Kurt Busch to Attempt The Indianapolis-Charlotte Double
posted by Phil Allaway
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Andretti Autosport announced this morning that Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet in the Sprint Cup Series, will attempt the Indianapolis 500 in a fifth entry for the IndyCar Series team. Once the Indianapolis 500 is completed, Busch will fly from Indianapolis to Charlotte, jump in his No. 41 Chevrolet and compete in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Busch considers the opportunity to do the double as an old-school throwback moment.
“This is really to challenge myself within motorsports,” Busch said in Andretti Autosport’s press release. “Perhaps I am a bit of an old-school racer; a throwback, I guess. I enjoyed the era of drivers racing different cars and testing themselves in other series. It is tough to do now for a variety of factors, but when the opportunity is there, I want to do it. While NASCAR is my home, I have been fortunate to compete in Pro Stock on the NHRA circuit a number of years ago and test a V8 Supercar. This opportunity was a talk with Michael [Andretti] over dinner one night, a “What if,” and now it’s becoming a reality for me to drive in the Indy 500 with Andretti Autosport. It’s literally a dream come true. To go to the famous Brickyard with the iconic Andretti name, it doesn’t get much cooler or better than that.”
Busch will be doing the Indianapolis-Charlotte double as a Memorial Day mission to men and women serving in the U.S. Military via the Armed Forces Foundation. Fans can contribute to the cause by texting AFF to 50555 to donate $10.
Busch, who has never raced an IndyCar, passed Rookie Orientation at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year during a test session. At the time, Busch was more or less testing the Dallara DW12 for fun.
Busch will be the fourth driver to attempt the Indianapolis-Charlotte double. John Andretti was the first driver to attempt it in 1994. After finishing four laps down in tenth in Indianapolis, Andretti crashed and had engine problems in the 600. Robby Gordon has attempted the double five times, most recently in 2004. However, Gordon failed to make it to Charlotte on time and did not start the 600 in 2000 (P.J. Jones started Gordon’s No. 13 Ford in that instance). Finally, Tony Stewart has attempted the double twice (most recently in 2001) and is the only driver to ever complete all 1100 miles. Neither of the three drivers has won either leg of the double. The best finishes are Stewart and Gordon’s sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis 500 (although Gordon’s came in 2000, the year he didn’t make it to Charlotte in time to start the Coca-Cola 600), and Stewart’s fourth-place finish in the 2001 Coca-Cola 600.
Danica Patrick, Justin Allgaier Talk About Phoenix Incident
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
A disappointing start to the year for Danica Patrick won’t include continued conflict. Patrick met with rookie Justin Allgaier Sunday, shortly after the Phoenix Cup race after a wreck ruined both drivers’ days. Patrick, who was critical of the No. 51 car on the radio, claiming Allgaier was “driving all over the track” appeared receptive to a conversation that quickly settled differences over what will be a long season.
“She was just upset because she got involved in the crash that we had,’’ said Allgaier to the Motor Racing Network. “She says she’s been through this and that she felt like I needed to settle down at that point. I explained my position on why everything happened. I think she understood where I was coming from. It doesn’t fix either one of our racecars. It doesn’t fix either one of our days. Unfortunately, we were both having pretty decent days.’’
Allgaier wound up 30th due to the incident while Patrick was 36th. The incident, which was caused by Allgaier’s spin also involved the No. 32 team and Travis Kvapil, which wound up 38th after sustaining heavy damage.
Camping World Close to Extending Title Sponsorship of NCWTS
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Marcus Lemonis, CEO of Camping World, Grand Marshal of Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway, and star of CNBC’s “The Profit,” made the announcement over the weekend that the retailer is very close to announcing a deal that would continue its title sponsorship of NASCAR’s Truck Series. The original agreement with NASCAR is scheduled to conclude after the 2015 season.
According to the sanctioning body, no formal contract has been signed, but “the agreement between the two parties has proven to be a beneficial one.”
“In about a month, we’ll be announcing a significant extension to that contract. It’s been great for us,” said Camping World’s Lemonis in a statement. “The NASCAR relationship has worked well for Camping World. When we started, we had 35 stores. Now, we’re up to 120 stores. As we travel the country and we meet new customers in stores, they always are very appreciative of our relationship with NASCAR. It’s been good.”
Gaining a long-term commitment from Camping World to sponsor the Truck Series would be a relief for NASCAR, which is set to lose Nationwide Insurance as title sponsor for the NASCAR Nationwide Series at the end of the 2014 season. The sponsorship of the Cup Series by Sprint runs through 2016.
The NCWTS is back in action on March 29th at 2:30 PM (ET) when the trucks visit Martinsville Speedway in the Kroger 250, which can be seen on Fox Sports 1. Ratings for the season opener were up 11 percent.
Harvick Takes Win At Phoenix In Second Race With New Team
posted by Justin Tucker
Monday March 3, 2014
Phoenix International Raceway has become Kevin Harvick’s home away from home. Sunday Afternoon was no exception as Harvick charged to the front early and would dominate for much of the day, leading 224 of the scheduled 312 laps to record his record fifth win on the one mile oval and his third win in the last four races at Phoenix.
Harvick, coming off of a disappointing Speedweeks which was capped by a last lap crash in the Daytona 500 in his debut with Stewart-Haas Racing, set the tone on Saturday by winning both practices while having the best 5 and 10-lap averages in the first practice of the day on Saturday. On Sunday, Harvick and his No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet was nothing short of flawless as he was able to hold Dale Earnhardt, Jr. by .489 seconds after a late race restart to claim his 24th career Sprint Cup Series victory.
“Man, this is awesome,” Harvick said after his dominant victory on Sunday. “Man, this just solidifies so many things and so many decisions. It’s been so much work with all the time and effort that these guys (the crew) have put in—but what a race car.”
Stewart Haas Racing co-owner Gene Haas shared in Harvick’s excitement after the race.
“It took long enough,” Haas joked. “This is phenomenal. I think there was a lot of skepticism last year about what myself and Tony (Stewart) what we were up to, was there a lot of madness to this. Quite frankly, it’s a great team, there’s a lot of synergy at the shop, people working together. I don’t know what we did, but I think we put together a great organization.”
Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. continued his hot start to the 2014 season. Earnhardt Jr. would finish second on Sunday, marking his seventh consecutive top 10 finish since the end of the 2013 season. Earnhardt Jr. was pleased with the effort after a coast-to-coast whirlwind week after winning his second Daytona 500 and also gave great praise to the efforts of Harvick and the No. 4 team.
“I’ve got to congratulate Kevin. Those guys were two-tenths faster than everyone all weekend in practice. They were just phenomenal,” Earnhardt said. “To be able to run with them all day was a big confidence builder for us.”
Joining Harvick and Earnhardt in the top 5 of The Profit on CNBC 500K were Brad Keselowski with his second consecutive top 3 run of 2014 in third. Keselowski’s Team Penske teammate Joey Logano would finish fourth, and Jeff Gordon would come home fifth in his No. 24 Pepsi Max Chevrolet.
Jimmie Johnson finished in sixth, followed by Ryan Newman with a nice rebound after Daytona in seventh. Carl Edwards would carry the banner for Roush Fenway Racing by finishing eighth, Kyle Busch was ninth, and Jamie McMurray would finish tenth.
A look at the Profit on CNBC 500K by the numbers. There were 14 lead changes among eight different drivers, there were eight cautions for 39 laps which slowed the race pace to 109.229 MPH.
Next Sunday, the Sprint Cup Series heads to Sin City and the Las Vegas Motor
Starting Lineup: The Profit On CNBC 500K
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday March 1, 2014
Drivers in RED (i) are those ineligible to collect Sprint Cup points
Daytona 500 TV Ratings Down
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Wednesday February 26, 2014
What was the longest weather delay in Daytona 500 history turned out to bring NASCAR lower ratings and TV viewership Sunday night than expected. According to a report Monday from FOX Sports, the 56th running of the Daytona 500 airing at 8 PM (ET) posted a 5.6/10 national household rating/share which averaged 9.3 million viewers. That’s down 44 percent from last year’s 9.9, easily making it the least-watched Daytona 500 of all-time.
Due to the six-hour, twenty-two minute rain delay in Daytona, the race was up against the primetime coverage of the Winter Olympics Closing Ceremony from Sochi, Russia on NBC (15.25 million viewers). FOX also reported that 69% of the pre-rain delay viewers of the race, which began at 1 PM (ET) kept tuning in.
In comparison, the 2013 Daytona 500 on FOX was the most-watched race in five years, posting a 9.9/22 rating/share, commanding 16.7 million viewers. The Daytona 500 in 2012, the first to ever be run on a Monday and in the primetime slot did a 7.7/13 overnight rating/share which resulted in 13.67 million households viewing the race according to Nielsen TV ratings data.
Earnhardt, Jr. Claims Second Daytona 500 Victory
posted by Justin Tucker
Wednesday February 26, 2014
Ten years is a long time. For Dale Earnhardt, Jr., it felt like an eternity. NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver endured many near misses and close calls at the Daytona 500 since his only win in the Great American Race in 2004. Earnhardt had finished second in two of his last three Daytona 500s coming into Sunday’s race. He was also riding the tail of a 55-race winless streak, dating back to Michigan in 2012.
However nothing would stop Dale Jr. on Sunday, not even a 6 hour and 22 minute rain delay from capturing his second Daytona 500 win. Earnhardt Jr. led a race-high 54 laps on the evening and used some timely drafting help from teammates Jimmie Johnson and, on the final restart, Jeff Gordon to separate from the pack and secure the victory.
“Winning this race is the greatest feeling that you could feel in this sport besides accepting the trophy for the championship,” said a jubilant Earnhardt after pulling into Victory Lane. “We could fight off battle after battle. We got a little help at the end there from Jeff to get away on the restart. This is amazing. I can’t believe this is happening. I never take this for granted, man because it doesn’t happen twice, let alone once.”
Aside from the race itself the big story of the race was the 6 hour and 22 minute red flag, which threatened to move the race to Monday evening (had the race been postponed, FOX Sports’ Chris Myers had tweeted that the race would resume at 5:00pm EST). However, Mother Nature would cooperate and would allow the race to be run under different conditions from which they practiced this week. Once the race resumed, the intensity picked up from the changing track conditions. This allowed the pack to race side-by-side and at times 3-wide up to seven rows deep.
Joining Earnhardt Jr. in the top 5 for the 2014 Daytona 500 were: Denny Hamlin who closed out a spectacular Speedweeks in second, Brad Keselowski in third, Jeff Gordon in fourth, and Jimmie Johnson who overcome two wrecks leading up to the 500 in fifth.
Rounding out the top 10 in the Daytona 500 were Matt Kenseth in sixth, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. in seventh and Greg Biffle would bring his No. 16 Ford home in eighth. Austin Dillon would come home ninth in his first Cup Series race in the iconic No. 3 for Richard Childress Racing, while Casey Mears would round out the top 10.
A couple of major contenders for the Daytona 500 win would see their hopes dashed early on as Martin Truex, Jr. would blow up just 30 laps into the race, relegating him to a 43rd-place finish in his debut for Furniture Row Racing. Crew chief Todd Berrier was already in Nashville for a test session before the race was even over. Kyle Busch, meanwhile would have a pit road violation just before halfway and would spend much of the race battling back from that mistake. Busch would eventually finish 19th after leading 19 laps.
Danica Patrick would also be bit by bad luck as she was caught up in a multi-car wreck on lap 145. Patrick would lead her second consecutive Daytona 500, but wouldn’t have the finish to show for it finishing 40th. Tony Stewart would encounter a frustrating evening as well, with a fuel pickup problem derailing his quest for his first Daytona 500 win. Stewart would finish 35th.
A look at the Daytona 500 by the numbers. There were 42 lead changes among 18 drivers, while seven cautions for 39 laps would slow the race pace to 145.290 MPH.
Next week, the Sprint Cup Series heads to the “diamond in the desert,” Phoenix International Raceway for The Profit on CNBC 500K. The Green flag is scheduled for 3:15pm EST.
Nationwide Series Post-Race Quotes: Drive4COPD 300
posted by Thomas Bowles
Tuesday February 25, 2014
Frontstretch Interviews – Courtesy Mike Neff
ELLIOTT SADLER – FINISHED 4th
Thoughts on the race?
It’s definitely a lot different racing than what we’re used to.
Comfortable with it?
Yeah, it’s just different. You’re worried about what you’re doing, but you’re also worried about what everyone else is doing and they’re not doing more than you’re doing. Physically pushing a guy is way better than just riding so you just gotta time it right and push it to the edge.
Happy to start the year with a top 5?
Yeah. Hell, that was the worst we ran all day, I think. I have no idea how they put the 3 car in front of us on that last restart. I hadn’t seen the 3 car hardly all day. When they put us from fifth to sixth, on the outside line, it just really boxed us in. I would have really restarted behind my teammate and given him a good push to the front. Anyways, it is what it is; we’ll take it and move on.
Looked like you were up front all day.
The guys did a good job. We had a fast race car. Great pit stops, just really proud of these guys. The car’s in one piece and we can take it to Talladega now. Great job by my guys. A lot of effort came into coming down here to Daytona and giving ourselves a shot to win. We had that chance to be up front and make some things happen. Fifth is not what we want, but we’ll take it and move on.
Bumping vs Pushing?
It’s way harder. You don’t want to lay on the guy in front of you, so it’s tough racing. A lot different than what we’re used to, ‘cause you gotta go. You gotta drag the brake too ‘cause you don’t want to hit the guys and you don’t want to stay on him. It’s a lot harder mentally than what we’ve done in the past.
Car was strong all day. Pushing vs. Bumping, is that harder to do than just getting on somebody and pushing them?
Yeah, it is a little bit. When you bump ‘em, you jar ‘em, it kinda jacks ‘em a little bit. It’s a little more abrupt, obviously. I thought it was OK there at the end. It was certainly fun and hopefully entertaining. But a little bit of a struggle in the early part of the race and the midpart of the race to see a good race. And that’s unfortunate for the fans. You can’t do that the whole race, you can’t tear up your stuff, knock your grill in, overheat your motor, all that stuff so there’s no sense in doing all that until you get down to the last lap. The 7 and the 6, they did a good job. Man, the 7 really held the 22 and I tight on the bottom. I was rubbing his door and hitting the apron at the same time, no room whatsoever. So it was good; wish we were the ones who could have won but a lot better now than what we were last year.
Going home in one piece makes it a lot better, right?
Yeah. My back feels good. My foot feels good. Past years here, I’ve been going home with pain so I’m alright.
Connect with Mike!
2014 Truck Series Post-Race Quotes: Daytona (Exclusives)
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday February 22, 2014
When you’re on the outside like that, how frustrating is it?
It’s so hard. Timothy Peters has won here. Kyle Busch has won everywhere. Ron Hornaday has been running Trucks forever, probably before I was even born. I was surrounded by veterans there, and like I told them I don’t have a rookie stripe but I’m a rookie. This is only my fourth Truck race ever, my fourth superspeedway race, and man, I figured out when the 17 got up in front of me, I pushed him. And as soon as I pushed him, he took off. And I went with him. And I just kept doing it, and before I knew it, he was leading. And I saw Ron in my mirror, backed up to him, and if it wasn’t for him, I don’t know what would have happened. I gotta thank him big time for that. That was a true teammate move right there. I really appreciate that. He just bounced off me and we got to the front. I tried my hardest to sidedraft Kyle. I was probably touching his door.
Top 5 in the No. 30 truck. This deal come together at the last minute, but you had a heck of a truck. Tell us about your night.
Yeah, I’ve got to thank Turner Scott Motorsports. The guys worked so hard on this Rheem Comfort Products Chevrolet. Exciting! Just got hung up on the outside and had to wait for my teammate there to catch up. And then he got to the bottom, so… I got the old 32 and started pushing ol’ Ryan to the front. So, it’s not bad. We’ll take it. You just don’t want to step over that boundary. You don’t know how far to push and shove. We bumped about six times down the straightaway without latching onto them. Hopefully, that was OK and we came home with a top 5.
Connect with Mike!
2014 Budweiser Duels Post Race Quotes
posted by Matt Stallknecht
Friday February 21, 2014
BUDWEISER DUELS POST-RACE QUOTES
They’re saying the wheel bearing burned up in it. I don’t know what caused it, they’re taking it all apart to figure out what the heck happened. Something abnormal that’s for sure I don’t think I’ve ever had that happen at all. Hopefully, we made the race and hopefully we can fix the problem before Sunday.
WHAT WAS THAT LOUD BOOM ONCE YOU TURNED INTO THE GARAGE?
Loud pop was a tire… thankfully, it popped, hopefully it didn’t hurt anybody. All the heat created in the left front that popped was pretty weird.
REALLY GOOD RUN. WHAT DID YOU THINK OF IT?
Yeah, it was good. We have a car we can work with for the 500. Got a good starting spot, so we’re going to rest easy, fluff and buff our car for a couple of days and get ready for Sunday.
ANY DIFFERENCE ON WHETHER THE TOP OR BOTTOM LANE WORKED?
Yeah, I was just moving around, trying to stay with the flow. For me, this car works on all parts of the racetrack. So I’m pretty happy with it.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.
GOT SHUFFLED BACK, AFTER PIT STOPS AND THEN COULDN’T GET BACK UP TO THE FRONT. WHY?
Nah, we were just sitting there waiting until the last few laps to make a move. You didn’t want to pull down and get sent to the back. Seen a couple of guys get sent to the back really quick so we were just kind of waiting for the end. I felt like we had a good situation there with Ambrose behind us — we had a good run off Turn 2 and I went. It was the last lap, time to go do something, nobody went with us but hopefully Sunday is a different story.
We got a great car. We don’t have to work hard. We learned, we got a good race car. Got a car in one piece, ready to go so we’ll try and get through the next couple of practices, deliver it to the starting group this Sunday and we’ll be real happy.
YOU’RE IN THE DAYTONA 500!
Yeah, it’s pretty awesome. This Whitetail Chevrolet was so fast that I knew all I had to do was stick it behind smart, intelligent drafters and we could have a good finish. That’s what we did in the Duels and I’m excited. I’m excited to go do some stuff with the Nationwide car and have some more practice with this. But to know that we’re locked in the Daytona 500’s pretty cool.
YOU WERE OBVIOUSLY IN FRONT OF THAT MELEE AT THE END. WHEN YOU WERE UP FRONT THERE IN THE BEGINNING, WERE YOU HOPING TO JUST STAY IN LINE AND LET YOU FINISH TOP 5?
I was pretty content to ride and luckily I knew a lot of people around us were. It was nice to have a little calm and not really have to be racing hard the whole time. I knew that the pit stop was going to shake everything up and that’s exactly what happened. Fell back a little bit there but made the right moves at the end to get a good finish.
HOW STRONG ARE THESE RCR CARS?
They’re very strong! They definitely have the capabilities to be winning one of these races.
YOU’RE IN THE TOP 5 FOR YOUR HEAT IN THE DAYTONA 500. YOUR PRIMARY CAR IS SITTING RIGHT IN THE GARAGE, KIND OF WADDED UP. DID YOU THINK THIS ONE HAD IT IN IT?
Yeah, it’s a brand new car also. It’s just not quite as good as the primary but still a damned good car. I’m just proud of everybody at RCR for building such fast race cars. All of our cars have been fast, ECR motor’s been strong, even our affiliate teams have been qualifying really good and racing good. So… excited about 2014! It’s going to be a good year.
WELL MAN, YOU STARTED IN THE BACK BUT WORKED YOUR WAY TO THE FRONT WHEN IT COUNTED MOST. WERE YOU JUST BIDING YOUR TIME THROUGHOUT THE RACE?
Eh, you never know if you’re going to get back up there or not. We had to start at the back, we had to make a run early and see what we could do. We drove right to 10th, or something like that and then it got stagnant. We tried to make something happen, and went to the back again. Drove back up to the front. Again, just really proud of my guys. Matt Kruder did a hell of a job on that pit stop getting just enough gas in to gain some spots there.
RCR CARS SEEM PRETTY DARNED STRONG. DO YOU THINK THE RCR CARS HAVE SOMETHING FOR THEM ON SUNDAY — ESPECIALLY THE THREE JOE GIBBS RACING CARS THAT SEEM TO BE THE CLASS OF THE FIELD RIGHT NOW?
Oh yeah. The 20 car was extremely fast. The 11 didn’t qualify that good, but he’s a good drafter. I think he won. We definitely have something for him.
Check in with Matt and Jay on their site at CareyandCoffey.com.
Countdown To Daytona Beach · Matt McLaughlin · Saturday February 9, 2008
Editor’s Note: With the 50th running of the Daytona 500 just days away, we’re proud to present Frontstretch Senior Writer Matt McLaughlin’s “History Of Daytona” series. Starting February 1st and ending Sunday, February 10th, McLaughlin will profile all 49 Daytona 500s – and whether it’s Pearson and Petty spinning through the grass or Dale Earnhardt finally getting the monkey off his back, he’ll have you feeling as if you’re back in the middle of the action all over again.
In the tenth and final part of his series, McLaughlin chronicles the last seven 500s, bringing you completely up-to-date with No. 50 on the horizon. By the way, did you miss his earlier retrospectives? Check out the links below to catch up.
The 2000 edition of the Great American Race wasn't very good, but come 2001 NASCAR thought they'd developed a solution to ensure good racing at Daytona. A small spoiler called the "taxicab strip" was added to the roof of the Cup cars; NASCAR officials hoped the cars would punch a bigger hole in the air with the strip, allowing for more passing despite the restrictor plates. Whether the strip actually made for better racing is highly debatable; what was of greater importance was how drivers quickly reported the strips made the closing rate on a car ahead frighteningly fast. That led to some dangerous and ultimately tragic racing that unforgettable February afternoon.
The “Big One” occurred that day on lap 175, and it eliminated eighteen cars, about half the field left running at that point in the race. How wild did things get? Tony Stewart, who had been running in third place, had his car go airborne and upside down. The No. 20 car landed on the roof of his teammate Bobby Labonte's car, despite the fact Labonte was running thirty-somethingth when the wreck began. For all the talk of restrictor plates being in place to protect the fans, Stewart’s car darn near did land in the grandstands; luckily, he was unhurt.
The race was red-flagged to allow the track to be cleaned up. When racing resumed, teammates Michael Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. teamed up front to try to break away from the pack. On the final lap things got dicey. Dale Earnhardt the original, Sterling Marlin, Rusty Wallace and Ken Schrader were running in tight quarters behind the D.E.I. teammates, desperate for their shot at 500 glory. Down the backstretch they flew, jockeying for position…and then it happened.
That famous black No. 3 car got hooked sideways entering the third turn, jerked sideways and hit the wall nose first. Schrader was unable to avoid that black Chevy and ran into the side of the No. 3. Both Schrader and Earnhardt's car slid down the track and into the grass; by the standards of Daytona wrecks, it didn't look like much worse than a fender bender. TV cameras quickly panned away from the incident to show Michael Waltrip winning his first Cup race in over 400 attempts, while Junior took second.
But back in the trioval grass it was becoming clear something was very, very, wrong. Dale Earnhardt had not emerged from his car. His longtime friend Ken Schrader ran over to the No. 3 car, looked inside, and began frantically motioning for the rescue crews to step it up. He then went to Victory Lane and quietly told winner Michael Waltrip things had gone terribly wrong. The announcement wasn't made immediately, but folks watching events unfold knew there had been a tragedy. You could see it in the way Waltrip quickly became subdued, in the way Dale Junior and Teresa Eanhardt hustled away from the track and equally in the slow way the ambulance carrying Earnhardt's body left the track emergency lights lit but sirens silent. As FOX ended its first NASCAR broadcast Darrell Waltrip ended his comments by quietly adding "I sure hope Dale is all right." But Dale Earnhardt wasn't all right. He died in that final lap wreck. As news began emerging from those gathered at Halifax, NASCAR fans were stunned to learn a seven time champion and the face of the sport wad dead.
If I may editorialize for a moment, revisionist history now seems to state that Dale Earnhardt's death led NASCAR to mandate head restraints for drivers and the installation of SAFER barriers at all tracks hosting Cup events. Horse hockey. NASCAR eventually said that a broken seatbelt caused Dale's death. They said the SAFER barriers wouldn't work on banked tracks and that the HANS device's safety record was unproven. It actually wasn't until Blaise Alexander died on the final lap of a Charlotte ARCA race while battling for the lead that NASCAR finally threw in the towel; they required all drivers to wear some sort of head restraint and the wheels began in motion to have SAFER barriers installed at all tracks hosting Cup events.
In the 2002 Daytona 500, once again the race became a massive wreck-fest. The race event slowed fully nine times by cautions, and the "Big One" occurred on lap 139 on a restart, when Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick got into an argument over the same piece of real estate. The No. 29 car got sideways in front of the thundering pack, and once again, fully half of the cars left running were involved in the wreck.
The carnage continued on a lap 194 restart. Jeff Gordon led the pack slowly to the green flag, bunching the field up behind him. Eager to try to pass Gordon, Sterling Marlin got into the gas too fast and hit the 24 car. Behind them, another wreck was already beginning with Mark Martin running into the back of Michael Waltrip's car (which spun through the grass and dang near hit the pace car on pit road.) From there on it was Katy-Bar-The-Door as more cars drove into the pig pile, littering the front straightaway with debris. NASCAR quickly threw a red flag to clean up the mess.
And that's when one of the most bizarre incidents in 500 history took place. When he'd hit the 24 car, Marlin had knocked his fender into a front tire, so it seemed likely he would need to surrender the lead to head for the pits for repairs. The red flag in place, Sterling decided to climb out of his car and have a look at how bad the damage really was…and then, while stunned fans in the stands and at home on TV watched, Marlin grabbed hold of the fender and tried to yank it off the tire. The problem, of course, is that it is illegal to do any work on the car under the red flag. NASCAR officials leapt from the pace car and all but tackled Marlin to keep him from effecting further repairs. For his futile effort, Marlin was sent to the tail end of the field for the restart, and his chance at winning his third Daytona 500 all but disappeared.
That left a surprised Ward Burton as the race leader. Behind him, Elliott Sadler and a surprise underdog Geoff Bodine teamed up to try to run Burton down. But the No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge got a great restart and was able to hang on for the win, the biggest of Ward’s career to date.
Threatening clouds overhead dominated the conversation in the hours leading up to the 2003 500. The forecast was grim, calling for heavy rains that afternoon and into the night. A decision was made to push the start of the race up 23 minutes to try to get the event at least to the halfway point so nobody would have to come back Monday and FOX wouldn't have to take a commercial bath.
Early on in the race, things got ugly. Ken Schrader clipped Ryan Newman, sending the No. 12 car into the sodden infield grass. Newman's car flipped violently three and a half times, shedding its entire rearend assembly and both front wheels. Fortunately, no sizable debris bounced into the stands. Then the rains returned, causing the first of two rain delays that afternoon. During the delay, FOX reporter Jeannie Zelasko famously asked Schrader if a large clod of grass she saw lying in the garage area had come from his car…or from him. No doubt about it…the largest clod visible was the blonde one herself.
When racing resumed, prerace favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. saw his chances at victory eliminated when a failed alternator sent him to the garage for lengthy repairs. The whole dreary state of affairs mercifully came to an end when the rains returned in earnest shortly after the halfway point of the race. Michael Waltrip was declared the winner, giving him his second Daytona triumph in three years.
After his problems the previous year Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was notably confident in the week that led up to the 2004 Daytona 500. He stated plainly that he had the best car he'd ever driven at the track, and he was confident he'd do well. Of course his famous father had said the same thing many times, only to have several 500 victories slip from his grasp.
‘03 500 winner Michael Waltrip took a wild ride early in the 2004 edition of the Great Race. Rookies Johnny Sauter and Brian Vickers tangled, and Waltrip got the worst of it; his No. 15 car went tumbling wildly through the infield grass before coming to rest on its roof. Rescue workers had a time of it extracting the notably lanky Waltrip from his crushed Chevy until they rolled it back onto its wheels, exactly as Waltrip had been begging them to do since they came to his aid.
Late in the race, Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. broke away from the pack and battled hard for the win. Stewart blocked Earnhardt several times, but Junior was finally able to fake high then make a power move down low to pass the No. 20 with twenty laps to go. From there, the No. 8 car set sail, to the delight of the highly partisan crowd. In just his fifth Daytona 500 start, Junior claimed the prize that had taken his father nineteen years to grasp. The younger Earnhardt spun through the infield grass to celebrate his win, just as his old man had in 1998.
After their third Daytona 500 win in four tries, it was clear the D.E.I. cars of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Michael Waltrip had begun dominating the plate races with ease. But the rest of that season, the entries from Hendrick Motorsports made it clear that they intended to be players in the plate game as well, thank you very much. After the ’04 500, Jeff Gordon went on to win the next two plate races, the spring race at Talladega and the Firecracker 400 at Daytona, while Earnhardt set the universe back to right with a win in the Fall Talladega event (he'd finished second and third in the other two plate races). It was clear that the Hendrick and D.E.I. cars were the favorites going into the ’05 Daytona 500.
By the standards of the Daytona 500, the race was relatively incident free, but don't try telling that to Scott Wimmer who took a wild ride on lap 184 off the bumper of Greg Biffle's out of control Ford. Despite getting airborne, Wimmer was OK after the incident.
In the end, it came down to the race the pundits were expecting, with Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. battling for the top spot. In the final five laps it was an epic battle, but Kurt Busch tipped the scales in favor of the No. 24 car, drafting with Gordon to get around the No. 8 Chevy. Busch went on to claim second in the race while Earnhardt had to settle for third.
Now, the 2006 Daytona 500…hey, this isn't really history; it happened last year! But it does seem like a long time ago, so for the benefit of those with short term memory problems, here it goes.
There were a couple big stories leading up to last year's 500. Jimmie Johnson's car failed technical inspection, and his crew chief Chad Knaus was sent home by NASCAR as a result. In the meantime, Tony Stewart put some folks on edge by saying the bumpdrafting out on the track had gotten so out of hand it was likely that someone was going to get killed during the race.
Oddly, it was Stewart who caused a lot of the carnage that Sunday. He put the No. 24 car into the wall, ending Gordon's shot at a win, and then for reasons apparent only to Stewart, he took such great exception at something Matt Kenseth had done that he purposely knocked him hard into the grass. That Kenseth's car didn't collect the entire field as it slid back up the track can only be seen as an act of Divine Intervention.
Jimmie Johnson had the strongest dog in the fight that afternoon, but at Daytona, the race doesn't always go to the strong. On the final lap, Ryan Newman tried to go high around Johnson to take the lead but Casey Mears decided to stick with the No. 48. Content to settle for second, Mears pushed Johnson to the win while Newman finished a disappointing third. As far as the rest of the Top 10, NASCAR might still be debating where everyone finished for all I know. It seemed to take forever to post the results of that race.
Last year, the week leading up to the 2007 Daytona 500 was memorable for all the wrong reasons. There seemed to be a constant litany of allegations of cheating, with NASCAR impounding cars and some of the most prestigious crew chiefs in the garage area facing possible suspension. Most notable, perhaps, was the seizure of Michael Waltrip's 55 car which cast a dark cloud over Toyota 's arrival to Cup racing. Some additive to the fuel was found in the intake manifold, a very large no-no in Cup racing.
As if that wasn’t enough, Jeff Gordon's car was found to be too low after winning one of the qualifying races. In a move that further called NASCAR's legitimacy into question, it was decided that while Gordon would have to start the 500 at the back of the pack (thus indicating the car was illegal, he'd still be allowed to keep the win.
but fortunately enough, the Daytona 500 itself was memorable for all the right reasons. After a relatively safe and sedate race early in the going things, heated up nicely in the final forty laps with the game afoot. With the checkered flag in sight, Mark Martin and Kevin Harvick were engaged in a fender-to-fender battle for the lead when all Hell broke loose behind them in turn four. Kyle Busch's car got out from underneath him and backed up across the track, triggering the Big One — things got so wild that Clint Bowyer crossed the Start/Finish line both upside down and on fire. Despite the carnage, though, the race finished under green with Harvick beating Martin to the finish by just a couple of feet.
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