What You'll See In 2003 A first-time champion at the Daytona 500, for starters, and a new racing powerhouse

February 10, 2003

WHO WILL WIN THE DAYTONA 500?
The car with the horsepower to steer clear of the inevitable Big
One. That points to DEI

You're pretty much guaranteed to see two things at the Great
American Race: too many bare midriffs that never should have been
bared and a big ol' late-afternoon wreck. Slowed by restrictor
plates, which have created a more level playing field, the cars
circle the superspeedway at 185 mph in one or two tight packs.
That's not a problem early in the race, but when the money's on
the line, drivers will do anything to gain a position, or to keep
from losing one. "When the race starts, a guy might give you a
foot," says two-time 500 champion Bill Elliott. "You get halfway,
and he might give you six inches. At the end he's taking your
space. So what's going to happen? The Big One." In the past two
years five of the six Big Ones--each of which involved at least
10 cars--at Daytona and the sport's other superspeedway,
Talladega, occurred within 26 laps of the finish.

Every season NASCAR tries to break up these huge packs, and every
season it fails. This year's ploy is to require the cars to use
smaller gas tanks, which will force drivers to pit more often.
That, the thinking goes, will create more space on the track.
When NASCAR experimented with the idea at Talladega last fall,
though, it only kept the cars separated for a few laps. (There
were, however, no wrecks.)

And so the outcome of this year's 500 will come down to the same
thing it does at most every superspeedway race: what's under the
hood. "At plate tracks like Daytona your speed comes more from
the car than it does from the driver," says John Andretti. "So if
you've got a strong horse, it's going to make up more for you at
Daytona than somewhere else."

In other words, drivers can let it rip at superspeedways, where
handling counts for far less than horsepower. Right now no NASCAR
team is producing stronger ponies than Dale Earnhardt Inc., whose
drivers have won six of the last eight superspeedway races. Four
of those victories (three at Talladega, one at the midsummer
Daytona race) belong to Dale Earnhardt Jr. With a horse that can
get him to the front of the pack quickly--and, he hopes, put the
inevitable Big One in his rearview mirror--Junior is our pick to
land his first big one: the 2003 Daytona 500 trophy.

THIS YEAR'S SCHEDULE
With three open dates, none after July 1, the season is shaping
up as the most grueling ever

Date Event
Place
TV

FEB. 8* BUDWEISER SHOOTOUT
Daytona Int'l Speedway
FOX/8 p.m.
FEB. 16 DAYTONA 500
Daytona Int'l Speedway
FOX/Noon
FEB. 23 SUBWAY 400
North Carolina Speedway
FOX/12:30 p.m.
MARCH 2 UAW-DAIMLERCHRYSLER 400
Las Vegas Motor Speedway
FOX/2:30 p.m.
MARCH 9 ATLANTA 500
Atlanta Motor Speedway
FOX/12:30 p.m.
MARCH 16 CAROLINA DODGE DEALERS 400
Darlington Raceway
FOX/12:30 p.m.
MARCH 23 FOOD CITY 500
Bristol Motor Speedway
FOX/12:30 p.m.
MARCH 30 SAMSUNG/RADIO SHACK 500
Texas Motor Speedway
FOX/12:30 p.m.
APRIL 6 AARON'S 499
Talladega Superspeedway
FOX/Noon
APRIL 13 VIRGINIA 500
Martinsville Speedway
FOX/12:30 p.m.
APRIL 27 AUTO CLUB 500
California Speedway
FOX/2:30 p.m.
MAY 3 PONTIAC EXCITEMENT 400
Richmond Int'l Raceway
FX/7 p.m.
MAY 17* THE WINSTON
Lowe's Motor Speedway
FX/7 p.m.
MAY 25 COCA-COLA 600
Lowe's Motor Speedway
FOX/5 p.m.
JUNE 1 MBNA AMERICA 400
Dover Int'l Speedway
FX/12:30 p.m.
JUNE 8 POCONO 500
Pocono Raceway
FOX/12:30 p.m.
JUNE 15 SIRIUS SATELLITE RADIO 400
Michigan Int'l Speedway
FOX/12:30 p.m.
JUNE 22 DODGE/SAVE MART 350
Infineon Raceway
FOX/2:30 p.m.
JULY 5 PEPSI 400
Daytona Int'l Speedway
NBC/7 p.m.
JULY 13 TROPICANA 400
Chicagoland Speedway
NBC/2:30 p.m.
JULY 20 NEW ENGLAND 300
N.H. Int'l Speedway
TNT/1:30 p.m.
JULY 27 PENNSYLVANIA 500
Pocono Raceway
TNT/12:30 p.m.
AUG. 3 BRICKYARD 400
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
NBC/2 p.m.
AUG. 10 SIRIUS AT THE GLEN
Watkins Glen Int'l
NBC/1 p.m.
AUG. 17 MICHIGAN 400
Michigan Int'l Speedway
TNT/1:30 p.m.
AUG. 23 SHARPIE 500
Bristol Motor Speedway
TNT/7 p.m.
AUG. 31 SOUTHERN 500
Darlington Raceway
NBC/12:30 p.m.
SEPT. 6 CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO 400
Richmond Int'l Raceway
TNT/7 p.m.
SEPT. 14 NEW HAMPSHIRE 300
N.H. Int'l Speedway
TNT/12:30 p.m.
SEPT. 21 DOVER 400
Dover Int'l Speedway
NBC/12:30 p.m.
SEPT. 28 EA SPORTS 500
Talladega Superspeedway
NBC/1:30 p.m.
OCT. 5 KANSAS 400
Kansas Speedway
NBC/12:30 p.m.
OCT. 11 UAW-GM QUALITY 500
Lowe's Motor Speedway
NBC/7 p.m.
OCT. 19 OLD DOMINION 500
Martinsville Speedway
NBC/Noon
OCT. 26 GEORGIA 500
Atlanta Motor Speedway
NBC/Noon
NOV. 2 CHECKER AUTO PARTS 500
Phoenix Int'l Raceway
NBC/3 p.m.
NOV. 9 POP SECRET 400
North Carolina Speedway
TNT/12:30 p.m.
NOV. 16 FORD 400
Homestead-Miami Speedway
NBC/12:30 p.m.

*Nonpoints race

FIVE MORE THINGS...
you need to know, from Penske's exit to the entrance of a Foyt
and a Fittipaldi

1. THE DAYTONA 500 DOESN'T MEAN MUCH At least in the grand
scheme. Winning the sport's biggest race gives you prestige, a
big check and the adulation of the cooing Winston girls in
Victory Lane, but as far as the points race goes, you're better
off last. Michael Waltrip and Ward Burton (right), the 2001 and
'02 champs, didn't finish in the top 20 of the points race.
Meanwhile, Tony Stewart, who completed all of five miles before
blowing his engine in last year's race, won the Winston Cup.
Since 1993 only one Cup champ had a top five finish in the 500.

2. LOOK OUT FOR THOSE INTREPID DRIVERS Two years ago Dodge
returned to Winston Cup after a 16-year layoff. Not wanting to
bomb in their first race back, they focused way too much on their
superspeedway program. As a result they aced qualifying for the
Daytona 500, then looked like the expansion team they were for
the rest of the season. But by the end of Year Two, they had
built such an impressive operation that Roger Penske ended his
nine-year association with Ford to join the Dodge program. With
Ryan Newman (above) and Rusty Wallace now in the fold, Dodge has
a strong chance to win a title in just its third season.

3. PONTIAC IS HURTING In the off-season, owner Joe Gibbs (right)
and his drivers--Stewart and 2000 champ Bobby Labonte--left
Pontiac for Chevy, which has superior resources and a more
dedicated racing program. As a result, Pontiac will struggle to
put a driver in the top 15, and it will be sorely lacking in the
pitchman department. Would you buy a Grand Prix because Mike
Skinner drives one?

4. THE OPEN-WHEEL EXODUS IS JUST BEGINNING When did Andretti,
Fittipaldi, Foyt and Mears last go head-to-head in a major race?
If you answered the 1992 Indy 500, you're right--but only until
this year's Daytona 500, which will likely feature John Andretti
(Mario's nephew), Christian Fittipaldi (Emerson's nephew), Larry
Foyt (A.J.'s son, left) and Casey Mears (Rick's nephew). So why
are these kin of Indy car legends flocking to NASCAR? Cash. Don't
be surprised to see '99 Indy 500 winner Kenny Brack and '02 IRL
champ Sam Hornish Jr. at a NASCAR track before long.

5. EXPANSION WESTWARD WILL CONTINUE With the schedule packed, new
dates are out of the question. So look for some tracks with
multiple races, such as Rockingham, Darlington or Atlanta to lose
one of their races in 2004. Likely new stops: St. Louis as well
as second dates for Fontana, Calif., and Las Vegas (right).

COLOR PHOTO: GEORGE TIEDEMANN/GT IMAGES SEPARATION ANXIETY Winning at Daytona means escaping the pack,which favors Junior (8). COLOR MAP: NEIL JAMIESON (MAP) THE NEW FRONTIER How far has NASCAR's reach extended? Look at where today's top drivers got their start BREAKDOWN OF TOP 20 DRIVERS IN 2002 VERSUS TOP 20 IN 1972 HOME STATES 1972 DRIVERS HOME STATES 2002 DRIVERS HOME STATES '72 AND '02 DRIVERS COLOR PHOTO: JIM TOPPER/AP CRASH COURSE Stewart got big air in the 2001 Big One. TWO COLOR PHOTOS: GEORGE TIEDEMANN/GT IMAGES COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BAZEMORE/AP COLOR PHOTO: ED REINKE/AP COLOR PHOTO: NIGEL KINRADE

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)