NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2007 Daytona 500 Race Recap

The Key Moment: Kevin Harvick got a huge push into turn 3 on the last lap, riding the momentum to victory by the blink of an eye over Mark Martin.

In a Nutshell: Well, no one’s going to be talking about the cheating scandal for a while after that finish, will they?

Dramatic Moment: The Tony Stewart/Kurt Busch wreck eliminated the two dominant cars and threw the final laps into a wide-open slugfest; but the pot really boiled over on that last lap, with a wild wreck that left Clint Bowyer on his roof and a nail-biting finish between Harvick and Martin.

Up until 40 laps to go, though, the biggest drama of the day was waiting to see if the pre-race singer was going to experience a wardrobe malfunction.

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

  • Why didn’t NASCAR throw the yellow when cars began piling up (including one that was on its roof and in flames)? They can say that they wanted the top two to decide it among themselves, but the fact the race remained green meant drivers behind them had to stay in the gas, making the big wreck even worse. Recall the 1998 Daytona 500, won by Dale Earnhardt, ended under caution even though the wreck was far behind the leaders.
  • I hope NASCAR wrote the race results on an Etch-A-Sketch, because it’ll probably be a while before the finishing order becomes official. It certainly appeared that even on his roof and in flames, Bowyer finished a lot better than the 18th-place he’s credited with right now.
  • The longest period between commercials for FOX – the three-song pre-race concert. What the blazes… priorities, guys, priorities.
  • A 3:30 start and 7:15 finish (ET) for the Daytona 500? Personally, I don’t like it. As a right-coaster, that’s way too late for a race to start or end. And according to fans I have corresponded with on the left-coast, they liked having the races starting at 10 a.m. and ending at 2 in the afternoon so they could go out and enjoy the rest of their day.
  • It sure did sound like an unhappy Dale Earnhardt Jr. was upping the ante on his stepmother/team owner Teresa after the race, didn’t it?
  • The commercial of this year’s NASCAR Super Bowl: The “Crazy, Mutant, Desert Guys” Budweiser/Earnhardt Jr. spot.
  • Don’t just look at Sunday’s result sheet to find Nextel Cup drivers; the top-13 finishers in Saturday’s Busch Series race were all Cup regulars. I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same. This just can’t be healthy for the sport.
  • Isn’t it amazing how one man’s mere presence can leave a moral imprint on a team long after he departs? No driver or team among head NASCAR aficionado Robin Pemberton’s last three employers was fined or suspended this week, a rarity with all the cheating going on. It had to be a moral imprint, right? What else could it have been?
  • I don’t understand what all the hoopla is over Michael Waltrip‘s fuel issue. It was probably just another step in Toyota’s hybrid alternate fuel vehicle program.
  • I guess it’s a case of “Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it” this week for NASCAR. Despite Brian France’s great desire to have NASCAR in the media headlines this week, to me, they showed themselves not ready for prime time. To use a tortured analogy (and when have I not?) the organization acted like a certain pseudo-celebrity running around getting their hair shorn off, checking in and out of rehab and to get some ink. Believe me, it wasn’t pretty. Oh, well; at least, unlike another pseudo-celebrity, the embalming process hasn’t officially started yet.

The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune

Stewart dominated Speedweeks and was in position to win again on Sunday; leading early, he overcame a pit-road penalty to drive back to the front, only to have a single bobble see him hit the wall hard and wind up dead last. That wreck sure did look similar to the one someone else had back in 2001, didn’t it?

Kyle Busch led a bunch of laps in the Shootout and his Duel 150, only to come up short both races. He was one of the strongest cars in the 500, as well, but a last-lap wreck left him 24th after he was in position to challenge Martin for the win.

Kurt Busch may have had the second-strongest car in the 500, but he was unable to avoid hitting the No. 20 car after Stewart got out of shape, and that was the name of that tune. Busch posted a 41st-place finish.

Waltrip was so slow all day he could have hopped out of the car in the corners and checked his own tire pressure. He wound up 30th, two laps off the pace.

Defending Daytona 500 winner and Cup champion Jimmie Johnson never seemed to be able to find any speed in his car. He brushed the wall a couple of times, finally having the car get out from underneath him and wrecking for good on lap 174. He was credited with a 39th-place finish.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune

David Gilliland was credited with an eighth-place finish despite a wreck on pit road that put him a lap down at one point, the having to drive through the grass wide open to avoid the final lap wreck that claimed several others. For a Daytona rookie, he acquitted himself well; fellow rookie David Ragan in the No. 6 car vacated by Martin also posted a credible fifth-place finish after staying out of trouble.

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Things looked dire for the Ray Evernham teams when all three of their crew chiefs were suspended this week. Yet, Elliott Sadler and Kasey Kahne managed to finish sixth and seventh to salvage their Speedweeks.

Ginn Racing got off to a good debut with Martin in second and Joe Nemechek in ninth.

As bad as Jeff Gordon looked most of the day (or at least on worn tires) a 12th-place finish had to feel Deus ex machina.

Worth Noting

Chevrolet continued their stranglehold of the plate tracks with bowtie drivers claiming the top-four spots. RCR was the fourth Chevy team to post a win (joining DEI, Hendrick and JGR) since the loyal opposition rang the bell.

The top-finishing Ford was fifth-place Ragan and the top-finishing Dodge was sixth-place Sadler. Toyota ended up with a poor debut, as the top-finishing Camry was Dale Jarrett in 22nd.

The top-finishing rookie was Ragan in fifth place.

According to the results posted as this is written, Sadler is the only driver to post a top-10 finish in the last two Daytona 500s.

What’s the Points?

Oddly enough, with this being the first race of the season the points standings almost mirror the finishing order of the race. Harvick leads the points, with 11th- and 12th-place finishers David Stremme and JJ Yeley slipping into the top 10 based on points penalties for the Evernham teams assessed earlier this week.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): We’ll give this one four cans. The photo finish was spectacular, but I still feel the race should have ended under caution. And I still don’t like plate races for reasons that should be obvious to most people who saw today’s race and anyone who saw the tragic end of the 2001 Daytona 500, exactly six years ago today.

Next Up: Grab the No-Doze and make up a pot of double strength Folgers, because the circuit heads off to Calif-boring-ya next week.

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