[media-credit name=”Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images for NASCAR” align=”alignright” width=”286″][/media-credit]There was something in the air on Sunday that you just kind of knew that NASCAR had once again been beaten by its arch nemesis Mother Nature. The monsoons like rains were unrelenting and the track was being to resemble the Everglades more than NASCAR’s crown jewel Daytona International Speedway. But what was to come no one could have possibly predicted.
History was made during this years Daytona 500. It was a foregone conclusion that history was going to be made regardless of who won when NASCAR vice president Mike Helton announced that the Daytona 500 would be run during prime time on Monday evening. Fox broadcasting was in. All of its affiliates and stations would broadcast the rain delayed season opener during its most expensive broadcast time frame. Starting at 7PM EST and running to its conclusion. It would be the wee hours of Tuesday morning before the sport would crown its Daytona champion for 2012. But it was all that happened in between the start and finish that would make it memorable.
The anticipation on the starting grid was thick you could almost cut it with a knife. 43 of the best stock car drivers in the world had waited 36 hours to get the Daytona 500 underway. They were ready to race. They were under the lights. They were in prime time. The pressure of the 500 is normally pretty high but this made it more so.
The classic under the lights phenomenon took place early on. The cool night temperatures and the lights take us back to our roots of Saturday night racing and always bring a more aggressive driver to the track. That aggression showed it’s head on the second lap of the race in the form of a multi-car pile up that took out 5 time Jimmie Johnson and involved the sports new star Danica Patrick.
Patrick who was a victim of other people’s crashes in every race that she ran at Daytona sat patiently and dejectedly in her mangled car while crew chief Greg Zipadelli and team made the extensive repairs to get her back on the track. Many of her detractors pointed fingers and said see she can’t drive. However, the truth was light years from that. The truth was that she showed the guts and tenacity of her muse the honey badger. She refused to quit. Even when she had made up as many spots as possible and was given the option of parking the severely injured Go Daddy Chevrolet she persevered. At the end of the 6 hour race she exited her car pale and obviously exhausted with a smile and the patience to answer the mass of media’s questions. Her skill set is lacking yes. But so is the skill set of every other rookie who has ever driven a cup car at Daytona including names like Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Rusty Wallace, Ken Schrader and yes even Richard Petty. She showed however, that she has the tenacity to acquire the skill set with help from her team and teammates.
The racing calmed down for many laps with the Roush boys showing the way for most of the race. There were some blown engines due to anomalies that couldn’t be explained completely but were attributed to the rain delay and the moisture’s effect on the gauges, including 4 time champion Jeff Gordon whose Hendrick Motorsports AARP Chevy expired very early on.
The next real excitement would come for the $200,000 half way bonus. The pack surged, positions were traded wholesale and from the middle of the pack a long shot emerged and with help from Greg Biffle’s Ford, Martin Truex Jr would claim the big half way pay day.
But the biggest and strangest event of the night was triggered when the yellow flew with 40 laps to go. Juan Pablo Montoya knew he had a problem. The car was vibrating violently in every gear. But he had no warning when the car suddenly snapped to the right and into a truck drawn jet blower and then slide to the bottom of the track. The driver of the jet blower and Juan Pablo Montoya were not injured. But the grand jewel of NASCAR was not so lucky. 200 gallons of jet fuel and diesel ignited out of the third turn setting the track all the way to the grass and including the safer barrier on fire. The spectacular fire could be seen for miles in the night sky.
The red flag found drivers racing for the porta johns and Brad Keselowski tweeting the activity to world on his phone. The 2 hour delay pushed the Daytona 500 into the wee hours of the morning Tuesday.
The damage to the track was minimal and patched and the cars again fired to take the green. The race would see more cautions including the final which would collect current champion Tony Stewart. Stewart would restart the race on a Green White Checker deep in the pack with a car whose tow was out 2 to 3 inches according to radio communications with crew chief Steve Addington. Stewart would finish a disappointing 16th on the lead lap and moving through towards the front.
The race win would go to Matt Kenseth in the Best Buy Ford. Kenseth would hold off the tandem of Greg Biffle and Dale Earnhardt Jr for the win. Earnhardt Jr would make a last turn pass and run to take second.
One would think that all the strangeness that could possibly effect a race would be done, especially since the checkered flag had flown and the winner had been crowned. But not so in this case, within an hour of the finish of the race the track was enveloped in a thick dense fog that shut down the airport and prevented drivers and teams from leaving the track until Tuesday morning.
Today, many are talking about the jet dryer crash and TV ratings are the highest for any race in Fox Broadcast history. They are talking about Brad Keselowski’s tweeting during the red flag. NASCAR says that he broke no rules and there will be no fines. They are talking about the fact that Greg Biffle could not advance on Matt Kenseth in the final two laps of the races even with a pusher. Some say he was protecting Kenseth’s win. Some say he found the new catch in the aero package two cars are no longer faster than one or the pack. Some are talking about Danica’s Daytona Fizzle. Frankly, those folks are just wrong. Danica’s misfortunes were not of her own making and she showed a great deal of skill and tenacity. The one thing that no one is talking about this year is a boring race, because this may very well have been the most memorable Daytona 500 in history.
Congratulations to Matt Kenseth on his Daytona 500 victory. It was well deserved.
Kudos to Dale Earnhardt Jr and his 88 team on an incredible run it is an incredible start to what promises to be an even better year.
Kudos to Tony Stewart and his Office Depot team for pushing the envelope to the max with a car that would have been near impossible to drive for some.
Kudos to Denny Hamlin for showing the strongest and most dedicated performance all night only to come up a little bit short at the very end.
Congratulations to James Beuscher on his NNS win. And to John King on his NCWTS win.
That said, to all the competitors in all the series thanks for giving us everything you have to give, you are our heroes. Most importantly, thanks to all the families who shared their loved ones with us so we could cheer our favorite driver and favorite teams. You are the true heroes of the sport and we are forever in your debt.