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Hood: Hot Topics Will Make For A Tour De Force

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, January 8 2011

The 10-year anniversary of the death of Dale Earnhardt at Daytona is sure to be a much-discussed topic next month. (File photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Jeff Hood | Senior Writer

The stock car portion of Speedweeks at Daytona gets under way in five weeks when the press assembles for media day prior to the Budweiser Shootout on Feb. 12.

A large contingent of drivers will be made available to the media during a day-long function, which will result in print and electronic stories that will be seen and heard by millions of NASCAR fans.

Here are several storylines that are sure to receive plenty of attention prior to the running of the season-opening Daytona 500 on Feb. 20:

– Next month’s Daytona 500 will mark the 10th anniversary of the death of racing legend Dale Earnhardt. How has the sport changed over the past decade without the presence of the NASCAR icon?

– The 500 is also the 10th anniversary of Dodge’s return to NASCAR. During this span, Toyota has thrown their hat into the ring. What’s the future of the automobile manufacturers in NASCAR?

– For the first time since 1978, drivers will compete on a fresh coat of asphalt at World Center of Racing. Will the new surface provide the most competitive Daytona 500 ever?

– Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be paired with Jeff Gordon’s former crew chief, Steve Letarte, in

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Lance McGrew have parted company. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

2011. Is this a make-or-break season for NASCAR’s most popular driver?

– Jimmie Johnson continued his journey into unchartered territory last season by winning an unprecedented fifth consecutive Sprint Cup championship. Can he make it six in a row and inch to within one title of Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty?

– Denny Hamlin let the Cup title slip through his fingers with a shaky outing in the season finale in Homestead, Fla. in November. Will the Virginia native be able to muster another title charge in 2011?

– Kyle Busch won an astounding 24 NASCAR sanctioned races last season. Can he continue his remarkable run of claiming race victories this year? Will he finally contend for the Cup championship?

– Jeff Gordon is in the midst of what is arguably the most severe slump of his stellar career. Will a new crew chief put the four-time Cup champion back into victory lane and title contention?

– Mark Martin begins his final season behind the wheel of Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 5 Chevrolet. Can the popular veteran driver finally capture a coveted Cup championship?

– Following a disappointing 2009 campaign, Richard Childress Racing flexed lots of muscle

Richard Childress and Kevin Harvick will be looking to improve two spots. (File photo by Justin Heiman/Getty Images for NASCAR)

last season by putting its three drivers into the Chase. After bringing Paul Menard into the mix, how will RCR’s four-car operation fare in 2011?

– Danica Patrick received more media attention by running a partial Nationwide Series schedule in 2010 than some drivers receive in an entire career. Will she breakthrough this season and be a contender to win a race in NASCAR’s junior circuit?

– By their lofty standards, last year was a disaster for Roush Fenway Racing until Carl Edwards pulled off two wins to close the season. Will Roush’s Ford contingent return to their winning ways in 2011?

– Will former open wheel standout Juan Pablo Montoya, a two-time Cup Series road course winner, finally win a Cup Series race on an oval?

– Running out of fuel while leading with one lap to go in Loudon, N.H. in September appeared

Tony Stewart will have a lot of eyes on him at Daytona. (RacinToday file photo by Tony Bush)

to unravel Tony Stewart’s season. Will “Smoke” contend for this third championship this year?

– The Great Recession appears to finally be in the rear view mirror. Is corporate America ready to once again embrace NASCAR’s 200 mph moving billboards?

– Following a disappointing season at the turnstyle and with the television ratings, will NASCAR see an uptick in 2011?

– Jamie McMurray won or finished second in NASCAR’s marquee events in 2010. Can he duplicate that feat beginning with the Daytona 500?

Next month’s Speedweeks in Daytona will shed light on many of these lingering questions.

– Jeff Hood can be reached at jhood@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, January 8 2011
One Comment

One Comment »

  • Terry says:

    1. Out of respect for Dale Sr’s passing
    I will just post NO COMMENT…
    2. Dodge was a welcome addition…..hate we lost Pontiac Olds Merc…TOYOTA is a money grab Brian ” Baby Huey ” France travesty.
    3. A F T..!!!!
    4. Steve try Dr.Suess w/ Jr. A full round
    and a quarter pound
    your loose no more
    so foot on the floor
    GO GO GO!!!
    5. His only variable from last year is FORD figured out handling problems and FR9……so more compition this year….so yeah he could win 8…
    7.”peewee” wins do not count against Big Boy wins….and NO
    8. Maybe….Jeff is pressing to hard…he has to remember the FEEL
    of the Glory Days…..
    9.NO …Dan Morino syndrome has set in….
    10.NO….they haven’t picked up anything from last year but the competetion has.
    11.She is no St. James or Guthrie…
    just another pretty face…
    12.YES…big year for FORD…
    just the start of several…it cycles.
    13. Maybe trending to YES
    14. Tony will ALWAYS contend…thats a gemmee…
    15.What paper are you reading JIM?…..It is not over for the great unwashed who try to buy tickets and PRODUCTS…
    not with $3 to $4 gas coming…
    16.SEE..#15…maybe a hair above 2010.
    17. Can? yes…WILL?.. NO
    This was fun but I need a nap now. Don’t know how you guys do it. That’s why your PROS.