Daytona 500: Folks, You Ain’t Never Seen Anything Like This

Matt Kenseth and his Roush Fenway team worked together and overcame obstacles and that allowed Kenseth to win his second Daytona 500 in two years. He led a strong overall Roush performance.

After the Daytona 500 was rained out for the first time in its history and then its original reset start at noon on Feb. 27 was also changed due to inclement weather, NASCAR made a bold decision:

The race would start at 7 p.m., which, of course, made the Daytona 500 a night race.

Fans love night races.

So does television, in this case, the Fox network. It is almost always assured of a much bigger audience for any program that is aired at evening rather than during the day – especially on a Monday.

So Fox touted that the Daytona 500 would be a “wildly exciting event on prime time television.”

Oh, the race was exciting all right. Viewers got an eyeful. Heck, they got a double eyeful.

That’s because they got to see what will go down in racing history as the most unusual, strangest and most bizarre – pick your word – Daytona 500 ever run.


**** Anyone who saw the 500 knows exactly what made the race, uh, shall we say, weird.

While the race was under caution on lap 160 of 200, Earnhardt-Ganassi driver Juan Pablo Montoya left the pits at high speed.

Suddenly something broke on the rear of his car and Montoya crash into a jet dryer truck – on the track to perform routine cleanup –, which was loaded with jet kerosene fuel.

The truck erupted in a ball flame that burned consistently despite fire fighters’ best, untiring efforts.

Finally the blaze was contained. Montoya was not hurt and the truck driver, Duane Barnes – who was carried away from the blazing vehicle by an intrepid fellow safety worker – was taken to the infield Halifax Medical center, where he was treated and released.

A car crashing into a jet dry truck, a blazing inferno and the immediate concerns that the track had been too damaged to continue the race, all combined to make the entire episode a first at Daytona – or just about anywhere else, for that matter.

No one, again, no one, had ever seen anything like it. Even Leonard Wood of Wood Brothers Racing, who has been around almost as long as NASCAR, said he couldn’t recall anything remotely similar.

It took speedy-dry, Tide detergent, gallons of water and lots of manpower to get the track ready to race again.

After a fiery incident caused by Juan Pablo Montoya's crash into a jet dry truck, cars were parked on the track during an extensive red-flag period.

The entire process lasted over two hours and four minutes and assured the Daytona 500 would not end until the morning of Feb. 28.

“I told them when I left the pits something wasn’t right and I felt a weird vibration when we were with the pack,” said Montoya. “Every time I got on the gas, it vibrated.

“So, I came back in and they checked all the rear-end and they said it was OK. I was going down the back straightaway, and I was going in fourth gear, but, we weren’t even going that fast.

“Every time I got on the gas I could feel the rear really squeezing. I got on the brakes to travel up and, while I was, I planned to tell the spotter to have a look on how the rear was moving. Then the car just turned right.”

Montoya added he heard the explosion and felt the flames, which burned his helmet. He also suffered a sore foot but otherwise walked away unscathed.

“I’ve hit a lot of things,” he said, “but never a jet dry truck.”

The incident was an unwanted spectacle that, in all probability, will have NASCAR looking for ways to avoid a repeat in the future.


**** NASCAR put out the red flag after the fiery incident and, at the time, Dave Blaney, driving for Tommy Baldwin Racing, was the leader.

Don’t think for a moment folks didn’t notice that.

Everyone was keenly aware of the supreme irony that would exist if Blaney won the race.

When Stewart Haas Racing affiliated with Baldwin, it accumulated TBR’s standing within the top 35 in car owner points, which assured a Stewart driver would qualify for the first five races of the year.

That privilege was bestowed upon Danica Patrick, on board at Stewart Haas for 10 developmental Sprint Cup races, including the Daytona 500.

While she got the free ride into the event, Blaney had to work to get his start. Which, not unexpectedly, he did. He was 24th when the green flag fell.

And then, with 40 laps to go, he was the leader.

Was this ever tantalizing. If Blaney could win it would be so ironic that he did so over Patrick. Many fans viewed it this way: The blue collar, veteran driver triumphs over one who received the fruits of his labor.

Realistically, however, that was never going to happen. Blaney was in the lead only because he had yet to make a final pit stop – which he absolutely had to do.

When the race restarted Blaney did what he had to do – he pitted under the caution. Naturally, he lost the lead. But he expected that.

“I can still hang in the pack just fine,” said Blaney, whose car sustained some right-front damage earlier in the race. “When it comes right down to it, it’s going to hurt me, but it’s not killing us. We are still in the race with it. Yeah, we’ll be fine.”

Indeed he was. Blaney finished 15th and after one race is right back to the good in the owner point standings.

Patrick, meanwhile, crashed out of the race to finish 38th.


**** Speaking of Patrick, her first Daytona weekend was, by her own description, “up and down.”

She crashed in a Gatorade Duel, won the pole and then wrecked again in the Nationwide Series event and lasted just two laps in the 500 before being swept up in a multi-car accident.

This multi-car crash on just the second lap of the race ruined the hopes of five-time champion Jimmie Johnson and Danica Patrick, making her Daytona 500 debut.

Lest anyone be quick to criticize Patrick’s efforts, it should be said none of the accidents were her fault. She did nothing wrong.

But her 38th-place finish meant that it will be up to David Reutimann, who will drive her No. 10 car in 26 races this year, to return it to the top 35 in the next four races. He’s capable.

The accident that involved Patrick was caused by Elliott Sadler’s tap on Jimmie Johnson’s rear. The contact was made on the left-hand side, an explicit no-no in plate racing.

Johnson, who has won five-straight championships, finished 42nd. Other notables involved in the accident included last year’s Cinderella race winner Trevor Bayne, David Ragan, a winner at Daytona last July, Kurt Busch and Patrick.

Things may get worse for Johnson as his Hendrick Motorsports team faces NASCAR penalties for unapproved parts found on its Chevrolet last week.


**** Few were overly surprised when Matt Kenseth won the 500 for the second time in four years and the Roush Fenway Racing driver became the first repeat winner in 10 seasons.

Throughout Speedweeks it became obvious that the Fords – particularly those of Roush – were exceptionally strong at Daytona.

When Roush driver Carl Edwards won the 500 pole, and teammate Greg Biffle qualified second, it accentuated Ford’s power.

As expected, Kenseth and Biffle worked masterfully together at the head of the pack throughout the race and were right there on the closing laps.

With Kenseth leading, Biffle made some blocking maneuvers to keep Dale Earnhardt Jr. out of the way.

On the last lap, however, Earnhardt Jr. moved to the outside to avoid Biffle. The strategy netted him second place as Kenseth pulled away for the victory.

Biffle was third and Edwards ninth, which gave Roush three cars among the top 10.

“I think Greg had one of the strongest cars all week and ours was right there as well,” said Kenseth, who earned $1,589387. “Our car for some reason was a lot faster out front than it was in traffic.

“Once we were in the front it was hard for anyone to get locked on to us. We had enough speed and once we took the white flag I felt sort of OK about it. By the time I got to turn three, I saw they couldn’t get enough speed mustered up to try to make it move.”

Kenseth, however, did not enjoy a problem-free race, which became abundantly clear when, early in the event, hot water spewed from his car.

“We had a lot of problems and almost ended up a lap down,” Kenseth said. “I had my radio break and my tach break and we pushed all the water out and had to come in and put water in it.

“But the guys did a great job. They never panicked and I think they enjoyed their day more because they couldn’t hear me on the radio with my radio problems.

“When I woke up this morning I didn’t feel we could win, so this feels really good.”


**** Tidbits: Kenseth is, of course, first in points and Earnhardt Jr. is second – a good start for him and his long-suffering fans.

Richard Childress Racing put three drivers among the top 10 – Jeff Burton (5th), Paul Menard (6th) and Kevin Harvick (7th).

Joe Gibbs Racing added two among the top 10, Denny Hamlin (4th) and Joey Logano (9th).

Michael McDowell, the journeyman driver who turned emotional when he made the 500 field against the odds, finished 30th.

More important, he earned $292,175, a fitting reward for his efforts.

During the red-flag period Brad Keselowski captured everyone’s attention when began Twittering repeatedly and took various photos.

The social media loved all of it and Keselowski gained thousands of followers is a remarkably short period of time.

It was a funny episode. The question now, however, is will NASCAR join the NBA and put an end to the activity, especially during events?






Daytona 500 Delay Not Good, But Once It Might Have Been Far Worse

Daytona avoided bad weather for so many years that some joked its founder, Bill France Sr., had a direct line to a "higher power," through which he made requests for good weather on the day of the Daytona 500.

As you now know, what has transpired at Daytona International Speedway has never before taken place.

The track held its inaugural Daytona 500 in 1959, 53 years ago. As incredible as it may sound, for all that time the race was never rained out until, of course, this year.

Oh, the rains came. More than one 500 was cut short because of bad weather. But none was called off completely and rescheduled for another day.

Until, course, this year.

The race’s ability – fortune, really – to avoid bad weather year after year was ultimately a matter of luck. No one can control the elements. Mother Nature pretty much does what she wants and we just have to go along with it.

For reasons of her own she decided to leave Daytona pretty much alone season after season.

Until, of course, this year.

There we a lot of media wags who felt it was a mere mortal who assured reasonably good weather for Daytona for years and not some type of mythical spirit.

It was believed, cynically of course, that “Big Bill” France, the man who founded NASCAR and built the mammoth 2.5-mile Daytona track, had a direct line to, shall we say, “The Man Upstairs.”

That had to be what it was. Otherwise, how could France’s showplace track avoid the weather scourges that sometimes plagued every other speedway?

There were times when skies were black and distant thunder rumbled as us media types headed to the speedway during the early morning hours.

It was so ominous that we just knew the skies would open up and there would be such a tumultuous rainfall there was no way the 500 was going to start – much less finish.

But as the cars lined up on the grid awaiting the command to start engines, darkness would dissipate and not a single drop of rain fell for 500 miles.

Or if it did, it stopped and the racing surface was dried soon enough for the entire distance to be completed.

Or it began to rain only after the event had passed its halfway point and was thus official, no matter what happened afterward.

Bottom line – Daytona avoided a complete postponement year after year after year.

We just knew why. France had gotten on his direct line to Heaven and made a request that was honored. A force stronger than Mother Nature told her to lay off. Ol’ France had real power on his side.

Seems that power had been passed on to his son Bill Jr. and other high-ranking NASCAR and International Speedway Corp. executives.

Until, of course, this year.

I’ll grant you that Daytona, in fact all NASCAR competitors, fans and media, have been very fortunate indeed that the 500 avoided postponement for so many years.

There was a time that if the race had been called off a particularly awkward and expensive scenario would be created.

For many, many years, NASCAR did not have a “next clear day” rule for postponements. A race that could not begin, or officially end, was not rescheduled for the next day.

For example, a Sunday race was not automatically slotted to run the following Monday.

Instead, the race was rescheduled for the next “open” weekend. And if that did not come seven days later, it would have to be the following two, three or four weeks afterward

The weekend had to be an open one. A track’s race date was not moved aside to make way for one lost by another.

The main reason it was this way was to satisfy the concerns of most race promoters.

At that time few of them felt a race on Monday would succeed and, as a result, they would lose money.

They argued that fans had to work and would not come back a day later – they simply couldn’t. At the least that meant a loss of concession income.

The promoters said they had a better chance at a profit if they could take some time to market the race again and rely on a weekend’s worth of new activity to lure back the fans and their money.

So NASCAR enacted the “next open weekend” policy.

However, it could play havoc the schedule, as tracks whose race dates were in late winter or early spring were highly susceptible to bad weather.

After Daytona, races at Rockingham and Richmond followed in quick succession, although sometimes not in that order.

Tropical breezes don’t blow in Rockingham or Richmond in late February or early March.

North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham was a handsome facility. But it was often plagued by rain, which forced several postponements and some awkward rescheduling. Hope this helps.

Many times their race weekends were plagued with rain – or even snow. It happened so often at Rockingham, located in the Sandhills area of Southern North Carolina, that it became known as “Rainingham.”

When it happened, a Rockingham race was obviously reset for the next open weekend. Trouble was, it was very seldom seven days later.

Often it was two or three weeks before one of the track’s postponed races could take place.

And there was always this thought: What if Daytona, Rockingham and Richmond were postponed it successive weeks? It was a possibility after all and, as a result, the open-weekend policy would create an unimaginable mess.

Uh, run a rescheduled Daytona 500 in May or June?

Fortunately that never happened.

Eventually common sense took over.

First, teams decried the open weekend policy, saying it cost them a heullva lot more money to pack up and leave a track rather than just stay overnight.

To resupply, re-pay for weekend’s worth of rooms and meals and to absorb all the travel costs therein – again – was simply flushing the budget for what was essentially going to another race.

To compete on the full schedule was expensive enough without having to pay for what amounted to one, not to mention maybe two or three, more events.

Fans also expressed the opinion that it cost them less to stay one extra day, if they could, than to repack, rebook and refuel for another weekend.

NASCAR agreed. It was logical and practical.

This isn’t to say the next clear day rule is the perfect answer. Racing on a Monday most decidedly has many inconveniences.

And, as we know, if that Monday proves unacceptable, the race moves to a Tuesday. If that does not work out things get pretty darn dicey.

Well, we now know that won’t be a possibility at this point of the season because the 500 was run, thankfully, last night.

Maybe, just maybe, it was a bit late before Mother Nature got the message to lay off.

But, finally, she did.

Fans Angry at NASCAR for Daytona Rain Delay?

Tremendous stress is placed on fans and teams alike when NASCAR has to postpone a race. Postponing the Daytona 500 hasn’t happened in it’s history until yesterday.

Kurt Busch Has Another Day At Daytona To Ponder His New Adventure

Kurt Busch now drives for Phoenix Racing, an organization much smaller than those that have employed him in the past. Busch, however, thinks the team has potential and has become accustomed to what he calls a "simpler" type of racing.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Heavy downpours postponed the Daytona 500, for the first time in 54 years, until noon today, giving drivers and teams an opportunity to reflect on the 2012 season – should they care to do so.

While hanging out during Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway leading up to the first of this year’s 36 races, Kurt Busch did just that.

Specifically, he pondered his new role as the driver of the No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolets owned by James Finch.

Busch came to Daytona with a new outlook after his mutual parting last November with Penske Racing, the powerhouse organization with which he won 12 of his 24 career victories.

Busch is excited about driving for the smaller, but productive Finch organization, as well as a new Nationwide Series opportunity as teammate to younger brother Kyle.

Everywhere the Las Vegas native looks, he sees work going on on the handful of red, white and black cars scattered about in the team’s small Spartanburg, S.C., shop.

“Everyone is working three times as hard and it’s great to see the youthful exuberance and excitement,” Busch said. “This is different. It’s a small group and we are hoping that we are the little team that can.”

The team is so small that when Busch comes to visit and talk with crew chief Nick Harrison or Finch, he wears jeans and T-shirts just in case someone on the team hands him a wrench or an air sander.

“Yeah, I jump right in there with the guys,” Busch said. “We have been mounting seats which has been the primary focus. I’ve even helped string the car or bump steer it.

“I was there when they put it on the pull-down rig, just to see how they do their sequence of set-ups. It is so refreshing to see that the steps they are taking are the same steps all the big teams are doing.

“You can say our pull down-rig doesn’t cost as much as the ones the big time teams are using, but it is there; it’s efficient and it’s easy to use.”

Busch was involved in some testing before the season began in part to become familiar with those on the team and to hear Harrison’s ideas about the cars.

“We were here in Daytona of course, then we went over to Nashville Superspeedway for a two-day test. We burned up a good 10 sets of tires,“ Busch said. “Finch is like, ‘Come on. Tires? Really?’

“I learned Finch does not like the Goodyear tire bills. It is going to be fun all year long asking him for an extra set of tires.

“I was getting off on too much of a sarcastic tone there.

“Harrison is a guy from Tennessee from the days of Sterling Marlin. It’s not really grassroots. It’s just old school and everybody knows everybody, they work really hard and at the end of the day they crack a beer and talk about what has to happen the next day.”

Busch mutually agreed to part ways with Penske Racing and team owner Roger Penske (left) at the end of last season. With Penske, Busch earned 12 of his career 24 Sprint Cup victories.

Even though it’s early in the season, Busch said he plans to be with Finch and brother Kyle in 2012 and see where things stand in 2013 and beyond.

He and Finch do not have a contract and will rely on a pleasant relationship and success to chart the future.

“There is that opportunity,” Busch said. “I mean the future doesn’t have a definition for me other than 2012 is going to be a lot about fun.

“I’ve got Finch’s Phoenix Racing. I’ve also got Kyle’s KBM (Kyle Busch Motorsports) program to work with and the Monster Energy group of guys and I’ll run probably half the Nationwide schedule over there.”

Busch feels very good he’ll have something to celebrate this season.
“I said to the guys I want to get kicked out of the garage,” Busch said. “They said, ‘What the heck does that mean?’ I said, ‘We’re going to win a race this year and I want to be sitting at the back of the hauler on top of our coolers, drinking beer when NASCAR tells us we have to go.’

“I hope we get kicked out of the garage that way.’”

Leading up to the 500, Busch lost some good race cars to crashes in practice and the Budweiser Shootout and had to make repairs to a third car when he struck a seagull in final practice.

But his car for the 500 seems good and is equipped with a strong Hendrick Motorsports engine.

“There is the quantity of cars that are on the floor. The quality of cars, the Hendrick chassis’ that we have that we want to work with, hose are limited,” Busch said. “Over time we will get some more.

“I hope we win the Daytona 500 because that means we will have more of a budget to buy more cars. It is that old school, you have to do well and protect the car, so you have it the next week.”

The Daytona 500 has had its share of surprise winners throughout its five-decade history, the latest  being rookie Trevor Bayne in 2011.

So what would it mean to Busch to win the Daytona 500 in Finch’s lesser-funded Chevrolet?

“I’ve finished second three times,” Busch said. “I’ve pushed a teammate to win, Ryan Newman, back in 2008. I remember back in 2005, when I had a move to make on Jeff Gordon on the outside going into turn three, I looked in the mirror and saw everybody cutting to the inside to go by me in the draft. I’m like, ‘Man, I just got to block to the inside and take this second-place finish.’

“It kind of eats at me a little bit that I should have taken that risk to go to the high side and see what could have happened off the fourth turn.

“It’s really the race that can define a driver’s career,” Busch added. “It is a big priority, the prestigious value of winning at Daytona and what it does for a driver’s career long term, what it can do for the immediate impact. This race is our spectacle. It is the most important stock car race of the year.”

No matter for whom he races, you have to admit Busch as a shot a victory. He is one of the best at drafting on Daytona’s high banks.

No doubt a win in the 500 would certainly be an improbable, even incredible, comeback story.


Danica, Kyle Busch: Observations On Two Key Daytona 500 Drivers

Danica Patrick has polarized fans, many of whom are her supporters but others who think she has far more marketing ability than driving talent. Patrick knows all this and deals with it.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Some observations on two drivers, each – or both – of whom could play a pivotal role in today’s Daytona 500.

To some Danica Patrick is a breath of fresh air; a catalyst to peak the nation’s interest in NASCAR and curiosity over a female competing in a predominantly male sport.

The proof, they say, is to simply look at the wealth of attention she brought to Indy Car competition before she switched to stock cars.

Others claim Patrick is nothing more than a bright, good-looking marketing magnet with more interest in promoting herself than a sport.

They add that the media has taken it upon themselves to shove Patrick down their throats – reporting on her every word and action to the point of distraction.

Some say Patrick is more smoke than substance and question her driving ability. They express the belief that if she didn’t have the wherewithal to lure sponsorship and media attention, she wouldn’t enjoy relationships with top teams in Sprint Cup and Nationwide – or the equipment they provide.

As for the fact she won the pole for Saturday’s Drive4COPD 300, well, NASCAR had the fix on.

Which is nothing but conspiracy theorists’ blather.

Patrick used her skill and JR Motorsports preparation and equipment to become the first woman to win a pole at Daytona International Speedway. Nothing more and nothing less.

It’s a mystery why some choose not to believe that. Why is it so hard to accept a unique, even historical, feel-good story when we all have done it freely, and repeatedly, in the past?

It’s because Patrick is involved. And with that comes the belief that her skills aren’t good enough to allow her such an achievement without “assistance.”

If nothing else, I hope I make this point strongly enough: Patrick does have skills. She has, and has had, the ability to drive a race car. Her peers know this.

While I’m sure that her marketing skills and sponsor dollars were part of her lure to JR Motorsports, let’s not forget the team is in the business of winning Nationwide races, among other things.

If the team thought Patrick didn’t have the ability to do just that, it wouldn’t have hired her.

Yes, Patrick is a rookie in a Sprint Cup developmental role with Stewart Haas Racing. She’s scheduled to compete in just 10 races this year.

Sure, she brought the needed dollars that helped her cause. But if Tony Stewart, who is nobody’s fool, did not believe Patrick had potential and could achieve the goals she and the team have established, he wouldn’t bother.

Yes, Patrick wrecked in a Gatorade Duel and in the Nationwide race. Neither was her fault and should be considered part of her learning curve.

I haven’t said a thing here Patrick hasn’t already heard, likely many times.

She knows exactly what is going on and the perceptions people have of her.

Unfazed, she accepts it all.

“I think that people can choose to look at what I have done and like it. Or they can look at it and choose to judge it and think it is not enough,” Patrick said. “I don’t think you are ever going to change the people that want to cheer for you and the people that don’t want to cheer for you.

“It’s funny. I did see somebody say something right after my win (in Motegi, Japan). I saw something that said ‘Oh let’s see what she does against the people in the United States.’

“I thought how funny that a casual fan didn’t know that was the Indy Car Series racing in Japan.  I just thought that was a random funny thing.

“I really think that the people that write have the ability, and there are fortunately enough to be there every weekend, to see what I do.  They can draw their own opinions.”

While Patrick knows precisely where she stands in racing, the attention she draws and all that comes with it – good and bad – it is likely she will not change.

“No, I don’t I enjoy being different,” she said. “I enjoy being unique. I enjoy it all. I really do.

“I chose to look at the positives that come with it instead of the negatives, but it is a balance. The ups are really good and the downs are sure disappointing.

“Partly because I’m used to the down part is why I feel, what’s not to like? I’m followed well and I have lots of great fans and I’m always so grateful when people write nice things about me.

“I feel good. The people that don’t like me, well, I also respect that perspective as well.”

And now for another, quick observation:

Kyle Busch is recognized for his driving skill and his bad behavior. There's no indication Busch is going to change who he is, but it's certain he knows how he's perceived.

Kyle Busch knows exactly what is going on. He gets it.

The younger Busch brother is a driver who has repeatedly displayed his considerable skill.

He has won multiple times on NASCAR’s top three national circuits, including this year’s Budweiser Shootout. Perhaps the most graphic example of his talent came in that race.

Busch kept his car under control twice when he could have easily spun and wrecked. Then he made a masterful move to pass Stewart and win the race by the closest margin in its history.

I think most fans have accepted Busch’s driving talent, even if grudgingly.

But instead of being widely admired, Busch is vilified. He is NASCAR’s “bad boy,” its spoiled, sometime immature, brat.

In a bout of anger he’s been known to take matters in his own hands and not worry about the consequences.

Which he did last year when he deliberately wrecked Ron Hornaday in a truck race at Texas. NASCAR suspended Busch for the track’s Cup event. That cost him any chance at a championship.

I have said before Busch would serve himself well if he became a changed man. I don’t know if he has any intention of doing so.

But I do know he’s very aware of how he is perceived – both in talent and personality – and at least accepts and prepares for it.

“After the Shootout, there was just a lot of encouragement,” Busch said. “Things like, that it’s one of the best they’ve ever seen, it’s something that they’ve never seen – some would say that there’s few that can do it, but they know that I may be the only one that’s ever done it.  Just stuff like that.

“After the race, my phone was blowing up with over 100 text messages and 25 emails.  I had

a long next day getting back to everybody and answering everybody.

As for the other side, Busch might find it a little more difficult to swallow, but he seems ready for it.

“At races, I hear the fans a little bit,” he said. “It’s a lot easier to hear them when you don’t have your helmet on.

“I keep my helmet on when I get out of the car in case of unidentified flying objects.  I’ve learned from my past experiences.

“It’s always fun that you get to be able to get out of the car and hear the rants of the crowd, whether they be cheers or boos or applause or what have you – and get to do your victory bow.

“That’s the greatest satisfaction of winning a race.”

Yep, Kyle Busch knows exactly what’s going on.






Recalling The Late Davey Allison, Who Would Turn 51 Today

Vastly popular Davey Allison was well on his way to NASCAR greatness. The son of superstar Bobby Allison won races and many honors before his untimely death, which stunned his many fans.

Amid the pageantry, celebration and spectacle that is the Daytona 500, an anniversary of the birth of one of NASCAR’s fallen heroes is upon us.

Davey Allison would have turned 51 today, Saturday, Feb. 25th.

For those of you who don’t remember this son of racing legend Bobby Allison, he was the real deal in NASCAR.

Although he never won a championship, Davey Allison was in the middle of a very promising and successful career in NASCAR’s top level of competition when he was killed in a helicopter crash in Talladega.

Along with his famous racing father Bobby, uncle Donnie Allison, Neil Bonnett and Red Farmer, Davey Allison was a famed member of the “Alabama Gang.”

Allison began his Cup career in 1987 and won Rookie of the Year honors. He was the only first-year driver ever to win two Winston Cup races.

At the start of the 1988 season the younger Allison finished second to his father’s victory at the “Great American Race.” This was the first father-son, one-two finish in the Daytona 500.

Life changed irreversibly in June of 1988 when Bobby was involved in a career-ending accident that propelled Davey, the oldest of four children, into the role of decision-making man of the family.

In October 1988 Robert Yates bought the #28 team from Harry Ranier and made Davey his driver.

Despite the stress of competition and family responsibility, Davey went on to win his third and fourth Winston Cup races and ended up eighth in points in his landing eighth in points in his second season.

His four-year marriage quietly ended by the end of the 1988 season.

The next year was fabulous personally and professionally.  Davey earned his fifth and sixth wins in Cup, including a Talladega victory that was his second at the track, and finished 11th in points. He also claimed his second wife, Liz, and welcomed his first child, Krista Marie.

Davey racked up a couple more wins in 1990 bringing his total to eight. He finished 13th in points.

When Larry McReynolds took over as crew chief in 1991, the team really gelled. That season Davey had five wins, 12 top-five and 16 top-10 finishes and three pole positions.

Finishing third for the year, Davey told champion Dale Earnhardt at the Winston Cup Awards Banquet at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City that the next year, “I’ll be sitting at the head table!”

Davey and Liz welcomed their second child, Robert Grey, in that same year.

It was with team owner Robert Yates (right) that young Allison enjoyed his greatest successes and among them were many victories, including the Daytona 500 and The Winston.

Adding his name to the NASCAR history books once again, Davey won the 1992 Daytona 500. This feat was the second time a father and son had each won at the historic track.

Injuries and tragedies plagued Davey in 1992. He lost his paternal grandfather and, later in the year, his younger brother Clifford, who was involved in a horrific accident in Brooklyn during a Busch Series practice session at Michigan International Speedway.

Despite these trying events, Davey’s pressed on and came out of the late-season Phoenix race with a win and the points lead. He was primed to win the championship. If he finished fifth in the year’s last race, at Atlanta, the title was his.

But fate intervened.

Ernie Irvan lost control of his car and spun in front of Davey with less than 100 laps to go. It ended Davey’s chances at winning the championship.

Alan Kulwicki would earn the title after he finished second to Bill Elliott. In the final standings, Kulwicki was No. 1 by just 10 points over Elliott, then the closest margin in NASCAR history.

Davey, very disappointed, finished third.

He experienced a frustrating start to the 1993 season when he finished a dismal 28th in the Daytona 500. He was 16th the following week at Rockingham.

A win in Richmond would turn out to be the last of young Allison’s life. The first half of the 1993 season was decent. He was fifth in points and determined to claw his way back into championship contention in the second half of the season.

But that was not to be.

Davey, a novice helicopter pilot, wanted to support his fellow “Alabama Gang” friend Neil Bonnett and his son David as David tested a car for his Busch Series debut at Talladega on July 12, 1993.

So he flew his helicopter to the track.

Allison, who had also picked up Farmer, tried to land his helicopter in the track’s infield but crashed instead.

Bonnett heroically rescued a semi-conscious Farmer from the wreckage but was unable to reach Davey. Rescue workers arrived on the scene, freed Allison, and rushed him to the hospital with serious head injuries.

Davey was pronounced dead on July 13, 1993, the day after the accident, leaving a family and a NASCAR nation reeling.

In his stunted career young Allison posted 19 wins, 66 top-five and 92 top-10 finishes. He captured 14 poles and earned $6,724,174. His wife Liz and their children survived him.

His death also left a gaping hole in NASCAR.

On the cusp of superstardom and potentially a candidate to win several titles, Davey could well have cut into Earnhardt’s record-setting seven championships.

He could have carried on the dynasty created by his father and uncle.

The “Alabama Gang” is now mostly a memory with the loss of Clifford, Davey, and Bonnett.

I was not a Davey Allison fan, but I saw his talent firsthand. When he passed it hit me hard. I mourned not only for a great race car driver, but for a wife who had lost her husband, young children who had lost and would never know their father, a mother and father who would mourn the unnatural and punishing reality of laying to rest not one but two sons, and a NASCAR family that would never see true greatness reach its full potential.

I often think about Davey Allison, Neil Bonnett, Adam Petty, and Dale Earnhardt palling around together, exchanging war stories with the likes of “Big” Bill France, Red Byron, and Lee Petty.

NASCAR has given us many great heroes and stars and many have been taken far too early.

Davey was one of those stars that shined fiercely for a short while.

Happy Birthday, Davey Allison. Thanks for the great ride for all of those years.



To find out more about Candice Smith please visit






JUNIOR SAYS: At Charlotte, Darrell Won At Last And ‘Awesome Bill’ Wasn’t So Awesome

Darrell Waltrip finally broke through a losing streak in 1985 with Junior when, at Charlotte, he not only won The Winston, but also the Coca-Cola World 600.

Darrell Waltrip won the first running of The Winston at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 25, 1985, to get his first victory of any kind that season.

Until NASCAR’s version of an “all star” race, the only driver in the Junior Johnson & Associates stable to win a race was Neil Bonnett, who won twice in the year’s first 10 races at Rockingham and North Wilkesboro.

 Junior felt – knew – it was time for Waltrip and his team to pick up the pace if they wanted to earn a third Winston Cup championship.

But even that might not get the job done. Young Bill Elliott was on a tear. He won five superspeedway races through the early portion of the season and stood in first place in the point standings.

He was also poised to win a $1 million bonus. If he could win the Coca-Cola World 600, the final and most important event of race week at Charlotte, the money was his.

For Junior the perfect scenario at Charlotte would be for Waltrip to win the race and, in so doing, take the measure of Elliott.

It wouldn’t be easy – if at all possible.


Junior’s contributions to

 will appear every other Friday throughout the season.


I don’t care how controversial the finish was – the engine in Darrell’s Chevrolet blew just after he crossed the finish line – winning the inaugural The Winston was a real tonic for Junior Johnson & Associates.

Darrell finally won a race in 1985 and while it wasn’t a points-paying event, it removed any doubts that he could get the job done and the team could prepare a winning car for him.

I reckon the only concern I had was if we could provide a car that would let Darrell win a 500-mile race instead of one that lasted just 105 miles.

It turns out we couldn’t – seems we gave him a car that won a 600-mile race.

When Waltrip swept Charlotte in his Budweiser Chevrolet, he not only provided momentum for Junior's team, he also stalled, briefly, Bill Elliott's dominance.

That race was the Coca-Cola World 600, held at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 26, the day after The Winston.

The atmosphere for that race was unlike any other I had experienced. It seems the media, fans – heck, everybody – had a very strong interest in the outcome.

That’s because Bill Elliott came to CMS with the chance to win The Winston Million, which was a program that awarded $1 million to any driver who could win three of four selected races.

Bill had already won five superspeedway races coming into Charlotte and among them were the Daytona 500 and the Talladega 500.

If he won at Charlotte he’d pocket that $1 million before the season was half over.

So all eyes were on Bill. I felt some sympathy for the guy. He told everyone he dreaded coming to Charlotte and I could see why.

He didn’t get a minute’s peace. He was hounded by the media and his fans almost everywhere he went – pits, garage area, you name it. I don’t think he had much private time at all.

Now, while I felt a little bit sorry for him, I wasn’t all that sorry. After all, the guy was No. 1 in points. He was the driver we had to beat to win another championship and, through the first 10 races of the season, we hadn’t come close to doing it. No one else had either, for that matter.

I thought that all the distractions he endured at Charlotte might just take away from his race preparation. Of course, I wasn’t sure. But I was sure that if Darrell was in the same position, well, it wouldn’t be a good thing.

Danged if Bill didn’t win the pole. So much for distractions.

I had never seen as many fans attend a Charlotte race as I did when the 600 began. I don’t think there was an empty seat in the place and the infield was full. I was told later there were 155,000 or more in attendance.

Bill sure had strong drawing power, I’ll say that.

But those that came to see Bill win $1 million were disappointed, and in very short order.

He did lead the first 13 laps but he quickly fell off the pace – which was something no one had seen so far in 1985.

Bill had to drop out of the race with brake failure. And by the time his team made repairs and got him back on the track he was 21 laps down.

He wasn’t going to earn a million bucks that day.

Meanwhile, Darrell raced to the front and was quickly in contention for the victory.

Harry Gant – it seemed that guy was always up front – led laps 328-390 of the race’s 400 laps and then pitted for fuel. That gave Darrell the lead.

Then, after Darrell’s stop for gas, his wife Stevie, who was in our pits figuring gas mileage, got real concerned. She said she didn’t think Darrell had enough fuel to finish the race. He was going to be three or four laps short.

Here we go again, I thought. Once more we may lose a race we should win.

I decided to let Darrell remain on the track. If he was gonna run out of gas, durn it, it would be while going for the win.

I thought he could make it. Well, let’s say I hoped he could make it.

He did, barely. He beat Harry and then ran out of gas on the cool-down lap. That’s cutting it close.

The victory was a real relief for Darrell and me. It was our first points-paying victory of the season. It ended an early-season slump and gave us some real momentum for the remainder of the year.

By sweeping the weekend at Charlotte, we earned nearly $500,000. It ain’t a million bucks, but it’s big-time money. I didn’t mind that a bit.

Like I said, the 600 victory was a big boost for us.

But then, while he might not have been able to do much at Charlotte, I had the strong feeling we hadn’t seen the last of Bill Elliott.


In 1990 Derrike Cope Achieved The Biggest Upset In Daytona 500 History

Derrike Cope earned what has been described as the greatest upset in Daytona 500 history when he beat Dale Earnhardt in 1990. Cope still competes today, mostly on the Nationwide Series.

“Even after all the passing years, I can close my eyes and still feel the sun shining warmly on my face in Victory Lane,” Derrike Cope often recalls.

And even after the passage of 22 years, I still hardly can believe the sight that unfolded on Feb. 18, 1990, at Daytona International Speedway for millions of eyes to see.

With only a mile to go in the Daytona 500, leader Dale Earnhardt, who had dominated NASCAR’s most important race, suddenly, stunningly slowed.

Cope, running a close second on the 200th lap at the storied 2.5-mile Florida track, swept by Earnhardt’s faltering car and took first place. The journeyman driver then held off former Sprint Cup champions Terry Labonte and Bill Elliott by mere feet in a dash to the checkered flag.

A crowd estimated at 150,000 and a national television audience watched in shock.

Ricky Rudd followed in fourth place and then, limping to the line in fifth, came Earnhardt.

Among some, Cope widely remains rated the biggest surprise winner of a major event in all of motorsports history.

Cope, 31 at the time, indirectly conceded to that during the Victory Lane proceedings.

“I absolutely can’t believe it,” he said in the celebratory moments immediately after his first Cup triumph. “Not in my wildest dreams … this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing.

“Dale had dominated all race long and there was no way I was going to pass him. As the last lap began I was trying just to beat Terry and Bill for second place.

“Then, Dale had a tire suddenly go down and he slowed up. A bunch of stuff was coming from under his car. The tire was shredding. He did a heck of a job holding onto the car.”

While roaring down the backstretch, Earnhardt had run over a sharp piece of bell housing that had fallen off a lapped car.

“I hit some debris right in front of the chicken-bone grandstands,” said Earnhardt, referring to the cheaper-priced seats. “I heard a piece of it hit the bottom of the car and then hit the right-rear, and the tire popped.

“You can’t see all that stuff on the track in time to miss it. I was just sitting there in complete control. None of them could have got by me.”

Earnhardt, driving a Chevrolet Lumina fielded by Richard Childress Racing, had led 155 laps, 146 more than anyone else. He once rolled to a whopping advantage of 30 seconds, leading the Motor Racing Network anchor Eli Gold to say, “Dale is in another area code.”

Indeed, Earnhardt looked to be home free to win the Daytona 500 for the first time in a career that by then had produced 39 victories and three Cup championships.

However, on the 193rd lap, a rival’s spin forced a yellow flag. All the frontrunners pitted except Cope and Bobby Hillin. Earnhardt stopped and took on four tires.

When the restart came on Lap 196, the running order was Cope, Hillin, Earnhardt, Labonte and Elliott.

Earnhardt immediately powered back into the lead. Cope, also driving a Chevrolet, was able to hang onto Earnhardt’s bumper in the draft, staying in position should there be a miracle for him or a disaster for Dale.

There were both: That metal shard that punctured the tire on Earnhardt’s famous black No. 3 Chevrolet.

“Dale moved up about a half lane,” continued Cope. “I figured that him slowing so suddenly was going to cause a big chain-reaction pile-up in the third turn. I was waiting for someone to hit me.

“When that didn’t happen, I just turned that baby of mine left and said, ‘Please stick!’ ”

Cope’s No. 10 Chevy owned by Bob Whitcomb held traction.

In 1990 Cope drove a Chevrolet sponsored by Purolator and owned by Bob Whitcomb. It was in this car that Cope won two victories that year, at Daytona and Dover.

But his crew, led by colorful veteran crew chief Buddy Parrott, didn’t know that.  It couldn’t see the third turn from pit road.

“I’ve been in racing a long time and I thought I had developed an ear for crowd reactions,” said Parrott. “When I heard the screams and saw the fans jumping around, I hung my head.

“I said to myself, ‘Well, I guess we wrecked.’ Then I saw that red-and-white car of ours coming down the track, and before I knew it the boys on our team were pounding on me in excitement.”

Parrott laughed.

“I’ve always wanted to go out on top, so I want to announce my retirement. … Nah, I’m going to stick around to enjoy this. It’s truly quite a deal.”

While the Whitcomb team rejoiced, Earnhardt and his crew coped in the garage area with deep disappointment.

“We outrun ’em all day,” said Earnhardt, who had remained in his car for a bit to compose himself. “They didn’t beat us. They lucked into it.

“But give Derrike credit. He ran a good race. He was sitting there poised to win if something happened. I can’t believe it did happen, but you never take anything for granted in racing. I never thought I had it in the bag. At the end, I was just counting off the corners.”

He never got to count the last two, at least not as the leader.

“What a heartbreaker,” said Childress. “We’ve come close in this race the last few years and had something happen to deny us right near the finish. But this one really stings.

“I’m sure all of us are going to be sick a couple times tonight.”

Childress revealed that the culprit – the piece of metal that cut the tire – had been retrieved and given to him.

“Waddell Wilson (Rudd’s crew chief) found the thing,” said Childress. “It had bounced up off the track and stuck in the radiator of Ricky’s car.”

Cope also was to receive a piece of the broken bell housing a bit later. He had run over the debris, too, cutting a tire in three places so deeply it likely wouldn’t have held together another lap.

During the victor’s interview in the press box, Cope remained humbled.

“I know you folks are stunned,” he said. “I’m stunned.

“I’m not exactly a big name in this sport. I’ll admit before anyone that I have a long way to go. I need a lot more experience.”

The fabulous feat by such a long shot drew attention far beyond the realm of NASCAR followers.

Telegrams poured in from all over, including one from Joao Pereira Bastos, then Portugal’s ambassador to the United States. Cope has some Portuguese-Cherokee ancestry through his mother, the late Delores Marie Azevado Cope.

Said the ambassador’s wire: “I salute the Portuguese in you and claim part of your success on behalf of the country of your ancestors. Portugal was once second to none on the high seas. I am glad that it is now winning on the race track.”

No NASCAR driver ever has been honored similarly.

“It’s overwhelming,” Cope said at the time. “I’m extremely thankful.”

But for a knee injury Cope sustained, Portugal might have been praising him for playing pro baseball instead of driving a race car.

As a catcher at Whitman College in 1978 in Washington State, where he grew up, Cope was considered a top prospect.

“My dream of signing a contract was lost when I blew out my left knee in a collision at home plate,” said Cope.

Cope then turned to motorsports. He made his first Cup start at California’s old Riverside Raceway road course in 1982. He made a brief run for rookie of the year in ’87.

He secured a regular ride in ’88, but listed only 48 big-time starts prior to going to Daytona in 1990. He had a single top-five finish and 12 more in the top-10.

He’d started the Daytona 500 just twice previously. This caused whispers that his win was a “fluke.”

Cope quieted that on June 3, 1990, when he impressively made up a lost lap to triumph again, mounting a charge to take the Budweiser 500 at the demanding Dover track.

Cope appeared to be on his way. But the victory in Delaware proved to be his last in the Cup Series.

He triumphed in what is now the Nationwide Series in 1994, his last checkered flag.

Even so, Cope motors on.

He is entered in Saturday’s Nationwide event, the Drive For COPD 300, in a No. 73 Chevrolet fielded by Dave Fuge, Gary Keller and Dale Clemons.

The Earnhardt story now is legend. He continued as a championship contender and winner well into the 1990s. But victory in the Daytona 500 eluded him despite repeated strong runs.

Finally, in 1998, after 20 years of trying, Earnhardt dramatically captured the Daytona trophy that he wanted more than any other.

Just three years later Earnhardt, a winner of 76 races and a record-tying seven championships, lost his life in a crash on the last lap of the Daytona 500.

Many fans rank Earnhardt’s stirring triumph in 1998 as the great race’s most memorable, a standing it could keep forever.

And Cope’s conquest of the Daytona 500? It will always rate among the 500’s biggest upsets.

Cope, a gentlemanly, gracious driver, undoubtedly will feel the Florida sun of Feb. 18, 1990, warm on his face forever.


Carl Edwards Enters Season With No Doubts Over Performance In 2011

Carl Edwards finished the 2011 season in a tie atop the points with Tony Stewart, who won the title on a tiebreaker. Edwards says he wouldn't have changed anything about his performance last year.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – After his excruciatingly close loss to Tony Stewart for last year’s NASCAR Sprint Cup championship, it might be very easy for us to envision at least two scenarios for Carl Edwards:

He falls into a deep depression, goes into hiding and doesn’t emerge until mid-January. He looks like a hermit.

He gathers members of his team together and demands that they join him to scrutinize everything about their performance in 2011, right down to the last detail. It doesn’t matter how long it takes.

Somewhere there has to be the one mistake that cost them the title and can be avoided in 2012.

Truth is the last time I saw Edwards didn’t look like a hermit. He was the same ol’ Carl.

And he didn’t play slave driver to his team.

Edwards has accepted his narrow defeat with the knowledge that he and his team did their best.

Could they have done any one, single thing to change the outcome?

“I’ve been asked that question 4,000 times,” Edwards said. “But, hey, I understand.

“We sat down and we had a meeting. We all sat there and it was Jack (Roush, team owner), Robbie (Reiser), Bob (Osborne, crew chief) and me, and the first thing Jack asked was that same question.

“And I started to kind of think and Bob said, ‘Hey, no. If we started that Chase again right now, we’d do the same thing. We’d put our effort in the same places and I wouldn’t change a thing.’”

Edwards’ bid to win his first Cup title is now part of what is the closest contest in history – one that has already become a part of NASCAR lore.

When the Chase began after the 26th race of the season, at Richmond, Edwards was fifth in points, eight points behind leaders Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick.

Stewart was ninth in points without a victory. He was so disgusted he claimed his Stewart Haas Racing team wasn’t good enough to be in the Chase.

But Stewart quickly began the remarkable run that would carry him to the title.

Edwards and his wife Kate attended last year's NASCAR Awards Ceremony as runnerup. If Edwards has his way that will change for the better this year.

He won the first two races of the Chase, at Chicagoland and New Hampshire. He vaulted to first place in points, three spots ahead of Edwards.

Two races later, Edwards was first, Stewart seventh after two consecutive finishes well out of the top 10.

Another two events later Edwards still clung to first place. But Stewart streaked to second, just three points in arrears, after consecutive victories at Martinsville and Texas.

There were two races left in the season.

Edwards finished second at Phoenix, Stewart third. Edwards led Stewart by three points.

In the last race of the season, at Homestead, Stewart won his fifth race of the Chase while Edwards finished second. The season ended with 2,403 points for each.

In boxing it would have been a draw. There are no draws in NASCAR.

The sanctioning body used the championship tiebreaker. Because Stewart had five wins on the season and Edwards only one, the title went to Stewart. It was the third of his career.

It doesn’t matter what sport it is or who the athlete is. To lose a championship in such a way has to be deflating.

Edwards certainly felt his share of disappointment. But he remains philosophical, practical and realistic.

“As we sat there and talked about it, there were some races, Martinsville and Kansas in particular, where we were truly running somewhere in the high twenties or low thirties,” Edwards recalled. “We were running laps down and we were able to come back those days and finish ninth at Martinsville and fifth at Kansas.

“I know that doesn’t seem as exciting as a victory, but on those days I was more proud of those guys and our ability to gather up points.

“Those two days themselves were probably 40 points we didn’t really deserve, so at the end of the championship, when you look at it, we tied a guy who won half of the races, and I venture to say that if we would have been able to win half of those races, we’d have just dominated that thing.”

Edwards noted that his team’s efforts throughout the Chase, and not just at Martinsville and Kansas, were the biggest reasons he was able to contend for a title at all.

“We did the very best we could and there weren’t any races where I got out of the car and felt like, ‘Oh man, I could have gotten another spot,’” Edwards said. “I got out of the car in seven or eight of those races and I thought, ‘Thank you Lord for the spots you gave me,’ and we were able to capitalize on them.”

In 2012, Edwards is off to a good start. He won the pole for the Daytona 500, leading a Roush Fenway sweep as teammate Greg Biffle earned the other spot on the front row.

Stewart qualified No. 10, but he, too, has made an auspicious start. He would have won the Budweiser Shootout if not for some brilliant driving by a victorious Busch, who nipped Stewart in the closest finish in the history of the Shootout.

Edwards and Stewart will not be overlooked when it comes to Daytona 500 favorites.

Of course, it is ridiculously early to suggest Edwards and Stewart will again fight it out for the championship. But then, they’ve already made some headlines.

On the other hand, Edwards and team have made no changes. He believes none are necessary.

“In the end, it ended up a tie and that’s it,” he said. “I don’t know how else to look at it.

“Another simple way to put it is we didn’t lose it. We didn’t go out there and do anything wrong. We went out and raced hard and raced well and they came and they beat us.”




The Latest Chad Knaus Episode Should Again Show NASCAR’s Intolerance For Tampering

At Daytona, when the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet was found unacceptable for competition after inspection, the blame fell on the shoulders of crew chief Chad Knaus.

Before the start of yet another Sprint Cup season, Chad Knaus, crew chief for Hendrick Motorsports and driver Jimmie Johnson, is again in the news leading up to NASCAR’s most prestigious race, the Daytona 500. But it’s not a story about the glory of winning on the high banks of Daytona International Speedway in storybook fashion. It’s about trying to find ways to make a car go faster outside of NASCAR’s rules. Once again, the No. 48 Hendrick Chevrolet failed inspection and once again, team owner Rick Hendrick and his officials have to explain what went wrong with their most successful team. Knaus is ultimately responsible for every car used on the 36-race schedule. The Daytona Chevrolet was found illegal by NASCAR officials last Friday when it didn’t meet body specifications, specifically those around the pillars at the space between the rear window and the side window. Body modifications are pretty high on NASCAR’s list of villainy – especially at Daytona. This is not the first time Knaus has faced NASCAR judgment. He was accused of disregarding the rulebook after Johnson’s 2006 Daytona 500 qualifying run. Knaus made an illegal adjustment to the rear window, which resulted in his suspension for several races. Despite the loss of his crew chief, Johnson won the 500 that year, as well two of the first three races overall with interim crew chief Darian Grubb, who is now Denny Hamlin’s crew chief. Knaus was again at the center of controversy during the road race debut of NASCAR’s “Car of Tomorrow” on June 23, 2007 at Infineon Raceway. He and Steve Letarte, then crew chief for Jeff Gordon, brought cars that fit the templates, but NASCAR officials questioned the shape of the fenders in between the template’s measuring points. Johnson was not allowed to qualify the car, and he started at the back of the field. Knaus was fined $100,000 and was suspended for six races. Knaus faces penalties and possibly another suspension; but that decision will be made Tuesday after the winner of the 500 has been crowned. Knaus will be able to call the shots atop of the pit box Sunday – but he may not need to pack his suitcase for upcoming events. After NASCAR determined the C-posts on Johnson’s car were modified outside of legal measurements, websites were abuzz in disbelief. The C-posts are the body panel of the car that runs from the rear of the roof to the deck lid. NASCAR officials had the C-posts cut off the car during inspection Friday and the team fashion new ones and replaced them. Even though frowned upon when teams search for advantages in what’s known as “gray” areas of the car, some may fall into a “questionable” category. But the pieces confiscated off of Johnson’s Chevrolet were not under scrutiny of template rules, which makes the violation seemingly even more blatant.

Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus have won five straight championships together. But Knaus has been severely punished more than once for rules infractions.

When NASCAR officials begin the inspection process, they have a routine they follow. It goes over a car from top to bottom through numerous top templates joined together that have been dubbed, “the claw.” The C-pillars, the areas between the top and rear deck lid, were not part of the template process but were measured nonetheless and discovered to be in violation. NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Director John Darby addressed the situation with media members assembled at the rear of the NASCAR hauler in Daytona’s garage area. It wasn’t he first time Knaus has been Darby’s topic of conversation. “There were obvious modifications that the template inspectors picked up on and did some additional inspections with some gauges and stuff and found they were too far out of tolerance to fix so they were removed from the car,” Darby said. “It falls in line with other body modifications we’ve seen in the past. We’re pretty serious about the body configurations of the cars for all the right reasons, and this was a modification that had been made to the car that put it outside that box.” Darby said the infraction would be treated like other body modifications. In the past, penalties for body infractions could be as much as the loss of 25 points under the current point system. The question that millions of race fans, as well as those in the garage area have been asking, with NASCAR so incredibly strict about following its rulebook to the letter, why would any team, especially a championship-caliber team, take such a risk that is clearly in violation? Additionally, some longtime NASCAR mechanics have questioned what modifications to the C-pillars would offer. The change would supposedly add down force but at this point, all it offers is a certain fine, a possible suspension of Knaus and more – not to mention bad press. The parts were on display Friday afternoon at the NASCAR transporter, something done any time illegal equipment is removed from any of the teams. The No. 48 team was allowed to repair the area to make it conform to requirements, but the illegal parts were taken to NASCAR’s Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C., for further review. Interestingly, the Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets driven by Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon all passed inspection. The cars are built individually by the direction of the crew chief and are not identical. Each of the three other cars was allowed to race. There are some in the sport who feel the NASCAR rulebook is a place to start as a baseline for bending the rules in hopes of finding some type of advantage. Their argument is that with the competition so incredibly close it’s the only way to finish at the front. But the bad press generated when caught does nothing but shame the team, shame the driver – who most likely doesn’t know his car is illegal – and most importantly, shame the corporate sponsors who spend incredible amounts of money to support them. Sadly, the reputations of everyone associated with the specific team caught for infractions are tainted. Some believe sponsors associated with the organization condone such behavior – which couldn‘t be further from the truth. Fans may also wonder about the legitimacy of past wins and championships when rules are clearly broken. And, using the No. 48 team and Knaus as an example, there will always be questions as to how honestly a team operates after being caught for infractions time after time. In short, no one wins when established rules are deliberately broken. It’s a bad practice that, obviously, shouldn’t be accepted. Thankfully, we know, and have known, that NASCAR doesn’t tolerate tampering with its rules. And it has applied stringent punishments to let us all know that is, indeed, the case.

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