The Daytona 500 is just days away. There are 49 drivers set to fill 43 spots on the starting grid, and all 49 have just one thing on their minds: winning on Sunday.
The list of previous Daytona 500 winners is a who's who of NASCAR royalty. Richard Petty, Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson are just some of the names that visited victory lane after winning the biggest race of the season.
This year, another driver will get the opportunity to add his name to the growing legacy of the Great American Race. Last year, Jamie McMurray captivated us all with his dramatic win, and then we all wept with him in victory lane. The emotion and joy was more than he could take, and he wasn't afraid to show just how important this win was.
So, as the anticipation of this year's event continues to grow, I can't help but wonder if maybe this year's 500-mile race will be a little more anticlimactic than last year's. While the racing will no doubt be exciting and keep us all on the edge of our seats, it almost seems more than likely that the winner of the race will be one of the four men from the Richard Childress Racing stable.
Kevin Harvick will be going for his second career win in the Great American Race, while teammates Jeff Burton, Clint Bowyer and new teammate Paul Menard will all be gunning to win their first. Through the first few days of Speedweeks, it seems that any of the four are solid picks to drive away with the win.
While Menard was not eligible for the Bud Shootout, his three teammates all were. All three avoided trouble and came home with top-10 finishes, but could have easily been better.
For the first two-thirds of the race, Jeff Burton and Kevin Harvick were the class of the field and almost seemed untouchable. It seemed like any time those two got passed by another duo of cars, it would take no more than half a lap or so, and they would shoot right back by them and retake the lead.
Burton, in fact, led a race-high 32 laps.
Bowyer was no slouch either. While his other two teammates were locked nose to tail with each other, he was forced to find an alternative dance partner, and no matter who he latched on to he made it work.
Then, in both of the Saturday practices for qualifying, Paul Menard turned some heads. He finished in the top-five of both sessions, including the third fastest lap of the morning session. Burton also accomplished the feat of having two top-five ranking practice sessions.
Proving that practice was no fluke, all four RCR cars laid down qualifying laps inside the first 14 positions. While none of them locked themselves into a starting spot, they all turned pretty amazing laps.
Menard, Bowyer and Burton were all within a 10th of a second of each other, as they laid down the fourth, fifth and sixth fastest times respectively. Harvick clocked in with the 14th fastest time.
And that right there should say a lot. None of the four RCR drivers have ever really been known as qualifying specialists. So, when they all put up top-15 qualifying positions, that should be a huge sign that this team is a very dangerous one come Sunday.
So, the most important thing now, is to have good runs on Thursday, and back up those qualifying efforts, and try to put themselves up near the front to start the race.
While RCR, thus far, has failed to bring home the Bud Shootout, and they failed to have any of their drivers capture a front row starting spot, if these four continue to look as impressive as they have through the first few days of on track activities, one of them is almost certain to bring home the most important trophy of the week.