NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2010 Bud Shootout at Daytona Race Recap

The Key Moment: Kevin Harvick, on fresh tires, took the lead on the final restart right before mayhem occurred behind him, leading to a late caution in one of the most bizarre green-white-checkered finishes since… well, when Harvick won the Daytona 500 in 2007.

In a Nutshell: The racing fans got their racing and the wrecking fans got their wrecks. All in all, it wasn’t a bad way to spend the evening in the blizzard-ravaged northeast quadrant of the U.S.

Dramatic Moment: When Harvick restarted the race on fresh rubber behind Greg Biffle and Kasey Kahne, you just knew there were going to be fireworks. Fireworks and merriment, along with the expected NASCAR-rationed bit of bizarre quickly ensued.

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

What the Hell is the name of this race, anyway? It seems like we’ve been through at least three separate beer companies so far. It surely has strayed from its original concept of the previous year’s pole winners running 20 laps to kick off the season….

This isn’t racing-related at all, but I could go the rest of the winter without seeing a single snowflake and I’d be quite pleased. Saturday’s storm was a soul-sapper for an old cowboy waiting for springtime, his pastures to change. (And dreaming of doggies and glasses of beer… for the record, my pet population remains at zero, but my glasses of beer were Olympic Quality.)

I’m 100% on board with the idea of NASCAR allowing the drivers to police themselves when it comes to aggressive driving and bump-drafting at Daytona. After all, it’s a long season, and there will be plenty of races left for the wronged to pay back any harm they felt was inflicted. The Daytona 500 may be the Big Daddy, but they all pay the same amount of points, right? Remember, this is stock car racing – not lawn tennis. Now, about that yellow line rule…

We’ll have to see how reliable they are, but those new Ford engines looked good in qualifying and the first segment of the Shootout. And thankfully, no Toyota NASCAR entries had to be recalled due to stuck throttle pedals – although it looks like Kyle Busch has a stand back excuse for the carnage you just know he’s going to produce this season….

Is there anything more boring than watching qualifying for a plate track with entrants taking more than a lap to get up to speed? My friend Andrew and I spent the morning coming up with a new acronym for the term NASCAR: Non-Addictive Sleep Causation Amidst Racing. (Get well soon, Adam!)

As long as Michael Waltrip is still out there racing, even part-time, we don’t have to worry about any races being run caution free. It’s odd to see Waltrip in the No. 51 rather than the No. 55 car, though (and without a hapless motorcyclist crushed under his front end). I’d suggest a change to No. 52… as in, Waltrip has managed to score wins in .0052% of his career Cup starts.

What in blazes happened at Daytona Saturday afternoon in the ARCA race? It was as if the majority of the field had taken leave of their senses. Danica Patrick’s much-hyped and scrutinized debut wound up with a sixth-place finish in a stock car – or, if you prefer, sixth survivor.

Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and their respective spouses are both expecting new additions to their families this year. Something tells me this isn’t a coincidence, just Rick Hendrick paying heavy bonuses to make sure his domination of the sport continues into the next generation. Mark Martin might want to renew his Viagra sponsorship if he hopes to meet team orders….

I hear Dale Earnhardt Jr. is planning to open a new Whisky River Saloon/Eatery in Florida. Great. That’s just what he needs – another distraction from his day job.

With Super Bowl ad buys having become so expensive in an uncertain economy, it seems some big players decided to run some well-done ads during the Shootout instead. NASCAR’s new tagline seems to be, “I Believe In NASCAR.” Cool. But I believe in the Tooth Fairy, too, and I’m not counting on those quarters to pay for my dentures down the road. As for the local affiliate ad buys, things weren’t quite as adventuresome. It was the usual mix of ambulance chasers, commemorative coin dealers, fortune tellers, and fitness fairies. Hey, I do race commentary, not advertising. If the “I Believe In NASCAR” thing works (which I believe it decidedly will not) so be it until they start burning heretics like me at the stake.

Wow, it sure was great to get reintroduced to our cartoon pal Little Digger and to hear Darrell Waltrip spit the gruel out of the old age home’s menu long enough to chant, “Boogity, boogity, boogity” again, wasn’t it? No, in fact, it was not. It was like having a root canal without an anesthetic.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

In retrospect, not stopping for fresh rubber with six laps to go was a credible option for Biffle, but an apparent flat tire and the subsequent wreck ended his Saturday night on a down note. In fact, it was an awful evening for the Jack Roush entries that showed such strength early in the event – only to have that late-race wreck decimate the herd. Biffle, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth ended up 15th, 16th and 17th, respectively.

Speaking of which, Edwards looked untouchable early, leading a race-high 42 laps, but got shuffled out at the wrong time before getting swept up in that crash.

Kurt Busch showed some promise early in the event, but wound up with a wild slide through the grass, his hood bending back across the windshield of the No. 2 car and a hard hit in the outside wall. To top it all off, he had to suffer the indignity of racing a car with yellow wheels, so the big wreck was possibly karmic payback. Read my lips: Unless it’s a drag race, the natural order of things is for racecars to have black wheels. And this whole experiment with using dried elephant dung rather than steel for hood pins to save weight? I’d circular file that one.

Tony Stewart hit the wall while wrestling for the lead. Ninth place still pays pretty good, but it’s not going to keep His Obesity in Whoppers for the season.

For detractors of four-time champ Johnson (and I have heard from a record number of you this offseason, which confuses me… no, he’s not the most colorful guy in the world, but I’m fairly certain he’s not the Anti-Christ either – even if he won’t throw his wife a Twinkie) a 13th-place finish might be the first sign he has feet of clay. Let me remind you, though, Johnson doesn’t start racing until the final 10 weeks of the season. Hate Brian France for that, not Jimmie, even if the only other people birth-named James who spell their first name “Jimmie” are gay bartenders in Malibu.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Harvick was at home earlier in the week with the flu. He rebounded quite nicely with a win in the Shootout, which ought to pay for a few doses of Tamiflu.

Kahne wound up second in his new Ford. The fact Harvick and Kahne, both of whom are rumored to be in their last seasons with their respective teams (which were admittedly in disarray in 2009), took first and second place in the Shootout may be the first shuffle in the Silly Season debate of 2010 – both had been looking at taking a third seat at Stewart-Haas Racing for 2011.

All three of the Joe Gibbs entries finished in the top 10. I guess those new gas pedals are working.

Worth Noting

  • At 51 years of age, Martin is the oldest Daytona 500 pole winner. Harry Gant is an affable guy, but my intuition tells me he better get used to his “oldest driver to ever…” records falling as long as this cat keeps racing and winning.
  • Ryan Newman was running the Haas Automation colors Saturday. Still can’t find a full-time sponsor for 36 races, huh? That’s kind of worrisome, because the Army might be the last company still hiring in this economy.

What’s the Points? No points are awarded for the Shootout. Drivers don’t start sweating top-10 points finishes rather than wins until next week.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans, with one being a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): I’ll shock some people and give this one a solid four cans. It beat shaking a fist at the window railing against the blizzard.

Next Up: The new qualifying rules have largely stripped the Twin 150s of their importance, but they still tend to be rather dramatic. Of course, by Thursday I fully expect my frozen bones to have been gnawed clean by Wooly Mammoths. Hey, Vice President Gore, we need to have a talk about this whole Global Warming Crisis….

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