The Daytona 500 is Sunday (February 24) and NASCAR fans are excited, thrilled, and ready to cheer on their favorite driver! History has already been made this year for "The Great American Race" as Danica Patrick became the first female driver to race her way to the pole position for the start of NASCAR's 'Superbowl' race that kicks off the 2013 season. So more people might be watching this year to see what happens, and they might be wondering if starting from the pole position gives her a big advantage. The answer is "Yes" and "Not Really". Here are 5 things that will help you to becoming a true NASCAR Fan.


The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, or NASCAR as fans have known it for years, got it's start in the Daytona area many years ago as the flat beaches of the area made for a good place to bring the fastest cars in the world to try to set land speed records. It also got its roots from the Prohibition era when men would bring their moonshine running cars to race for pride and bragging rights in the south. NASCAR is a private, family owned business that was founded in 1947-48 by Bill France Sr. who decided to set forth a set of rules for all drivers to follow, and a schedule of places that the cars would race each other every year.  NASCAR actually sanctions many levels of racing across the United States, but the biggest is the Sprint Cup series that the Daytona 500 is a part of. It has the biggest races, biggest sponsors, biggest teams, biggest drivers, biggest payouts for winning, and of course costs the most to run in. Winning a Cup race is not just about having the fastest car, or the "best" driver, but involves a lot of other components meaning the fastest car does not always win. The "500" in Daytona 500 does not stand for yards, meters, miles per hour, or revolutions per minute, but the number of miles that the driver must successfully complete and still come out on top. That is like driving to Denver and back, in a car that gets single digit miles per gallon, and whose tires only last about 100 miles before they need to be changed. So there really is a lot more than "go fast and turn left" to winning. So what does help the driver starting on the front row, or the person starting last in the 43rd spot win the race?

Here are five things that help a race team win "America's Biggest Race":

1. Having a good, solid, well-built car with a well-qualified driver. This might sound like a pretty obvious thing to most people, but a "Well Built Car" costs over a million dollars a piece to put together, and can be wiped out in a crash before the race even starts. A good driver doesn't come cheap either, and a stellar one makes even more every year, not just racing, but in sponsorship deals for everything from drinks to goop that keeps nuts and bolts together. There is another factor that doesn't come cheap either.

2. A Great Crew Chief. So what does a crew chief do? He is the coach of the team where the driver is the quarterback so to speak. He is responsible for getting the right people to build that solid car, assemble an engine that will last for hours running at high RPMs and incredible temperatures, putting together the guys you see jumping over the wall during pit stops, and so much more. He works with the driver to make the fuel, tires and more last as long as possible, while going as fast as possible, and determines what adjustments might make the "bad" car better, and a "good" car even faster.

3. A fast and flawless Pit Crew. Remember those guys that jump over the wall when the car comes in for a pit stop, and in 12.1 seconds they have changed four tires, filled up the gas tank with 2 cans of racing fuel, cleaned the window, made needed adjustments, fixed dents, and got the car down and rolling again? That is all they do. Really. They do not build the cars or engines; mount the tires; paint and sticker the car or anything else. They practice being the fastest jack man, tire changer, wrench operator and fuel filler in the series. Why is it so important to be the fastest? More spots in a race are made up in the pits than on the track in many cases. A fast crew will give a driver anywhere from 1 to 10 spots up in the running order. A simple mistake on pit road can cost a driver even more.

4. A good Spotter. "A who?" you might be asking. There is a person whose job it is during the race to just watch the race. They communicate to the driver and crew chief what is happening on the track. They warn a driver where the accidents are, and if they should go high or low to avoid a wreck. They tell a driver when they have successfully cleared a car they were passing and can get "back in line". They help broker "deals" with other teams to "help" each other out during the long race. Now wouldn't that be cheating? Not actually. The Daytona 500 and other "Super Speedway" races on the largest tracks are also known as "restrictor plate" races. What this means is NASCAR requires that every motor used have a metal plate bolted over the carburetor (yes they are still used in this "primitive" series) to restrict the airflow going into the engine. Less air means less fuel can be used and this reduces horsepower and slows the cars down, meaning that they all run about the same speed of around 196 miles per hour. This means that the cars bunch up and have to work together to "draft" one another to travel faster as well as other things. You will notice two cars running tail for nose will easily pass a car running out by its lonesome. Everyone wants to win, but sometimes you have to help another driver, or get another driver to help you, and the Spotter is the one who helps put these "deals" together.

5. Luck. Yep, good old luck. A lot happens over the course of a 3 1/2 hour race traveling over 500 miles on a 2.5 mile oval asphalt track at speeds of almost 200 miles per hour. Things break, and almost anything will take a car out of the race, and sometimes on the first lap of the race. That means a lot of work was put into a very short time on the track. Wrecks can take a driver and their car out at any time. These cars are so aerodynamically designed that another car just pulling up next to your rear fender can lift a rear tire of your car off of the ground and send you spinning into the wall. And remember those "restrictor plates" that keep everything equal? That bunches everyone up, especially on a restarts, and a wreck can easily collect 15 to 20 cars at a time, meaning you are just in the wrong place at the right time with no way to avoid it. Fuel strategy is also important in a long race where there may not be a caution flag for miles. Having to come into the pits during a green flag can cost you a lot of places no matter how fast a pit crew you may have. And miscalculating fuel usage can cause a driver to run out of fuel in the 4th turn on the last lap and they suddenly go from 1st place to 12th as everyone else zooms by. There are more things that can go wrong during a race than can go right, so everyone has their "lucky" pre-race things they do to hope this is their day to win the big one.

Hopefully as you watch the 2013 Daytona 500, some things will now make more sense when you hear the announcers talk about the car builders, the driver's skill, the pit crews speed and why they time the stops of the leaders and you watch them move up or down in places in the pits. Now you will understand why the crew chief is worried about fuel mileage and keeping a car from being "tight" or "loose" during the race and you can cheer on your favorite driver, or find one to root for all year long, while understanding a few of the things that must work together to get a car into Victory Lane. When the cars visit a "Short" track, it is a whole different ballgame, so to speak. Maybe I will help you out when we get to one later in the year. For this season I am rooting for Tony Stewart, for more reasons that he is a great driver with a good car, but that is a whole different story I will get into later.

The 55th running of the Daytona 500, The Great American Race starts at 11:00am Sunday with Rookie Danica Patrick on the pole in her green Go Daddy #10 and can be watched on the FOX network, Channel 4 on the Western Slope.

"Gentleman, Start Your Engines!!!"

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