The green flag to the 2011 National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing season, for 36 race weekends that count, is about to fall in Daytona International Speedway over a new racing surface at the revered venue known around the world as the Daytona 500. After test sessions in December and January along with several practice hours the past few February days, NASCAR drivers agree this year’s race is going to be fast, crazy fast.
Gone are the many bumps that defined DIS, replaced by smooth state-of-the-art asphalt with polymers and crushed granite. Drivers are quick to praise the repaving, and know that this year’s race will require different strategies than moves that worked in the past.
Race teams work hard during the winter months to get the very best cars ready to compete during the long season, but drivers are busy too with media commitments.
Prior to the upcoming big event at “The World Center Of Racing” NASCAR has provided ample interview moments for media with its many star drivers via the Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway and Daytona Media Day under a big tent earlier this week.
Driver Tony Stewart spoke about team efforts this offseason during his private press conferences.
"You try to do things to make your program better," Stewart said. "You do the best you can at growing your organization. At the end of the day, it's a matter of you don't know till you get four or five races into the season of whether what you've done is good enough to be better than what they've done over the winter, if you're grown as much as they've grown or caught up."
Clint Bowyer seemed to echo some of Stewart’s thoughts during media questioning.
"This is the part of the season, it's probably the most nervous part of the season that we have, just because there's so many unknowns. You know that you ended the year good. You know you've made gains in the offseason. You know your equipment's pretty good. You're pretty excited about everything."
"But you don't know nothing about the competition, how many gains they've made, where they're going to be. Have they found 30 horsepower? Have they lost?"
“But it's a fun part of the year. The Media Day at RCR, the test down here, it doesn't really seem like it's been a whole lot of an off-season."
Denny Hamlin nearly won the 2010 championship and sees his offseason as a continuation of a string of successes.
"Coming off a career year you’re going to feel like -- since my rookie season and going into 2007 I’ve never taken a step back,” Hamlin said. “I don’t consider myself stepping back at all and obviously anything less than what we did last year is going to be considered to myself a failure in the sense of that I took a step back. I didn’t accomplish what I did before. Given, there’s a lot of variables. Whether your cars are as good, pit crew is as good and things like that. We’ve never taken a step back with our FedEx team and that’s something I’m proud of."
Carl Edwards had back-to-back wins for the final two races of the year and brings momentum to the new season.
"I’m confident, I’m real optimistic, but I’m also realistic,” Edwards said. "If you look at the way things have gone for us, we won three races in the Chase. Greg won Kansas and we won Phoenix and Homestead. I feel like we can win at Daytona. We’ve got a team that works well together. I feel like we can win at Phoenix. I feel like we can win at Vegas. If I start going down the list of tracks, I’m very excited about it, but I don’t want to get over-confident or jinx myself or get lazy. I want to stay hungry and go out here and try to win."
Kurt Busch looked to the Daytona 500 and the new season with confidence.
"I feel my time is around the corner to break through for a win," Busch said. "You can’t expect a win to happen; you have to put yourself in position to win. There’s so many unknowns – the two car draft, fresh pavement, tires not wearing out, new fueling system; there’s a lot of new variables going into this year’s race and I like that. It’s up to the guys that are able to adapt to the changing circumstances to win. You just have to be there and be in position. This year, I think survival is going to be one of the key elements."
This season view series will return with analysis of past and present comments by some of NASCAR’s biggest stars. Stewart says it takes four or five races for a winning trend to shake out, so this series will follow the flags for five races.
First up--the green flag. Next stop--the checkered flag.
FYI WIRZ is the swift presentation of pertinent motorsports topics by Dwight Drum @ Racetake.com.
Photo credit: Dwight Drum @ Racetake.com