So the 2011 NASCAR season has opened as usual with the Daytona 500 and what a spectacle it was.  The premier NASCAR race ended with some of us on our feet yelling at the youngest driver to ever win the race to stay in his lane and not let Carl Edwards get under him and steal the race.  The famed Wood Brother’s team won the race with the 20 year old Trevor Bayne at the helm.  There were a lot of changes since last year and there were some spectacular wrecks that changed the course of the race.

First, there was a highlight for me as I am a Dale Jr. fan.  He took the pole position this year and until he came up with a flat in the final laps and then was involved in a wreck in the Green White Checker restart, he had been challenging for a top 5 finish, if not another Daytona victory.  We will see how he fares over the season to see if he can prove to all of his doubters that he is back at a contending driver.

There was a great tribute, ten years after the death of Dale Earnhardt Sr., on lap 3.  There was a moment of silence for Dale Sr. and fans stood in the stands with their hands raised showing 3 fingers.  It was an impressive moment.

About 30 laps into the race, Michael Waltrip bumped his teammate David Reutimann and started a huge wreck that affected many of NASCAR’s favorites, among them Jimmy Johnson, the defending, five-time champion.  That knocked many drivers out of contention, leaving the race open to many drivers that had not won before.

Another change at Daytona was that over the off season, the legendary track was paved for only the third time in 60 years.  This made for some race changes with the smooth track.  First, no single car could get ahead of the pack alone on the track.  Everyone had to have a drafting partner to make headway and if your partner dropped you, suddenly you were drifting back in the pack until someone else drafted with you.  Second, the paving also made it so that people could run three wide, which made for some hairy moments on the track as someone in the middle would get loose and threaten to wreck the whole pack.  Also for the first time, drivers were talking directly with other drivers with new radio systems in their cars.  It was interesting to listen in to the discussions and drafting requests.  I think the new track and drafting needs and three wide also led to the most number of yellow flags in Daytona history.  It will be interesting to see how this is run later in the year when everyone returns to Daytona.

The most confusing thing of all, is that there is a new points system.  I am no expert but I have gleaned a few things from my research.  If a driver (like the winner Trevor Bayne) is not scheduled for a full season, he does not get the points.  The top points of the race went to the first driver contending for the chase, who was Carl Edwards.  The points are lower than other years with the winner getting 42 points.  There are still some points for leading the most laps and leading a single lap, but they are less than before as well.  Another change is at the end of the season, the top twelve will be decided a little differently.  The top ten will be in the chase at the end of the season and then I think the last two will be decided on who has the most wins of the drivers between 11 and 20.  That will give drivers that win races a better chance to challenge for the cup.

All-in-all it was an exciting race, unless your driver went out early in the melee.  My hat is off to Trevor Bayne and the legendary Wood Brother’s for their win.  It was great to see the famed 21 car win in the colors of the new hall of fame driver David Pearson as well.  Trevor kept his cool and captured a place in the NASCAR history books.

Boogity Boogity Boogity, let’s go racing boys!!!