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Daytona Post-Race Notebook

by Dave Grayson
Monday, February 16, 2009

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Bobby Allison waves the green flag as Martin Truex Jr. leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series field to start the Daytona 500
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
First off the entire NASCAR weekend at the Daytona International Raceway was a racing fan's dream come true because it was overloaded with excitement. Adding to the drama was the fact that the most formidable competitor in the Daytona 500 was Mother Nature. There was the joy of a first time driver, team owner and crew chief standing in victory lane following the great American race. There was the happy Nationwide Series winner redeeming himself in the wake of a horrible morning and a truck team in dire need of sponsorship promoted the team's potential after winning the Camping World Series race.

Oh yes, there was also that racing deal involving one of NASCAR's most popular personalities that is going to create an endless stream of media reports, and blogger entries, all week long. But first let's accent the positive by beginning with:

Thumbs Up for Matt Kenseth, Jack Roush and Drew Blickensderfer for earning the right to stand in a rain filled Daytona victory lane. Kenseth only led one green flag lap in the race but it was the one that mattered the most. His Ford Fusion was in front when Mother Nature flexed her muscles and changed the Daytona 500 to the Daytona 380. Kenseth was not happy with his primary car during early practice. That problem was taken care of when he was caught up in a crash during the Gatorade Duel qualifying race. It forced the team to roll out a back up car which turned out to be far superior to the primary one. It also meant that he would have to go to the back of the field and start in 39th. He wound up setting the record for winning the Daytona 500 from the lowest starting position.   

The "Cat In The Hat" was standing there grinning like the Cheshire Cat from "Alice In Wonderland." The always stoic Jack Roush, principal owner of Roush Fenway Racing ,celebrated his first ever Daytona 500 win after 23 years of trying to get there. Later he said "I'll probably be black and blue by the time I get to Fontana-California, (next Sunday's race at the Auto Club Speedway), from pinching myself to make sure this is all real."

One has to think that Blickensderfer is still numb from his Daytona experience. Here's a guy that has been working for Jack Roush for approximately eight years and has more than earned his shot at sitting on top of a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pit box. You just had to love the sight of a rookie crew chief winning his first race with that first win being the Daytona 500.

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Okay let's get to the one topic that everyone is talking about.

A rarely issued DOUBLEWIDE What's Up for Dale Earnhardt Jr. During the post race television interview this man was so upset you could literally see the flames of Hell dancing in the pupils of his eyes. He had a good reason for that. His Daytona 500 experience was about as wet as the rain that shortened the race. In fact, following his 27th place finish, if we were to find out that Junior spent late Sunday night punching holes in the sheet rock walls of his North Carolina home it would be perfectly understandable. 

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is forced to serve a one-lap penalty for pitting outside of the pit box during a stop on Lap 120. Earnhardt was involved in an incident three laps later while trying to stay in position for the beneficiary, given to the first car one lap down
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
It all started on pit road when Earnhardt had trouble finding his pit stall. The result was an additional lap around the track for a second attempt which cost him a ton of track position. Later Earnhardt said that he had trouble finding the team's pit road sign. He noted that the principal color of his sign was pink and it seemed there were a lot of pit road signs from other teams using that same color. Perhaps a new eye popping sign featuring the red white and blue colors of the National Guard will fix that problem.

But what happened during the next pit stop was simply amazing. After sliding his Chevrolet to a stop it turned out that the right front tire was sitting on top of the white line of the pit stall. NASCAR rules specifically states that a car's front wheels has to be inside of that white line. A NASCAR pit road official instantly starting pointing his finger at the front of the car to let the team know the tire was on the line. One would have thought that someone from crew chief Tony Eury Jr to the front tire changer would have reacted to this. During the process of that pit stop the official was practically standing on top of the tire changer desperately trying to let the team know they needed to roll the car back. In essence he was trying to cut the team a break so they wouldn't be penalized. Making the situation worse was the fact that the right front tire changer made a quick move to the left side of the car and ran into the official almost knocking him down. That was the final straw. The official planted his feet firmly in front of the car and held the right palm of his hand in the air to inform the driver that he wasn't going anywhere following the completion of the pit stop. The final result was Earnhardt was now a lap down with rain due any moment that could shorten a race that was well past the official half way point.

At the restart of the race Earnhardt was lined up to the left of the race leaders behind Brian Vickers who was also a lap down. With a weather related caution flag expected literally any moment, both men were desperate to be in position for the Lucky Dog pass to get back on the lead lap. On the restart Earnhardt got a good run on Vickers which was blocked and Earnhardt found himself sailing below the double yellow line and perilously close to the infield grass. When he pulled his car back onto the track contact was made on the rear of Vicker's car. The result was a ten car "big one" that ended the chance of some of the leader's hopes of winning the race.

The No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing crew works on the car after Kyle Busch was caught up in an accident on Lap 124
Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR
This was especially true in the case of Kyle Busch whose extremely strong Toyota looked like a sure fire race winner. By the way a Thumbs Up goes out to Busch for keeping his cool during the post wreck interview. Everyone was expecting the so called "Rowdy" one to go postal after being taken out of the race. It's likely that many were disappointed that he didn't spit fire during that interview. Somehow Busch was able to maintain a rather diplomatic demeanor and he deserves credit for that.

However the controversy didn't end with the "big one" and that leads to another DOUBLEWIDE What's Up with NASCAR and their favorite phrase "level playing field?"

During the course of Saturday's Nationwide Series race driver Jason Leffler got into the back of Steve Wallace's car and launched a three car accident. The progression of video replays indicated that it was a racing deal that turned bad. However NASCAR didn't see it that way and declared it as an act of aggression. Leffler was parked on pit road for a five lap penalty. By the way Thumbs Up for Leffler for "manning" up after the race by admitting that he made a mistake that was by no means intentional and he felt terrible about the three drivers and their badly damaged cars.

The big question now becomes why didn't NASCAR issue a similar penalty to Dale Earnhardt Jr during the Sprint Cup race? While it's impossible to believe that his on track move was an intentional act of retaliation it certainly was aggressive and worthy of the same circumstances that occurred the day before in the Nationwide Series race. NASCAR's decision not to impose any sanctions here has already launched intense scrutiny by the electronic and print media. It's an issue that will probably be beaten to death over the next several days to come.

Speaking of media scrutiny Thumbs Up to Speed Channel's Jimmy Spencer for his long time policy of always telling us the truth as he sees it. During the "NASCAR Victory Lane" broadcast Spencer pulled no punches with his opinions on what happened. He called Earnhardt to task for making the move that launched the "big one" and really slammed NASCAR for their failure to issue a five lap penalty. In fact Spencer's tirade was so brutal that even his normally unflappable co host, Kenny Wallace, seemed to be a little uncomfortable with it.

Someone on television had to say it. In all fairness Darrell Waltrip, during the Fox live broadcast, did refer to the incident as "uncalled for". But, during the course of the multiple video replays, the Fox team somewhat softened their opinions with a "well I'm not so sure now" approach. Spencer pointed the finger and told it like it was. That's just another reason why they call him "Mr. Excitement." It's also another reason why we all look forward to watching him on the Speed Chanel every weekend.

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Now we have a rarely issued What's Up/Thumbs Up combo platter for Stewart Haas Racing. This especially applies to Ryan Newman who is yet another driver who was grateful to be boarding an airplane flight that got him out of the state of Florida. During the course of Speed Weeks Newman's U.S. Army team had to endure a blown engine and two crashes. Unfortunately that second crash collected Tony Stewart, Newman's boss and teammate. That made it necessary for Stewart Haas Racing to once again have to deal with the issue of back cars. The wreck, due to Newman blowing a right side tire, also led to another one of Stewart's live on television tirades regarding the quality and reliability of Goodyear Tires. Adding insult to injury was a Newman pit stop, during the Daytona 500, that caused him to fall two laps down. After the left rear tire was removed during the pit stop the car fell off of the jack. Newman ended up with a 36th place finish and  you could almost hear the team saying "oh my God when is this week going to end?"

Matt Kenseth leads Tony Stewart (14), AJ Allmendinger (44) and Kurt Busch (2) during the middle stages of the Daytona 500
John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR
The Thumbs Up is well deserved for Stewart Haas Racing's refusal to bow down in the face of adversity and you can bet that Tony Stewart is incredibly proud of his teams. Stewart's team made quick work in preparing a back up car for their driver and the effort led to a very racy car that finished eighth in the 500.

Unfortunately the pre race process was not that easy for Newman's team. The only back up car available to them was a bright red Chevrolet with Stewart's name on it. That meant the team had to report to work at O dawn thirty Sunday morning to do a complete re wrap that changed the car from bright red to the black and gold U.S. Army colors. The team did a very fast and thorough job of the changeover. That included the last minute discovery of a small dot of red paint on the car that was colored by a black Sharpie pen.

It was only a short awhile ago that NASCAR observers were saying that Stewart's departure from Joe Gibbs Racing to form his own team was "career suicide." Don't believe a word of it. Stewart Haas Racing has already proven that they are going to formidable in 2009.

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Thumbs Up for Richard Petty Motorsports-RPM. When the recent, last minute, merger between Gillett Evernham Motorsports and Petty Enterprises was completed there were many observers who did not feel the organization had a very bright future. That opinion may be greatly changed following the performance of drivers A J Allmendinger, Elliot Sadler and Reed Sorenson who finished third, fifth and ninth respectively in the Daytona 500.

But to get there this team had to overcome a huge cloud of controversy last December when it was revealed that Sadler was going to be released and replaced by Allmendinger in the #19 ride. The problem was Sadler had signed a contract extension with Gillett Evernham last May and when he learned of his impending release, allegedly via the Internet, he hired an attorney. With the threat of civil action looming Gillett Evernham met with Sadler, during some reported heated negotiations, and was returned him to the #19 ride. Allmendinger was reassigned to the #44 team on a limited schedule pending sponsor availability.

There were reports that the newly formed RPM was having to deal with hard feelings and fences that needed mending but you would have never known it while watching them during the Daytona Speed Weeks. The fact that Allmendinger was in the Daytona 500 at all was in direct proportion to the team work displayed by Sadler and Sorenson. Another one of those famous last minute points swaps bumped Allmendinger out of NASCAR's top 35 owner's point ranking which meant he had to race his way into the 500 field via the Gatorade Duel qualifying events. During the course of that race Allmendinger was struggling to get to the coveted transfer spot. That's when Sadler and Sorensen relinquished their spots in the field and dropped by to help their team mate. With the Allmendinger car between them they were able to draft and block the #44 into the Daytona 500 starting field.

However, What's Up with Allmendinger's failure to return to the favor? During the late stages of the Daytona 500, with impending rain threatening to shorten the race, Sadler was leading with eventual winner Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick right behind him. Kenseth dived low to make a race winning pass on Sadler. Amazing enough Allmendinger, running third at the time chose to draft with Kenseth over his teammate. That led many on lookers to believe that if Allmendinger would have pulled out of line and made his way to Sadler's rear bumper the outcome of the race might have been drastically different. In fact, it could have been a one-two final lap team finish similar to last year's race.

The final comment on this topic involves dusting off an old item from last year's archives. What's Up with Red Bull Racing releasing Allmendinger in favor of driver Scott Speed? If someone from Red Bull is now saying "man did we screw up" they're absolutely right.

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Thumbs Up for Tommy Baldwin Racing and driver Scott Riggs. Less than 30 days ago this team didn't even exist. It was created quickly in a borrowed race shop and staffed by a small group of unpaid volunteers. With no sponsor on the hood of the car, Riggs raced his way into the Daytona 500 starting field during the Gatorade Duel qualifying race. That effort garnered the team a lot of attention and, by Saturday morning, the California based Red Bank Ale and Quail Outfitters quickly cut Baldwin a check to cover his expenses for both the Daytona 500 and next Sunday's race at the Auto Club Speedway. In the wake of huge economic impacts on NASCAR teams this is quite a Cinderella story. It may be possible that there's some major truth to a comment made last week by Darrell Waltrip when he said "hard times breeds opportunity."

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Thumbs Up to NASCAR for implementing the new 20 lap rule. The former rule said that a single file restart would be used with ten or less laps left in the race. That allowed the race leaders to settle an event among themselves without the presence of slower lapped cars lined up on their left side. Expanding this rule from ten to 20 laps gives the leaders more time to make a charge to the checkers and that change was a major contributor to the exciting finishes of all three Daytona races. 

Thumbs Up to NASCAR for declaring an official finish when the rain started. I know we all wanted to see the final 49 laps of the race but it really was a good call. It takes the speedway's fleet of jet dryers approximately two hours and 45 minutes to completely dry the track before the race can resume under safe conditions. With the weather forecast, combined with the drying time, NASCAR's best case scenario indicated that it would be at least midnight eastern time before there would be any chance to resume the race. Officials also took into consideration that there were over 170,000 fans who needed to be thinking about getting home. It really was a good call. 

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Thumbs Up to Tony Stewart for an outstanding performance during the course of winning Saturday's Camping World 300 Nationwide Series race. Stewart, in a one time ride for team owner Rick Hendrick, had to make the rear of that Hendrick Cars Dot Com Chevrolet extra wide to hold off a last ditch effort by Kyle Busch coming off of the final turn followed by a last ditch effort by Clint Bowyer and Carl Edwards during the final 100 feet of the race. The win was a matter of sweet redemption for Stewart. A mere matter of hours before the race Stewart got caught up in an accident with teammate Ryan Newman, during the Sprint Cup practice session, and Stewart Haas Racing team lost the use of both of their primary cars for the Daytona 500.         

In other Nationwide Series items of interest What's Up with rookie driver Jason Allgaier being sent to the rear of the field for missing the driver's meeting? This is a huge NASCAR no no and you would have thought that someone connected with this team would have been paying attention and made sure they driver got to the meeting on time.

What's Up with Brad Keselowski doing a pit road bump and run on the boss? During the course of pit stops Keselowski, driver of the car owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr, made a fast move out of his pit box and ran into, you guessed it, the car being driven by his boss. In turn Earnhardt’s car ran into Matt Kenseth who went sliding into the infield grass. The damage to both cars were minor but, in a racing environment where aerodynamics means everything, it could have created serious performance issues.  Earnhardt and Kenseth, who were major players at the front of the field in the race, had to come back down pit road for repairs and wound up restarting 37th and 38th.

What's Up with the credibility factor of a particular Kyle Busch's radio transmission during this race? At beginning of the season Toyota racing Development, (TRD), introduced a new engine. However NASCAR, in the name of maintaining a level playing field, issued Toyota teams a slightly smaller restrictor plate that led to an approximate 12 horsepower reduction. During the course of the race ESPN2 did some eavesdropping on Busch's radio and recorded the following comment:" I can't win this thing with what's under the hood. This thing sucks."

So what was the credibility issue here? At the time Busch made that observation he was riding in second in the race and passed for the lead two laps later. He was also one of four Toyotas racing in the top ten at the time and let's not forget that he made an all out effort to win this race on the final lap.

Thumbs Up to driver Morgan Shepherd who, at 67 years and 126 days, became the oldest driver in Nationwide Series history to start a season at Daytona. This man is truly inspirational. 

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The running of the NextEra Energy Resources 200, for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, also had some outstanding racing. The first Thumbs Up goes to driver Todd Bodine for his outstanding driving performance that put an unsponsored truck in victory lane. Bodine becomes the first series double winner at Daytona in ten years. It was also his fourth consecutive restrictor plate race win.  Late last year Germain Racing learned that their long time sponsor, Lumber Liquidators, was not going to return. Finding a new sponsor within the current economic conditions is tough. Replacing a sponsor in late December is almost impossible. The money earned from the Daytona win, $93,000 plus, guarantees the team will be travelling to California for next Saturday's race at the Auto Club Speedway. How much further it goes beyond that remains to be seen.

Thumbs Up to series rookie J R Fitzpatrick and his third place finish in a truck that had little or no primary sponsorship. However the near $35,000 should help get the team to California next week. Fitzpatrick is the reigning champion of NASCAR's newly launched Canadian Series. Prior to last Saturday he had never raced on a track larger than a quarter mile. That fact alone makes his Daytona performance even more impressive.

Thumbs Up to Colin Braun who finished ninth in this race. During the series' qualifying session Braun's Ford was the first to go out onto the track. He set a fast lap that was never challenged. His closest competitor was approximately four tenths of a second behind him and that's most impressive.

What's Up with three Camping World Truck Series team being sent home? This race had 39 entries and, yes,  the limit for a truck series field has been traditionally always been 36 starters. But perhaps it's time to raise that limit to 43 entries. It may even entice new teams to join the series. Sending three trucks home last Friday without a paycheck during these tough times just doesn't feel right.

Thumbs Up for Ricky Carmichael the new driver for Kevin Harvick Inc. who qualified sixth for the race in his first series outing. Unfortunately Carmichael got caught up in a lap 48 crash, triggered by race winner Todd Bodine, and had to settle for a 24th place finish. But prior to that wreck he impressed a lot of observers by constantly running in or near the top five. We're all well aware of Carmichael's legendary status as a former AMA Motocross champion, It's apparent that he's bringing that same sense of focus and passion to racing on four wheels. What DeLana and Kevin Harvick has here is a very shiny piece of coal that's going to turn into a diamond very soon.

It's hard to say if this is a Thumbs Up or a What's Up. During the course of the truck race circumstances had driver Chad McCumbee five laps down. He made up most of them by winning the Lucky Dog Pass four times in a row. I'm wondering if this is a NASCAR record.

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Thumbs Up for some terrific comments that were heard during the course of the live television broadcasts from the Daytona races. Let's start with Nationwide Series driver Steve Wallace who was the victim of a three car wreck triggered by Jason Leffler. Commenting on Leffler's over all lack of height, Wallace said "I guess the little guy can't see over his steering wheel."

Then there was a comment made by the always fun Kenny Wallace on the Speed Channel. Wallace announced that he was going to be giving away a large amount of "Hermantor"/Kenny Wallace Fan Club seat cushions. He followed that announcement by saying "please don't throw these things at Kyle and Kurt Busch."

From A J Allmendinger's wife, Lynne, came this quote: "A J's bringing sexy back to NASCAR."

During the course of Thursday's Gatorade Duel qualifying races Ryan Newman found himself hitting the backstretch wall nose first after being tapped from behind by David Reutimann. During the post wreck interview Newman said "he lived up to his last name. He rooted me right out of his way." 

Then there was Fox broadcaster Chris Meyers who apparently woke up on the funny side of the bed Sunday morning. Commenting on the recent merger completed by Chip Ganassi Racing and Dale Earnhardt Inc, Myers said "Earnhardt Ganassi is a far better name than Chip and Dale Racing." On the topic of Joey Logano being the youngest driver to ever start a Daytona 500, Myers quipped "Logano looks so young I bet he gets carded at Chucky Cheese." Regarding Mark Martin's frequent return to racing for just one more time in recent years Myers said "Mark Martin has retired more times than Cher." Finally, following a report from pit road reporter Dr Dick Berggren, Myers said "Dick Berggren covered the rain delay at Noah's Ark. He's so old he covered the Dead Sea before it even got sick."

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There were also some television commercials worthy of this week's listing. Thumbs Up for the new Toyota Racing ad. The premise of this commercial features flying robots that are programmed to use extreme methods to get driver autographs for fans. It's honestly one of the funniest commercials that I've seen in quite some time.

Thumbs Up for the new Castrol Motor Oil commercial. I can easily imagine an entire nation of racing fans yelling "you're not thinking with your dipstick Jimmy."

But What's Up with the new ad campaign for Old Spice featuring Tony Stewart? This commercial starts out with a young man, portraying Stewart as a youngster, who goes into terror filled hyperventilation while working up the nerve to step onto an escalator at a shopping mall. For reasons I can't possibly explain this commercial absolutely creeps me out. Then again, I can't explain why I think the commercial's slogan, "Old Spice-the official deodorant of NASCAR", makes me laugh. 
         
On the subject of television Thumbs Up for Direct TV. The satellite television company will be providing free access to NASCAR's Hot Pass all through the 2009 season. The program features in car camera shots and radio transmissions from four different drivers during each week. During the Daytona 500 fans were treated to the sights and sounds of drivers Kasey Kahne, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr and Carl Edwards.

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