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Who… gets my shoutout of the race?
New readers, don’t expect to see the race winner here – he already gets a trophy and a check for his effort! Instead, this weekly shoutout goes to a driver who didn’t win, but impresses me all the way through with his effort from beginning to end. This week, that man is Jamie McMurray. Only a small bobble and a hard-charging Kevin Harvick kept McMurray out of Victory Lane in an impressive debut in ’09 for his No. 26 Ford. McMurray was the strongest of the Roush Fenway cars for most of the night, and almost grabbed the win as the field was wrecking in his rearview mirror. The veteran is looking to make it as hard as possible for Roush Fenway to part with him at season’s end when the four-team limit takes effect; and so far, he’s doing a fantastic job.
What… driver had the most impressive debut with a new team?
It’s a toss-up between Tony Stewart and AJ Allmendinger. Stewart finished an impressive third in the No. 14 machine in his debut as an owner-driver, the highest finish for a driver in new digs. But Allmendinger had a very impressive outing as well, grabbing a fifth-place finish in the No. 44 Dodge – by all counts an inferior car to much of the field in terms of equipment. These two could bear watching as the season revs up for real.
Where… did the polesitter wind up?
Paul Menard wound up causing the wreck that took out Bobby Labonte and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Not exactly the best way to start off with your new team. When all was said and done, the No. 98 of Menard ended up 11th in his debut with Yates Racing — and wrecked his car twice in less than 36 hours.
When… will I be loved?
This is the weekly refrain of the driver who causes the biggest problems on track and wonders when he’ll get back in the good graces of the competition and their fans. This race, there were several veterans who could have been singing these words right along with the Everly Brothers after the Shootout; but I’m going to say first come, first served this week and hand this rather dubious distinction to Robby Gordon. Gordon caused the first crash of the 2009 season when he turned David Ragan; things just fell apart from there, and Scott Speed and Joey Logano both also wound up taken out in their ’09 debuts.
Why… is it whenever there’s a pileup on the last lap at Daytona, Kevin Harvick goes to Victory Lane?
I don’t know, but Harvick flat earned this one. After a lick to the wall that pancaked the car and subsequently lost him the draft early, Harvick came roaring back despite damage that would have ruined his day in the old racecars. The CoT may have its issues, but their ability to bounce back at the plate tracks is a huge plus. Harvick deserves props, too – he drove through about every wreck all night long, somehow avoiding each one. It was a good finish for him as a result — and a good start to the 2009 season as well.
How… many laps too long is this race?
In my opinion, about 40. The new format for the Shootout should be dragged out and shot. Too many teams get in by default; for example, there are only seven Dodge teams, so being sixth best of that camp isn’t saying much. There are too many laps, and really, this is nothing more than a test session for these teams.
For the last 20 years, this race actually meant something to get in on poles. Now… it’s kind of a joke. At the very least, it could be shortened so these guys would have to actually race every lap. Otherwise… it’s time to put this format out of its misery.