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Daytona 500 postscript

by Dave Grayson
Monday, February 21, 2011

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Trevor Bayne and the Wood Brothers Crew celebrate
Getty Images for NASCAR
officially opened their 2011 season with the annual Daytona Speedweeks. By the time the checkers fell on the running of the 53d annual Daytona 500 last Sunday, that annual February effort was all about the presence of superstars. During Speedweeks at Daytona we witnessed the emergence of a new future superstar while, at the same time, we witnessed the triumphant return of a former superstar race team that we honestly thought was over and done. We also honored the memory of one of the sport's greatest superstars. With those thoughts in mind, let's begin with:

THUMBS-UP to Trevor Bayne for first raising eyebrows all during Speedweeks and then stunning the competition by winning the Daytona 500 during the final laps of a double green-white-checker finish. This accomplishment was even more amazing because Bayne, who celebrated his 20th birthday the day before the 500, earned the right to permanently attach the moniker "Daytona 500 Champion" to his racing resume in only his second ever NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start. Bayne only led the race one time, for six laps, but the effort came at the most important point of the event. With the poise of a seasoned veteran, Bayne held off a hard charging Carl Edwards, during the final few feet of the race, to take the win by a mere margin of 0.118 seconds.

The amazing aspect to this story is the fact that no one, prior to Speedweeks, had really taken the time to find out who this young driver is. It was just a few short months ago that Bayne was sitting in his Tennessee home wondering if he even had the prospects of a full time ride in any of NASCAR's big three national touring series.

But talent potential prevailed and Bayne was hired by Jack Roush to join their NASCAR Nationwide Series effort. That in turn led the Wood Brothers to take a gamble on a young, still in development, driver and sign him for 17 Sprint Cup events this year. Everyone seems to be highly satisfied with the results of those decisions.

Those facts leads to a THUMBS-UP for Wood Brothers Racing. Their family legacy in NASCAR dates back to 1949 and this group of iconic racers will forever be remembered for the role they played in developing the sport of NASCAR. The last time the Wood Brothers won a Sprint Cup event was all the way back in 2001 when driver Elliott Sadler placed the car in victory lane at Bristol. Last Sunday's effort marked their 98th Cup win and their fifth Daytona 500 win.

But the Woods fell on hard times in recent years. The team was no longer competitive and the sponsorship packages that came their way only allowed them to run part time schedules in the Sprint Cup Series. Going into the new season, they had just enough sponsorship from Motorcraft and Quick Lane, to run a 17 race schedule. It's a strong possibility that their telephone is already ringing with calls from potential new sponsors who will interested in joining the excitement that Bayne created last Sunday. The Wood Brothers certainly deserve that opportunity.

Yet another THUMBS-UP goes out to the Daytona 500 winner's parents, Rocky and Stephanie Bayne. First off, it's apparent that they did a fine job in raising their son. It turns out that the young man is equally dynamic off the track as he is inside of the race car. The sight of proud parents watching their son win his first Sprint Cup race is always a precious sight.

The Baynes deserve a second THUMBS-UP for making the decision to watch that special moment in time from the grandstands instead of pit road. Rocky Bayne said he gets highly emotional watching his son race and he didn't want to take the chance of that emotion becoming a distraction to the team. That's a very smart decision. We've seen emotional Dads turn into team distractions in the past. I assume you all know which NASCAR Sprint Cup Dad I'm referring to.

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A combined WHATS-UP-THUMBS-UP goes out to the Daytona circumstances that created a new phenomenon in NASCAR restrictor plate racing: the two car draft. A new, super smooth, pavement job on the track was one of the factors that saw two car drafting replace the traditional lengthy draft lines we are accustomed to seeing. The WHATS-UP portion was issued because, quite frankly, I honestly didn't care for the concept at first. However that opinion changed as I witnessed the close finishes in each and every one of the Speedweeks events.

With that came a concern over engine temperatures which led to a maneuver known as "the change over." That occurred when the first car in the draft switched positions with the second car and that brief separation allowed the opportunity for fresh air to help cool off the engines. The two car draft also created some new racing terms such as "two car interlock" and "team mate for a day." The only new term I didn't hear was "the push me pull you" in reference to the two headed animal from the movie "Dr Doolittle."

Also interesting was the fact that the two car draft was not necessarily a team function. Drivers spent the practice sessions and Speedweeks events, such as the Budweiser Shootout and the Gatorade Duels, finding out which car they could draft with the best. That in turn led to the team spotters literally dictating the terms of the maneuvers. Because the second driver in the draft often had trouble seeing the track in front of him, the spotter for the first car was had to relay information for both cars. Additionally there were in car radio contact between the drivers which allowed them to set up draft partnerships during the racing. Some of these drivers actually had access to as many as 15 different radio frequencies on their car's steering wheels.

In one additional item, that involves the two car draft, a THUMBS-UP goes out to the United States Air Force's Thunderbird flying exhibition team. Apparently they liked what they saw because, during last Thursday's first Gatorade Duel qualifying race, they performed a double plane draft fly by over the Daytona Speedway.

Those elaborate radio communications spawned a great line from Bob Osbourne, crew chief for driver Carl Edwards, who said he was actually getting a bad headache from all of those voices he was hearing over his radio headset.

THUMBS-UP to Goodyear for providing a high quality tire, loaded with plenty of grip, that aided the efforts of the two car draft. The quality of that tire also provided crew chiefs the option of calling fuel only pit stops.

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A double WHATS-UP goes out to driver David Ragan who made a monumental blunder that cost him a major chance to win the Daytona 500. During the start of the first green-white-checker attempt Ragan went from the outside lane to the inside to pick up a two car draft with Trevor Bayne. But, NASCAR rules dictate that you cannot make a move like that prior to crossing the start-finish line. The other amazing aspect here was the fact that Ragan was actually angry over the ruling and the penalty that came with it. The fact of the matter is: he blew it big time.

WHATS-UP with the snake bit Michael Waltrip? The semi retired two time Daytona 500 champion, turned team owner, was making his 25th start in the great American race and found himself with a steering wheel full of trouble. It started early in the event when he launched the race's first yellow flag after accidentally spinning out Kyle Busch. But the big problem came on lap 28 when Waltrip launched a 15 car "big one" that heavily damaged the cars of a lot of the pre race favorites. While double car drafting with his team mate, and a car that he owns, Waltrip accidentally spun out David Reutimann and the collateral damage started from that point. Reutimann deserves a THUMBS-UP for his post wreck interview diplomacy by making it clear that what happened to him was not the fault of the guy who signs his paychecks.

A combined WHATS-UP-THUMBS-UP goes out to Dale Earnhardt Jr who certainly had his hands full during the Daytona Speedweeks. NASCAR's most popular driver went up and down like a roller coaster. The team looked strong during the practice sessions and they looked like winners during the Budweiser Shootout only to get caught up in a late race crash not of their making.


But the spirit of the Junior Nation rose again on qualifying day when their driver won the pole position. But that spirit was deflated again when a practice crash three days later forced the use of a backup car that had Earnhardt starting the Daytona 500 from the rear of the field. The spirit soared again as Earnhardt looked like a potential winner during the 500 only to have another disappointment when he got caught up a crash, again not of his making, during the first green-white-checker attempt to finish the race.

The THUMBS-UP aspect here lies in the fact that Earnhardt's team, under the leadership of new crew chief Steve Letarte, looked strong and well organized. That's good news as well as a major building block for the races to come. They just couldn't seem to overcome the element of bad luck. Also bear in mind that all of this up and down drama presented itself in the middle of the tenth anniversary of the tragic accident that claimed the life of the driver's famous father.


WHATS-UP with early race concerns over the performance of Earnhardt Childress racing engines? Pre race favorite Kevin Harvick exited the Daytona 500 with a blown engine on lap 22 in his Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet and had to settle for a 42nd place finish. On lap 92 Childress driver Jeff Burton, another pre race favorite, also left the race with a blown engine which led to his 36th place finish. You could clearly see the look of concern on the face of Richard Childress.

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THUMBS-UP to Tony Stewart for winning Saturday's season opening Nationwide Series race at Daytona in a photo finish that was very exciting. Stewart came under the checkers a scant seven-one thousandths of a second ahead of Clint Bowyer. It was the fourth consecutive Nationwide Series season opener victory for Stewart and his sixth win overall at Daytona. That's pretty impressive considering the fact that the driver was seriously ill with the flu for three days prior to the race.

A THUMBS-UP goes out to winning team owners Kevin and Delana Harvick whose impressive racing operation was in the process of celebrating its tenth anniversary. By the way the car that Clint Bowyer was driving was also owned by Kevin Harvick Inc giving the team a one-two finish.

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While Michael Waltrip had his hands filled with problems on the Sprint Cup side of Speedweeks, he absolutely deserves a THUMBS-UP for winning last Friday's Daytona season opener for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. That very exciting race had two "big ones" with the second multi truck crash coming only four laps from the end of the race. In the final few feet, on the final lap of a green-white-checker finish, Waltrip made a beautiful outside move on race leader Elliott Sadler to steal the win by a mere margin of 0.061 seconds.

Waltrip’s winning Toyota Truck was owned by the Las Vegas based Vision Aviation Racing who, just a matter of weeks ago, set up a race shop in North Carolina to race in the truck series and then set up a merger with the former Billy Ballew Motorsports to move that project forward in a hurry. VAR gets a huge THUMBS-UP for winning their first ever race in a NASCAR national touring series.

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The final THUMBS-UPS of the week goes to the effort and coverage of the ten year anniversary of the tragic loss of Dale Earnhardt. On lap three of the Daytona 500 the Fox Sports broadcast team went silent and aimed their cameras at 182,000 fans who all stood up while holding three fingers in the air to commemorate Earnhardt's famed car number. It was truly an awesome sight.

Another THUMBS-UP goes out to the SPEED Channel for their airing of the documentary "The Day". This extremely well done presentation documented the day we lost Dale Earnhardt and presented information that we have never heard before during all of these years. "The Day" tapped every human emotion you could name and was extremely well produced.

For that matter let's send another THUMBS-UP to the SPEED Channel for their massive coverage of the 2011 Daytona Speedweeks. It was a job well done.

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I suppose some of you are thinking that the final WHATS-UP of the week is going to focus on certain comments made last week by a certain ESPN host that intimated NASCAR had fixed the results of the Daytona 500 qualifying because they really wanted their long time most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr, to start the 500 on the front row and win a race that was also in memory of the passing of his famous father ten years ago.

Normally I would not be interested in lending exposure or credence to something this damn stupid. But, seeing how some of you are expecting it, here goes:

Last week Tony Kornheiser, the host of the ESPN television program "Pardon The Interruption" as well as an ESPN talk radio host, announced that Earnhardt's pole winning effort was fixed because NASCAR was discreetly willing to overlook the fact that the car might be illegal in some un named capacity. Those statements were reportedly aided on Kornheiser's radio show last Tuesday morning by "Washington Post" columnist and former NASCAR reporter Liz Clarke who claimed that she was 60 percent sure that Earnhardt's car was not completely legal.

First off, you have to understand the nature of Kornheiser's job with ESPN. It's his duty to get fans riled up with statements that often range from the controversial to the completely stupid. That's because it creates the ratings numbers the host needs to keep his job. If you can get some writer from a prominent newspaper to help you out with the gag then the job gets even easier.

Having seen Kornheiser on his television show in the past it's pretty obvious that he virtually knows nothing about the sport of NASCAR and probably doesn't care enough to learn about it. It's even safe to assume that his motorsports knowledge is handed to him on a sheet of paper by a hard working, but unpaid, ESPN intern.

Last week's antics was just another cheap and stupid stunt from a media commentator looking to generate extra interest, and of course ratings numbers, so he can keep that lucrative paycheck I'm sure he receives.

Also remember he's just stating an opinion and opinions are like a**holes, we all have one. In fact it's my personal opinion that Tony Kornheiser was an a**hole long before he attacked NASCAR racing last week.

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