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From The Marbles

'Dark Daytona': What will the draft mean for the Daytona 500?

Jay Busbee
From The Marbles
Martin Truex Jr., top left, and Carl Edwards, bottom left, lead the group of cars to start the second of two NASCAR Sprint Cup qualifying auto races at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014
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Martin Truex Jr., top left, and Carl Edwards, bottom left, lead the group of cars to start the second of two NASCAR Sprint Cup qualifying auto races at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

How will Sunday's Daytona 500 play out? On Sunday morning, former track president Humpy Wheeler offered up an interesting assessment on Facebook of how the race might go, but he begins with some history:

When Bill France Sr. decided to build Daytona he hired Charles Moneypenny to design the track. He wanted it to be the size of [Indianapolis Motor Speedway] but much faster: thus the high banks. Little did they know that drafting would come into play. When the drivers hit the track in 1959 they all thought it was the easiest track to drive ever. Then they discovered the draft. No driver I have ever worked with -- Cale, Darrell, Richard, Jimmy, etc. -- said they ever mastered the weird air caused by the draft. Most admitted that it is truly Dark Daytona.

What is Dark Daytona? An unpredictable track, one where the draft can behave in mysterious and unexpected ways. Wheeler's strategy? Play it safe:

If I were racing I would stay in the back 15 and let the probable two Big Ones happen. At 50 to go I would make my move. Caution comes out and you are in 20th place. However because of double file restarts you are 9 cars from the lead and then you start you move with a good drafting partner.

Thing is, that approach doesn't get you on TV. And as Wheeler notes, TV rules all:

Problem there is that sponsors judge you by the Joyce Julius Report that comes out Tuesday to see how much tv you got. As a driver you must realize that what you are is a flying billboard. TV never shows the back 30 unless there is a wreck so you have to make a decision and most go with running in the front. So, Dark Daytona -- that weird and never completely mastered -- will play out big time again.

Wheeler also had high praise for Daytona president Joie Chitwood III ("one of the few track operators with a true sense of the race fan") and hopes that his own former track, Charlotte, will see similar improvements.

So, your thoughts? Will there be two Big Ones at Daytona? What strategy will win?

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter.

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