Sports

NASCAR's Gatorade Duels are risky business

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - How will Sprint Cup drivers approach today's Gatorade Duels at Daytona International Speedway?

There seem to be as many answers as drivers entered (54).

Only four drivers can race their way into Sunday's Daytona 500 field today; the other 39 spots are spoken for thanks to the top-35 car owner rule, qualifying seeds and the past champion provisional.

Fifteen drivers are racing for those four spots, and they are likely to take bigger risks than drivers such as Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who own front-row starting positions based on Saturday's qualifying.

Then there are drivers such as Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, David Reutimann and Clint Bowyer, who wrecked during practice Wednesday and will be using backup cars. It's unlikely they would want to risk losing another car.

"I think you will go for the win, but you aren't going to risk your race car," said Denny Hamlin, who was involved in one of Wednesday's incidents but did not have to go to a backup car.

"There's not a whole lot of practice after your 150, and a lot of that time is spent changing motors. I think you'll see it very wild, but it will be mid-pack, (with) those guys who need to (race their way) in."

Hamlin and Greg Biffle believe drivers will use today's races as an opportunity to test the limits of the bump-draft.

"I just think that with the speeds that we're running, the cars are less stable than what they have been in years past," Hamlin said. "Even when cars were getting close to each other, the car out front doesn't have the grip that he used to have."

That loss of stability might make drivers less eager to bump-draft, Hamlin said.

Biffle said Daytona's narrower corners and tri-oval provide less room and a rougher ride than Talladega, Ala., where bump-drafting has been rampant during recent seasons.

"At Talladega, you can push about everywhere, but here you can't push in the corner, off the corner, around the corner because the cars are moving up and down and the track is so rough," Biffle said.

"It's really hard, but we're going to continue to be aggressive and push all we can."

Ryan Newman believes drivers who didn't have the opportunity to compete in Saturday's Budweiser Shootout will find themselves with a challenge when they have their car in racing conditions for the first time.

"I think there is going to be a lot of guys who are going to get their eyes opened up to what the cars drive like, what they feel like," he said. "Conditions are pretty good, not just speed, but the handling as well.

"We will see who can control them and who can't."

The change to a larger restrictor plate at Daytona and Talladega has increased speeds, which first became evident during Saturday's qualifying, when more than three dozen cars went faster than the 2009 pole-winning speed.

That speed, combined with various objectives from drivers, should combine to provide two entertaining races today.

"They've made these cars a lot of fun to drive, but also a real handful," Jeff Gordon said. "It's just good to get out there in race conditions. I didn't feel like the Shootout was any different this year than it was in past years.

"There was a lot of action and swapping back and forth and guys out of control, including myself at times, and a wreck on the last lap. It was pretty typical."

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