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Night or day-tona, Earnhardt favored

Jun 29, 2004 4:49 AM

Let’s see here, this week’s race is at Daytona under the lights and before a national TV audience.

In trying to decipher all the information and picking a winner, we need only the check the stat facts from the dynamic DEI duo of Dale Earnhardt Jr (5-2) and Michael Waltrip (5-1).

Whenever the restrictor plates get thrown on the carburetors, there is no better equipped team than DEI. The dominance was authored and created by the late great Dale Earnhardt, who used all his resources available to insure his team would be able to win the big races. If you capture the Daytona 500, everything else takes care of itself. Sponsors, contracts, and fan appreciation equate to a big payday all around.

Earnhardt started this team, with lots of help from his good friend Richard Childress. They had enormous success together when they put the plates on the car, even if Earnhardt despised slowing the cars down. Though voicing his opinions loudly to no avail, he used his masterful knowledge of the draft from a drivers stand point along with everything he learned from Childress on how to make a fast restrict or plate car.

Dale Earnhardt never got to see his team win a restrictor plate race, although he got some satisfactionknowing his cars were going to finish 1-2 in the 2001 Daytona 500. Since that tragic day, the DEI team has smoked the field with the plates on almost to Michael Schumacher Formula-1 proportions. In all, DEI has won five of the last seven races at Daytona and five of six at Talladega.

Dale Jr. won the Daytona 500 this season, the first time for him despite all the team wins at the track. Though perhaps his biggest win, Junior’s most special victory likely will always remain the Daytona summer night race in 2001. It was the first time he had been back to DIS since his father had passed, and he had been having a tough time dealing with all his emotions and loss.

Everything came together for Junior that night and he dominated. No one could touch him. It might be the most touching moment for every NASCAR fan forever.

Can anyone else compete with Junior or Waltrip? Well, there have been two instances where they haven’t won at Daytona during their run. And, Jeff Gordon did win at Talladega this year breaking up that streak.

It would pay so much better at the bet window to have someone else win, but as long as one of those cars is on the track, it isn’t likely to happen. Maybe something odd like what occurred last year in the Daytona night race or the caution finish at Talladega this year. That appears to be the only way to stop this dynasty.

For whatever it’s worth, we’ll take a look at the others.

Tony Stewart (10-1): Came about as close as anybody can to slaying the giant in this year’s Daytona 500. Had a car almost good as Junior’s, but came up short. If they bring that same car back, T-Stew might be a good candidate to win. We’ve seen him do very well in some of the shorter preseason Daytona races over the years. Had some good runs at Talladega, so now may be the time to step up and take a plate race checkered flag.

Kurt Busch (10-1): Has two second place finishes at Daytona, showing a natural instinct for maneuvering and drafting at the high speeds. Put himself in trouble a few times with his daring moves. In this case against Junior and Waltrip, it’s going to take someone brash like Busch to have the moxie and handle the playground bullies.

Jeff Gordon (10-1): Has three wins already this year and he’s only been booed for two. Last week’s win at Sonoma was actually greeted with cheers by the fans, which had to be a pleasant change for him considering the garbage cans of trash that were thrown his way following the Talladega win. A four-time winner at Daytona, Gordon hasn’t done so since the ”˜99 Daytona 500. It would be classic to see Junior and Gordon square off again like at Talladega.

Dale Jarrett (25-1): We’ve seen a dramatic change with the engine program for this team. How that translates into this week’s plate race will unfold Thursday during qualifying. Jarrett is a three-time Daytona 500 champion with four victories overall on the track. With the noticeable change in the team, his track record, and all other intangibles, 25-1 is a nice price to take a chance.

Jamie McMurray (18-1): Should be dialed in and well prepared to run well this week. McMurray was strong during Daytona Speedweeks this year.

Sterling Marlin (20-1): His accomplishments at the track are well documented. Most recently we remember him getting out of the car during a red flag to fix his fender, but only a few decades ago he won back to back Daytona 500’s. Still as good as ever with the plates on.