The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series kicks off the 2012 season with its biggest race, the Daytona 500 from Daytona International Speedway on Sunday, Feb. 26 at 12pm ET. Joining the field of NASCAR stalwarts like Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards and 2011 Cup champion Tony Stewart is former IndyCar driver Danica Patrick, who will make her Sprint Cup debut at Daytona. In last yearâs race, Trevor Bayne shocked the motorsports world by becoming the youngest driver â at 20 years and one day â to win the Daytona 500.
FOX begins its 2012 NASCAR coverage with a few enhancements, including improved Gopher Cams, a new virtual car using a high-tech touchscreen and a completely revamped Hollywood Hotel. On FOXâs prerace studio show, Michael Waltrip will replace Jeff Hammond (who will now report from the pits and garage) as an analyst, joining his brother Darrell. Weâll leave it up to the viewers to decide if Michael â who will still be a driver/owner during this TV gig â can stay objective in his analysis. 2012 Daytona 500 TV schedule and news release from FOX below:
2012 NASCAR on FOX Season Goes Into High Gear with Daytona 500 Sunday at 12:00 PM ET
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Visits FOX NASCAR SUNDAY Set
DW, MW, Hammond & Joy Talk Danica and Innovations for 2012 Season â Highlights and Replay from Daytona 500 Press Call
SPEED Covers Gatorade Duel on Thursday; Camping World Trucks Friday Night
On Sunday, Feb. 26 (12:00 PM ET), FOX Sports proudly presents the 54th running of the Daytona 500. Coverage starts with the FOX NASCAR SUNDAY prerace show hosted by John Roberts, with up-to-the-minute reports, live interviews with drivers, crewmen and officials shaping the dayâs action and analysis from Darrell Waltrip and Michael Waltrip. In an innovative new role, veteran analyst Jeff Hammond takes his extensive experience as a former championship-winning crew chief to where the action is, in the garages and pit road.
During this yearâs Daytona 500, Michael isnât going to have a lot of down time. He starts the day at the FOX NASCAR SUNDAY prerace desk when FOX Sports coverage begins. Then the two-time Daytona 500 champion hopes to get behind the wheel and race in the Great American Race â a rare, perhaps unprecedented feat. Waltrip attempts to make his 75th start at Daytona International Speedway, the most of any driver, should he race his way into the starting lineup during Thursdayâs Gatorade Duel at Daytona.
Special FOX NASCAR SUNDAY Daytona 500 features:
NASCARâs most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr. joins the FOX NASCAR SUNDAY outdoor prerace set to talk about his chances in the Daytona 500 and what he hopes to accomplish in the 2012 season.
Stock carâs biggest storyline and newest full-time addition, Danica Patrick, sits down with Hall of Fame Inductee and NASCAR on FOX analyst Darrell Waltrip to discuss her switch to stock car racing and how she expects to gain respect from her fellow competitors.
A live performance by one of musicâs most decorated artists, and four-time Grammy Award-winner Lenny Kravitz.
Grand Marshals for Sundayâs race are Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover model Kate Upton and talented actress in FOXâs hit show GLEE, Jane Lynch.
The youngest UFC Champion in the history of the sport, Jon âBonesâ Jones serves as an honorary official.
Once the green flag drops, race announcer Mike Joy is alongside analysts Waltrip and Larry McReynolds to call all the twists and turns on the track while Dick Berggren, Steve Byrnes, Krista Voda and Matt Yocum patrol the pits for reports on teams and pit stops.
GOPHER CAM GETS SMALLER IN 2012
The Gopher Cam, introduced at the Daytona 500 in 2008, is a small, stationary high-definition point-of-view camera that lies buried underneath the asphalt track surface, inches below the yellow line at Daytona International Speedway. There are four Gopher Cams in-place for this yearâs Daytona 500. The cameras have been paired with high quality condenser microphones for an unbelievably realistic audio/video experience. New advances in the lens and materials have enabled FOX to reduce the size for the 2012 edition while providing a much wider and clearer field of view.
In 2012, FOX Sports introduces a new way to bring fans under the hood. The new virtual car using a high-tech touchscreen provides magnified looks at the smallest details of the high powered machines on the track. It gives viewers a clear and illustrative explanation of how the car works and performs through its components. With assistance from NASCAR on FOX analyst Jeff Hammond, the FOX Sports graphics team co-opted an incredibly detailed model with a built-in custom interface and telestrator.
HOLLYWOOD HOTEL GETS MAKEOVER
The Hollywood Hotel is all new for the 2012 season.Â First unveiled in 2007, NASCAR on FOXâs traveling prerace studio is the most technologically advanced mobile unit ever employed to cover sporting events. It captures the charged atmosphere associated with on-location remote broadcasts. The 2012 version has been completely revamped to update the state-of-the-art premier network center. The background virtual âwindowâ to the track uses three monitors (two 60 inch and one 103 inch) so the prerace set can be âtransportedâ anywhere on the track.Â An inverted âJitacamâ crane hangs from the roof of the hotel and operates along a track, allowing floating and sweeping camera moves not possible in the networkâs old mobile trailer. Color mixing for the background on its flat screen monitors is manipulated using 1600 linear feet of RGB tape (LED lights) to illuminate the background in any color FOX chooses. These updates and modifications in power make it the greenest production truck on the planet.
DW, MW, HAMMOND, JOY & SHANKS GET REVVED UP AND READY FOR DAYTONA 500 & 2012 SEASON â NASCAR on FOXâs broadcasters Darrell Waltrip, Michael Waltrip, Jeff Hammond and Mike Joy joined FOX Sports Media Group Co-President and Executive Producer Eric Shanks to preview this weekendâs Daytona 500 action and FOX Sportsâ coverage of the 2012 season yesterday afternoon.
Hammond on how NASCAR can build on momentum following last seasonâs exciting finish: âIt may not be Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards again, but it could be Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick.Â It could be any number of drivers. When you have a year like we had last year, you canât say weâre going to be able to duplicate it. This is the year of the unknown.Â There are so many things weâre getting from teams as well as the technology thatâs going to create so much buzz before and after races.â
Shanks on new innovations for 2012 season: âOur coverage is focused squarely on the drivers, these young heroes that risk everything for glory on Sundays. On the technology side, we used a new camera during the Shootout which is a side-view post that gave great views of passes. We have a brand-new camera that we were trying out on football that shoots at four times the resolution of HD, called the FOX Super-Zoom camera. We used it on Saturday night to zoom in on Jeff Gordon as he was sliding on his side. It was the only camera that you can actually see Jeff inside the car as he was sliding 1,000 yards on his side with sparks flying. In the last couple of years we have invested more in our NASCAR coverage than we ever had.â
Hammond on what he expects from Danica Patrick this season: âThe main thing is for her to get her laps in. Donât get caught up trying to push too hard in the races that she gets into. From what weâve seen from her in the past, sheâs very savvy behind the wheel. She knows what those limits are and if sheâs able to get into those races and finish them; she could pull down a couple of top-15âs or even a top-10. Sheâs someone that at certain racetracks you canât overlook. She has a ton of talent. I was very skeptical in the beginning but Iâve been impressed with her work ethic and the way she approaches the car. You wouldnât see Tony Stewart or even Dale Jr. having her drive with them unless they felt the same way.â
D. Waltrip on what Patrick needs to do most to relieve some of the pressure and be successful in NASCAR: âSheâll be ok on the track with the people sheâs surrounded by. One thing that she needs is to be accepted by the fans. People have said that she doesnât deserve to do this. If she can overcome a lot of that that will be a big accomplishment. Sheâll do the on-track stuff better than most people expect. If she does, thatâll put some of those skeptics to rest. That would be a huge success.â
M. Waltrip on if Carl Edwards can avoid the second place jinx that has plagued past Sprint Cup Championship runners-up the following year:Â âWe saw Denny Hamlin race for the championship in 2010 and stumbled a little bit at the end of last year.Â The ultimate result was he and his crew chief split up after this past season, after a disappointing year.Â Youâve got to have everything clicking, everything firing.Carl Edwards has all that and I canât imagine him not being able to come back and contend again.â
Hammond on his new role as a roving analyst: âWith the great reporters we have on pit road, it frees me up to go and do more in-depth and investigative reporting and go places that we couldnât go before. Iâve had so many people tell me how awesome the shot was from on top of the spotterâs stand under the lights during Saturdayâs race. We havenât been able to do that in the past. Plus, if something happens in the garage area or on pit road as far as really breaking down a pit stop and watching the interaction between pit crew coaches and crew chiefs, with so many other things going on sometimes pit reporters donât have the opportunity to sit there and watch.Â Thatâs going to be my role.Â Go find something we havenât seen before and try to bring that into the living room for the first time.Â Iâm really excited about it.â
Shanks on using the double-box advertising format during the Daytona 500 and other NASCAR on FOX races: âWe have a goal in mind of using it at the last part of the race. We still have to work through which advertiser, break and who works best being in the split screen. Weâre still working through that. We donât have all the details yet with the advertisers but yes, we are looking to do it past Daytona this year, into other races as well.â
GATORADE DUEL AT DAYTONA â The fans spoke and NASCAR delivered â pack racing returned last weekend in the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona.Â The next test of this tradition at the 2.5-mile superspeedway comes Thursday, Feb 23 in the Gatorade Duel at Daytona, live on SPEED at 2:00 PM ET.
Some of Speedweeksâ most dramatic moments often come in the Gatorade Duel.Â While Roush Fenway Racing teammates Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle locked themselves into the pole and outside pole positions for Sundayâs race via last weekendâs Daytona 500 pole qualifying session, the Duel, a pair of 150-mile qualifying races, determines the starting order for positions three-43. Tensions often run high as drivers not within the top-35 in points and who did not post a fast enough speed in last weekendâs Daytona 500 pole qualifying session race as hard as they can and vie for transfer spots in their respective Duel to earn them a starting spot in the Daytona 500.
Krista Voda and Jeff Hammond host the networkâs coverage beginning at 2:00 PM ET before handing off to the NASCAR on FOX team of Mike Joy, Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds, who will call the race.Â Covering pit road is the NASCAR on FOX pit reporting team of Dick Berggren, Steve Byrnes and Matt Yocum.
TIME TO GO TRUCKINâ â The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series kicks off its 10th season on SPEED with Friday, Feb 24 season opener under the lights at Daytona International Speedway.Â SPEED provides live coverage beginning with NCWTS Setup with Krista Voda at 7:00 PM ET, followed by live race coverage at 7:30 PM ET.Â Fresh off of 2011, the most-watched season in network history, Rick Allen, Phil Parsons and Michael Waltrip return to call the action for SPEED, with pit reporting by Ray Dunlap and Hermie Sadler.
NASCAR RACEDAY â NASCAR RaceDay Fueled by Sunoco, SPEEDâs NASCAR Sprint Cup Series prerace show, hits the rev limiter twice this week.Â The gang first takes to the air on Thursday prior to the Gatorade Duel at Daytona and again Sunday in a run-up to the Daytona 500.Â John Roberts hosts the Thursday Feb. 23 special Duel edition at 1:00 PM ET with analysis from Kyle Petty, Larry McReynolds and Kenny Wallace.Â Reporting from the garage are Matt Clark, Wendy Venturini and Rutledge Wood.
Live interviews include Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, Tony Stewart and Danica Patrick.
On Sunday, NASCAR RaceDay presents a special three-hour edition beginning at 9:00 AM ET.Â Steve Byrnes hosts alongside Petty, McReynolds and Wallace, with reporting by Clark, Venturini, Wood and Jamie Howe.Â Live interviews include Patrick, among other guests to be announced later in the week.
TEN YEARS IN THE TUNNEL â Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain celebrates its 10th anniversary on SPEED in 2012, ushering in the new season with its 535th episode Sunday, Feb 26 live at 8:00 PM ET.
âI really didnât have any expectations when we started Wind Tunnel,â Despain reflected. âThe show had a very experimental feel in the beginning and I donât think anyone knew quite what to expect.Â But it caught on very quickly and developed a fan following, which in turn gives the host a nice, secure feeling about the future.Â There are always doubts â itâs television after all â but Iâve always felt we were filling a niche.â
âI enjoy watching â and appearing on â Wind Tunnel because itâs a âno-holds barredâ discussion,â said Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. âIâve known Dave a long time and he is the perfect host for the show. He tells it like it is.â
Wind Tunnel first premiered Feb. 23, 2003, as a half-hour show featuring Chip Ganassi as the first guest.Â Two weeks later, it expanded to an hour program, where it remains to this day, with in-studio guest Steve Matchett and Miguel Duhamel live from Daytona Bike Week.
On Sundayâs Wind Tunnel season premiere, Despain welcomes the Daytona 500-winning car owner, FOX/SPEED analyst and 2012 Hall of Fame inductee, Darrell Waltrip, and SPEED open-wheel reporter Robin Miller with other guests to be announced later in the week.
Photo: Credit: Marc Serota/Getty Images for NASCAR