Friday, February 18, 2011

Duel races show all that's great about NASCAR

The Duel races are always two of the most interesting and fun races of the year because they include drivers who have to make the race to keep their team intact and others who want a good starting spot for the biggest race of the year.

From the joy of Brian Keselowski to the despair of Casey Mears, the Duel races cover the full range of emotions.

The two qualifying races took on added significance this time because they would be the experiment to show everybody what the big race would be like, and the first race had the pole position on the line.

The races did prove NASCAR made the correct changes throughout the week since the Budweiser Shootout when it put restrictions on the radiators and made the restrictor plate smaller.

The cars got right up against the 200 mph mark, but didn’t cross that line and the new package actually kept the cars together more than they were Saturday night in the Shootout. Mark Martin and Tony Stewart jumped out to a huge lead early in the first race, but then fell back to the pack and no other pair was able to really jump out to a lead and hang on to it for more than a few laps.

So far every Sprint Cup race of Speedweeks has set a new record for lead changes, and I don’t see why that won’t continue in the Daytona 500, especially with the new rules.

While this style of racing may be different, it isn’t bad. Every finish this week has come down to less than a car-length, and the Shootout and second Duel race were legitimate photo finishes, even though Denny Hamlin was disqualified in the Shootout.

The Duel races always include the possibility of a great underdog story, and sometimes it actually happens. Kevin Lepage made the race in an unsponsored car in 2006, and this year Brian Keselowski raced his way into the big show with help from his younger brother, Brad.

What a great scene. NASCAR has run a little thin on heart-warming stories on the track of late, but this was certainly one. Brian Keselowski and his crew didn’t even have hotel rooms for Thursday night because they figured they wouldn’t make the race.

In several aspects, the 2011 edition of Speedweeks has been a bit of a throwback. The slingshot move is now in force more than ever, the pack doesn’t stay together for long after each restart and the speeds are as high as they’ve been since the 1980s. Some of the mystique returned to Daytona this year.

So now the only thing left on the Sprint Cup side is practice and the race.

In just a few days the drivers will start to get those soft but powerful nervous and excited feelings that something special is going to happen. And with the way this week is going, I think it’s pretty safe to say something special probably will take place come Sunday.


  1. jmayer...

    I'm up and having my "Jump Starter" leaded coffee. Next it's throw my gear in the rig and go...


    Thanks for the primer!

  2. Don't forget Kirk Shelmerdine one year raced his way into the 500 in one of the dual races and ended up with a top 20 finish in the 500. (He finished 20th.)