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Daytona 500 postscript

by Dave Grayson
Wednesday, February 29, 2012

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Kenseth beats Earnhardt and Biffle to the line
Getty Images for NASCAR
The 54th running of the Daytona 500 was supposed to start on a Sunday afternoon and conclude sometime later that same evening. What we saw instead was a race that began on a Monday evening and concluded in the wee hours of Tuesday morning. It wasn't an easy process for anyone involved. NASCAR officials, drivers, the teams and, God bless them all, the fans just had to stand there and wade through the process and the rain water.

While watching this process I found myself thinking about that famous creed used by the U.S. Post Office regarding their dedication to delivering the mail. In this particular case, not even darkness of night, rain, impending patches of fog nor the flames of hell could deter NASCAR from completing their appointed rounds. It was a job well done.

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Let's begin with the obvious: THUMBS-UP to Matt Kenseth for winning his second Daytona 500 and his 17th NASCAR Sprint Cup career victory. THUMBS-UP to the winning driver's Jimmy Fennig led race team who didn't back down in the face of adversity. In the early portion of the race, Kenseth's Ford was spewing hot water like the "Old Faithful" geyser and there were even problems with radio communications. The team rose to the occasion and it was a huge factor that put their car in the Daytona victory lane.

THUMBS-UP to Roush Fenway Racing who scored their 300th NASCAR national series win at Daytona. By the way, that number breaks down to: 126 Sprint Cup wins, 124 Nationwide Series wins and 50 Camping World Truck Series victories. It was also Ford's 13th Daytona 500 win and their third win in the last four events.

THUMBS-UP to team co-owner Jack Roush. The start of the 2012 season also launched his 25th anniversary in NASCAR racing. A Daytona 500 win is a very special way to launch "The Cat In The Hat's" personal milestone season.

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WHAT'S-UP with the post Daytona 500 criticism aimed at driver Greg Biffle? During the final lap of the race everyone, from the Fox broadcast team to fans sitting on their living room couches, thought Biffle was going to make an outside move to try and win this race. The big surprise here was: it didn't happen. After the race, Biffle admitted that he was somewhat surprised by the power from team mate Matt Kenseth's car. He also said that, with Dale Earnhardt Jr being so close behind him, there was not enough room for him to his to drag the brake and develop the space needed to make a full steam run on the leader.

WHAT'S-UP with all of those post race comments regarding "being a good team mate" and that equally ridiculous idea regarding "team orders?" It's the Daytona 500. During the final lap, if you're in position to win one of the most prestigious races in the world, there are NO team mates.

THUMBS-UP to Biffle for displaying his sense of humor during Sunday's extreme rain delay. A TV camera found him dropping a fishing line in a massive puddle of rain water.

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The in-house girlfriend, still the card carrying-T-shirt wearing member of the Junior Nation, is going to love this: THUMBS-UP to Dale Earnhardt Jr for a very impressive run in the Daytona 500 that saw him steal second in the final few feet of the race. There was a lot of pre season talk about how the teaming of Earnhardt with Crew chief Steve Letarte has boosted the driver's confidence levels and this will be the season when he finally snaps that often mentioned 129 winless streak.

However, Daytona is restrictor plate racing: an environment that this driver excels in. Even Earnhardt himself said "let's wait and see what happens when the real racing starts, like at Phoenix." Like it or not Junior Nation, it's going to take a mammoth, "real racing", effort to snap that 129 race streak.

WHAT'S-UP with yours truly even making that observation while knowing full well nothing good is going to come from it?

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WHAT'S-UP with the Daytona 500 having a major bump drafting incident on the very first lap? Contact between Elliott Sadler and Jimmie Johnson sent the five time champion into the wall and then spinning in the middle of race traffic. The result was a brutal hit on Johnson's left side door from David Ragan who just had no place to go. The post wreck video, from Johnson's in car camera, showed him looking out his driver's window watching the oncoming hit. I can't imagine what that must have been like. Thankfully, everyone in this multi car incident walked away uninjured.

There were repeated examples, all during Daytona Speedweeks, regarding the need for a cautious approach to bump drafting and how easy it was to launch a multi car crash. Kyle Busch likely put it best, during a post wreck radio transmission, when he said: "are we serious? We've been sitting around for 36 hours and we wreck on lap one?

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WHAT'S-UP with the stunning crash between Juan Pablo Montoya's race car and the speedway jet dryer? It was, hands down, one of the most bizarre motorsports incidents that we've seen lately. Under the yellow caution flag, Montoya came to the pits to have, what he termed, "a really bad vibration" checked out. After exiting pit road, and accelerating to rejoin the field, Montoya said he heard a loud sound as if something had fallen off of the back of his car. The car went into a slide and hit the back of a jet dryer that was doing clean up work in turn three. Montoya's car slid to the bottom of the turn on fire. The dryer's 200 gallons of jet fuel erupted into a giant ball of flame. Thankfully, neither Montoya or the truck driver towing the jet dryer, Michigan resident Duane Barnes, were injured.

What followed was a red flag period, that ran a little over two hours, to repair the damage to the track surface caused by the massive fire. The Daytona maintenance crew gets a THUMBS-UP for a job well done. First they used laundry detergent to completely clean the combination of jet fuel and fire retardant from the track surface. Then they created a large "street bond" adhesive patch to cover ruts in the surface. It was a massive undertaking that was performed in a remarkably short amount of time. After the race the crew received well deserved kudos from driver Carl Edwards who said "they did an amazing job, after a couple of laps I forgot the patch was there."

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While the track repairs were being made, the drivers were standing on the backstretch visiting with each other. THUMBS-UP to driver Brad Keselowski for having some fun with his cell phone that was in the car with him. Keselowski took a picture of the burning jet dryer and posted it on his "Twitter" account. In the process he set a record for the first ever tweet while in the midst of a NASCAR race. It was soon reported that the photos were trending heavy and Keselowski picked up an additional 55,000 "Twitter" followers.

WHAT'S-UP with NASCAR Sprint Cup team owner, and ESPN racing analyst, Brad Daugherty taking major umbrage with Keselowski's "Twitter" fun? During an appearance on ESPN2's "NASCAR Now" program, aired the day after the race, Daugherty delivered a scathing editorial that said Keselowski had no business having a cell phone inside of his race car, he should be fined for sending tweets during the race adding "the presence of the social media in NASCAR has gotten out of hand."

THUMBS-UP to NASCAR for taking a completely different point of view when they announced they would not penalize Keselowski for his "Twitter" use during the Daytona 500. In a prepared statement, NASCAR officials said: "nothing we've seen from Keselowski violates any current rules pertaining to the use of the social media during races. As such, he won't be penalized. We encourage our drivers to use social media to express themselves as long as they do so without risking their safety or that of others."

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WHAT'S-UP with the harsh debut of Danica mania? Danica Patrick's highly anticipated season debut as a full time NASCAR driver was brutal: as in three races and three wrecks. During her Gatorade Duel qualifying race she took a savage looking hit into the retaining wall. During the Nationwide Series event she was bumped from behind by her J R Motorsports team mate, Cole Whitt, which also sent her into the wall. She actually screamed "oh my God, is he f***ing kidding?" over the radio. Then, during her official NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut in the Daytona 500, she found herself caught up in the lap one accident and had to settle for a 38th place finish.

In all fairness, it needs to be pointed out that these three accidents were not of her making and she was a victim of circumstance in each of them. She does deserve a THUMBS-UP for setting the fast time in qualifying prior to the Nationwide Series race. Her chart topping lap of 182.741 MPH made her only the second woman to win a pole position for one of NASCAR's national touring series events. The first woman was Shawna Robinson who won a Nationwide Series pole at Atlanta back in 1994.

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In some final thoughts, THUMBS-UP to NASCAR for some pre season rule changes that severely limited the use of two car tandem racing which returned Daytona restrictor plate racing to its traditional tight pack format. Some of that racing, during the Daytona 500, was stunning.

THUMBS-UP to the Fox Network for the impressive ratings they generated with the Daytona 500 broadcast. Despite the double delays in the race's starting time, the two hour red flag period for track repairs and the late hour of the conclusion on the east coast, the overnight Nielsen television rating was actually double for a normal Monday night Fox programming schedule. The Daytona 500's ratings, estimated at 14.24 million viewers, was second only to "The Voice," NBC's live talent show, which barely beat the race broadcast.

A DOUBLE THUMBS-UP goes to NASCAR's loyal fans who endured the weather conflicts on Sunday and the late hours on Monday night. A reported 140,000 were in attendance on Monday. You've got to believe that many of them had to make last minute arrangements with jobs, school and travel arrangements to see the race. I've always said that NASCAR has the best fans in the world and they certainly proved that point during the Daytona 500.       

WHAT'S-UP with Kurt Busch having to go to the rear of the Daytona 500 starting field following a bird related engine change? During the final happy hour practice session, Busch hit a bird which went through the front of this car and created a small hole in the radiator. Knowing this was going to severely impact the car's cooling system, the team made the decision to change the engine. As bad as all of this sounds, it's nothing compared to what that bird received from this deal.

WHAT'S-UP with the SPEED Channel's audio and video getting out of sync during post race interviews following the Gatorade duels? The mouths of the drivers being interviewed kept moving after they finished a sentence. It was actually quite funny and  very similar to those old school Japanese horror movies that were was dubbed into English. The actor yells "look, it's Godzilla" and then his mouth keep moving for several seconds.

The final WHAT'S-UP goes to Mother Nature. After approximately 36 hours of rain delays at Daytona, Mother Nature decided to take one more shot by bringing fog to Daytona early Tuesday morning after the race. It created some reported havoc with airline schedules for race teams who just simply wanted to fly to North Carolina and go home.

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