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ThatsRacin.com


Raceday: Your guide to the Daytona 500

- jutter@charlotteobserver.com
Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013

Three things to watch

1 . Danica Patrick became the first woman to win the pole in a Sprint Cup race. Now, we’ll see what she can do in the race. Last season, she wrecked out in the early-going.

2 . It’s been a while since Jimmie Johnson has found some success on a restrictor-plate track but perhaps this season’s Daytona 500 can be a turnaround since it is also his 400th career Cup start.

3 . This could well be Mark Martin’s final Daytona 500 and a win in it is one of two missing lines on his NASCAR resume. A championship is the other.

Observations

• Not five minutes had passed since Danica Patrick won the pole for the 500 when media members began chiming in on what it would mean for NASCAR, including a possible sellout of the race and the highest TV ratings in history. Neither is likely to happen. When it doesn’t, those same media will then write how expectations weren’t met. Whose expectations? Only their own – and that’s a fact likely not to be mentioned by many, if any. The biggest problem in NASCAR is media members – and sometimes the sanctioning body – overpromising on noteworthy events. Let’s just let them unfold and then offer an analysis after the fact based on actual results.

• Lots of talk about how the racing in Sunday’s 500 will look based on what was seen in the Sprint Unlimited and in Thursday’s qualifying races. None of those, however, had full fields of cars – they key to developing anything close to real “pack” racing. If the same complaints are heard after the 500 is over, then there may be cause for some concern.

• Very cool tribute on the No. 26 Toyota which will be driven by Michael Waltrip for Swan Racing honoring the 26 victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut. The car features a paint scheme promoting the Sandy Hook School Support Fund.

Best bets

Three picks for your fantasy team from Jim Utter:

Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin

Notes

Can you hear me now? If you have paid a visit to Daytona International Speedway during Speedweeks, you may have noticed a better cell phone signal – even if you are not a Sprint customer.

It won’t be the last time.

When Sprint signed its contract extension with NASCAR to sponsor its Sprint Cup Series, it allowed – for the first time – other cell carriers to boost their respective signals at race tracks as long as they did not engage in any marketing.

Many fans have long incorrectly believed Sprint’s sponsorship allows the carrier’s signal to block those of other cell carriers. Instead, its sponsorship simply allowed it to be the only career to boost its signal at the track.

That has now changed.

The contract extension – and the change – was to go into effect in the 2014 season but NASCAR and Sprint worked out an arrangement to make the change effective this season.

All NASCAR tracks will now be able to offer Wi-Fi to all fans in attendance and can offer other cell carriers the option to provide the necessary equipment to boost their signal on property.

Sprint service customers will continue to enjoy several premium benefits – many for free – unavailable to other customers of other carriers.

Veteran Gordon still learning: One thing the 2013 model Cup car has done for veteran Jeff Gordon is send him back to school.

“There is the whole learning process with the engineers and Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) trying to figure out what this car needs to go fast,” Gordon said. “There are a lot of different components to getting a car down here ready to win the Daytona 500.

Gordon spent most of his qualifying race out front before a pit road speeding penalty curtailed his run. “We were out front most of the time in the 150, so that is why we wanted to do some drafting (Friday) being behind cars and get a little bit of an understanding with some adjustments to see how they affected the car,” he said.

Earnhardt leads the way: Only 34 of the 43 teams elected to participate in Saturday’s final Cup practice before Sunday’s Daytona 500, but of those who did Dale Earnhardt Jr. led the way with a lap at 198.592 mph. David Gilliland was second-fastest, Clint Bowyer was third, Marcos Ambrose was fourth and Aric Almirola fifth.

Race facts

Where: Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, Fla.

Track type: 2.5-mile paved, high-banked oval

Race distance: 200 laps, 500 miles

Weather: High in the low 70s with 40 percent chance of thunderstorms.

TV: Coverage begins at noon on Fox. Green flag is 1:29 p.m.

Radio: Motor Racing Network

Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter
More racing news, blogs, photos and more at www.ThatsRacin.com.