NASCAR at Daytona: 10 Bold Predictions for the Gatorade Duels

Chad Robb@@MrFantasyNASCARCorrespondent IFebruary 21, 2012

NASCAR at Daytona: 10 Bold Predictions for the Gatorade Duels

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    Two of the most underrated races of the NASCAR season are the Gatorade Dual 125’s at the Daytona Speedway. For the larger organizations in the sport, the races are just practice for the Great American Race on Sunday, but for the teams on a limited budget, the Duals can make or break their season.

    A chance to race in the Daytona 500 would provide funding to a small organization to compete in other races in the 2012 season. Failure to make the race could mean the team is shut down until sponsorship is acquired.

    The 2012 Daytona 500 will have a record purse. The winner of the race will receive $1.43 million and the winner at the halfway point of the race will receive a $200,000 bonus. With so much money on the line, there is no wonder 49 cars are competing in the Gatorade Duals for a spot in the Daytona 500.

    The final laps of the Gatorade Dual 125 are as exciting as any race during the season. One eye has to be on the battle for the lead, while the other needs to watch the cars battling it out for a spot in the Daytona 500. Winning a spot in the Daytona 500 will mean as much to a lower budget team than the win in the Gatorade Duals would mean to top team in NASCAR.

    The racing at Daytona is unpredictable and I see no reason why this year should be different.

    Here is a list of my 10 bold predictions for the Gatorade Duel 125 race.

Trevor Bayne Wins First Duel Race

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    Trevor Bayne had one of the best cars in the 2011 Daytona 500. He was also lucky enough to find himself in the right place at the right time. I think it will happen again this year, but not in the Daytona 500. This year, Bayne will find luck in the first Gatorade Duel 125 race.

    Bayne showed up at Daytona this year with another fast car. Bayne qualified No. 9, which will allow him to start No. 5 in the first Gatorade Duel race.

    Last season, Bayne was an unknown driver and many of the veterans hesitated to draft with him. That will not be the case this year. If Bayne is unable to find help from veteran drivers, he will have his friend, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. starting near him in the No. 4 position. I look for Bayne and Stenhouse to work together and surprise fans with Stenhouse pushing Bayne to victory.

Casey Mears Wins Second Duel Race

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    It would not be a surprise to see a Hendrick Motorsports driver win the second Gatorade Duel 125. Hendrick’s has three drivers in the second race (Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne).

    What would be surprising is if one of Hendrick Motorsport’s former drivers were to capture the victory. That driver could be Casey Mears.

    Mears has not been a competitive driver since he left the No. 5 car at Hendrick Motorsports. He is now driving for Germain Racing. The team made the switch from Toyota engines to Fords for the 2012 season. The Ford engine will be supplied to the team from Roush Fenway Racing.

    The switch to Ford proved to be a wise decision as Mears qualified his No. 13 car in the No. 5 position. This will allow Mears to start on the outside pole for the second Gatorade Duel race.

    Mears will start up front and could end up front at the end of the race. Usually the drivers are more conservative in the second race than they are in the first. If this is the case, Mears could jump to an early lead and never look back.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Crashes on First Lap

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    One thing we learned from the Budweiser Shootout is that the changes made to the cars for the 2012 season will provide more wrecks in restrictor-plate racing.

    NASCAR made the changes because fans complained the two-pack drafting was boring. Now the fans get to see multi-car crashes or “The Big One” as fans refers to it.

    Fans will not be happy to see fan favorite, Dale Earnhardt Jr. crash on the first lap of the Gatorade Duel on Thursday.

    The first Gatorade Duel is always crazier than the second. Some drivers will try to win the Duel on the first lap. I think Earnhardt gets caught up in an accident from a driver trying to win the race on the first lap.

    Neither NASCAR nor its fans will be happy about this, but that is what both parties wanted.

First Duel Race will be Demolition Derby

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    I have already mentioned how the first Gatorade Duel race always produces more wrecks. Drivers in the second race watch what happens in the first race and make changes for their race.

    This year the racing will be much worse than in the past. It is obvious that drivers cannot push on the corners of the cars. Some drivers will not get the message. NASCAR should mandate bumper stickers on each car that reads “Do not push here."

    The first Gatorade Duel race will end with the last man or woman on the track winning the race.

Duels End in Fuel Millage Race

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    How many times did races end in fuel millage strategies last season? Too many if you ask me.

    I think the trend will continue in 2012. It will start with the Gatorade Duels on Thursday.

    A caution midway through the race will cause Crew Chiefs to make a decision: Stop for tires and gas or keep their track position and try to make it to the end.

    One driver will push the limit and try to will the race on fuel millage.

Both Races End in Green-White-Checker

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    What could make the Gatorade Duels more exciting than they already are? A green-white-checker finish at the end of both races would.

    After the Budweiser Shootout, many drivers said the cars were on the edge of spinning out for most of the race.  Just imagine how crazy the race will get when the white flag is waived.

    I predict that both races will have multi-car crashes at the end, causing a green-white-checker for the finish.

Roush Fenway Racing Dominates

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    Roush Fenway Racing dominated qualifying. I think they will do the same for the Gatorade Duel 125 races.

    It is obvious that Roush Fenway Racing was not happy about the way the 2011 season ended. The team did not sit and watch the competition go by them. Roush Fenway Racing worked hard over the offseason and their hard work is showing off at Daytona.

    The new electronic fuel injection (EFI) system could be one reason why Roush Fenway Racing has been so dominate this week. The team may have figured something out about the new EFI system that provides more speed to their cars. We will see how long it takes for the other teams to figure it out.

    Roush Fenway Racing will be strong in the Gatorade Duel 125 races.

Gatorade Duels Earn Highest Rankings in Speed History

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    NASCAR is coming off of their best finish to a season in the sport’s history. The battle between Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards produced the highest television ratings in NASCAR history. I do not think the momentum from last season ended when the season ended. I believe Speed Channel will benefit from the 2011 Chase battle with the highest television ratings in the channel’s history.

Clint Bowyer Starts in the Back and Finishes Up Front

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    Clint Bowyer in one of the best drivers on restrictor-plate tracks. Bowyer has an average finish of 15.1 at Daytona. In his last three Daytona 500’s, Bowyer has finished No. 4, No. 4, and No. 17 last season.

    Bowyer will start at the back of the second Gatorade Duel race do to his car failing a post-qualifying inspection.

    Bowyer will quickly make his way through the field and finish in the top five of the Gatorade Duel race. Bowyer will then be allowed to start near the front in the Daytona 500.

Gatorade Duels Forces NASCAR to Make Changes to Daytona 500

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    NASCAR tries to make changes to please the fans, but sometimes those changes do not come easy. NASCAR does not change the rules just to be changing them. Usually something drastic must happen in order for a quick change to take place. I think the Gatorade Duel races cause NASCAR to make rule changes before the Daytona 500.

    The rule changes are made because both Gatorade Duel races are filled with multi-car crashes. Both races end in a small number of cars left on the track.

    NASCAR does not want the Daytona 500 to turn into the Royal Rumble, so they make rule changes allowing the drivers to communicate to each other during the race.

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