The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: 2013 Daytona 500 by Matt McLaughlin -- Monday February 25, 2013

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Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: 2013 Daytona 500

Matt McLaughlin · Monday February 25, 2013


It was all about putting yourself in the best position for the final run in the 55th Daytona 500. Jimmie Johnson was the driver who did that; the reward? His name on the Harley J. Earl trophy for a second time.


The Key Moment – Jimmie Johnson made the most of his 400th career start, edging ahead of Brad Keselowski just as the final caution flag flew. That gave the No. 48 entry the preferred outside groove for the final restart, where it was all over after that. (Finally.)

In a Nutshell – Dang, I’ve seen more passes made at the local geriatric center’s Valentine’s Day party.

Was it a steep learning curve and getting acclimated to new equipment, or is this car going to earn the nickname, “Generation Sux?”

Dramatic Moment – There were damn few of them as the drivers drove lap after lap in a single-lane, processional parade.

What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week

Gentle readers, what many of you saw live late Saturday afternoon and what most of you have seen replays of since was nearly the end of auto racing here in America. Had Kyle Larson’s car or its engine actually tumbled into the stands, we’d have had hundreds of fatalities. The incident bears eerie similarities to the tragedy at Le Mans in 1955, during which Pierre Levegh’s Mercedes wrecked hard, its engine and hood cart wheeling into the packed grandstands in a frightening scene. Levegh and at least 83 spectators were killed in the fiery tragedy, with many more hurt in an incident that made international news. That disaster, along with a child killed by a wheel entering the pit area at Martinsville later that year led the Big Three automakers to decide to abandon racing under the auspices of the Auto Manufacturing Association.

As it is, I am sure there were liability lawyers parachuting into DIS after the wreck. NASCAR seems to be cowering behind a cloak of denial, claiming nobody could have foreseen this sort of incident taking place. Really? I’m not the brightest bulb in the chandelier but I’ve been predicting this for over a decade in my four times a year diatribes against plate racing. In a sad irony, the plates were added to NASCAR race cars after a blown tire put Bobby Allison’s vehicle up into and almost through the catchfence at Talladega. Five years later at the same track Neil Bonnett, plate affixed beneath his carb, also went up and into the catchfence, tearing down a huge section and injuring some fans. In 2000, Geoff Bodine’s race truck got up into the fence and tore down a huge section not far from where Saturday’s incident occurred. In 2009, Brad Keselowski (also involved in Saturday’s incident) put Carl Edwards up into and almost through the fence at Talladega. That car was also equipped with a restrictor plate. While no fans were seriously injured, having broken my jaw in a motorcycle accident I don’t recall it being a particularly pleasant experience.

In conclusion, when the drivers strap into their race cars every week they assume a certain degree of risk. That’s not the case for the fans, though take a look at the fine print when getting a ticket; you are warned you cannot hold the track liable if you are injured at the speedway. Still, fans expect to leave the track in their cars and not in an ambulance… or a hearse. Here’s the deal. Restrictor plates haven’t worked. They cause a level of danger that’s simply insane for both drivers and fans as witnessed Saturday. The solution isn’t higher, sturdier fences. (Tony Stewart’s car went airborne during the 2001 Daytona 500 and was higher than the fence. And most of you will recall the tragedy that claimed Dale Earnhardt later in that same race.) The solution isn’t to move or eliminate the crossover gate. Longtime readers will know that I don’t often use caps for emphasis. I think it’s a sign of weak writing. But I will make an exception here and use the strongest possible language I think the editors will allow: STOP SCREWING AROUND AND FIX THE FRICKIN’ TRACK! Lower the banking, lose the plates, and get back to real racing. Once again, NASCAR officials are left with blood on their hands not due to their actions but due to their inaction.

What’s the protocol for deciding whether to throw a caution on the last lap or letting the race finish under green? Certainly, cautions thrown for debris during the race were ordered for a whole lot less dangerous conditions.

What do we learn from the Daytona 500 that relates to the actual season? Um, anyone remember 2010 Sprint Cup champion Jamie McMurray? No? That about sums it up.

What have we learned from nearly two weeks at Daytona about the complexion of the season that lies ahead? The answer is, as it has been every year since 1988 and the re-introduction of the plates, absolutely nothing. The Daytona 500 is a unique animal all to itself. While it bears some semblance to the two Talladega races (especially since both tracks were recently repaved) and, of course the July race here they are still apples and oranges. The Firecracker 400 is not only shorter in length but it’s typically held during brutally hot weather, which makes the track a lot greasier. Combined, the four plate tracks account for just four races, 1/9th of the series schedule. The bread-and-butter of the season consists of the 1.5-mile to 2.0-mile speedways (cookie cutters, if you will). It is prowess at that sort of track that likely will determine this year’s title contenders. Daytona is all noise and hype, while the cookie-cutters are the hard work and reality of the season.

Let’s talk turkey. The Cup preliminaries to the Daytona 500 were, to be kind a bit monotonous and, to put it more bluntly just plain boring with little passing or side-by-side action in the Duels and the one they used to call the Busch Clash. After heavily hyping the new Gen-6 cars as about to return “real” racing, to NASCAR it was a bit of a letdown. What was up? With NASCAR only releasing the official rules package days before January testing began, a lot of the teams are a little light on inventory of the new Gen-6 cars and wadding one up in one of the preliminaries wasn’t a good way to start off the season. (Note to family members of fabricators and body men in the No. 99 shop: You ought to see them again somewhere in late July.) Still, I’m not ready to write off the new cars quite yet. As noted above, Daytona is more an aberration than an example and it’s good to be able to tell the three manufacturers cars apart at a glance again.

Did NASCAR just barely escape apocalypse? Informed sources say GM spearheaded the move to return to more stock-appearing NASCAR Cup cars with a less than subtle threat that they were considering joining Dodge in leaving the sport. Facing the potential loss of most of their major teams, NASCAR acquiesced. So you want to enter an Australian-built car that’s not even in production yet, one which you aren’t even taking orders for? Sure! You know our notebook is written on an Etch-A-Sketch, anyways. Chevy was also given the luxury of waiting until Ford and Toyota (and even Dodge) had introduced their new cars before finalizing their design. So I guess, to paraphrase Robert McNamara, “What’s good for GM is good for NASCAR.”
As for the new SS street car that debuted at Daytona, it’s a sweet looking ride, particularly in the gray dressage in which it was presented. And it is rear-wheel drive, as opposed to the Fusion and Camry to differentiate it. But I was disappointed to see it was still a four-door entry, making it a little less “sporty” though not surprised. Chevy hasn’t built a cool, two-door full-size car since the 1969 Biscayne 427/425 horse.

So does Johnson’s win in a Holden count as the first NASCAR Cup win by a foreign car since Al Keller’s victory in a Jaguar?

It was announced Thursday that the Twin 150s (I neither recall nor care what the official name of those contests is) will be moved from Thursday afternoon to Thursday evening, primetime in TV land. On the surface, the move makes sense. A vast majority of fans can’t tune in live on Thursday afternoon, after all due to a minor annoyance they label their jobs. On the other hand, the move to cooler nighttime start times (and the Daytona track is one of the most temperamental when it comes to temperature changes) will reduce greatly the amount of information a team can glean from Thursday night’s races and take to Sunday’s Big Show.

OK, when are you going to talk about Danica, Matt? I’ve tried to bury it down here a bit because I think over the course of the last two weeks, more verbiage has been devoted to Danica-mania than the story deserves. Firstly, I am not going to comment on her new, post-divorce relationship. It’s none of my business nor is it any of yours. For Ms. Patrick (as with Kasey Kahne) the measure of a person isn’t who they go to bed with at night but what they do with their lives after they get out of bed in the morning. Patrick’s winning the pole was a notable achievement, the first time a female has done so in NASCAR’s top division which has changed its name more times than the former artist formerly known as Prince. As a Yankee who tends towards the liberal side of social issues moreso than the average stock car fan, I have frequently been made uncomfortable by insinuations that NASCAR was a backwards bastion of white males alone. If Ms. Patrick’s winning the pole encourages more young ladies to chase the dream of auto racing in any of its varied forms, I’m all for it. Hopefully, though they will be able to enter the upper leagues of the sport based on their talents and not racy bikini ads.

NASCAR learned how easy it was for casual fans to return in droves: Danica Patrick winning the pole, then contending in the race. Overnights for Sunday’s 500 were up 30 percent as a result.

Patrick’s pole-winning car had barely come to a rest when the allegations and insinuation started. The story was too good to be true. She was being allowed to run an oversize restrictor plate or engine to run so fast so NASCAR could garner some much-needed positive publicity and help put an end to sagging TV ratings. (NASCAR will be renegotiating TV rights packages this year.) Patrick’s pole was the story of the week prior to Saturday’s wreck, with media outlets that usually snub the sport like the Wall Street Journal and New York Times covering her “win.” NBC’s Brian Williams interviewed Patrick on that network’s nightly news; ABC’s Diane Sawyer concluded that network’s coverage of the happening with an enthusiastic, “You go girl!” Oddly, was the only major media outlet to report there were suspicions in the garage area that Patrick’s pole was the result of some shenanigans. So do I believe NASCAR slipped Danica a big plate? Personally, I don’t. Her two teammates were also fast in qualifying as were the Chevys in general. They said NASCAR rigged the finish when Dale Earnhardt won his first Daytona 500 to kick off the sport’s 50th anniversary season. They said NASCAR rigged things so Richard Petty would get his 200th win in front of Ronald Reagan on the Fourth of July. (Cale Yarborough must not have gotten that memo.) They said it was too good to be true when Jeff Gordon won the first Brickyard 400, accomplished in front of his adoring fans in his adoptive home state of Indiana. Absent someone with inside, documented information publishing a tell-all book on the above, I’m going to choose to believe, every once in a great while there’s planetary convergence that allows for a few “feel good” stories in a sport whose history is littered with unhappier outcomes.

Speaking of which, Daytona Speedweeks is entirely too long, especially for fans being gouged by local innkeepers and other businesses with high prices and minimum stays. Here’s my suggestion: start Thursday with qualifying in the afternoon and the 150s at night. Run the Truck race as a single-day event with practice, qualifying and the race all on Friday. Kick off Saturday with the Busch Clash (or whatever it’s called next year) and the Nationwide race. Sunday, of course is the big show.

While they were plagued by cautions that got to be irritating at times, the three support races last Tuesday and Wednesday (the Late Models, the mods and K&N series) all featured thrilling finishes with controversial last-lap passes. It was nice to see Steve Park recovered enough from his head injuries to win the Modified race, though Mike Stefanik was clearly less than thrilled. But what happened to Chase Elliott and Brandon McReynolds, two of the rising young stars of stock car racing I was expecting to see in those events?

Wow, Johnson really tore up the No. 48 car’s splitter and front end celebrating his win, didn’t he? No way NASCAR is going to measure what’s left in post-race inspection, is there? You don’t think Chad Knaus told him to do that if he won, do you?

NASCAR announced last week that they will no longer provide crowd estimates for their races this season as they traditionally have done. Those numbers have been very embarrassing as of late and even with the numbers inflated, more than the weekly enemy body counts during ‘Nam they’ve been a clear sign about the decline of the health of the sport. Typical NASCAR: If there’s a problem, ignore it and deny it.

Speaking of which, as you might expect in this social media-crazed world, videos of Larson’s big wreck started popping up on YouTube about the same moment his car came to rest. It was amazing how quickly NASCAR was able to deliver ultimatums to the online video outlet to take them down, claiming they violated copyrights even when the videos were submitted from fans’ phones, coming from their unique perspectives in the stands — not the race broadcast. Again, if we ignore and deny it, it will go away.

If I had a nickel… for every time I’ve seen the “if I had a nickel” NASCAR promo commercial, I’d be checking tomorrow’s weather forecast to see if I was taking the Shelby GT500, the Boss 302, or the Raptor to work every morning.

You’d think Patrick winning the pole might have been a heads up. What was with the bare-midriffed young ladies surrounding the drivers in FOX’s pre-race promos? Guys, women are good for more than just looking at.

Those of you coming out of winter hibernation after leaving NASCAR for the holidays and winter might have noted a seismic change in the journalistic coverage of the sport. Where’s Monte Dutton’s columns on the Ghastly Gazette? Apparently, Dutton was informed January 4th his services as motorsports news writer were no longer needed, effective immediately after 16.5 years. (Been there, done that; I’ll show you the scars if you’ll buy me some weed, whites and wine.) Monte was one of the most humorous, pointed and straight-talking scribes left in the ink-stained newspaper NASCAR community that has dwindled to a handful. He’s now posting a daily blog on his own website, whilst awaiting a final reckoning on what he wants to do if he grows up. The blog is mainly about NASCAR but includes anything and everything, including his reflections on a terrible traffic accident near his home that could easily have cost his mom and two nephews their lives. Fortunately, apparently everyone is fine. Good luck, old friend.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Matt Kenseth clearly had the dominant car Sunday but suffered what was either drivetrain or engine failure (the team is still diagnosing) after leading 86 laps.

Shortly after the No. 20 car fell out, Kyle Busch was forced to retire with a blown engine. He was running second at the time. Busch had an eventful day overall, triggering the first big crash when he got into the back of Kahne, then having a jack collapse during a pit stop.

Pre-race favorite Kevin Harvick clearly had one fast Holden, having already won the Unlimited and his 150 qualifier to put the field on notice. Unfortunately, he was caught up in the lap 33 wreck which put him in the garage.

If anyone was going to beat the No. 29, the railbirds predicted it would be Tony Stewart or Kasey Kahne. They both got a piece of the lap 33 wreck as well.

This wreck, near the 350-mile mark of Sunday’s race at Daytona marked the fifth incident for Carl Edwards since January testing.

It hasn’t been a great month of February for Carl Edwards and the No. 99 team. After an unimpressive run in the 500, Edwards wound up wrecking his fifth car since January testing. None of those wrecks were his fault, either.

Front Row Motorsports team owner Bob Jenkins saw all three of his cars eliminated in the wreck that bought out the fourth caution.

Jeff Burton had a credible run going when a backmarker supposedly turned right and slammed him into the wall. Considering he’s just keeping Austin Dillon’s seat warm this year, he needs some strong runs to ensure continued employment in 2014.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Johnson’s fortunes improved considerably over last year’s 500 when he completed just one lap and finished 42nd.

Earnhardt finished second for the third time in the last four Daytona 500s. He still hasn’t won a plate race, though since Talladega in the Fall of 2004.

Keselowski had to be heartbroken to finish fourth after leading the race late. But considering his car got a piece of the two big wrecks and was repaired with battlefield surgery, that wasn’t too bad.

Patrick acquitted herself well, leading some laps and running within the top 10 most of the day. She became the first woman to lead a lap in the 500 and had the best finish of any female who ever entered the race (eighth place).

Some of the drivers for the smaller teams enjoyed great finishes. The list includes Regan Smith (7th), Michael McDowell (9th), and J.J. Yeley (10th).

Greg Biffle enjoyed yet another strong Speedweeks, finishing second in the Unlimited, second again in his 150 qualifier and running up front most all of the Daytona 500 before fading to a sixth-place finish.

Worth Noting

  • Earnhardt is the only driver to score a top 5 in last year’s 500 and this year’s edition. Mark Martin and Greg Biffle scored top 10s in both races.
  • Keselowski was the only driver to finish in the top 10 in last July’s Firecracker 400 and to repeat the feat in Sunday’s race.
  • The top 10 finishers Sunday drove six Chevys, three Fords and a Toyota. For those of you who didn’t get the memo last season, Dodge left NASCAR, ironically enough after being the mount of our reigning Cup champion.
  • Despite Camry-equipped drivers leading 125 of 200 laps, Toyota is still 0-for-7 in race wins when it comes to the Daytona 500.
  • The average speed for this year’s Daytona 500 was 159.250, the fastest Great American Race since Michael Waltrip won the tragedy marred 2001 edition averaging 161.783. For comparison’s sake, Junior Johnson won the ‘63 500 at an average speed of 164.083 aboard his Chevy.

What’s the Points? – Oddly enough, the current points standings pretty much mirror the finishing order of Sunday’s race. Can we wait at least a month or two before getting too worked up about the championship?

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans, with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) — This one didn’t earn enough beer to fill a Smurf’s shot glass.

Next UpNASCAR heads off to Phoenix… then Vegas. Wow, talk about two buzz-killers. And hopefully, I am headed back off to work after a nasty bout of pneumonia that damn near killed me.


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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…


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Andy D
02/25/2013 03:21 AM

Yes, by all means fix the track.

But that won’t happen. So in the interim, my suggestion is to raise the SAFER barrier by four feet. Look at the photos of Saturday’s accident; Larson’s car goes up and then pivots on the top of the barrier. It won’t guarantee safety, but it’s a viable step.

ISC got a big tax break and has plans to remodel Daytona. One sketch that I saw appears to take out several of the lowest rows and replace them with a wall. This would be a good thing for all speedways over a mile. Spectators are too close. Tires can still carry a far distance and cause tragedy, but the damage would be much worst if an engine or whole car landed in the front row.

It’s been said before, but we’ve missed your writing. Win the lottery soon so that you can return to writing columns instead of worrying about paying the bills.

02/25/2013 04:25 AM

Funny how before every freakin plate race, the only topic is what package they will run. Just so unfortunate that this joke race track is the face of our sport instead of a real drivers track like Darlington.

02/25/2013 07:49 AM

interesting we think the same thing…when i saw johnson tear up the car in the post-win celebration, i immediately recalled his crew chief telling him to back it into the wall at ‘dega. i can’t help but think, considering that fox had reported gordon had issues getting through tech on sunday, that there wasn’t somthing fishy with the 48.

i found it interesting how brad’s torn up ford was stout at the end. maybe the gen 6 cars afford themselves to aero help with bear bond after wrecking. really would had loved to see the 2 win.

by the way, is daytona usa still open? i thought i heard myers commnent where the winning car “use to go to the venue”.

i was busy with roofer at my house during beginning of the race, or i’m sure i would had snoozed. guess next weekend will determine if i only need to tune into the last 20 or so laps this season.

anyone who knows me knows how i feel about plate tracks. i keep saying there are enough fans who would gladly volunteer and come with earth moving tools in hand to fix the problem, since na$car can’t seem to do so. na$car has taken a collective breath of relief, since no one was killed saturday. not sure about the life changing injuries the 2 critically hurt fans will have to deal with, but i know DIS or na$car won’t be writing any checks anytime soon to assist with care and rehab.

02/25/2013 08:27 AM

The race was so boring that I was switching over to golf. After all of it I was wondering why I bothered to watch it at all.

Funny how that caution came out to give the 48 the lead so he could get the outside lane. Once that was done I stopped watching….whoever held that spot at the end was going to win. Nobody could pass.

Nascar could simply stop the celebrations and tell the race winners to immediately bring their cars to the winners circle. Do you honestly think nascar would do anything to good ‘ole JJ? Or to Gordon, whose car was held in pre-race inspection? How many times have we seen this “show”?

02/25/2013 08:54 AM

Laps after the #17 car fell out Kyle Busch was forced to retire

Old habits die hard! Kenseth is driving the #20 this season.

02/25/2013 09:12 AM

First of all, the restrictor plates have to go. This was one of the most boring Daytona races I’ve seen in a while. Second, I felt like I was watching the commercial 500, with racing breaking in every once in a while.

02/25/2013 09:17 AM

Cautions are to allow J.J. to secure his position so he and cheating chad can win for the FELON!! And yes I would bet a large sum of money the front end of jj’s car was not legal!! Same old nascrap, just another year…..

Jed Zeplin
02/25/2013 09:29 AM

Hey Matt, good to see your commentary. My wife had a nasty bout with pneumonia in October, so I feel your pain. It took her about two months to completely get over it. In the meantime, we swapped a bad virus back and forth like a dog rolling in its own s**t. We couldn’t get it off of us. Illness sucks. Anywho, you could easily add Ricky Craven in the 41 car barrel-rolling into the catch fence for about 200 feet at Talladega in 1996. Fortunately it was on down in Turn 1 past the grandstands and no fans were in danger. It was the worst wreck I’ve ever seen live at the track, back when I went to a race once in a while. Amazing that Craven wasn’t maimed or killed. Hope we hear from you again!

Bill B
02/25/2013 09:39 AM

Yep the race was boring but it was still more legitimate racing than that 2×2 tandem BS. I hate RP track races and I am glad, as you said, that they only occur 4 times during the season.

Not sure any fence design short of a solid wall would have stopped parts from going into the stands. I don’t think a solid wall is a viable option. Moving the seats back will help mitigate the probability but nothing will totally negate the danger. Even getting rid of restrictor plates. Daytona and Talladega aren’t the only places we’ve seen cars go airborn and into the catch fence.

I’ll agree with you and hold my assessment of the new car until we’ve seen races at a handful of 1.5 mile tracks. I am doubtful but you never know.

As for Danica, not much can be determined. She finished comparably to Yeley and McDowell in much beter equipment. RP races are such crapshoots that you really can’t gauge anything about the finishing order as it applies to the season.

Nice to have your recap Matt.

02/25/2013 09:40 AM

Why would Nascar do anything about Daytona? All those spectacular crashes sell tickets and provide tv with plenty of promo footage to show year round. Why would nascar care about driver/fan safety. Notice when Earnhardt got killed, they did nothing to the track, just the cars.

I’m curious about 2 things from yesterdays race and the 48 team

1.) He seemed to be the only one that could make the bottom groove work yesterday. Nobody else seemed to be able to get close to the lead down there.

2.) That last debris caution that several drivers hit before they threw the yellow. Why did they wait until the 48 had the lead before they threw it? That debris had to have been on the track for at least a lap. Was this a “screw you” to Kes after his reprimand this week? One has to wonder.

We know Matt won’t give Danica any credit for her finish yesterday so I will. She did a nice job throughout the race. I just wish DW would stop treating her like she never raced before. Note to DW: she raced Indy Cars for several years. They go faster than Cup cars. If you have seen her race indycars, you know she can handle the speed. Stop acting like she is the first man on the moon or something. She had as good a shot as anyone to win yesterday. I’m sure she would have done things differently in the end if she had it to do over again, but that’s the learning process at plate tracks. People criticizing her because she finished 8th are just haters who would rather hate than give her credit for a good finish yesterday.

02/25/2013 09:42 AM

Matt – I thought you had driven off to post nascar heaven? While I am really happy to be reading you again, what the heck??

What a long strange trip this continues to be!!

And oh yeah the racing was pretty poor yesterday.

02/25/2013 09:44 AM

“Are You Faster Than a Redneck” was much more entertaining than this farce of a race. At least a Toyota didn’t win.

Funky D
02/25/2013 09:45 AM

First off to Matt, glad to hear you are feeling better, glad to see you pop up with a (as usual) terrific column, and hope that you are in a good place financially to do this a few more times this season.

As a driver of a Holden product (Monaro/GTO), I can tell you that they are GM’s best-built products. The UAW guys could take some lessons from the Adelaide lads.

I’d rate this race with a can of warm flat Diet Coke. The aero package here is as bad as it was in 1999-2000.

Also NA$CAR is going to have to crack down on the 48’s cheating ways. The only other guy who is driving fans out of the sport faster is Brain Fart France.

Just talking
02/25/2013 10:23 AM

Boring boring boring

Regardless of the car, it is astounding no one even tried during the last couple of laps.

Johnson ran the bottom with help earlier.

Part of this is because Kenseth, Harvick, Busch, Stewart were out – guys who surely would have tried to win. No one will run with the 88, but at least he finally made a tepid run at it.

02/25/2013 10:28 AM

Good to read your column, Matt! I’m not an automotive engineer nor a mechanic, but my observation of many of these wrecks relates to whether or not the car gets airborne. It seems to me that the COT in particular was sensitive to it when it got turned around, then the roof flaps deploy and the rear lifts, once another car hits it, then it flips it into the air and shreds itself if it makes contact with the catchfence.

I am not a fan of RP racing. I don’t enjoy watching it at all. The majority of the race is fairly boring, followed by the fear I feel of “when the big one” will happen.

I’ll say up front that I am not a fan of Danica, but then again, I’m not a fan of Tony Stewart or the Busch brothers either, so it’s NOT personal. I don’t see why I should HAVE to be her fan just because we share a gender. That said – I thought she ran a very smart race and did a good job – better in fact than some of the so-called “experienced” Cup drivers. So congratulations to her and her team for their success at Daytona.

I thought it was interesting as well that JJ did such a magnificent job of beating the car up AFTER the checkers. Don’t know if Chaddie gave orders or not, but whatever, there’s no way to tell if that car had any “tricks” to it.

Thought that Nascar’s announcement about not providing attendance figures was pretty funny. They were never accurate anyway – all those fans in California under the grandstands shopping comes to mind. It will give the TV people even more excuses to not pan out with wide shots – they might accidentally show the grandstands. It’s OK, I know what tracks I plan to go to and why. Hiding the reality isn’t helpful.

If it was GM’s influence that forced the appearance change for the cars, that’s great IMO. Someone certainly need to apply pressure and NASCAR only understands $.

Wayne T. Morgan
02/25/2013 10:33 AM

Don’t remember who said it but it was about indy and the comment was “ the only thing that help this track is cover it wit two feet of dirt” Maybe we need to have NA$CAR to do this to plate tracks. Better yet just cut all trcks to a mile and add short tracks and then nobody will cry and whine about high speeds and fans getting injured. But face it this is a dangerous sport to enter or at times watch.

Old Timer
02/25/2013 10:43 AM

I have (and HAVE had for several years now!) two easy fixes to make the cars more racy … 1) get rid of front bumpers and side skirts that drag the dang pavement … 2) go back to tires of the size and hardness they used to run (heck, the tires now are wider than what dirt track tires used to be!) The cars of the Seventies and even the first few years of the “down-sized cars” were pretty damned racy and the drivers put on the best shows ever!

02/25/2013 11:04 AM

It was interesting at the end, how well the bottom line worked. Wondering if in addition to the elephant in the room (Daytona + Talledega + Plates) that the drivers need a race format that encourages them to get up on the wheel and drive. For those of you watching the Nationwide race on Saturday, I don’t know if it’s the aero package, or the fact that some of these guys are trying to make a name for themselves, but the on track action was some of the best i’d seen in a while.

JJ tearing up the car during celebration = suspect.

Danica did great, she didn’t make any bonehead moves, and it’ll be interesting to see how she fares as some of the 1 and 1.5 mi tracks.

I’m really looking forward to seeing how the Gen6 car works out at the majority of the tracks this year, cars look great, lets hope they race great.

Matt – figure out the moonlighting – sleep is overrated – welcome back, if only for 1/9th of the season (or more!)

02/25/2013 11:17 AM

Wow this has more conspiracy theories than the Tea Party.
Apparently no one noticed that everyone who went in the grass tore the front of their cars off yesterday. Traditionally the winner does a donut over the big Daytona writing in the grass. I’m going to chalk this up to the Gen-6 aero package.

Carl D.
02/25/2013 11:30 AM

I dunno if passing on the bottom was possible, but WHY did the drivers wait until the last lap to try? You knew, I knew, we all knew that there was going to be a wreck on the last lap. You gotta make a move BEFORE the white flag comes out. Same thing happened in one of the other races (CWTS or Nationwide; I forget).

I hate the plates too, but with the faster speeds that cars would be running without them, the carnage from the Nationwide race would probably have been worse. Just lower the damned banking already.

I’m not sure we can adequately assess the Gen-6 car based on a plate race. We’ll know in a month or so whether it’s a success or a flop.

Am I the only one who noticed Tony stewart using a grinder close to his face without safety glasses on? He should fire himself.

02/25/2013 11:53 AM

The next race winner ought to completely destroy their car against the wall and/or in the grass. And then lets see if nascar will put a stop to it.

Yes, it was interesting that the 48 seemed to be the only car able to drive in the low lane.

Matt L
02/25/2013 11:55 AM

What a treat to see your column! I thought of you when I saw the Nationwide wreck. I thought this is exactly what Matt McLaughlin was talking about for years. I can see something like that happening again if not much changes sadly. Besides all the examples of similar wrecks you listed, you can add Dennis Setzer at the 2010 Nationwide Talladega race. How many times can these wrecks be called freak incidents or just the nature of RP racing before god forbid we get a car in the grandstands?

The 500 was disappointing. Not every 500 will be a classic, but it was a let down to see the drivers unwilling to try for most of the event. New fans saw more hype, celebrity, and commercials than racing.

Glad to here you are recovering from pneumonia. I’ve had it once, and thankful I’ve never had it since.

02/25/2013 12:57 PM

Horrible race, more restrictor plate BS masquerading as competition. Finish of the race was utterly predictable as a single line finally bothered to form and push past.

Having said that, kudos to Danica, she ran 500 miles like a professional racing driver, made no significant mistakes, and for probably the first time in her NASCAR career, the other drivers actually seemed to RESPECT her and treat her like a driver. As a result, she hung out in the top 5 almost the entire race, led laps, was 3rd with one lap to go, and only finished 8th when Dale Jr ditched her push Johnson to the win.

But I’m sure Haters Gonna Hate.

02/25/2013 01:00 PM

Oh, but I do agree, DW’s continued, non-stop drooling over Danica has got to stop. The race was a PERFECT example of why you need to hate the game and not the player. Danica was out there racing her race and doing a great job, and if you muted the race, that would be all you knew. But listening to DW NEVER STOP TALKING ABOUT DANICA FOR FIVE DAMN SECONDS got really, really, REALLY tiring.

02/25/2013 01:01 PM

Not the most exciting 500 ever, but not the worse ever. At least it didn’t rain. There were no potholes, explosions, etc. The ending was good with Jr’s. late charge. It would have been even better if the damaged 2 car wasn’t a massive road block for the inside line on the last restart.

I was watching some 500s from the 1990s earlier this week and the racing seemed fairly similar to what we saw this week. I hope they tweak the drafting package to make it a little more competitive, but I like that track position and a strong car matter again at the plate races.

As for the Gen-6 car, the real test begins next week at Phoenix, then Vegas.

Kevin in SoCal
02/25/2013 01:02 PM

Carl D. – No you’re not the only one, I saw that too, and shook my head. One would think Tony knows better.

Matt, thanks for another great column. We hope to see more of you this year.

02/25/2013 01:12 PM

John, I totally agree about DW & Danica. Of course, he does this with whatever driver he fixates on. It’s unfortunate for that person because instead of helping them, it hurts them.

I thought Danica drove a good race yesterday (I’m not suddenly becoming a fan – simply stating the facts). I had to mute the TV.

She let her driving do the talking yesterday and that was a good thing.

Carl D – you weren’t alone in noticing Tony’s stupidity working w/o safety glasses. Dumb dumb dumb on his part. Do OSHA regs apply to racing? If so, they have video evidence to fine SHR!

02/25/2013 01:15 PM

Matt Kenseth passed on the bottom to regain the lead after Denny Hamlin and others came out of the pits ahead of him. It was a nice move to the low line and another nice move back to the high line. But Matt knew nobody would follow him on the low line so he used it only for slipping by one or two cars. Most of these drivers were just trying to stay out of trouble because there was too much money on the line for taking big chances. The car was pretty good in most places but the leader is very hard to pass without a plan to set him up. On the last lap, drivers are just trying to survive and don’t have enough time to plan. That was why Junior’s move with almost a lap to go was the smart one. Jimmy Johnson is a great driver, but I can’t stand his crew chief. My 2 cents.

JD in NC
02/25/2013 01:43 PM

I agree with you Carl. Taking the plates off would probably decrease the number of accidents that put a car into the catch fence, but when it eventually happened, and it eventually would, the result would be catastrophic at 230 mph. Short of reconfiguring the tracks, I think they should eliminate the first 15-20 rows of seats and install another short concrete wall topped by a second catchfence. The first catch fence would dissipate the energy and the second one would catch any stray parts. This would cut down a bit on visibility through the fences but you can’t really tell much as the cars pass directly in front of you at 200 mph anyway.This would also allow them to stagger the crossover gates.

As soon as I saw JJ fold the air dam under the nose, I knew the black helicopter folks would be out in full force. All they would be missing would be the smoking gun video of Chad telling him to do it before the race. Damn, the man was just celebrating a Daytona 500 win. Kinda like Cousin Carl doing the same at Charlotte after the 2011 all star race when he practically tore the whole front off of the car.

Managing Editor
02/25/2013 02:45 PM

Just wanted to thank who caught the 17/20 error! Old habits do die hard… it’s been fixed :). We also added Danica’s records, set at Daytona as a matter of reference.

02/25/2013 02:51 PM

The temporary short track built on the back stretch for the modifieds and K&N series was a total joke. Whatever happened to running on a real track like New Smyrna Speedway just 15 miles away? A half mile track with real banking. I guess NASCAR won’t be satisfied until they’ve killed every short track in the country they don’t own. A tight flat .4 mile track for modifieds? Please don’t run them there again.

02/25/2013 02:56 PM

There should be automatic fines and penalties for any car that is damaged in post race celebrations.

The whole thing is childish anyway, act like you’ve been there before and expect to be there again.

Michael in SoCal
02/25/2013 03:49 PM

I agree with Mac about that .4 mile track on the back stretch. Let’s hope they move that race back to Irwindale now that they’re racing there again!

02/25/2013 04:51 PM

Glad I didn’t waste my time watching yesterday. From what I have read, it was THE worst 500 ever. And given who won, I would say that described it perfectly!

Also, is it true that the guy who gave the command to start engines said, “Drivers, and Danica”? Sorry I missed that!

And about Jimmie damaging his car. I seem to recall everyone screaming loud when Edwards did that at Charlotte after winning the All Star Race, when he said it was an accident, they called him a liar and accused him of cheating. The crash was a coverup! Wow! Now Jimmie does it and it is perfectly OK! B.S. If anyone should be suspect, it is the biggest phoney in the world (Mr. Vanilla) and his sleazebag of a crew chief. After all, with the Felon having his best buddy as the one who has final say about penalties, Chad and Jimmie have a free pass to get away with anything. And if you have noticed Chad lately, he walks around like he thinks he’s God, and he is thumbing his nose at everyone!

02/25/2013 06:07 PM

Why did I bother watching this race? I have no idea, and don’t see watching any racing for awhile.

Terrible rules package. Also, think about this – we have put up with DW for 10+ years. He constantly thinks he knows what a driver is thinking simply by observing the car on the track. “JJ must be thinking he has to make his move blablablabla” DW, you really DON’T know what anyone else is thinking.

And his comments on Danica pitstop. “She can’t get going good on the first pit stall”, acting like she was losing time because of it. Doh – she has the same breaking and acceleration conditions as everyone else under green. Why would this make any difference?

He is the #1 reason I won’t be watching racing.

02/25/2013 06:11 PM

Even though most of us know Danica is good on restrictor plate tracks, I can’t help but wonder what Mike Helton told the drivers at the pre-race drivers meeting. Did he tell them to not race her hard and give her all the room she wants,because the whole race until the end sure looked that way. It was almost like she was all alone out there most of the race. I’m sure Helton wants her to do real well, to help with NASCARs ratings. But all the attention she got for 8th place finish with good car and lot of sponsor money wasn’t any more deserving than McDowell’s 9th place or Yeley’s 10th place run starting from the back, with alot less funded teams.

tj in tbay
02/25/2013 06:58 PM

Other than the incessant media coverage, the hating on Danica should really stop. She ran a damn fine race, had a damn fine car, ran a perfect line in qualifying to edge her “teammate’s” #24 car by a few hundredths. The stats don’t lie – her driver rating was only 2nd to Kenseth’s car for the 500. She’s learning still and would probably be happy if the media coverage would die down. That said, the proof won’t be known until the final standings. Remember, NO open wheel driver has made a successful transition recently excepting Tony Stewart who is her car owner and mentor – and the list is long with the likes of Montoya, Hornish, Almendinger, Franchitti and so on wishing they could adapt as well and as quickly as she has. This ain’t no love letter, but if she had a different gender, this wouldn’t even be a story. She’s a racer – and a marketing machine – and the sport is better now with more fans because she is in it. This is just like when Tiger came into golf – the other golfers hated his guts, but were all happy to cash bigger checks because he more than doubled the prize pool just by showing up.

02/25/2013 07:39 PM

I don’t hate Danica, and I wish her well. Its all the drooling by everyone thats sickening. Trevor Bayne won Daytona in first start, and hasn’t done much at other types of tracks. As for Montoya, he made the chase before, and has won. Hornish proved he can drive last year. And Allmendinger will be good when he gets a good car with plenty of funding, like Go-Daddy for instance. Now a days money talks!

02/25/2013 08:30 PM

I’m glad other people also noted how the 48 seemed to have more horseopower to pass on the bottom and then just enough to stay in front. Can you sandbag at 190 mph?

Courtney Force won the Funny Car portion in the NHRA opener. Can’t you hear her cheering for John when he’s in the staging lane. “Go Daddy Go Daddy Go Daddy…

02/26/2013 12:47 AM

I’m still waiting for a racing journalist to come up with what Go Daddy pays for their Danica budget. I’m sure that it is an obscene amount of money invested in her skinny ass. And by the way, Waltrips make me sick.

Bad Wolf
02/26/2013 03:53 AM

Sorry, but all Danica did was hold her place in line all day. I saw no attempt to make a pass, and when things did get racy at the end she went from 3rd to 8th in short order.

The package on the Gen 6 COT would have been perfect if the slingshot could have been used, and it would have been racing just like back in the day. As it was there is not enough horespower in the restricted engines for the move to work, and we were treated to the worst race since the Brickyard 400 in 2008.

02/26/2013 08:42 AM

After watching this parade, I mean race, I really appreciate going to my local track and watching some good racing.

02/26/2013 09:10 AM

all Danica did was hold her place in line all day. I saw no attempt to make a pass, and when things did get racy at the end she went from 3rd to 8th in short order.

So, using that logic, Biffle should be called out for falling from 2nd to 6th too – right? After all, he is a Cup Series winner – on this track to boot.

I agree that the Danica-hype has gotten totally out of hand; but, she really didn’t do anything wrong at the end – for every driver advancing their position, someone has to lose position. If she had tried a dumb move and triggered a wreck in the top 10 would that have been better? She acknowledged that she was inexperienced in that situation – and it showed. At least she was conservative, just like some of the other inexperienced top 10 finishers. She was also hardly the only driver not willing to make a pass – at practically any point of the race.

Also, for all the people saying that JJ was the only driver who was able to make the bottom work – it sure seemed that Harvick and Stewart were comfortable there early on. Not so sure that JJ would have been the only driver to make that groove work had they been there at the end too. I also think you probably would have seen some more passing attempted as well.

02/26/2013 09:26 AM

Appreciate seeing the shootout for the smaller teams, including the one for Michael McDowell, the ‘King’ of Start and Parks. I know Daytona is a roulette wheel, but wouldn’t it be nice to see some of these underdogs get funding due to their Daytona finish :)

Wayne V
02/26/2013 01:40 PM

NASCAR just paved the plate tracks. Too bad because the only solution is to lower the banking, these tracks are obsolete. They will never rip up millions of dollars of new pavement.

I hate these events, you can’t call this racing so I’ll refer to it as an event. It’s a high stakes demo derby and no fun to watch.

It’s refreshing to come to a site where people easily realize the Waltrip brothers are bad for NASCAR.They drive away and alienate as many fans as they attract. I’m so sick of them and their act!!FOX and SPEED just keep cramming them down our throats.

Excellent column and views I agree with. I hope you keep writing this column all year as I enjoy reading it. My views seem to be on a similar wave length as you.

02/26/2013 04:52 PM

Great to have you back behind your keyboard, Matt. I hope you will be able to write often this season.

02/26/2013 04:58 PM

Matt, Junior Johnson did not win the 1963 Daytona 500. Tiny Lund did for the Wood Brothers, hence the special paint job on Trevor Bayne’s car during SpeedWeeks. Junior won one of the qualifying races in 1963, and the average speed mentioned was for that qualifying race.

As for the racing, it was exactly as I expected. Any time the high line is the preferred line, everyone’s going to be afraid to try to pass down low, because they know what the consequences would be if they don’t complete the pass, and that goes beyond Daytona and Talladega. Just witness recent races at Bristol.

But in light of what happened the day before, the calm racing seen in the Daytona 500 was just what the doctor ordered, as it was a safe race, with nobody injured. And the last 25 laps saw the best racing in the Daytona 500 in years, especially whe you consider the caliber of drivers doing the racing.

But I, for one don’t see the quality of racing geting much better, except for the shorter tracks, for one reason. The cars will simply be going to fast, something the so-called experts seem to be missing. Back in the late 1970s, when he became the first driver to consistently lap Indy at over 200 MPH, Tom Sneva constantly said that they needed to slow the cars down to increase competition, and he was right, because the ability of the cars to run close together decreased as the speeds increased.

I think we’re going to see the same thing this year in NASCAR, because speeds are going to go through the roof with lighter and more aerodynaic cars this year. In fact, if nothing changes, lap speeds for qualifying at Charlotte for the Coca-Cola 600 might challenge 200 MPH, and that’s on a 1.5 mile oval. And they went over 200 at Michigan last year, and could go over 205 MPH ths year, with race speeds challenging 200. As much as I hate to admit it, NASCAR might have to do what they did in the 1970s, and expand the use of restrictor plates beyond just Daytona and Talladega, becase they may be needed at the mid-sized track to slow the cars down there, because if the speeds are as high as I think they’re going to be at those track this year, the quality of the racing is going to be worse than ever.

02/26/2013 09:30 PM

Wow. Just now getting to read your column and comments on the race. I had hoped the new cars were gonna give us better racing, since they do look so much better. But alas, I wasn’t home to see the race. A buddy of mine had contacted me over a month ago with tickets to see John Hammond live on – you guessed it – February 24th. Matt: go on and take a guess which one of us got to see the better show!

Brian France Sucks
02/27/2013 11:26 PM

Welcome back compadre. Glad to read an honest article not shilling the company line for a change. Yes the racing was the perfect cure for insomniacs nationwide. And yes old Sparkle Pony ran well. Imagine if she was shrewd enough to pull out in front of Johnson and assume the front of that line. Her failure to do so cost NA$CAR their greatest PR bonanza since Earnhardt finally won the 500. Danica has gotten more mileage out of a single exhibition race win earned on fuel mileage than any racer has a right to. Almost ten years. One win. Imagine what Johanna Long or Jennifer Jo Cobb could do with all the support old Sparkle Pony has gotten? They might even win.

Brian France Sucks
02/27/2013 11:35 PM

FWIW I think Johanna can wheel a car. She’s done well with underfunded equipment; same as JJo Cobb. It’d be interesting to see how well they’d do in Patrick’s equipment. Danica’s been given A+ stuff since Andretti Green, and has very little to show for it.