Fanning the Flames: The Inevitable Daytona Hangover

Lots to get to from you guys this week. But if there is one thing I haven’t heard, it’s that Matt Kenseth is not a worthy Daytona 500 champion. And after all the head-scratching, shoulder-shrugging, and general frustration that Daytona birthed last weekend, that’s saying something.

Anyways, we’re chock full of Daytona discussion this week, so I won’t waste any more space up here.

Q: There has been a lot of talk this year about the start-and-park cars potentially entered into the 500. The talk also has placed the payout figure to these cars as starting at some $250,000 (just to start the race).

My question then becomes: is $250,000 enough to cover expenses for a week or so at Daytona in trying to make the race? – Douglas

A: OK, as I’ve stated before, I’m an English/History/Art type, so applying math to a column scares the hot pants off me. That said, let’s do some figuring: Buying the used cars and all the parts, pieces, and equipment is going to run a startup team roughly (and I’m sure you all will dissect the hell out of this below) $100,000. Throw in, we’ll say, another $40,000 for tires, $60,000 for an engine, along with $15,000 more for travel expenses, food, lodging and any other miscellaneous fees done on a shoestring budget.

Now, take Jeremy Mayfield’s startup crew that earned $265,238 for its 40th-place finish. You’re clearing around $50,000. The sponsorship deal (of which we do not know financials) had to help quite a bit as well. But that’s for the precious few who made the show. Over a dozen hopefuls went home on Thursday, and of those, only the ones with a one-race sponsorship package in place will come out in the black.

I thought I might get a little expert advice on this, so I asked Darrell Waltrip on Monday if he thought the economics added up for a team trying to make it as a Cup operation going forward. His response:

“Here’s what adds up: If you make every Cup race this year, if you show up and make every race – if just you start and park – run the first 10 laps and park, you’ll make $3.4 million. I think you can probably survive on that.”

Q: Is Dale Earnhardt Jr. still sponsored by Budweiser? The way he was driving at Daytona – missing the pits twice and causing the Big One – I’m thinking he is at least sponsored by a moonshine maker. Seriously, I know it’s just one race, but what’s up with Dale Jr.? – Dale Petty

A: I dunno, but my best guess is pressure. Is it just me, or does Junior not look like he’s having much fun these days? He looked uptight and, at times, downright PO’d during Speedweeks. Racing for the best organization in the business and being the son of the man many consider the greatest can have a dude begging for a little massage to get those nasty pressure knots out of his back.

Junior is expected to win – and win now – by a legion of followers. Daytona once was his playground: two Shootout wins, two Duel wins, a July victory and a 500 trophy. But Sunday, he was as off his game as I’ve ever seen him at Daytona, and I believe the pressure he feels to prove he’s the man for that seat is a big reason why.

Of course, the weather exemplified his day. One bad pit stop and then another, both mistakes of his making. Because of that, he’s trying to get a contending car back on the lead lap before the rains hit and, well, I’ll let you all decide for yourselves exactly whose fault that mess was on the backstretch.

If that team can notch an early-season win, you’ll see a different driver. Until then, the pressure will mount.

Q: Would there be as much outcry if Travis Kvapil turned Mayfield and the same 10 cars were taken out? And should the Daytona 500 schedule be flipped? Run the 500 on Friday night, NNS on Saturday and the CWTS on Sunday. – Doug Scholl

A: Last question first: I don’t know why NASCAR would want to flip that schedule, Doug. Smart business says you want the buildup to the marquee event. You think attendance for the Truck and Nationwide races is lagging now? Let that Cup crowd get out of town and see who’s left to watch the JV games.

See also
What's Vexing Vito: NASCAR Through the Looking Glass - A Schedule in Dire Need of Review

As for Kvapil and Mayfield, well, of course it wouldn’t be as big a deal! We’re talking about the Elvis of NASCAR here. Every move Junior makes is dissected and debated, so when the move is one that took out the frontrunners of the biggest race of the season, it’ll be dissected and debated even that much more. Again, pressure.

Kvapil may have dug his own grave had he made that move; Jeremy, well, he won’t fire himself, and he’s already been blackballed. I guess a swirly courtesy of Robby Gordon would’ve been the retribution.

Q: How ’bout that Daytona 380, huh? Why wasn’t there a 50-lap shootout on Monday? And don’t tell me it was because of the rules. Even Bud Selig could figure out that you don’t end a World Series game due to a rainout, even if that’s what would happen in a regular game. This was not just some other race, this was DAYTONA! And it was handled worse than a Goodyear tire on the track at Indy. – Rowdy Rush

A: Well, since I can’t tell you it’s because of the rules, I guess I’ll say that I certainly understand why many folks feel cheated. To a certain degree, I do as well. Here’s NASCAR’s predicament, though: If it calls the race like it did, it gets blasted for not completing the biggest race of the season. If it changes its long-standing rules concerning rainouts on the fly, it gets blasted because it is not being consistent. It’s a no-win.

Of course, as 1,000 media and non-media members alike have opined in the days following the race, a 1:00 p.m. ET start would, at the very least, go a long way toward providing an optimal setting to attempt to get a full race in on Sunday. NASCAR will have to dodge raindrops from time to time, but giving itself the time and leeway to work around such problems is all the fans, drivers, and media are asking.

That said, 15 minutes to call the thing? I know it didn’t quit raining ’till after 10:00 at the track, but that was a little presumptuous, no? The one plus was that the rain flooded that damn gopher’s hole, so no more pre-race cartoons (I think FOX got its Saturdays and Sundays mixed up).

Alright, that’s it for me. I’ve got the West Wing DVR’d and I’m still hopelessly addicted.

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The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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