What He Said

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All’s going to be fairly quiet around Daytona International Speedway for the next couple of days….but Thursday is one of my favorite days on the motorsports calendar. It’s time for the Gatorade Twins, this year marked up to 150 miles each. It’s a day that’s virtually meaningless for Dale Jarrett and Jimmie Johnson, who snagged front row starting spots for the Daytona 500 via qualifying this past Sunday. But the 150s are chock full of importance for just about everyone else on the lengthy entry list.

NASCAR has changed many things over the past 24 months besides the length of the Thursday qualifying races. But one thing that hasn’t changed is the importance of using the Twins to race your way into a good starting spot for Sunday’s show. Yes, you can survive to fight another day if you were fast enough during qualifying. Yes, a bad run at Daytona doesn’t necessarily doom you as a Chase for the Cup contender. But no one out of the front row wants to have to come from the back, even though this is a plate race and the pack should be fairly tight. Unlike Talladega, Daytona often sees separate groups emerge during race conditions. If you lose the lead draft, there are usually fewer opportunities to catch back up in the 500. So track position from the drop of the green will be key. That means that Thursday, everybody from the pole on back will be scrambling, learning about their ’05 cars in the draft on long runs, and trying to lock up a 500 starting spot as close to the front as possible.

The top 35 in owners’ points from ’04 are locked in; the way the Daytona qualifying rules are now set, there are eight spots available on qualifying time…with the fastest four assured of starting the 500. Some of my favorite dark horses have claimed those spots….Jason Leffler, Mike Skinner, John Andretti, and believe it or not, Boris Said. Leffler, Skinner, and Andretti have had, or will have, their day in the Cup spotlight. But for Boris, until recently a scuffling road racer who literally would drive every event on a sports car weekend, the 187 mph qualifying run he posted is a dream come true.

Said has spent several years trying to convince NASCAR owners he could be more than a “road course ringer” at Sears and the Glen. Just like his fellow Trans Am refugee Ron Fellows, Boris has schooled many of NASCAR’s finest at those two venues more than once. But he’s long wanted more….a full-time shot at NASCAR. And finally, he found some believers at MB2/MBV Motorsports. With help from Centrix Financial, Boris got his big break.

His stint before the assembled NASCAR media in Charlotte in January was easily the highlight of the Lowe’s Motor Speedway NEXTEL/NASCAR Media Tour. His quick wit and self-deprecating humor were reminiscent of what used to be the norm in stock car racing, before corporate polish and spin took over. Boris has always been fast, and in the past five or so seasons he’s learned discipline….largely, I think, while road racing for BMW. The German manufacturer doesn’t permit its hired guns to bend up much equipment or ruin too many motors, something Boris was never shy about in his earlier days. That new-found discipline coupled with his engaging personality and unquestioned ability to drive anything faster than it had ever gone before earned him this shot in the biggest show of all.

There’s plenty of reason to pull Sunday for Leffler, back from the scrap heap with the championship-caliber Joe Gibbs bunch, or for Andretti, the only driver ever to win in Cup, CART, and NHRA (bet you didn’t recall his Top Fuel win several years ago), or for Skinner, who once upon a time was going to carry Richard Childress Racing to another Championship.But when you can, be sure and keep an eye on the Centrix Chevrolet Sunday, wearing the number 36. I’m betting that Boris will boot that baby to the front…and help make it a Daytona 500 to remember.

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2005

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