Car owner Chip Ganassi has had an awesome past 12 months with wins in the 2010 Daytona 500, Indy 500, Brickyard 400, the Indycar championship, and just last weekend a 1-2 finish in the 2011 Rolex 24 hour endurance race.
I speculated last week that Jimmie Johnson was poised to join A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti as a winner of both the Daytona 500 and the Rolex 24, but Jamie McMurray came within 2.46 seconds of beating him to it, finishing second along with fellow Ganassi Racing drivers Juan Montoya, Scott Dixon, and Dario Franchitti. The win went to the 01 Ganassi car with Scott Pruett aboard at the checker, joined by co-drivers Memo Rojas, Joey Hand, and Graham Rahal. It was the 30th anniversary of Rahal's father Bobby winning the endurance classic.
NASCAR has released the entries for the 2011 season for its three national series. Despite the new rule requiring drivers to declare a series for points, a number of drivers are listed in more than one. Cup drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch, Mark Martin, Carl Edwards, Paul Menard, Clint Bowyer, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Kasey Kahne, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., and Kevin Harvick are all listed on the Nationwide roster, with Busch, Kahne, and Martin also on the Camping World Truck series list.
A number of drivers also are listed on both Nationwide and Trucks. Among them are Elliot Sadler, Justin Allgaier, Sam Hornish Jr., and Jennifer Jo Cobb. Cobb will join Danica Patrick as the second female in the Nationwide series for 2011. Both will run partial schedules. A number of entries in all three series do not yet have either sponsors or crew chiefs determined as yet, and we will probably see a lot of changes as the season progresses.
The 53rd annual Daytona 500 is just two weeks from Sunday with NASCAR's stars running on a newly-paved racetrack. The track was last repaved in 1979, and last year's race was a bit of a fiasco with two red flags needed in order to patch holes in the track. Two test sessions on the new pavement indicate that the cars will be able to run three abreast wide open (with a new, slightly smaller restrictor plate).
This should provide some pretty exciting racing. I haven't yet seen a final entry list, but Daytona typically brings out the largest number of drivers attempting to qualify of any race in a given season.
There are usually 50 or more entries, and Daytona's unique qualifying procedure (only the fastest two qualifiers locked into their positions with the rest determined by finishes in the two 125-lap qualifying races) gives everybody a shot at making the race. And for the underfunded single-car teams like Joe Nemechek's operation, just getting into the field is a big payday.
So if the boss won't let you off work to watch those Thursday races, make sure you get the DVR set up to record them. The 500 itself is noted for surprise winners, like last year's victor Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman in 2008, Ward Burton in 2002, Michael Waltrip in 2001, and Derrike Cope back in 1990. And it is not unusual to see a last-lap or even last-turn pass for the win. The Daytona 500 is almost guaranteed to be more exciting than Sunday's Super Bowl, even if the commercials won't be quite as entertaining.
FOX is back in the driver's seat for the Daytona 500 broadcast and the first half of the NASCAR season.
That means that Darrell Waltrip's cry of "Boogity, boogity, boogity, let's go racin' boys!" will soon be heard across the land. With talented Mike Joy doing the play-by-play and Larry McReynolds providing strategic insights, the FOX team is always entertaining. My only complaint about the coverage is the incessant exposure to their cartoon gopher "Digger." It was cute when they first used it on the embedded track cam, but not as a full-length cartoon feature during race broadcasts. So if you're allergic to animated vermin, the race also will be broadcast on Sirius/XM satellite radio.