Talladega: Is Kevin Harvick a Genius?

Mike Helton

Mike Helton

What in the Hell actually happened yesterday in that slice of unique America, perhaps more accurately a Principality, called Talladega? Forgive me, I don’t have the prose, thought process or word-smithing ability of our Ron Bottano, but I’m clueless as to why NASCAR allowed Harvick to stay out on that track in a green/white checker situation.

Let me be clear, I don’t think NASCAR manipulated the situation, far worse, they let the bear grow too big. It got away from them somehow. Have they now become a corporation where everyone involved is the smartest guy in the room?

That’s probably closer to the truth. Unless my tiny little South Carolina cracker brain is finally failing me like a pair of jumper cables at a redneck funeral, cars must be capable of maintaining a safe racing speed. I believe there is a minimum speed established for that, they must keep up with the pace car, unfortunately they seemed to throw that rule right out of the window when it came to Kevin Harvick.

Knowing that he could advance to the next round in the Chase elimination process, Harvick could be accused of deliberately crashing Trevor Bayne on the only Green/White checker opportunity that NASCAR would allow under their special Talladega rule. He has been accused of just that by everyone from the drivers to multitudes of Dale Earnhardt Jr fans.

Is Harvick really that smart? Yes he is.

Is Harvick really that smart? Yes he is.

The best read on the incident and aftermath may be by Bob Pockrass. Read it.

I’ve no reason to elaborate on what Bob wrote, but the whole incident does make you wonder just how easy it is to implement a rule or regulation only to run into the rabbit hole of “Unintended Consequences”. Did NASCAR really sit down and think this race, it’s ‘special’ rules and what permutations of consequence it might have?

It doesn’t look as if they did or they didn’t count on a driver at Harvick’s level being clever enough to pull of a frozen field scenario. I’m not saying Harvick crashed intentionally, but he’s is certainly intelligent enough to have figured it out without being outed on the radio. He is most definitely smart enough to have done so. That doesn’t mean he did. But if I were him, I would have.

I would have to say that whether he did it on purpose or not, it was incumbent on NASCAR to have forced him to the back of the line knowing that he could not accelerate and was a moving chicane in a field of wolves ready to drop the hammer.

If he did it on purpose then he’s a genius to have called that play alone in the car.

To me the big question is: Why would NASCAR allow the field to approach a start at 30 to 35 MPH? That pace car should have been pacing the field at 50 to 55 MPH on a track that size and on a green/white finish.

They didn’t, Harvick did, NASCAR lost a lot of credibility.

No one really came out a winner on Sunday.

NASCAR: Kenseth Defends, Logano Attacks and Wins

Logano may not have made any friends, but Kenneth had to defend with a block, it didn't work out.

Logano may not have made any friends, but Kenneth had to defend with a block, it didn’t work out.

Let’s be honest, we can’t moan throughout the season about a lack of hard racing and then gripe about the finish of this weekend’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.

Halfway through the ten playoff races of the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup, we finally saw the “boys have at it” mantra play out on the track, with good hard racing between two of the top drivers in the sport. At the finish, we got two competitors with opposing viewpoints of the on-track action being pushed to win at all costs, which is exactly the drama that the Chase playoff system was meant to inspire.

Matt Kenseth, driver of the #20 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, might want to click his heels together and repeat the phrase “there’s no place like home”, as he looks to escape from a devastating combo of races in Kansas this weekend.

Going for the race win with less than five laps left in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400, Joey Logano, pilot of the #22 Ford for Team Penske, bumped (or “dumped”, depending on your fandom) Kenseth in turn 2 to take the checkered flag and demonstrate his bravery that he is indeed a force to be reckoned with in the pursuit of the Championship.

Matt Kenneth, dejected and now having to perform at Talladega, the black hole of NASCAR.

NASCAR, unlike open wheel racing, is a contact sport, and Kenseth was making his car as wide as possible, blocking every line that Logano attempted to pass on the track. Logano stalked his prey like a lion with the courage of last week’s race victory under his belt, so Kenseth had no choice but to use his rear bumper to block and bump Logano’s efforts to get by. As anticipated, the competitors’ viewpoints of the on-track contact were widely divergent:

  • From Kenseth’s viewpoint, “he just plain wrecked me.”
  • From Logano’s viewpoint, “we were racing each other really hard, and I got (put) in the fence twice on the straightaways. He raced me hard, and I raced him hard back. That’s the way I race. If I get raced like that, I’ll race the same way.”

From the sanctioning body’s perspective, it was the aggressive racing and risk taking that the Chase playoffs are meant to inspire, with both drivers going for the same piece of real estate, and points racing the furthest from their collective psyches. As Logano pursued Kenseth during the decisive run, Logano was squeezed into the outside wall at least twice, scraping the right side of his car and surely setting up the ultimate confrontation.

As one of the original favorites to make the Sprint Cup Championship round at Homestead, Kenseth now finds himself on the outside of the Chase cut-off with one race remaining in the Contender round next Sunday at the wild, wide-open Talladega.

In essence, blocking giveth, and blocking taketh away. Reminiscent of a black #3 Chevrolet that prowled NASCAR tracks over 27 seasons, where tracks with a single groove often required that racers “rattle a driver’s cage” to make a skillful pass.

Flashback now to Saturday’s XFINITY Series Kansas Lottery 300 support race, where Kenseth led almost 75% of the laps, but was chased down by his JGR teammate Kyle Busch who ran him down with 19 laps to go to take his 75th career XFINITY series win.

The contrast of these two weekend races was all about the stakes in play.

In the XFINITY race, Matt ceded the lead to his JGR teammate without much drama and did not display the same banzai efforts in holding off Kyle Busch, instead seemingly content to take a 2nd place finish in a series where he is ineligible to compete for the XFINITY Championship.

Said Kenseth, who has finished second in each of his last four XFINITY Series starts, “It’s frustrating to get beat again. We were out front in Chicago and had the better car, but second is the (next) best place to finish, I guess.”

However, the stakes were astronomically higher in the Sprint Cup Sunday race, where Kenseth virtually had to win to ensure he would advance to the next round, after his previous week’s crash in Charlotte led to a 42nd place finish and his position at the bottom of the Chase playoff grid.

Conversely, in Sunday’s Sprint Cup race, Kenseth found himself back in the magical world of Oz seeking a storybook ending, in a race where he had already led 57% of the laps and was carrying the lead into the final long run segment of the race. Logano, though, was looking to spoil Kenseth’s trip to the Emerald City, closing the gap with each and every lap.

For Kenseth, a race victory would deliver the golden ticket to the next round, while a second place finish would still leave him below the Chase cut-off for the Contender round heading into Talladega.

For Logano, already assured of moving to the next round with last week’s Charlotte victory, a win would virtually eliminate one of his formidable Championship rivals from Chase contention.

What more could fans ask for? Two of the best drivers racing hard for the win, where second place mattered in the least to both; the Chase playoff having adjusted the drivers’ mindsets exactly as intended and social media exploded with polarizing conversations among the NASCAR nation. As Dorothy said to her beloved friend Toto, “I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

By Ronald Bottano. Follow me on Twitter @rbottano and @motorsportsunplugged

NASCAR and IndyCar: You Dodged a Bullet (VIDEO)

Sans the engine, Austin Dillon took the ride of his life. Thank God no one lost theirs.

Sans the engine, Austin Dillon took the ride of his life. Thank God no one lost theirs.

On Sunday night while the Dale Jr fans pressed themselves closer against the fence at the finish line on a green/white checkered to see their man take the flag, a maelstrom was taking place behind him. Not just any type of ‘big one’ or normal car scattering event, but one of much greater importance.

Thunderstorms had moved into the Daytona area, which is normal in the summer, and dumped rain that took the track into the late hours of the evening to dry. Once the race was underway it was every restrictor plate racing fans dream: Bumper to bumper, pushing and shoving and trying to position themselves at the right point upon which to make their Banzai attack move.

That’s fairly typical, a big wreck is typical and racing that close is typical for plate races. However, Austin Dillon’s car losing control and being catapulted into the front stretch catch fencing was anything but normal. Yes it’s happened before and people were hurt. They were hurt again, 5 fans were hit and treated for flying debris.

Denny Hamlin looked as if he backed out of the throttle and backed up into Kevin Harvick. That pushed Jeff Gordon into Dillon, whose car then went airborne and over two or three lanes of traffic and up into the catch-fence toward the entrance to Turn 1.

Once this car became airborne and passed over the top of several other cars at the start/finish, it moved into the catch-fence at over 190 mph moving forward and centrifugally being flung to the outside. The fence did it’s job of stopping the car from intruding into the stands, but just barely.

 

The fence had actually taken an angled hit that tore it down after Dillon’s car impacted it scattering debris, some of it metal parts, into the crowd. NASCAR’s worst nightmare narrowly avoided.

When it was all said and done, Dillon’s car was ripped to shreds and his burning engine sat in the infield front straight like a talisman of some natural disaster. It wasn’t pretty. 13 fans were medically checked, 8 turned down treatment and 5 received medical attention.

This, coupled with the IndyCar Fontana race, put the spotlight directly on these two sanctioning bodies to make stronger moves to prevent intrusion of a racing car into the stands and to prevent the car from disintegrating on a forward moving side impact.

Keeping the cars out of the stands is possible, it worked for Dillon, but it could have just as easily taken down the second pole, that holds the retention cables, and flown into the crowd, The last time a racing disaster had that potential it turned out very badly. (See the video below.) It was LeMans 1955.

This incident from 60 years ago still haunts track developers and sanctioning bodies as well it should. Despite the safety measures of today, one cannot predict the unpredictable and if auto racing has shown us anything it’s that once a set of circumstances are set into motion, they can produce disastrous and unpredictable results.

There’s no doubt that NASCAR will take further steps to beef up the catch-fencing along with looking at how fast these restrictor plate races need to be.

After leaving the medical care facility, Austin Dillon said: “It’s not really acceptable, I don’t think,” Dillon told reporters after exiting the care center. “We’ve got to figure out something. Our speeds are too high, I think. I think everybody could get good racing with slower speeds. We can work at that, and then figure out a way to keep the cars on the ground. That’s the next thing. We’re fighting hard to make the racing good. I hope the fans appreciate that. We don’t, but it’s our job. You go out there and hold it wide open to the end and hope you make it through.”

IndyCar take notice.

 

 

Kyle Busch Should Not Race Yet

Busch should wait until his injuries and mindset are at full throttle.

Busch should wait until his injuries and mindset are at full throttle.

Kyle Busch is rushing his return to the #18 Joe Gibbs Toyota. Maybe that’s a strong opinion since the accident didn’t happen to me, but actually his injuries are very close to those I sustained in 1998.

Mine wasn’t quite as glamorous as a racing accident, but just as traumatic. Being hit by a car and thrown 50 feet didn’t do my bones any favors. Busch suffered a compound break of his right leg and a fracture of his left foot in in a wreck in the closing laps of the Xfinity Series race at Daytona International Speedway.

Mine was a broken left leg, slight fracture of the right forearm and a very rare type of broken ankle. I know exactly what Kyle Busch has gone through. It took two years before I could walk without a cane.

Busch is beyond the shadow of a doubt one of the very best drivers in modern Sprint Cup. No one can deny that. But is he the smartest? One good hit in any of these next few races could undo all of the healing his bones have gone through.

Perhaps Stewart returned too quickly.

Perhaps Stewart returned too quickly.

Rushing back into one of these cars at an ultra competitive event such as the Sprint All-Star is courting disaster.

Busch is still young, JGR is not going to toss him aside for Erik Jones, talented though he may be. Jones is a super future talent, but Busch is a proven entity that should be secure enough in his abilities to not jeopardize his future.

It’s obvious to anyone who has some knowledge of these types of injuries that it’s a hard climb back to the front of a Cup race. Just ask Tony Stewart who hasn’t performed the way we’re all used to seeing. Is it trepidation on Stewart’s part or is it just a new type of car? My bet is that he has to overcome what all drivers do when they have catastrophic injuries.

Just ask Niki Lauda after his horrific crash at the Nurburgring in 1976. Lauda suffered extensive scarring from the burns to his head, losing most of his right ear as well as the hair on the right side of his head, his eyebrows and his eyelids. He chose to limit reconstructive surgery to replacing the eyelids and getting them to work properly.

It took everything Lauda had to mentally return to Formula One after this horrific accident. Lauda is buried in the flames.

It took everything Lauda had to mentally return to Formula One after this horrific accident. Lauda is buried in the flames.

Lauda returned 6 weeks later only to find he was terrified. He discovered that even though he couldn’t remember all that happened to him in the crash, he couldn’t navigate certain corners at full throttle, his mind wouldn’t allow it. He finally was able to mentally overcome it, but not without great difficulty.

I would have to say, from experience, that Busch, Stewart and Lauda both suffer what we now call PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Yes it applies to racing drivers, not just victims of horrible crimes or returning military personnel. It affects racing drivers who have had a catastrophic accident.

Racing drivers are a unique breed of cat. The first thing you want to do is get back in the car right away, get back on the horse, but it’s often rushed and can be a life-altering mistake.

Busch would lose nothing by more slowly working himself back into top shape. He’s that good.

I can attest that there is nothing more ever-present, more throbbing and more painful than broken bones, especially legs and feet. That pain isn’t gone for Busch. How much will it distract him in a full-blown Cup Car? Only he knows.

He should wait at least a few more races before climbing back into the number 18.

Busch In The Hunt As Talladega Looms Next In Chase

Kyle Busch has had nothing but top-10 finishes so far in the Chase. As a result, he's moved up to second place in the point standings.

Kyle Busch has had nothing but top-10 finishes so far in the Chase. As a result, he’s moved up to second place in the point standings.

If Joey Logano, the points leader as the Chase for the Sprint Cup moves into the final race of the Contender Round at Talladega, happens to hear someone breathing down his neck, well, it’s Kyle Busch.

Logano, who drives for Team Penske, has been sensational in the Chase. He’s won twice and finished fourth three times in the five races held so far. His latest victory, at Kansas, moved him comfortably into the Eliminator Round.

But as good as Logano has been, Busch, who races for Joe Gibbs Racing, is nearly his equal.

Busch is second in points and he is only six behind Logano – a difference that can easily be made up in a single race.

In the Chase, Busch has not finished out of the top 10. His lowest finish has been 10th at Dover but in the last two weeks he’s taken third at Kansas and fifth at Charlotte.

Busch was ranked eighth in points with one victory when the Chase began. He’s gained six spots in five races.

Obviously, Busch likes the way things are going.

“It certainly feels good that we’re heading in the right direction at the right time of the year,” he said. “It’s all about peaking at the right time. Hopefully we haven’t peaked yet, and we still have a way to climb. I feel like we do, anyways.

“We haven’t won in the Chase. There’s opportunity there.

“Again, it’s just trying to get ourselves smarter each and every week about making the right decisions and unloading with the right setups in these cars.

Joey Logano, shown here leading Busch, is No. 1 in the standings but Busch is only six points behind after five Chase races.

Joey Logano, shown here leading Busch, is No. 1 in the standings but Busch is only six points behind after five Chase races.

Busch suggested that although he and his team are running well, they would have to be as good – or better – than several others if they hope to ultimately challenge for a championship.

“We certainly have been fighting really hard at Joe Gibbs Racing to get ourselves up to running with the level of competition that we’ve been seeing from our competitors,” Busch said. “Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano have really been the cars to beat this year.

“Looking at those four, you automatically punch those four all the way through to the end and those are the guys who are going to be racing for the championship.”

Right now, one would think that Busch might just be racing for the championship also. He and his team have displayed the caliber of performance it takes.

Busch, however, thinks more can be done.

“All the pieces are coming together and they’re all coming together at the right time, as I said,” Busch said. “You can do great things.

“For us, hopefully, there’s still a continuation of that here in the next five weeks. We’ll have to have it.”

The next race of the Contender Round is at Talladega, unquestionably the most challenging track in NASCAR. High speeds in the draft and very close-quarters racing – lap after lap – create a situation where a single mistake can create a massive accident.

And who knows who will be involved?

“Being a winner at Talladega doesn’t matter at all,” Busch said. “It’s such a crapshoot that you never really know who is going to win, what’s going to happen, and where the wreck is going to come from.

“The key there is to somehow stay out of trouble.

“If you can be a contender and stay in line on the bottom, you can make it a pretty easy and safe race.

“Normally, guys are not content doing that, so that’s when it starts to get crazy.”

 

 

Dale Earnhardt, Jr: Fiery Crash at Texas Could Have Been Much Worse

Dale Earnhardt, Jr in flames after contact with the outside wall.

This past Monday’s running of the Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway seemed almost surreal in that it appeared to catch a number of drivers off-guard. Crashes, miscues and running the caution laps too close to the jet driers but were a few of the anomalies.

An ex-girlfriend referred to days like this with the statement that “Mercury must be in retrograde”. Obviously that’s bad but perhaps has more meaning if you follow Astrology, which I don’t.

The most notable of the incidents to me was the bizarre crash and an ensuing fire at the start of the race by Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

A hit in the points aside this accident could have been far worse than it was with Earnhardt extricating himself at the speed of light, thus earning him the nickname ‘The Flash’ by several of my journalist friends.

What made this so potentially devastating wasn’t that he made a mistake, which is understandable if the “A” pillar actually impeded his view of the apex of the dogleg, but rather what happened after he had dropped a wheel off the track and shot up the banking into the wall. Earnhardt said:

“Just didn’t see the grass. Didn’t know the grass was down there. With the way the A-post is on these cars you can’t really see that good to that angle. I just didn’t have a good visual of where the apron and the grass was and got down in there pretty good. You can’t run through there they way they have these cars on the ground like that. Just a mistake on my part. I just didn’t know I was that close to the grass, and made a mistake.” Totally believable.

The real disaster potential was once the car had caught fire, he rolled down the track and towards an inside retaining wall, still ablaze, all the while removing the steering wheel and then the seat belts before contacting the retaining wall at roughly 25 to 30 MPH.

Earnhardt, still rolling, removing his steering wheel first.

With the car still moving, removing the steering wheel is one thing, perhaps he had no real control at that point or was so overcome with the thought of getting out that removing the steering wheel was top of mind.

The major problem was that he began removing the seat belts as well. He succeeded at the very last moment in pulling those belts aside and then grabbed the roll cage bracing for the impact.

Had this car been traveling just a scant few miles per hour faster, Dale Earnhardt, Jr could very well have had a steering column impaled into his chest.

Hindsight being what it is would it not have been more forward thinking to have unhooked the belts first? Of course it would have, but after the initial incident, which Earnhardt said was a mistake, and I don’t doubt him, he was already rattled.

But there may very well be a historical reason for his rapid and visibly shaken actions.

One must remember the incident that took place in 2007 at Sonoma when Dale Jr was to co-drive the factory Corvette in the GTS division of the American LeMans series race. Earnhardt tried to negotiated a corner, lost control and back the Corvette into a wall.

Fuel lines were severed and the Corvette burst into a fireball that looked to be all engulfing and potentially fatal. Indeed it was potentially a life threatening incident, with the flames finding it’s way into the cockpit of the car and putting Earnhardt in the middle of a fire.

Niki Lauda’s nearly fatal crash at Nurburgring, Germany in the 1970’s.

This would have shaken any driver, seasoned veteran or not. He suffered injuries that, in the grand scheme of things, were not serious but enough that he was burned on the neck and arms. It effected his Cup performance simply from the pain. The mental damage was, obviously, much worse.

For any driver fire is the one thing that really does scare you, just ask Niki Lauda, who sat in a fire at the Nurburgring for almost one minute and suffered major burns on his face, head and scorched his lungs to the point near death.

In the future when such incidents occur, and they undoubtedly will, let’s hope that the drivers have practiced a way to remove themselves quickly but with some order amidst the chaos.

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?

Probably.

 

 

 

 

Martinsville Critical, F1 Confirmed To New Jersey, Simoncelli Tribute

Martinsville is critical to Carl Edwards, matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson. Formula One and New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie Confirmed A 2013 Race along the Hudson River. The late Marco Simoncelli’s team owner, Gresini Honda, will pay tribute in Valencia.

 

Dan Wheldon Killed In IndyCar Crash

Britain’s Dan Wheldon was killed today in a multi-car crash on lap 13 of the Las Vegas race. The race was cancelled and friends and family mourn his loss as do all the staff of Motorsports Unplugged and The Drive Channel. Dan Wheldon, dead at the age of 33.

Daytona Speedway Finally Throws Everyone A Curve

No one expected that when the Daytona Speedway was repaved that we would see speedway racing like we saw in the Bud Shootout. The drivers are making deals on the fly to try and gain an advantage. Motorsports Unplugged looks ahead to the Daytona 500 weekend. http://www.motorsportsunplugged.com

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