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.

 

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.

http://chief187.com

 

 

To find out more about Candice Smith please visit http://Chief187.com.

 

 

 

 

 

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 www.motorsportsunplugged.com

 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.

 

Shootout Evidence: Big-Pack Racing May Mean Exciting Daytona 500

dale

Dale Earnhardt Jr. likes the big-pack racing that has returned to Daytona. But he thinks that for it to have fewer incidents, drivers are going to have forget about blocking.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – If the racing we’ve seen so far at Daytona International Speedway is any indication, this year’s Daytona 500 may be one of the best ever.

Sunday’s opening events, the ARCA race and the Budweiser Shootout, provided plenty of evidence that the 500 could again produce a close, exciting finish.

Both races saw wild, unpredictable conclusions. And the Shootout brought back the high-speed, big-pack racing fans demanded. Pack racing returned with a “bang” – get it?

Bobby Gerhart, who owns ARCA events at Daytona, emerged as the winner in that sanctioning body’s first race of the season.
The veteran started 42nd – due to a penalty after qualifying – and then played ideal fuel strategy to snatch the victory away from several cars ahead of him on the last lap.

Admittedly, Gerhart was helped when a few in front of him, including leader Brandon McReynolds, ran out of gas.
But his improbable victory thrilled the fans. Gerhart has now won the Daytona ARCA race eight times, including the last three in a row.
The Shootout brought back many memories – not all of them good.

Gone was the tandem drafting so prevalent at Daytona and Talladega and so reviled by many, drivers and fans alike.
Instead it was back to the old days of the tight packs, when cars raced two and three abreast, lap after lap.

But remember the “big one?” You know, that metal crunching, multicar wreck that often took out many of the top competitors?

Well, it’s back. We saw that in the Shootout – more than once.

But we also saw about 60 percent of the field decimated by wrecks and four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon involved in the most frightening accident of his career.

Gordon’s Chevrolet slid and barrel rolled two and one-half times due, he said, to a lack of downforce and bump drafting. He was uninjured.
Kyle Busch displayed some remarkable skill as he twice saved his car from spinning out.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver then drove his smoking and sparking Toyota past Tony Stewart at the finish line to win by 0.013-second, the closest finish in Shootout history.

Yes sir, it was all good stuff on Sunday at Daytona.

And hopefully it will be the same in the Daytona 500.

However, there are some issues.

As thrilling as its finish was, the Shootout was still a thumping, bruising mess that tore up several cars and left one of NASCAR’s greatest drivers on his roof.
This is, again, what we have now after the tandem drafting of last season.

The two-car drafting on a roomier track isn’t what everyone – including drivers – wanted. They preferred the packs. They wanted the fields to be knotted up. They wanted the higher risk of mangling, multicar wrecks.

The Shootout had all of that but it also had the type of finish that has characterized NASCAR and made Daytona what it is.

So, to me, the ideal solution would be to have a race that features all that everyone wants and still allows most of the cars to finish.
Can that solution be found?

Frankly I don’t think there is much NASCAR can do and I am not sure it intends to do much of anything. Which, I think, is fine with the competitors. They have their preference.

“I like this racing better,” said Dale Earnhardt Jr., the victim of a crash. “I think we have really made a lot of improvements and I have more of my destiny in my hands in this type of racing.”

“This is a lot more fun than the two-car stuff,” said Stewart, the defending Sprint Cup champion. “You are still going to see two-car stuff at the end of the race, I think.

“The good thing is it is a lot more fun running in the traditional pack than what we have had here in the past so I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be a fun week.”

While it might be fun, it certainly can’t be fun when a driver is taken out of a race – and his car wrecked beyond repair – by being involved in a “big one.”
And that will happen in big-pack racing.

There doesn’t appear to be a solution.

But several competitors maintain there are ways the number of negative elements of big-pack racing can be reduced – and they fall on the drivers’ shoulders.
First they have to know, and appreciate, what they are getting into.

Kevin Harvick thinks drivers are going to have to bump draft only when proper and use a lot of patience in the race if mishaps are going to be avoided.

“I think the biggest problem is that in tandem racing, it has been so easy for these guys to stay attached and some of them haven’t raced in big-pack racing,” said Kevin Harvick, also involved in a wreck. “You get those big runs and things are going happen a lot faster than they used to.”
Second, they have to learn what not to do and exercise patience.

“There really is no place for blocking any more,” said Earnhardt Jr. “If a guy got a run on me I just point him to a lane so he knew where he could safely go. I would get him back if I could.”

“When the closing rate is that fast it’s hard to know where to put anybody. But I do know you can’t be blocking like hell.”

“All the wrecks in the race were caused by people hitting the left rear of the car,” said Harvick, referring to improper bump drafting. “You just can’t hit guys in the left rear. “It takes a little bit of patience and a little bit of thinking on the parts of everybody. You just have to be patient.”

Perhaps the Gatorade Duels on Thursday will be a bit saner given that drivers may have learned, or re-learned, about racing in big packs.
Perhaps.

And it could be that the Daytona 500 is as exciting as anticipated without any mayhem.
Yeah, it could be.

But consider that in big-pack racing all it takes is one mistake, one mental lapse or a lack of patience – which will be abundant with, say, five laps to go – to create a melee.

Which is likely to happen in the Daytona 500.

“It’s a heavy race,” said Earnhardt Jr. “It’s a pretty big deal to win and there are going to be a lot of guys excited about their prospects of winning it. Maybe being 500 miles, the guys might use a little better judgment.

“But I doubt it.”

WWE? The MMA Would Have Been Better Choice For Daytona


WWE champion John Cena has been named the Honorary Starter for the Daytona 500.

 

The announcement this week that the Honorary Starter of the 2012 Daytona 500 would be WWE Star John Cena surprised me.

I have nothing against the man or the WWE, but I feel NASCAR and, specifically, Daytona tapped the wrong sport for this gig.

In 2011 the UFC inked a lucrative deal to show Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) matches on Fox from its premiere organization. This was an incredibly big move on Fox’s part and proved to many that MMA was – and is – a legitimate sport with rules, regulations, and now a primetime spot on network television.

Choosing a MMA star to be Honorary Starter of “The Great American Race” – that is shown on Fox – would have made infinite more sense to me. What better way to gain crossover followers in that coveted 18-49 year old age bracket?

NASCAR fans and MMA fans may not appear to have anything in common, but I would argue their sports share a similar history.

Before NASCAR was formed there were several “stock car associations” that tried to be legitimate, get the best racers, and make the most money. Not until Bill France and a host of other big names sat down to organize stock car racing into one entity – NASCAR – did the phenomenon we know today come to be.

MMA has grown from many segments. Like NASCAR, a variety of different organizations exist, all vying for legitimacy, fandom, and the almighty sponsorship dollars. One man, Dana White, has harnessed the sport into one gigantic powerhouse.

The other levels of MMA still exist, are viable, and are fighting for their audiences, but the bottom line is, MMA has arrived and Dana White’s UFC is the pinnacle.

It seems only logical to me to unite and exploit Fox’s relationship with Dana White and UFC with NASCAR. MMA would get a wider national platform to be introduced and validated and NASCAR would show their modernity.

Kevin Harvick recently attended the UFC on Fox 2 event in Chicago and stayed visible for interviews. His main purpose was to plug the Daytona 500 that Fox is covering on Feb. 26, but Harvick was also able to give his opinions of the night’s matches. He seems to be somewhat of a fan.

The author thinks Daytona should have selected someone from MMA to be Honorary Starter. That might be a more suitable match for NASCAR's more volatile personalities, like Kevin Harvick.

WWE is a great entertainment source and I’m sure NASCAR is thrilled with the connection. My opinion, however, would have been to tap the far more logical, broader horizons that MMA offers.

White is a masterful attention grabber. He is famous (infamous) for the bonuses he offers his fighters, the strong opinions he wields tyrannically, and his empirical control of the UFC.

Brian France, coming from the lineage he does, would certainly feel comfortable with that kind of personality. Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, and Harvick, all fiery personalities, could live vicariously through the fighters in the UFC.

I can only lead these 800 horses to White’s water, I can’t make them drink.

What do you think, fans, was the WWE the right organization to pick the Honorary Starter of the Daytona 500 or would White’s UFC been the better choice?

Patrick Says She Can Win Daytona 500, Raikkonen Fastest in Jerez Formula One Testing

Danica Patrick can see where she might pull off a win at the Daytona 500. She cites Trevor Bayne as evidence. Her team owner, Tony Stewart only want’s her to learn in the 10 Cup races. Formula One tested at Jerez Spain and Kimi Raikkonen and his Lotus were the fastest on day one. Even in testing, a driver that hasn’t driven an F1 car in two years shows that the Lotus may be a contender for more than mid pack.

Much In NASCAR Ain’t Broke, So Don’t Fix It – For Now

Big-pack racing returned in Daytona testing as NASCAR sought to eliminate the two-car drafts that have been prevalent on the superspeedways. However, as much as this particular change has been effective, as of now there is no guarantee the two-car hookups won't return in the Daytona 500.

It’s never been unusual for NASCAR to put a positive spin on just about anything it does or its interpretation of its competitive environment. Truth be known, that’s what it should do.

However, during his “State of the Union” address at the annual Media Tour, when NASCAR CEO Brian France said, “The sport is in a very good place,” I was one of those who did not roll his eyes with the cynical thought we were getting another whitewash.

The fact is, France is absolutely correct. The 2010 Sprint Cup season was, overall, one of NASCAR’s best, one in which the positives far outweighed the negatives.

There have been times when new NASCAR policies and rules have done very little to improve its product but that was not the case last season.

Thanks in part to a simplified points system and the creation of a “wildcard” selection to the Chase that put an emphasis on victories, we saw what was the closest championship battle in NASCAR’s modern era – if not ever.

As you know, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards finished the season tied in points, but Stewart claimed the title because he had more victories.

I’m not sure Hollywood could have created a more exciting scenario.

This is not to say NASCAR did it all. Let’s credit the competitors. If Stewart hadn’t blazed to five victories in the Chase’s 10 races, well, who knows how the championship would have unfolded?

It’s obvious NASCAR does not need to tamper with its championship system. The 2010 season proved that it could work just fine and please fans and competitors alike.

As the old saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Rightfully, NASCAR isn’t going to fix it.

One thing it is trying to fix is the proliferation of two-car, “partner” drafts that have become the norm at Daytona and Talladega.

This is a relatively new phenomenon and it appears NASCAR is responding to the will of those fans, and others, who do not like it.

Understand, not everyone disapproves. I’m one of them. Yes, two cars running alone with one’s nose up the other’s tail looks silly. But I believe it’s helped bring about drama and surprise.

Nevertheless it was NASCAR’s primary goal during testing to find the technological means to prevent these two-car dances.

Testing showed us big-pack racing had returned to Daytona. And, wonder of wonders, NASCAR didn’t hit the panic button when sustained speeds of over 200 mph were reached.

But two-car drafts did not go away. I’d be willing to say that while we might see plenty of pack racing in the Daytona 500 (I thought fans didn’t like that, either), the outcome will be determined by the two cars that hook up best in a “dance.”

Now there’s plenty of time for NASCAR to enforce legislation for things to be otherwise, but my point is: If it doesn’t, so what?

I know many will disagree, but if the Daytona 500 ends with two cars hugging on to each other, I don’t think that is necessarily going to be a bad thing.

Racing on the superspeedways may be “cracked” to some, but I don’t think it’s entirely broken. So if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

NASCAR announced a couple of other policy changes for 2012, one of which is decidedly positive and the other, well, the sanctioning body needs to tread lightly.

We now know that NASCAR will no longer punish its teams and drivers without making the fines, and other judgments, public.

Smart, very smart.

There was plenty of outcry after the sanctioning body secretly leveled a $25,000 fine against Brad Keselowski for publicly criticizing the switch to fuel injection.

That wasn’t the only time such a thing happened, by the way, and I think the reason NASCAR received the criticism it did is because, over the years, it has been accused of many, many clandestine cloak-and-dagger exploits designed to impose its will and enforce its domination.

Which certainly didn’t contribute to a positive image – nor has fining drivers and teams secretly.

If NASCAR practices what it is now preaching it will benefit. The less it appears to be a secret society, the better off it will be.

We know that NASCAR intends to re-evaluate its “Boys have at it” policy in 2012. It will strengthen its stance against drivers retaliating on the track.

NASCAR loosened its grip on driver behavior in 2010 and allowed them to police themselves and retaliate when they believed they had been wronged.

I think the main reason NASCAR did this was to offset the constant criticism that it had “cloned” its drivers; robbed them of their true personalities and denied the sport the rivalries its fans crave.

So when it comes to any sort of “re-evaluation,” I would urge NASCAR to walk softly.

It stands to reason that it should step in, with force, when things obviously get out of hand – if two drivers wreck each other repeatedly and put others in danger, for example.

But then, I can’t think of a time when it hasn’t done that.

I suspect that by its announcement of a “re-evaluation” NASCAR was actually telling its competitors it will still have the final say, “Boys have at it” notwithstanding.

I think NASCAR will indeed tread softly. It should. Heroes and villains, rivalries and confrontations on and off the track have always been a part of stock car racing’s character and appeal.

When it comes to “Boys have at it,” in my opinion things ain’t broke, so NASCAR shouldn’t fix it. Frankly, I’d be stunned if it attempted to do so.

Make no mistake, there are going to be incidents and other occurrences in 2012 that will be unanticipated and, perhaps, force NASCAR to make sweeping changes. Who knows?

But right now changes are few and largely minor.

That’s because, indeed, NASCAR begins 2012 in a good place.

There might be a crack here and there, but for now, nothing ain’t broken. So don’t fix it.

Will NASCAR Ultimately Return To The Past To Resolve The Situation Today?

Daytona Preseason Thunder

NASCAR asked the teams at testing to run in big packs so it could evaluate performance and speeds as it attempts to set the competitive rules for the Daytona 500. This style of racing was prevalent at the superspeedways before tandem drafts, now the norm, appeared a couple of years ago.

OK, I’m somewhat confused – and, yes, I’ll confess I’m not the smartest guy in the media center. However, been around a while and seen and learned a lot.

I’m trying to get a grip on just what NASCAR is doing to reach its competitive goals prior to the start of the 2012 Cup season – more specifically, for the Daytona 500.

I thought that, overall, it was pretty simple: To wit, bring an end to the tandem drafting prevalent at Daytona and Talladega over past two years and, in so doing, placate and please the disapproving fans.

To that end the sanctioning body created several rule changes before testing began. Among them were a bigger restrictor plate, a smaller rear spoiler and reduced cooling capabilities.

I understand these rules were something of a starting point and as testing went on the results seen, or not seen, could bring about more legislation.

Interestingly, during testing NASCAR asked the teams to run in big packs, as they used to do. First came a large group of 20 cars and later a pack of 10.

It looked like old times at the 2.5-mile Daytona track and many fans and drivers alike welcomed the break from two-car drafting.

But then teams went back to tandem drafting and speeds increased. Kurt Busch, in a two-car hookup with Regan Smith, topped 206 mph.

Given that, it makes sense for NASCAR to eliminate the two-car “dances.” It’s been embedded in our minds for years now that cars reaching speeds of more than 200 mph in racing trim is an absolute no-no, primarily for safety reasons.

Sure enough, two-thirds of the way through testing NASCAR mandated that the cars be equipped with a smaller restrictor plate – the same one they had earlier – and radiator grille openings would shrink as would radiator pressure.

This was done to reduce speeds, right? Well, not necessarily. Sprint Cup Director John Darby said the changes were not made to cut the miles per hour; rather, they were made to reduce RPMs, which increases the chances for engine survival.

Darby also said the target race speed was 200 mph and that NASCAR would like to see that reached in bigger packs rather than in two-car tandems.

In other words, if NASCAR can produce race speeds of 200 mph in the Daytona 500 as the cars form into the large packs they once did, then all is well.

Gordon

Jeff Gordon was one of the drivers who, during testing, thought NASCAR might reduce achieved speeds of well over 200 mph. But he was surprised to learn that NASCAR felt the once taboo 200 mph barrier could be satisfactory again.

Which, by the way, is the source of my confusion. I can understand the desire to eliminate two-car drafting, although I don’t believe it was entirely evil, but isn’t to replace it with “big pack” racing at over 200 mph a return to, first, a style of competition once widely disdained and, second, to re-establish speeds once considered taboo not a case of, uh, dejavu all over again?

Sounds like NASCAR is trying to retreat to its past to find answers for today.

Even some competitors were confused. Jeff Gordon said he approached Darby and said the drivers couldn’t run the speeds they were, right?

“And when I saw the reaction of, ‘Well, we feel we’ve learned some lessons and we’re fine with that,’” he added, “meant it somehow speeds had become accepted and I think that’s a good thing.”

Gordon said it seemed NASCAR had collected enough data to make it feel comfortable with the way the cars were running. He added that doesn’t mean they won’t get airborne – perhaps the most frightening scenario in high-speed racing – but rather, “I think NASCAR has learned some things that are going to help that change dramatically.”

Frankly, if the cars do run 200 mph in large packs the drivers aren’t likely to be too uncomfortable. On the worn Daytona surface it didn’t take long for slipping and sliding to begin. The drivers had their hands full.

But now that the speedway has been repaved there is more grip. A lot of loose conditions have been removed. Racing is more in the drivers’ hands and, so, hitting 200 mph routinely is not at daunting as it was – in theory, anyway.

The ongoing problem is the two-car draft. It still produces higher speeds and the majority of drivers think that while rules may cut down on the number of “dances,” the practice won’t be eliminated.

To boot, they say the Daytona 500 winner is going to be part of a tandem draft – again.

At this moment, competitors add, that’s inevitable.

NASCAR would like the situation to be otherwise, which it’s already made very clear, right?

So, I repeat, the ultimate solution could be that NASCAR returns to the past: The days of big-pack, freight train racing and – from days longer passed – done at speeds at, or above, 200 mph.

Is that what it’s all about? Is all this something out of “Back To The Future,” or am I hopelessly confused?

I am sure we will all find out. It’s abundantly clear the final legislations for the Daytona 500 are not yet enacted. Which, by the way, is nothing new.

“We’re not done yet,” said Robin Pemberton, president of competition. “We’ll work on packages and plate sizes from now until the start of Speedweeks.”

The results will, to say the least, be interesting.

Despite Great Competition, NASCAR Must Still Deal With An Ongoing Problem

 Menard

Paul Menard's victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, after which he and his team got to "kiss the bricks," was one of the unexpected moments of 2011 that led it to become one of the most competitive, and historical, seasons in NASCAR's history. Menard was one of five first-time winners in the past season.

The sport of NASCAR Sprint Cup racing faces a familiar problem in 2012, one that has bedeviled it for the last three years.

However, that problem is certainly not the quality of its competition. For once NASCAR didn’t have to come up with obscure facts and figures to tout itself as the most competitive form of motorsports in this country – which, incidentally, is a claim it has made repeatedly over the years.

In 2011, there can be little argument that it was, indeed. And no one has to search high and low for statistics to prove it.

Now, I’ve said this before, but I think it bears repeating. Not only was the past season highly competitive, it was also, in many ways, historical.

All it takes to understand that is a quick look at what happened and who made it happen.

There were 18 different winners in Cup racing, which matched those in 2002 and fell just one short of the record of 19 set in 2001.

Five of those winners won for the first time in their careers, and, to make this unprecedented, four of those winners were victorious in four of the circuit’s most prestigious races at three of its most prominent speedways.

Trevor Bayne won the Daytona 500. Regan Smith won the Southern 500. David Ragan won the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona. Paul Menard won the Brickyard 400.

Not one of these drivers was considered a victory candidate in any of these races – if, indeed, in any other.

That these relatively unheralded drivers won as they did for the first time – and all in one season – has never been done before in NASCAR.

And Marcos Ambrose became the fifth first-time winner when he was victorious on the road course at Watkins Glen.

It was routinely believed that if Australian Ambrose won in NASCAR it would be on a road course. That he did so was no surprise.

That may be, but judging from response, his victory enhanced NASCAR’s international appeal – at least in one part of the world. Ambrose is a hero in his native country.

The battle for the championship was like no other in NASCAR’s history.

It came down to a two-man war between Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart that wasn’t settled until after the final race of the season at Homestead.

Stewart won that race while Edwards finished second, yet another in a series of Chase races in which the two finished within a single position of each other.

The result was the first tie in points ever in NASCAR. Each had 2,403 points.

Stewart won with the tiebreaker – the most wins in a season. He had five, Edwards one.

But the championship drama goes beyond that. It wasn’t simply because Stewart won it in historically close fashion, it was also how he did so.

He started the 10-race Chase ninth in points without a single victory to his credit.

But once the “playoff” began Stewart surged like a tsunami. He won five races, rose quickly to No. 1 in points and, with four wins under his belt, was second when Homestead began, just three points in arrears to a remarkably consistent Edwards.

That set up the dramatic finish.

Stewart has to receive credit for one of the most impressive, come-from-behind runs for a title in NASCAR’s history.

Any decent statistician could put up some other numbers that would support the excellent competitiveness of the 2011 season – laps lead, most lead changes, cars running at the finish and such.

But I don’t believe they are needed. What has been presented here – and, I admit, earlier – should offer solid proof that NASCAR is in no way suffering when it comes to the quality of its competition.

Fact is, it’s thriving.

But, when it comes to being a business and not a sport, NASCAR and its teams are not thriving.

In 2008 this country, and the world, plunged into an economic disaster.

Stocks plummeted, banks failed, businesses folded, homes went into foreclosure and jobs were lost a thousand fold.

Nothing escaped, not even NASCAR. At the end of the 2008 season team members were laid off in droves. Other organizations folded. Sponsors, who suffered a loss of profits, pulled the plug on their NASCAR participation.

Sponsorship suddenly became a gift, not a given. Teams used to single-entity deals that brought in $20 million or more began to beg for limited schedule deals at reduced prices.

For those teams fortunate enough to have it, financial backing was acquired through multiple companies providing full support for 10-12 races here, 4-6 there and maybe even one or two.

And I think it is obvious that speedways suffered as well. Where they once were able to sell tickets with little difficulty, they now had to use creative public relations and marketing strategies to lure cash-strapped fans to come to their races.

It wasn’t easy. Empty grandstand seats prevailed.

I was one of many who said then that the economy was NASCAR’s biggest challenge. It remains so.

The economic malaise has not gone away. It hasn’t for the country and it hasn’t for NASCAR.

We already know of two teams that have ceased operations, both of them part of high-profile operations. Roush Fenway Racing and Richard Childress Racing no longer have four teams, they have three. A lack of sponsorship has caused that.

And the Roush team that features past champion driver Matt Kenseth is still searching for financial backing – as are several other organizations at one level or another.

Red Bull Racing, and its two-car operation, folded. I’ll be honest. The economy might have had something to do with that but I suspect politics might have played a larger role.

Regardless, after 2011, think of the number of racing jobs that have been lost – again.

At present NASCAR does not have as many well-funded, full-time teams now as it did at the start of 2011.

Its speedways still have to find the means to get folks to part with their dollars. After all, the joblessness rate is still high, companies continue layoffs or job elimination (including among the motorsports media), real estate values remain low and gasoline prices are volatile, among many other things.

The problems NASCAR faced after 2008 are still its major concerns as 2012 approaches.

But it is clear that, at least for one season, competition is at an all-time high. That is something that can potentially lures fans, encourage needed media attention and honestly establish NASCAR as something it has always claimed to be – the best in this country.

If what we saw in 2011 is matched, or approached, by what happens in 2012, that can only be good for NASCAR and its continuing challenge to sell itself, and its teams, to the public and corporate America amid a still struggling economy.

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