Daytona 200 preview: Herrin looks to repeat as champion
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Fifty entries have been filed for the 70th running of the legendary Daytona 200 AMA Pro Daytona SportBike race. The 57-lap contest will go green this Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. on the 3.51-mile Long Course that combines Daytona International Speedway's high banks with its twisting infield course.
Dating back to 1937, when Ed Kretz won the fist Daytona 200 on an Indian, this world-class race has served as the opening event of the American road race season. In keeping with tradition, the 70-year-old contest will again kick off the current AMA Pro Road Racing season, and with 2010 class champion Martin Cardenas having moved to AMA Pro National Guard SuperBike this year, the field is wide open.
Headlining up the 2011 competitors is 2010 Daytona 200 winner Josh Herrin, who finished third in last season's final points standings with five wins to his credit. Back with his long-time Graves Motorsports crew and fielding a newly liveried Monster Energy Graves Motorsports Yamaha, Josh's 2011 bid for title redemption begins now.
Last year's Daytona 200 Pole Position winner, Danny Eslick, finished second in the 2010 class championship and also returns with his 2010 squad, GEICO Powersports RMR Suzuki. The eternally hard-charging Eslick claimed three Daytona SportBike victories last year and can be expected to be high up in the mix come Saturday.
Taking over the 200 reins for Team M4 Suzuki in Cardenas' absence will be Dane Westby, who stunned many by claiming second in last year's Daytona 200 contest after leading twelve laps. Jake Zemke, who won both Daytona AMA Pro National Guard SuperBike races last year, will return to middleweight competition with the Project 1 Atlanta team, the talented Californian representing a big unknown for other riders in the class.
One of the bigger storylines in this year's Daytona 200 is the return of Kawasaki to the storied event, the green machines piloted by Team Cycle World Attack Performance's Eric Bostrom and 2010 AMA Pro SuperSport East Division Champion J. D. Beach. Eric will be doing double-duty this weekend, representing in the SuperBike class as well, while J.D. will be making his Daytona SportBike debut after a tremendous 2010 season that saw him earn eight victories.
Several other very fast SuperSport graduates will join J.D. in their first Daytona 200 on Saturday, including LTD Racing's three-time 2010 winner Huntley Nash, whose team now enjoys support from Yamaha Extended Service; Cameron Beaubier, who won last year's Daytona SuperSport Race 1 by .001 of a second; 2010 West Division Champion Joey Pascarella; and 2010 AMA Pro Top Gun Champion Tyler O'Hara.
As if the field wasn't yet deep enough, Jason DiSalvo returns to AMA Pro competition this year after running several 2010 World Supersport events, having joined the very capable Team Latus Motors Racing (which took third in last year's Daytona 200 event). P.J. Jacobsen remains with Celtic Racing for 2011 but will roll out on new machinery, the team having re-formed as a Fast By Ferracci-supported Ducati effort. And in addition to his SuperBike duties, Geoff May will be representing Erik Buell Racing in the 200.
The Vesrah Suzuki team returns with Cory West---- a consistent Daytona SportBike frontrunner last year---- and new team member Taylor Knapp, who finished seventh in last year's SuperBike championship as a privateer. Joining Herrin and others in the Yamaha attack will be Tommy Aquino, now with support from Yamaha Extended Service and Pat Clark Motorsports, and the HT Moto- and Yamalube-sponsored Melissa Paris.
Other riders returning to the 2011 Daytona SportBike class included Roadracingworld.com Suzuki's Santiago Villa, Barnett Performance Suzuki's Russ Wikle, the Kawasaki-mounted Fernando Amantini, and 1989 Daytona 200 winner John Ashmead (aboard a Peter Brady Racing Kawasaki).
Between the races, stay connected with Daytona International Speedway via Twitter (www.twitter.com/DISupdates) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/DaytonaInternationalSpeedway); keep up with AMA Pro Road Racing at www.twitter.com/AMAProSBK and www.facebook.com/AMAProRoadRacing.