49th Daytona 500 set for Feb. 18

“Gentlemen, start your engines!”

The most famous words in motor sports will ring once again this Sunday, Feb. 18, for the 49th running of the Daytona 500, NASCAR’s premier event.

The first green flag of the racing season is scheduled to drop at around 2:15 p.m. local time. The 500-mile race will be shown on WQFR Fox-39.

David Gilliland will start on pole. He qualified with a fast time of 186.320 mph. His Robert Yates teammate, Ricky Rudd, will start on the outside of row one. Tony Stewart won the Budweiser Shootout Saturday night, Feb. 10, and is considered by many to be a pre-race favorite to win this year’s 500.

Defending Nextel Cup champion Jimmie Johnson will try to start out this year the same way he did last year’s championship season, with a win at Daytona. Rockford native Chad Knaus will once again serve as Johnson’s crew chief, as the duo go for back-to-back championships.

You may remember Knaus was serving a suspension during last year’s Daytona 500, and watched from his home as Johnson cruised to victory.

This year, the 43-car field will look different than in years past. For the first time in NASCAR history, Toyota will join the Fords, Dodges and Chevrolets. Dale Jarrett, Michael Waltrip, Jeremy Mayfield and Brian Vickers are a few of the NASCAR veterans who will be trying to drive the Toyota Camry to victory lane.

I’m putting my money on last season’s third-place finisher, Denny Hamlin. He’s driving the Joe Gibbs-owned FedEx Express No. 11. After starting last year’s Daytona 500 in the 17th position, he finished 30th. Following the disappointing start to the season, he went on to capture two wins, both in 500-mile races—the Pocono 500 and the Pennsylvania 500.

In the other race held at Daytona last year, the Pepsi 400, he started sixth and finished 17th. I think he’s poised for big improvements at Daytona this season. Besides all of the statistical number stuff, he has great initials—D.H.

Doug Halberstadt can be reached via e-mail at Dougster61@aol.com.

From the Feb. 14-20, 2007, issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!