There are more question marks going into the 64th running of the Daytona 500 than perhaps any other edition of ‘The Great American Race’. Drivers and teams face a number of unknowns that have never been faced before as the NASCAR Cup Series heads into its 2022 season with it new Next Gen car.
How will the Next Gen car react in large packs for such a long period of time? Will drivers race more cautiously because of the shortage of cars and parts? Is the car safe? How will pit stops and pit strategy play out with changes such as the single lug nut being a part of this car? Will drivers be able to pass?
Those are just a few things that no doubt kept drivers and crew chiefs awake last night as they thought about all the what-ifs this race will provide.
One thing we can be almost certain of is the likelihood of team and manufacturer cooperation in the draft. Practice sessions have seen organizations such as Hendrick Motorsports, Team Penske and Joe Gibbs Racing spend numerous laps working with each other or with cars of a similar brand name. It is probably safe to conclude that the winner of this race will be the driver whose teammates work best with him.
Of course, there is always the prospect of the ‘Big One’ looming over the races held here at Daytona International Speedway and its sister track the Talladega Super Speedway. As mentioned above, drivers being more cautious than normal could well be the case but over the last few laps, with the Harley J. Earl Trophy on the line, someone will almost certainly be willing to make a risky move to have a chance at winning the sport’s biggest race.
What will be the result of that move?
The real question regarding that seemingly inevitable big crash is not only how it will impact this race but what will be the lingering effect on the teams who lose cars in the melee. Unlike in previous years in which teams had a car that would be set aside specifically for the two super speedways, that is not the case this season due to the aforementioned shortages.
Perhaps more than any Daytona 500 contested over the last few decades, this race will have an impact on the teams that will include more than just positive or negative momentum going into the rest of the season. The complete loss of a car could be devastating for some teams in terms of their rotation of machines for future races and their readiness for the weeks to come.
There is so much more than just the competition to consider going into the 2022 Daytona 500. It will be interesting to watch it play out.
My predicted winner: As stated above, I believe this will be a race won by an organization as much as by a driver. No team is better at playing the organizational game than Hendrick Motorsports. As a result, my pick to win is William Byron.
Fox will provide live coverage of the Daytona 500 with Pre-race offerings set to begin at 1:00pm and the green flag slated to wave just after 3:00pm.
Richard Allen has been covering NASCAR and other forms of motorsports since 2008.
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