Daytona 500 preview

Trevor Bayne: defending Daytona 500 winner.

Tomorrow, the first and biggest race of the NASCAR season rolls off for 500 miles in Daytona, Florida. Trevor Bayne, just 20 years old, introduced himself to the wider world with his surprising win a year ago, and although he ran a majority of his season on the second-tier Nationwide Series, he’ll be there tomorrow to defend his win. It will be an uphill battle for him to repeat, though: he starts in the 40th position.

Bovada (formerly Bodog) has a Bayne win at 16/1 and likes Kyle Busch (5/1), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (5/1), and Tony Stewart (7/2). Stewart is the defending Cup champion, and after reeling off five wins in the ten-race Chase (the playoffs) to win it all last year, it’s easy to see why he’s favored in the season-opener this year. Kyle Busch has been strong in the first half of the season the last few years, so it makes sense that he would be a favorite too. Cynics might see Earnhardt Jr. as a sucker bet up there, slotted because his popularity, which outpaces his performance, will net the house some easy money, but he never can be counted out, especially at a track like Daytona, which best suits his driving style and where he has won before, and especially because he drives for Hendrick Motorsports, the best team in the sport. Roush is the next best team, and two of their drivers– Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle– are starting first and second on Sunday and have to be considered strong contenders as well.

Finally, Danica Patrick may be the biggest story going into Daytona this year, as she makes the jump from open-wheeled racing to stock cars on NASCAR’s biggest stage. She’s in good hands working with Stewart, but other successful IndyCar drivers have struggled to make the transition, and one has to expect that it will take her time to adjust as well. Still, she’s finding early success. Everyone’s focusing on a very bad wreck that was not her fault during the final lap of one of the pre-race races (I know), but she starts a respectable 29th on Sunday and has the pole position for today’s Nationwide race, remarkable for any rookie driver.

The full starting grid is here, and the top ten looks like this:

1 99 Carl Edwards Ford Fastenal
2 16 Greg Biffle Ford 3M
3 14 Tony Stewart Chevrolet Office Depot / Mobil 1
4 17 Matt Kenseth Ford Best Buy
5 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet Diet Mountain Dew / National Guard
6 78 Regan Smith Chevrolet Furniture Row / CSX “Play it Safe”
7 9 Marcos Ambrose Ford Stanley
8 48 Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet Lowe’s
9 31 Jeff Burton Chevrolet Caterpillar
10 33 Elliott Sadler Chevrolet General Mills / Kroger

Other stories to read before tomorrow’s race:

  • How owner points deals determine who makes it into the 43-car field at Daytona – NASCAR.com
  • Two-time winner Bill Elliot’s backnot back – ESPN.com
  • How Tony Stewart spent his championship offseason – FoxSports.com
  • “Where have the Southern drivers gone?” – FoxSports.com
  • Why Danica Patrick can win – Yahoo! Sports
  • The latest on Jimmie Johnson’s “major” rule violation – Jayski
  • Blast from the recent past: Ex-driver Jeremy Mayfield says he’s the victim of a NASCAR conspiracy – ESPN.com
Finally, a programming note: ALDLAND will be hosting its first live-blogging event during tomorrow’s race. Check back here or on our new Podcasts & Live Blogging page for details.
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The sports profession: Where not everybody’s working for the weekend

Investigative journalism of one kind and another gave us a peek behind the curtan of two major athletic operations this week. While most sports fans probably think that working for their favorite team would be a dream job (they certainly like the prospect of owning a part of their team), fans of the Kansas City Chiefs are finding out that Arrowhead Stadium may not be such a healthy work environment. Kent Babb, “sports enterprise writer” for the Kansas City Star, reported on conditions inside GM Scott Pioli’s operation. There isn’t really a quick-hit, money quotation from Babb’s article that neatly sums up the state of the working scene at the Chiefs’ HQ. Rather, like the style of most things I associate with K.C.– ribs and territory blues and jazz big bands– Babb’s piece is a saucy slow-burner, the full effect not realized until the reader is in too deep to escape anything but the conclusion that things really are fairly twisted in that organization. Take it all in to get a good sense of what’s going on behind the closed blinds at Arrowhead. Among other things, you’ll learn that then-unfired head coach Todd Haley genuinely thought that numerous rooms in the building were bugged– and he isn’t alone– and that now-fired former head coach Todd Haley thinks his cell phone still is tapped.

On the other side of the coin, country, and collegiate threshold we have the Old Ball Coach, Steve Spurrier, and his South Carolina Gamecocks. The offseason is here and Spurrier is in the market for some new assistant coaches. Or at least that’s my assumption when he’s answering questions about what he looks for in a new member of his coaching staff. Because I don’t want to pay $10.00 to read the article on GoGamecocks.com and neither do you, we’re going to stick with the author’s teaser tweets, which really give us all we need:

Got it?