Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Daytona 500

Likely to the surprise of few, Jimmy Johnson won the Daytona 500, with Dale Earnhart Jr. finishing 2nd and old-timer Mark Martin rounding out the top 3. Reigning Cup champ Brad Keselowski was leading in the closing laps, despite his car having front end damage, but at the end he just didn't have enough to hold off JJ and a few other guys.

Though there was a crash on the last lap, it involved cars further back in the field, hence the "big one" that many have come to expect at Daytona, never really happened, at least as far as wiping out several "contenders". Basically, it was a fairly clean race.

Far be it from yours truly to question the wisdom of various crew chiefs, but it seemed odd that with 20-some laps to go, most of the cars had to come into the pits for gas, but it appeared very few took tires. This was not just a "splash and go". They needed a decent amount of gas to get to the end of the race. In the time that required, they could have easily at least changed right side tires, so their cars would handle just a tad better through the turns. Yet, as it turned out, it didn't appear to be a factor. Shows you what I know.

In a mini-surprise, a few of the Toyoya engines were blowing up. Well, good. They shouldn't be racing at Daytona anyway. It's called the Great American Race -- is it not? Let the Toyota folks build a racetrack outside of Tokyo somewhere and have their own Great Japanese Race, where they bar Fords and Chevies. Works for me.

After starting the race from the pole position, wunderkind and all-around media darling Super Girl Danica Patrick had a decent day. She even led a lap or two. No doubt that will be trumpeted for the next few days. Another first for a woman. Big deal. Throw in Ricky Stenhouse and she's probably also the first to date another driver. (On that note, one would imagine that if, say, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart were to shack up together -- now THAT would be big news). In the name of equality, Danica herself has said she wants to be known as just a "driver", not a "female driver", so what's it going to take for the media to stop beating the gender drum?

Indeed, toward the end, Danica was running 3rd, which is a very good position to be in at the Daytona 500. It's rare that the leading car in the last couple laps wins the race. Normally, a couple cars behind the leader will hook up in a draft and pass the car out front. But something strange, or maybe not, happened to Danica, who wound up finishing 8th. On the last half of the last lap, other guys were blowing by her.

Her post-race interview appeared to be telling. When asked what happened, Danica intimated that she had "help" from a few guys during most of the race, but got a faraway look in her eyes when evidently considering the very end of the race. It appeared she knew full well what had happened, but didn't want to say so.

When push came to shove at the very end, the other guys left her high and dry. It's no big secret that cars by themselves can't compete on superspeedways. They need drafting partners, and Danica suddenly found herself without one approaching the checkered flag. Coincidence? There will likely be differences of opinion on that in the days to come.

Nevertheless, congrats to Jimmy Johnson. The wily veteran and 5-time Cup champion drove a superb race. Now all he and his crew have to do is build another car. That's because, at the Daytona 500, the winner's car is basically confiscated after the race and displayed in their museum for a year in whatever condition it was in when it took the checkered flag. That's somewhere around a $300,000 cha-ching. Expensive business, that Daytona 500.

Only 35 more races, and a whole bunch of  sheet metal, tires, engines, and racing fuel, until a champion is crowned.

On to Phoenix.


  1. John, maybe now Danica has shown a few of the rum-runners that she really can drive. Maybe she even showed you what a decent car means.

    It looks like NASCAR is still full of dumb hillbillies. They don't seem to notice that Danica is NASCAR's best opportunity in years to bring in new fans. Remember what happened to the PGA tour when Tiger arrived? The prize money just exploded and everybody benefitted. Danica to some extent could bring that to stock car racing if she wins some races. Those going out of their way to make sure she doesn't win are hurting themselves as much as her. They don't want to be beat by a woman. I think that Danica has now proven to be a race car driver.

    Maybe even to you....

    1. Good to hear from you again, Al. I totally agree with your take on Danica's being a great opportunity to bring in new fans. After climbing for many years, it seems of late, NASCAR has stagnated some in popularity. Have to disagree on the hillbilly thing, though, at least as far as the drivers go. Saw an interesting article in Sports Illustrated that pointed out that of the top 20 projected drivers this year, only 2 (Dale Jr. and Ricky Stenhouse) have roots in the deep south or North Carolina. About 10 of them hail from north of Kentucky and from Minnesota heading east. Seven are from west of the Rockies. They projected Danica as #20. And don't get me wrong. I have little doubt Danica is a very good driver, be it in Indy or NASCAR, because not just any schmo gets entrusted with such a ride -- but like Tiger -- I just got sick of the constant hype because they were "different" -- be it race or gender. How are we all supposed to be equal -- presumably the ultimate end goal -- when so many keep pointing out the differences?