Friday, February 20, 2015

More on Danica, Hamlin and the Hendrick drivers heading into Daytona

4 thoughts from Daytona in the aftermath of the Budweiser Duels Thursday night:

1) If one of the top three drivers for Hendrick Motorsports does not win the Daytona 500, I will be surprised. Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. sit 1-2-3 on the starting grid, with Gordon winning the pole and Johnson and Earnhardt winning the 150-mile twin Budweiser Duels Thursday night. Hendrick looks like it has figured something out.

2) The most entertaining part about Thursday night was the second incident in two days in which Danica Patrick thought Denny Hamlin wrecked her while Hamlin maintained her car is too loose and that every time he comes close to it, the car loses control. Their heated post-race conversation involved an exasperated Hamlin trying to explain to an angry Patrick that it really wasn't his fault. She wasn't buying it. (I wrote my column today on Patrick and her long winless streak in NASCAR's top two series).

Later, Hamlin said of Patrick: "She deserves her spot here, but you have to be able to run close to somebody on a superspeedway... I'm not going to say, 'It's Danica, so I've got to make sure I just leave some extra room.' If you're out here in the Cup Series, you have to be able to handle those situations."

3) The first line of the pastor's prayer before Thursday night's first race was very appropriate for most of America: "Lord, tonight it is cold." And it was, although most of America was even colder.

It's too bad these races -- which were pretty entertaining, and here's our Jim Utter's quick update about them -- weren't held in the afternoon the way they used to be. Temperatures hovered around freezing all night in Daytona, undoubtedly scaring away many fans but also giving drivers a false sense of security about how well their cars handle. When the race arrives Sunday, with temperatures in the 70s, we will see what those cars are really like.

4) Want a low-profile driver who has a chance to at least make the top 10 Sunday -- and maybe more? Try 21-year-old Ryan Blaney. He finished sixth without even trying too hard in his 150-miler Thursday, and confidently said his car had a lot more left in it than he showed on a night where simply finishing in the top 15 got you into the big race. Blaney's composure also is a major plus.

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