grandstands at Daytona. Television viewership should increase as well.

    The fact that our NASCAR Sprint Cup champion, Brad Keselowski, is a leader among drivers with use of social media, and that many other drivers are very popular on Twitter, should draw in fans as well.

    NASCAR has the rights to NASCAR.com which has been expanded in order to make the website more interactive with fans. Social media will be heavily used by NASCAR and FOX Sports.

    The 2012 Daytona 500 was broadcast during prime time on Monday night television. Viewership was 13.699 million compared to 15.6 million in 2011.

    Many factors seem to be in place for the 55th running of the Daytona 500 to have more people interested than in the last several years. New fans may well be in the mix too.

2. The Danica Patrick Factor

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    By now anyone who has followed NASCAR, even the least little bit, knows that Danica Patrick is now a full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup driver.

    Patrick is always the focus of media attention simply because she is not just a driver, but a celebrity. She attracts attention both positive and negative.

    Those who follow Patrick and wish her well far outnumber her detractors. She has a large fan base, and her presence is very good for the sport.

    The driver of the GoDaddy.com Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing has adapted well to finding speed on the high-banked Daytona track. She is also quite comfortable in the new car that races somewhat like a Nationwide car.

    She posted some of the fastest speeds consistently during Preseason Thunder test days at the Daytona track.

    There is a strong possibility that Patrick could well be on the pole for the Daytona 500. It would not be a stretch to find her in Victory Lane hoisting the Harley J. Earl trophy given the unpredictability of this race.

3. Toyota and Chevrolet Will Outperform Ford

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    Though there may be three different models of race car with the Ford Fusion, Chevrolet SS and Toyota Camry, the three different NASCAR templates and the rules package are supposed to assure a level of equality among the teams.

    Toyota looks to have gotten their act together and those teams, especially Joe Gibbs Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing should be tough competition.

    Chevrolet will be the brand to take on the Toyotas, though many would prefer the traditional Ford versus Chevy battles.

    Greg Biffle, Trevor Bayne and Carl Edwards were some of the fastest cars during the second day testing at Daytona with Ford, but overall it may be the Ford camp that needs to up their game in finding speed when racing in the pack.

    The majority of the anticipated hottest drivers also come out of the camps that aren't wheeling Fords. There is still obviously, a lot of talent in the Fords with Brad Keselowski, Edwards and Biffle among others.

    When the 55th Daytona 500 is in the books, the top finishing teams will be driving Toyotas and Chevrolets. There will be some Fords in the Top 10, but not Victory Lane.

4. The Inevitable 'Big One

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    Thankfully NASCAR continued safety enhancements on the Gen-6 race car with additional support bars in the driver cockpit and larger roof flaps among the many changes.

    The cars will be fast and racing on the 2.5-mile tri-oval at Daytona is still dangerous. This year will have the added unknown of how these cars are really going to race.

    It appears the two-car tandem racing is over. Pack racing is back, but it looks like bump drafting is going to be difficult with some of the different configurations on the front ends of the new car.

    This is Daytona, so it is a given that drivers will try to push, which will likely be the cause of the inevitable "Big One" in this type of racing.

    The new car drives on the loose side which means drivers will move around a lot on the track. Cars will be somewhat unstable in the packs.

    We may have a new car, but we will still see the same old multi-car wrecks.

5. Speed Records Will Be Broken

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    Speeds during testing were just a breath under 200 mph during single car runs. Quite likely some new track records will be broken during qualifying.

    NASCAR has mandated the same restrictor plate that was used during 2012 which is 29/32 of an inch. This will likely hold the speeds close to the prior year during the race which should be around 194 mph.

    The spoiler and other changes with the car will also keep the cars from going much faster. NASCAR doesn't want the cars to be running 200 mph-plus.

    The weather was unusually warm during testing at Daytona. Teams will also make some adjustments that will make the cars faster, then add the sleek and shiny paint schemes with cooler weather and there will probably be record lap speeds during the race.

6. The New Generation Car Will Attract Fans

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    Fans and drivers alike welcome the new Gen-6 race car that brings brand identity back to the sport. It is easy to identify the Ford Fusion, Chevrolet SS and Toyota Camry.

    All the teams are back on equal footing with this new car that will present a learning curve for every driver. Some will adapt easily while others may have problems adjusting to the new looser driving model.

    The debut of the new car in the first points race of the season is bound to draw in fans who may have drifted away when they tired of the boxy Car of Tomorrow (COT) that was raced from 2007 through 2012.

    The buzz about the new car may also bring in some new fans who are interested in how racing will change with the latest racing product.

7. NASCAR Delivered for the Fans

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    NASCAR knew they had to deliver a better product to keep fans interested in the sport. In what might be considered a relatively short time of less than two years, they have brought the Gen-6 car alive, and it looks to be a success.

    The Daytona 500 will reveal the results of the major undertaking by manufacturers, teams and NASCAR. There has been a great deal of work with research and development that will bring many new innovations to the car drivers will be wheeling in 2013.

    NASCAR was heavily criticized for the Car of Tomorrow though it brought major changes in safety. The new car will have additional safety features, but it will be more racy with the brand identity fans missed.

    The Daytona 500 will show that NASCAR really wants to deliver the very best racing to their loyal fans.

8. Pack Racing Is Back

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    Preseason Thunder testing at Daytona showed that the new Gen-6 car is going to generate pack racing, though the cars are unstable in the pack.

    This car puts the control back in the hands of the driver which may sound strange to some, but this car is much less aero-dependent than the previous generation they raced.

    It will mean that the driver must adapt to the feel of a car that drives on the loose side. It will be up to teams to work with the mechanical grip on the car more than they could with the COT.

    The end result of the changes brought about with this new race car is better racing for the fans. The two-car tandem is a thing of the past, and racing should be lively in the Daytona 500 with the pack racing we are bound to see.

9. The "Bump and Run" Is Back with More Wrecks

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    It appears that pack racing will be the order of the day for the upcoming Daytona 500. With that may come the return of the bump and run by drivers who best adapt to the handling of the new car.

    During Preseason Thunder testing at the track, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. attempted to give Marcos Ambrose a push on the backstretch. Unfortunately the cars did not line up well and a 12-car wreck ensued when Ambrose's car got turned.

    Earnhardt made contact, then scooted by without any damage. With the ability the driver has to maneuver the Gen-6 car on track, there may well be several such incidences.

    This latest generation of race car is unstable in the packs. It also has a looser feel for the driver than the Car of Tomorrow (COT). The unfortunate by-product may be more spins and wrecks.

10. Predicting the Winner

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    The winner of the prestigious Daytona 500 gets the honor of hoisting the coveted Harley J. Earl trophy. There is always a wild-card factor at a superspeedway race that may bring victory to an unexpected driver.

    The nature of racing on the high-banked tracks can create an opportunity for a driver to slingshot to the front on the last lap.

    Wrecks can also eliminate drivers who look to be contenders for the win, leaving opportunity for a surprise winner.

    With the Gen-6 car there likely will not be a two-car tandem draft where one driver pushes the other across the finish line on the final lap. Using another car for the draft may be only momentary until one car breaks away.

    The winner of this years Daytona 500 should be a veteran driver who adapts well to the feel of the new car. It will be a driver who can work the pack and may have to use a bump and run maneuver to head for the front.

    The winner will be Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Tony Stewart or Jeff Gordon. The winner will be piloting a Toyota or Chevrolet which should dominate the Fords in pack racing.

    The choice of a wild-card winner would be one of the two drivers who are running for the Rookie of the Year title in the Cup series, Danica Patrick or Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

    These predictions have little data to substantiate them, but rather a gut feeling by the writer based on observations with testing of the new car.

    Winning the Daytona 500 is a crapshoot because of the variables. As we saw in 2012, anything can happen including a driver hitting a jet dryer. One more prediction, no jet dryers will be harmed this year.