Follow along with updates of the Daytona 500

February, 20, 2011
2/20/11
2:04
PM CT

The Daytona 500 is under way, and you can follow along here to get updates of the action.



* The first caution caused by Kyle Busch's spin on Lap 5 was what I was talking about in Thursday's blog at ESPNDallas.com -- a case of one car zigging when the other car zagged.

Teammates with the ability to talk to each other -- thereby being able to communicate their next move verbally -- have an advantage.

Apparently Busch's team declined to share radio frequencies, so Michael Waltrip's push turned Busch's car around.

You may well see more cautions today from the zig-zag phenomenon of this unique two-car tandem draft at Daytona.

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*So is it fair that drivers can talk from car to car via the radio as we're seeing in today's Daytona 500?

In other sports such a thing is taboo. In baseball it's illegal for the bullpen to steal signals, for instance. In football it's illegal to intercept the communication from the coach's booth to the sidelines. In fact, coaches calling in plays to the quarterback in the NFL block their face so you can't read lips.

Due to the two-car tandem draft that has developed at Daytona this year it is important for the drivers to be able to communicate. Like I said earlier, if one car zigs when the other car zags, somebody is going for a wild ride. We've already seen that happen several times today.

But do sports fans like this ability? Or, as a non-racing fan said to me moments ago, could it lead to some form of collusion (he's a former Major League Baseball front office type). Another thing unique to the sport.

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*One of the big stories in the media in the last year or so has been about declining attendance and television ratings for NASCAR races.

Interestingly, you so seldom see the same about declining about other sports. For instance, are you aware season-tickets sales for NFL games declined this year?

So take this to the bank: the Daytona 500 TV ratings will be two to three times those of the NBA All-Star Game tonight, despite heavy media coverage building up to the games in Los Angeles.

The proof is in the ratings -- still.

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*Engines don't often blow at Daytona these days. So what is to explain the blown engines by Richard Childress teammates Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton?

It could be any number of things. Temperatures on race day are the hottest of Speedweeks, hovering around the 80-degree mark. RCR may have miscalculated on the heat but that unlikely. Harvick retired after only 22 laps, likely too early for the heat to build up and cause a breakdown in the engine.

NASCAR changed the maximum size of the opening for the grill this morning, just hours before the start of the Daytona 500. If you open up the grill you sacrifice some speed. Perhaps RCR chose to go with a smaller opening and that caused the heat to build up.

Or perhaps RCR has a bad run of a certain part in the engine. Maybe a cam shaft or a rocker arm, perhaps a piece bought from a supplier, has a flaw in it's design or production. Often when you see cars on the same team with a similar problem it goes back to one part or piece.

In any manner, the RCR teams have dug a hole for themselves in the first race of the year, but there is a long way to go in the point battle. Watch the last Childress car, Clint Bowyer, and see if he has a problem.

RCR went into the year as the self-proclaimed championship favorite. It's going to be uphill from here.

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*What a Daytona debut by young Trevor Bayne, the youngest driver in the field driving for the oldest team in the field. Leading, running in the lead draft, showing maturity and poise. The 20-year old is the real deal.

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*Huge crowd at Daytona today. Almost a sell-out. Great to see the stands just about packed to the brim today on a beautiful day.

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*Consider all of the chatter on the radios today. Gabbing on the radio is the driver, crew chief, spotter (some teams use multiple spotters on big tracks like Daytona) and, of course, the driver-to-driver communication that is unique and new for today's race due to the tandem drafting. The conversations are often frantic and frustrating. Imagine being a crew chief needing to ask for critical information to determine pit stop strategy but unable to ask a question because of the ongoing conversations on the radio. It could cause some mistakes when a spotter or crew chief tries to pass along information needed immediately. And the driver is going to have a headache of epic proportions.

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Some fans are trying to get used to this tandem drafting seen at Daytona this year for the first time due to the new pavement. As fans watch this two-by-two action, one turned to me and referred to the race as the Noah's Ark 500. You know, Noah's Ark, as in the animals boarding the ark to avoid the floods two-by-two. Clever.

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*Regan Smith has spent much of today's Daytona 500 running in a winning position.

That's no fluke, although typically the Furniture Row team is a start-n-park team. But not today -- and for good reason.

Smith "won" at Talladega a couple years ago but was disqualified because NASCAR officials ruled that he dived below the yellow line at the Start/Finish line, a no-no. You probably remember that race since Ryan Newman and Carl Edwards collected each other in that frantic run to the checkers, with Edwards' car dramatically going airborne into the catch fence along the front straight.

Smith is excellent at these restrictor plate races. He is capable of winning today.

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*Typically cars at Daytona are almost pristine after the race because aerodynamics are so important. Cars in today's race, though, are battle-scarred, bent, creased and worn out. The tandem drafting is taking it's effect.

The noses of the cars, just like in Thursday's dual qualifying races, are completely worn out. The logos and paint are scraped off the front bumper of virtually every car, as each car has taken it's turn pushing the others in the first-time tandem drafting we've seen.

Most cars this late in the race are now adorned in "Bear Bond," a strong, roughly two-foot long/one-foot wide industrial piece of tape that is so durable that it helps hold bumpers, fenders and hoods together at speeds over 200 mph. These patches, though, can be a problem on the rear of a car. The finish of the tape is not smooth. The car that pushes needs the ability to slide across the bumper of the car in front. If you look at the cars with "Bear Bond" on the nose, most have worn deep gashes and scratches through the tape.

Typically we only see "Bear Bond" on cars trying to make laps to pick up a few points after having been wrecked. Or on the winner at the slam-bang races at Bristol. But not Daytona.

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. Took the lead on the back stretch and brought his fans across the country to their feet. You could almost feel the ground rumble from Maine to California as the Junior Nation stomped their feet.

The problem is that if Junior wins, certain unknowledgeable media members and fans of other drivers will ridiculously charge that the race was fixed. Recall that it was 10 years ago that Earnhardt's father, seven-time NASCAR champ Dale Earnhardt Sr., died in a last-lap crash in the Daytona 500. The irony for these grassy-knoll conspirators will simply be too rich.

Even if he wins, Junior can't win.

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The lead pack of cars coming down to the checkered flag will likely look like a pack of steam engines with plumes of steam shooting into the air.

With the tandem draft, the second car -- or push car -- has been battling over heating issues all day. In the final 10 laps, though, teams will forget about overheating. The overflow from the radiator is a valve right behind the hood on the right side of the car. Look for steam to be shooting out of the valve in the final laps as drivers focus on racing and don't worry about cooling the engine.

It's about to get hot.

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*The crowd booed on the David Ragan black flag but sadly, as much as I like this kid, a rule is a rule. Ragan was a little perturbed at the ruling. But there was no mistaking that one.

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. seems to have nothing but bad luck. He ran strong and was in a position to win. He even could be heard on the radio having a great time as he slid through the banking in turn one. Everything was clicking in perfection.

Until the green-white-checkered. He just got clipped that turned him into the back stretch wall.

Tough luck for Junior. Again.

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That sound you hear is fans jumping on the Trevor Bayne bandwagon. The driver, whose only other NASCAR Sprint Cup start came at Texas in the AAA Texas 500 last fall, just turned 20 yesterday.

Jaime McMurray won the second start of his NASCAR career in Charlotte. Amazing.

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It was 36 years ago that the Wood Brothers won the Daytona 500 in one of the most dramatic and historic races of all time. Hall of Famers David Pearson, driving for the Wood Brothers, and Richard Petty crashed just before the start/finish line. Pearson's crippled car slowly chugged across the line for the win.

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