Saturday, February 25, 2012

The calm before the Daytona storm

NASCAR fans waited all year for Speedweeks to begin in mid-February, and all of a sudden the final hours are counting down before the culmination of the greatest racing week of the year.

All of the preliminary events are over. The Budweiser Shootout, duel races, truck race, Nationwide race and multitude of practice sessions were often wild. But, now the massive Daytona International Speedway will go dark to prepare for its greatest day yet.

The drivers and teams have nothing left to do. They have prepared at the track for eight days, and several months at the shop before that. Now it is time to try and keep the anticipation of the biggest race of the year at bay as much as possible.

Even drivers who have participated in nearly every event throughout Speedweeks will take precautions to stay as calm as possible on this night. From defending Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart to Daytona 500 rookie Ricky Stenhouse Jr., the drivers know this race means much more than everything else they have done so far during Speedweeks.

The 24 hours before the Daytona 500 are similar to both Christmas Eve and the night before the Super Bowl. There is electricity in the air that can only be felt in the final day before a big event.

Fans’ hearts have been turning more than 9,000 rpm’s for much of the last week. Now it is time to take a breath and gear up for the final big event of Speedweeks.

Overall, Speedweeks is one of the greatest times of the year in NASCAR. Sure, the final stretches of a close championship battle such as last year’s race between Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards are exciting, but there is still the lingering feeling that everything will shut down once the race ends at Homestead.

Things are still fresh during Speedweeks. Fans have gotten a good look at all of the new teams and colors for the upcoming season, and they will finally be able to see those teams in a regular-season race.

There is still a bit of a letdown once the race and post-race festivities end because the nearly two-week long party is over, but the rest of the season still stretches out to provide a reason to look forward. That week between Daytona and Phoenix is a heck of a lot shorter than the time between Homestead and Daytona.

As the gates close and the lights go off at the track Saturday evening, there will be an aura that surrounds the speedway. The next time the sun comes up, one of the greatest days of the year will be upon us.

By Sunday morning folks will wake up knowing that a great gift sits beneath the figurative Christmas tree in the form of a 500-mile race that is like no other.

They will put on their favorite driver’s gear and head to the track or turn on the television to be taken on a ride they will remember for the rest of their lives.

Get ready; it’s almost time for The Great American Race.

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