The litmus test at Daytona

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How many teams will turn out at Daytona this year? As America contemplates a long recession and sponsors pull back, many teams, and fans too, are struggling to find the budget to go racing. This month’s Rolex 24 Hours Grand-Am race and NASCAR’s season-opening Daytona 500 will provide litmus tests for the state of US racing.

Grand-Am’s Rolex Daytona Prototype series will enjoy a boost from Roger Penske and Porsche’s arrival from the ALMS. But most Daytona Prototypes are powered by Detroit iron and Bob Stallings’ 2007 title-winning Pontiac team is the last Grand-Am outfit with any GM factory support.

America will pay close attention to the 51st Daytona 500 in mid-February. Will the crowd be down as ticket sales were for races late last year? How strong will the 43-car field be? And what effect will the failing Detroit auto industry have on the sport?

This year NASCAR has cancelled testing at tracks that run its races. The big teams will test elsewhere, but some of the smaller ones will arrive at Daytona without any testing at all. So the dominant teams – Hendrick, Roush Fenway, Childress and Joe Gibbs – are likely to be stronger than ever. Expect Jimmie Johnson to chase a record-setting fourth consecutive title.