The Frontstretch: Still Many Reasons To Have A "Hole" Lot Of Enthusiasm For '10 by Doug Turnbull -- Monday February 15, 2010

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Still Many Reasons To Have A "Hole" Lot Of Enthusiasm For '10

The Cool Down Lap · Doug Turnbull · Monday February 15, 2010

 

Starting with Kevin Harvick’s thrilling win in the Shootout and ending with Jamie McMurray’s 500 win, Speedweeks 2010 left fans with plenty to be excited about – that stubborn hole notwithstanding.

Yes, yes – the red flags were unbearable. The time pressed on and on during the first one, roughly an hour-and-a-half longer than NASCAR predicted the repairs to the wounded pavement in Turn 2 would take. Two approximately 20-lap green flag runs blanketed a single caution before officials, likely seeing red themselves, had to throw another red flag to fix the recurring pavement problem. Two red flags, four chemical solutions, dozens of “Digger caused the hole, get it?” jokes on Twitter, one Danica segment on FOX, and thousands of departed race fans later, one of the most competitive Daytona 500s in memory resumed for the race’s final 38 laps, including the six added by the three green-white-checkered finishes.

As has been done almost non-stop the past two or three seasons (and at most times rightfully so), the gut reaction of many will be to gang up and bemoan NASCAR for a seemingly ruined Daytona 500. Statements along the lines of, “Why didn’t NASCAR anticipate this problem?”, “Why didn’t officials decide to pave the track for the first time in over 30 years?”, “Why did the red flags last so long?”, or “Why didn’t NASCAR call the race… couldn’t they see it was getting cold out?” will permeate the airwaves and the internet for a long time, especially in the wake of the rain-shortened Daytona 500 finish in 2009.

But the holdout and the fallout this time were well worth the wait. Just like the first 80 percent of this year’s Great American Race, the last almost 40 laps were incredible. The lead changed hands repeatedly, as drivers jostled for position on Daytona’s high banks. NASCAR’s new green-white-checkered “three tries” rule was put to a quick test, as wrecks cluttered the first two restarts. Bud Shootout winner Kevin Harvick, who led a race-high 41 laps and was a 500 favorite for all of Speedweeks, rammed his way into the lead around Martin Truex, Jr. and Greg Biffle on the second green-white-checkered restart, only to lose it on the final try at the finish. And when the smoke cleared, a feel-good story emerged, as Jamie McMurray, in his first race back with Chip Ganassi, guided the No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevy to victory.

Once the checkered flag flew, McMurray dismounted from his ride, pumping his fists, yelling, screaming, and even crying while displaying the emotion fans want from their drivers. And while each victor in the 500 has been ecstatic, McMurray seemed more gracious and more excited than others in recent years (Well, considering that he has been on the brink of the NASCAR scrap heap after a horrendous letdown at Roush Fenway, he probably should be.)

But while McMurray is an underdog winner, his triumph in the Daytona 500 should not come as a total shock. The No. 1 Chevy likely could have won the Bud Shootout if not for it ending under caution, and McMurray had shown speed throughout not only the race, but the entirety of Speedweeks. Combine that with the fact he won at Talladega in the Fall, now has three of his four career Cup wins on plate tracks, and is driving with the same engine package (Earnhardt-Childress Racing) as all of the fast entries at RCR, surprise may not be the word to describe his win.

Maybe hope is. For as McMurray’s win gives him hope of a rejuvenated career, NASCAR’s constituency has reason to hold hope as well – hope that the 2010 season will bring more than half-enjoyable races and stale storylines, and hope that falling in love with NASCAR racing again is still possible. Consider these developments from the Daytona 500, Speedweeks, and the NASCAR offseason:

- Almost stealing the glory from McMurray was Dale Earnhardt Jr., who launched from outside the top 20 before the first green-white-checkered run to McMurray’s rear bumper by race’s end. He exited from the No. 88 AMP Energy Chevy with more energy and pizzazz seen from him in many moons, with his return to the front from mid-pack obscurity reminiscent of his father’s charge to the victory at Talladega in 2000. – The Daytona 500 featured a race-record 21 leaders, who swapped the lead 52 times… and very little of it was done on pit road or during caution laps. – Both the Nationwide and Truck Series races were barn-burners as well, featuring both an assortment of lead changes and a gaggle of wrecks. – NASCAR let drivers police themselves with bump drafting. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. summed up why it was a good decision best after the race: “I didn’t feel like NASCAR was looking over my shoulder.” – Speaking of the sport backing down, it’s finally listening to driver and fan feedback by instituting double-file restarts and uniform race start times, ditching the rear CoT wing, and expanding the chances at a green flag finish in the green-white-checkered system. – Except for the flat out inaccurate time estimation for the length of the red flag sessions, there was little cover-up or finger-pointing about the pavement fiasco. Daytona track president Robin Braig said that he took full responsibility for what happened, and will do whatever possible to make sure it never happens again. That’s a far cry from the unapologetic statements from NASCAR, following the shredded, rubbery mess that was the 2008 Brickyard 400.

For those so jaded to NASCAR after a series of poor seasons, they’re ready to jump down the throats of anyone in range, let’s ask this question; who can realistically be blamed for Hole Gate in Turn 2? Go for it, sit there and stew about a problem that had as much to do with Mother Nature as anything else.

But the rest of us are savoring the great finish that transpired after the stunningly long red flags that knocked the wind out from the sails of a scintillating first half of the race. McMurray’s incredible, popular win and other positive happenings so far in 2010 sling the door of promise wide open for what the rest of the season potentially could hold. You, the cynical, should peel the scales from your eyes and enjoy it – for it is shaping up to be a heckuva ride.

Contact Doug Turnbull

Listen to Doug weekly on The Allan Vigil Ford Lincoln Mercury Speedshop racing show with host Captain Herb Emory each Saturday, from 12-1 p.m., on News/Talk 750 WSB in Atlanta and on wsbradio.com. Doug also hosts the “Chase Elliott Podcast” and the “Bill Elliott Racing Podcast” on ChaseElliott.com and BillElliott.com.

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Dennis
02/15/2010 10:04 AM
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Even with the HOLE. I did not feel like I wasted a sunday after this race.

I can’t remember the last time I could say that.

VABlueGrass
02/15/2010 10:49 AM
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The earlier start times have put racing on TV back where it belongs. Mid-nap time.

THink about it – Put the race on, catch a snooze, watch the last 3rd of the race. Perfect length, perfect nap, perfect day.

These later start times put the racing on AFTER nap-time, and it forced us to watch the whole race. This is why fan approval dropped so low. It will go back up this year.

Michael in SoCal
02/15/2010 11:37 AM
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Great article Doug.

Carl D.
02/15/2010 11:52 AM
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VABlue….
Maybe if we had a red-flag-track-repair during every race then we could all get in a good nap and not miss a single lap. I’m just sayin’…

“Daytona track president Robin Braig said that he took full responsibility for what happened”
What happened was unacceptable. The biggest race of the year was marred by track conditions that were avoidable, rain or no rain. Someone (Braig?)ought to be out of a job this morning.

Mark
02/15/2010 01:00 PM
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Actually Doug , the pothole problem has everything to do with Robin Braig . Temperature and rain had nothing whatsoever to do with the pothole forming . Daytona is in north Florida . It has gotten very cold in north Florida every year , in fact it has snowed there several times . This years temperatures were really nothing special . As to the rain , it rains in Florida all the time . Again , its rained before and even during speedweeks almost every year . Why no potholes before ?
The problem was caused by the cars dragging on the very uneven asphalt in the corners . Uneven because the track hasn’t been leveled and repaved for decades . The Daytona 500 is the reason people come to Daytona in February . Not the numerous sideshows , the race . If Braig and NASCAR were doing their jobs and truly interested in giving the fans the best possible show , the leveling and repaving would have been done when needed , not when budget projections looked best .
Dale Jr. looked and performed pretty much the same as he always has on restrictor plate tracks . Not much of a surprise . Although there were far fewer top cars left to contend with once he made his move .

Kevin in SoCal
02/15/2010 01:06 PM
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Doug said: “Why didn’t NASCAR call the race… couldn’t they see it was getting cold out?”

You have GOT to be kidding?? Last year fans were upset that NASCAR called the race because of rain, and this year the fans are upset because NASCAR didnt call the race because of cold? Wow, just wow….

Bad Wolf
02/15/2010 01:48 PM
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Hey Doug, if you liked the racing at Daytona thank a cynic. I’ve been on Nascars case for years now for the inept rules and changes, and I feel that we cynics have driven Nascar to make the changes we have seen this year.

I give Nascar an A for the direction they took this year, and hope the changes keep coming to make the racing as good as it used to be. The racing yesterday was phenomonal and I’m not ashamed as a cynic to say so, and I’m not afraid to give kudos to Nascar when they are due.

Now if we can get back to factory sheetmetal and engines the whole package will be back.

mkrcr
02/15/2010 07:40 PM
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Bad Wolf, you saved me a lot of typing. I am a crowned NA$CAR cynic and thought this race was the best in many a year. I could deal with the red flags because of the long missed anticipation of the race continuing.
As far as the track, the problem isn’t the “uneven corners”. No track is perfect. The problem is a no suspension, bumpstop riding,POS that grinds itself into any track surface with any bumps.Patch the track, FIX the COT. Even the drivers don’t want Daytona repaved.

M.B. Voelker
02/15/2010 07:47 PM
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Nice to see a positive article. Are you sure you’re on the right website?

Seems to me that I saw 3 pretty good races this past weekend — despite the fact that if it were up to me I’d have them run the Daytona road course and trade Talladega for a short track because I passionately hate plate racing.

If they had repaved the track people would be whining about lousy racing (since everyone knows it takes 3-5 years to weather in a newly-paved track so that the racing is good again). There are just too many people who wouldn’t be pleased with Nascar no matter what they did and who, nevertheless, make their living writing about the sport they despise.

Thanks for the break from the moaning, whining, and nitpicking, Doug.