The Frontstretch: Daytona Brought To You By The Letter "L:" Lame Duck, Lucky Lady, Lots To Prove by Thomas Bowles -- Monday February 18, 2013

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Daytona Brought To You By The Letter "L:" Lame Duck, Lucky Lady, Lots To Prove

Bowles-Eye View · Thomas Bowles · Monday February 18, 2013

 

Kevin Harvick spent Saturday night “Happy” in Victory Lane, and why not? He’d won the first Cup race of 2013, established himself as a contender to win a second Daytona 500 and injected a much-needed boost of energy into struggling Richard Childress Racing. But the second he stepped out of that zone, into his media presser that merriness got entangled with a different type of off-track mission – one that involved holding up the middle finger.

“I missed all you guys,” said the winner, a sarcastic joke tinged with reality after walking in. “Because you were all busy being TMZ the other day. So now you all have to talk to me and I can be a complete prick.”

Kevin Harvick is all fired up after starting 2013 on the right foot. But will the good vibes continue at RCR?

This statement, coming from a guy who won. Clearly, mixed with humor Harvick spoke for many in the garage who have been irked by the main story of Speedweeks being better suited for a Hallmark Valentine’s Day Card than the front page of the paper. News flash: Danica loves Ricky. Ricky loves Danica. It’s the sweetest romance people concerned about the racing could care less about. That meant even the future teammate of the woman of the hour was desperate to turn the talk towards some other storyline; in this case, the pending nine-month divorce decree with owner Richard Childress both sides are determined to overcome.

“The atmosphere is great, honestly,” he said about the “new” RCR. “Everybody is just working towards the same goal. That’s winning the races. We have to be professional anyway, whether it’s lame duck or not. You can call it whatever you want, we’re going to have a helluva lot of fun racing, having a good time, doing our jobs.”

He was loose, as was Childress and crew chief Gil Martin after leading 40 of 75 laps, staying cool as a cucumber down the stretch and blocking all challengers. It’s clear the public their M.O. is to ensure everything is all status quo; nothing to see here, people, even though the owner was as cantankerous as could be about the situation three months earlier in Phoenix.

It’s just that the storyline, however juicy when presented on a silver platter didn’t fool many; good thing it was wiped off the face of the earth in 24 hours anyway. Sorry, Kev; in this case, the win on Saturday night does as much to change peoples’ minds as his baby Keelan reaching for a different type of ketchup at the grocery store.

It’s no surprise RCR, a proven Daytona success story would be up front for not just the Sprint Unlimited but this year’s 500. Even much-maligned teammate Jeff Burton, who struggled mightily in the No. 31 last season went four-for-four on top-10 finishes in plate races, nearly pulling off a huge upset in last July’s Coke Zero 400. Add in Austin Dillon’s 500 debut, driving the No. 33 Chevy, fast times in testing and all the pieces have been put in place by engineering for an A+ weekend across the board. I wouldn’t say what Harvick accomplished on stage, Saturday night was expected, but it was far from surprising.

Looking ahead, it also does nothing to help what will be a dogfight quest to make NASCAR’s Holy Grail these days, the Chase. It scores no points, gives him no edge with the “wild card” or in the championship race no driver leaving for another ride has ever been successful with in the modern era. And all the drafting expertise in the world doesn’t work when RCR heads to Las Vegas in March, step one in an intermediate tour that, in 2012 often left this Budweiser Chevy looking like the engineers had a few beers before constructing it. This win doesn’t cover up drama in June, when new sponsorships get announced at Stewart-Haas Racing which will likely be the same ones Harvick has now – bringing them over from RCR and perhaps threatening the very jobs of his current crew in 2014. Early chemistry doesn’t come up midsummer, during the first rough stretch of tough finishes every team goes through where the difference here becomes this team knows their marriage is over. So yeah, there’s a reason why the “lame duck overcomes all odds” story hasn’t been hatched yet. The rocky road is still dead ahead.

Talk to us in five months, Kevin.

For those who dislike Danica Patrick, it’s clear you won’t get the same kind of off-air reprieve. After making history Sunday, becoming the first woman to win a pole in a Sprint Cup race her short-term itinerary could include making more appearances than the President. At one point Sunday for me, Patrick’s post-pole interview on FOX turned into her popping up on ABC News when I went to the gym, then a stint on ESPNEWS the second I turned on my television at home. She dominated SportsCenter, when I clicked to ESPN and then popped up on CNN. It was getting to the point where I thought Family Guy would be interrupted with a breaking news update on her whereabouts with Ricky.

It’s all smiles for Ms. Patrick after overcoming 63 years of NASCAR history — she’s the first woman to win a pole in the Cup Series, doing it for Sunday’s Daytona 500.

In all seriousness, let’s stand up and respect what Ms. Patrick has done. Little girls all over the country, some who have never heard of our sport before now have a record to seek. Chauvinism, NASCAR’s dark side that once included an accusation Shawna Robinson was intentionally spun out after winning a Nationwide Series pole (Atlanta, 1994) is getting put to bed. Everyone from Jimmie Johnson, to Jeff Gordon, to Tony Stewart has come together and is openly rooting for her success. To start off 2013 in this way, great publicity luring new fans in for the first race with a new brand of car equals an incredible opportunity for NASCAR to regroup. (Bonus: Patrick is acing her interviews. Every. Single. One… it’s uncanny. She’s got us all wrapped around that finger of sudden success.)

But optimism must also be based in reality. As Michael Waltrip so eloquently said, “She deserves some credit… but the car deserves more.” Stewart-Haas Racing, with teammates Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman landed three cars inside the top 5. Clearly, the engineers figured something out in the offseason, a combination of aerodynamics and Hendrick horsepower that left Patrick with the best possible equipment to succeed. Yes, you have to put together the perfect lap, even on a track where you never press the brake. But with plate racing, when running by yourself the best drivers will whisper even a trained monkey can run wide open. SHR also isn’t stupid, with twenty races in need of a primary sponsor spread among Stewart, Newman, and Patrick’s cars. No question, internally the best car in qualifying was going to go to the one capable of making the biggest media impact.

It’s also important to note this type of surprise run, by a rookie pole sitter isn’t unprecedented. In 1994, Loy Allen, Jr. came to the speedway with a subpar team (TriStar Motorsports) whose current car, driven by Mike Bliss didn’t even make the top 40 on speed in 2013. Back then, it was a different story, despite a resume from TriStar’s former rookie that included a best finish of 26th (twice) in just five starts, three DNQs and a whole lot of unfulfilled potential. (Sound familiar?)

How did this historical lesson compare? Well, Allen was a ho-hum 22nd in the 500, then crashed out the next week at Rockingham before failing to qualify at Richmond. That year, he missed 12 of 31 races, never scored a top-10 finish (despite two more poles) and was a general non-factor in the Rookie of the Year competition.

Patrick feels like her outcome will be different. The crew chief (Tony Gibson) has formed an instant bond with her and is proven. And while Allen was part of a single-car outfit, she’s getting directly assisted by a three-time champion in Stewart, along with the support of mammoth SHR “sidekick” Hendrick Motorsports. Her best finish, a 17th was accomplished just this past November at Phoenix and Daytona has been a good track for her at times — she nearly won a Nationwide race here a few years back.

Still, the odds are long she’ll be even moderately successful on Sunday — and she knows it. But that’s OK with her.

“I feel like thriving in those moments where the pressure’s on has also been a help for me,” she added Sunday. “I also feel like I’ve been lucky in my career to be with good teams and have good people around me. I don’t think any of it would have been possible without that.”

It’s clear, after this weekend that Patrick certainly has quality people around her, just like Harvick has the potential to overcome the odds. Both are off to the best starts possible.

Just don’t get caught up in thinking they’ve finished the job. That’s what the coming days and months are for; but at least, in the process they’ve gotten more eyes ready to watch.

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Ken
02/18/2013 07:36 AM
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I never really liked Harvick, but I applauded his snap at the media for their misguided obsession with the love couple. And I used to be a fan of Ricky Stenhouse, but now, I think Roush should boot him out of the 17 and put Bayne in there.

Speaking of The Bimbo, her pole award is a farce! I want to measure that restrictor plate! And I want to be witness to her pre- and post-qualifying inspections!

If there was ever a reason NOT to watch The Duels and the 500, we now have it! Ol’ D.W. will be all over himself talking about the biggest joke of the year! Not to mention how much FOX will be promoting her! But then, they are only going to show who NASCAR tells them to show! So, if you are a fan of any other driver, you know there will be no mention of your driver on Thursday or Sunday! that is, of course, unless The Bimbo screws up and crashes out! Which, if she does, I hope it happens before lap 2!

The new name for this race should be The Farce 500, because that is what it will be!

jerome
02/18/2013 08:37 AM
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Ken;
You said it all and said it well. I wish I had bet money that Patrick would win the pole. I knew she would win the pole and I belive NASCAR wanted it to happen and helped it happen. It will be all Patrick all the time and I won’t watch. NASCAR again is neglecting its base to cater to a casual, new to the sport fan; this time the TMZ, hype over substance crowd. This “sport” is less and less about actual competition and more and more about fluff, personalities and gossip. Good luck NASCAR, maybe Patrick will save what is left of your dying “sport”.
Oh, and I can’t wait for the blind Patrick followers coming out to defend her; what a great driver she is; how she ALMOST won the Indy 500; finished 9th (out of 13 full-time drivers) in Nationwide; blah blah blah.
I miss the days when the there was an exciting finish, or daring pass, or even wreck to talk about. Now the biggest things people talk about are cars hitting track dryers, drivers dating one another and whether or not Brad K. should be allowed to tweet while driving under caution. Good luck NASCAR and come on out all you misguided Patrick supporters.
Oh, and I don’t hate her; i just would like to see more coverage given to other drivers, especially those who had to try and make a go of it with little money and little support or publicity, and who have worked hard to get where they are only to be ignored by the “sport” and the media covering it.
Sort of rambling I know; come on out Patrick party people.

Pete
02/18/2013 10:23 AM
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I predicted (to myself) that Danica would take the pole after all the hype about her top practice lap. Brian France has no shame.

pfarmer58
02/18/2013 10:50 AM
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I think that Danica winning the pole is the ultimate in marketing and deception. I’d bet my last penny that her car had a little “extra” to help bag the pole and Brian sent word to the inspectors to let it pass. I won’t be watching this farce of a race next Sunday (I’ve watched every Daytona race televised in the last 15 years). I will be channel surfing trying to find some professional wrestling to watch so I can experience some realism in sports.

GinaV24
02/18/2013 11:15 AM
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I’m considering not watching any of the racing this week either since honestly I wasn’t impressed with the racing action on Saturday night and listening to endless hype about Danica just doesn’t interest me.

NASCAR loves to get a headline story and this year they had a bigger chance at it with DP and loverboy than with Jr so they took their shot and lookee there, the media will go nuts and voila, new instant fans.

The downside being that fans of other drivers would probably like it more if the coverage was about the actual race.

And no, I don’t “hate” her. I was very excited when she started out in Indy (for the same reasons that NASCAR is now pushing her name). Female driver, how great, yada yada – except that I’ve seen this act before and after the flash in the pan that she showed herself to be in Indycar and quite honestly the spectacularly bad example she shows with her temper tantrums, well, I stopped being a fan of DP. I’d rather be a fan of Johanna Long, Jennifer Jo Cobb or Simona De Silvestro. Heck I’d root for Chrissie Wallace if she could get a ride in NASCAR (and I am not a fan of the Wallaces). To me the women I mentioned above have worked hard in racing, they just don’t have the big money sponsors.

Carl D.
02/18/2013 12:50 PM
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Tom…

You obviously put a lot of work into this fine column. That said, it’s a shame that the biggest thing that I will remember from it is that you’re a “Family Guy” fan. Giggity!

Bad Wolf
02/18/2013 02:05 PM
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Did you see the Fox ghost car segment they did with Danica and Stewart? They held the same line and neither of them got loose or had to catch the car, but it looked like Danica had an extra 10hp the way her car pulled away down the straight compared to Tony. It has been scripted and Danica got the call.

I in no way “Hate” Danica, but I HATE the fawning media coverage and the push to make her a star, along with the non stop Danica love affair from the booth. This will backfire and the ratings will tumble even farther this year.

Mazakk
02/19/2013 12:24 AM
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I’ll be turning on the TV as the green flag drops in order to avoid the nauseating hype surrounding this twit.She will drop like a fly.

jim
02/19/2013 08:19 AM
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So how long will it be before the sex tape gets “leaked”?

MR ED
02/19/2013 12:51 PM
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WOW I THOUGHTI was just seeing it my way But yes the ghost car thing showed the 10 car had 25hp more it just pulled away same line .The Danica PIMPS at Fox talking about how dale jr may lose the fan fav thing just goes to show how far Danica’s PIMPS at na$car and fox are willing to take this.They got alot of money in this danamania pimping.This will make the Dale jr thing look small

Bill Dan
02/19/2013 08:05 PM
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Its all about power to weight ratio. Danica probably weighs 45Kg and Jeff Gordan 75Kgm thats 30Kg or 66Ibs difference.

david
02/19/2013 09:20 PM
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He guys, about the gost cars and 25 more hp. Did you forget there was talk by the studio and drivers about wind gusts? All it took was a quick gust or calm for her to gain her spot, the rest of the run they were all three almost exactly the same. Please can your conspiracy blather?

Bad Wolf
02/19/2013 09:59 PM
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Here it is, the link to the Fox ghost cars. Notice how all her time is made on the backstrech with pure horespower, and was even through the corners.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=STgibhp6Fpk

 

Contact Tom Bowles

Recent articles from Tom Bowles:

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