DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Bill Elliott has been racing at Daytona since the 1970s, and he has never seen this level of cooperation among so many different drivers and their spotters.
It's out of necessity.
If drivers hooked up in the two-car drafts that have dominated Speedweeks don't work well together in Sunday's Daytona 500, there could be a bunch of blown engines.
NASCAR officials have taken steps to limit speeds at Daytona that included restrictions on how teams cool their engines — an attempt to keep them from spending too much time working together in the tandem drafts that were leading to speeds over 200 mph.
"You know, the bad thing about it is you don't know what the limit is," Elliott said. "The guys tell you you're kind of shooting for this range, but give or take 10 degrees or so one way or the other. We just try to monitor it and say, ‘Look, I say to the spotter, we got a quarter of a lap to go, I got to make it work.' It's been the most communication between so many different spotters than I've ever seen in any previous Daytona 500 or any Daytona event."
MICHAEL MAKES IT: By finishing third in the second qualifying race Thursday, two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip will start the race for the 25th straight time.
Waltrip has been emotional all week about the 10-year anniversary of Dale Earnhardt's death at Daytona, a race Waltrip won but couldn't ever really celebrate.
"Most of the time I'm all right," Waltrip said. "[Ken] Schrader came over today. We can't look at each other without crying about it. We were probably the two, other than Dale Jr., drivers that were as closely tied to the events of that day than anyone. We cry a lot."
YELEY'S RECOVERY: J.J. Yeley made the Daytona 500 field, taking another step in his return to racing after sustaining a serious neck injury at a short track race in 2009.
"It's been a long road back," Yeley said. "I took that nasty flip there in a sprint car, pinched two vertebrae in my neck that I had to have fused in September. It took about eight months to where they were going to clear me and do the rehabilitation to where I was safe getting behind the wheel."
At times, Yeley has worried he was falling off the NASCAR radar.
"Obviously in this sport, if you're not in clear view, you can easily get forgotten," Yeley said. "That's what I started to feel like. You roll through the garage, people would look at you with a second glance. It was that quick that you could be forgotten."
SPARK PLUGS: Ford drivers seemed to be able to run longer as the pushing car without overheating problems. "The cooling system works well, and I think we're going to be good," Carl Edwards said. "It's going to be an all-day, whose car can last longest, whose engine is the strongest, and which drivers can work together the best — I think that's going to win it, and I feel like we've got a good enough team to do that." ... Jeff Gordon damaged his car in the second qualifying race, but the team expects to fix the primary car instead of going to a backup. ... Waltrip said NASCAR's attempts to break up the Daytona drafting tandems with rules changes were having limited success. "I don't think NASCAR's rule change with the radiators and stuff accomplished quite what they hoped," Waltrip said. "Might have got close."
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