TO RACE OR NOT TO RACE? — Thursday’s Gatorade Duel 150 qualifying races pose an interesting ethical dilemma for the 39 drivers already locked into Sunday’s Daytona 500: To race or not to race? So far during Speedweeks, there have been a lot of torn-up race cars. All four Hendrick Motorsports were caught in wrecks during the Budweiser Shootout and Kasey Kahne was spun out by Juan Pablo Montoya during Wednesday’s second practice at Daytona International Speedway.
The Gatorade Duel races, which will be televised live on SPEED starting at 1 p.m. ET Thursday, are likely to see more wrecks. The weather will be about 20 degrees warmer than it was during last week’s Shootout, which means the cars will have even less grip, which raised the possibility of more on-track carnage. And wrecking most often means going to a backup car and starting the Daytona 500 from the rear of the field.
Daytona 500 pole-sitter Carl Edwards said Wednesday that he’s going for it in the Duel. “For me, this might sound dumb but I am not too worried about if we crash the car,” said Edwards. We have a good backup car and it is identical and should be just as fast. I think there is value in learning something from that (Gatorade Duel) 150. I think you are going to learn things you can apply the last five laps at the 500 that could make a difference. I would like to race pretty hard in that 150. Obviously if it gets really crazy then maybe I would think about trying to give myself more room but right now the mission is to go race and learn.”
Denny Hamlin, the 2010 Sprint Cup runner-up, agreed with 2011 runner-up Edwards. “Our strategy is to go out there and try to win the Duel,” said Hamlin. “I feel like we didn't qualify very good, so we're counting on a good race car, not a good qualifying car.”
Not everyone agreed that the prime objective is winning the Duel.
“I think we are going to have an exciting Daytona 500,” said five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson. “I want to use this race car in the Daytona 500. I don’t want to lose it in practice or in the Duel.”
Three-time and defending Cup champion Tony Stewart said he was somewhere in between.
“We’ll push really hard to see how far up we can get and try to get a good spot, but I guess the biggest variable in the equation is just don’t hurt the car that we’ve got,” said Stewart. “We’re locked into the race and I think even if we don’t get the starting spot we want, I still think you can come from the back much easier and get to the front. The biggest thing is to just take care of the race car. But the racer in you at the end of the day still wants to go get the best finish you can.”
NEW CAR ON DISPLAY — The new 2013 Ford Fusion NASCAR Sprint Cup was on display in the Daytona International Speedway infield, next to Trevor Bayne’s 2012 Fusion. Next year, of course, will see the first major revision of the Sprint Cup cars since the original Car of Tomorrow debuted in 2007. Ford officials say the 2013 Fusion will have a longer nose, shorter tail and a more rakish roofline. It certainly is more striking to look at as well.
Dodge, meanwhile announced earlier this week that it will introduce its 2013 Dodge Charger on March 11 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. “We’re very excited to finally show it,” said Ralph Gilles, president and CEO of Dodge’s racing brand, SRT. “Everybody’s been asking about it and literally kind of getting on us for not showing it earlier, but we felt we’d wait for the timing to be right.”
No word yet on when Toyota and/or Chevrolet will show their respective new cars to the public, although they have been track-tested already.
JR. SAYS NO COMPARISON — Dale Earnhardt Jr. was asked if Tony Stewart’s record in the Daytona 500 paralleled that of his late father, who didn’t win NASCAR’s biggest event until 1998. Stewart, who has three Coke Zero 400 victories and two more in the Budweiser Shootout, is still looking for his first Daytona 500 triumph.
“Not really,” said Earnhardt Jr., indicating he expects Stewart to eventually succeed in his quest. “ ... Tony has come down here with a lot of great race cars. He’s talented enough to know how to win this race. Things just haven’t worked out for whatever reason. I think his talent will carry him for so many more years and I think he will be in enough competitive race cars to have plenty more chances to win it. The odds are really good for him compared to other people in the field. I wouldn’t get too concerned or worried about it if I were him. It will eventually come about.”
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, CAPTAIN — AJ Allmendinger evidently is feeling comfortable at his new home, Penske Racing, where he moved over the offseason. That much was evident Wednesday at Daytona International Speedway.
Asked what he got team owner Roger Penske for his recent 75th birthday, Allmendinger laughed. “A couple wrecked race cars from the weekend. Sweet. Happy Birthday to you Roger! Just like I tell everybody else in my life, just love.”
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100.