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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2010 Daytona 500

Who… was most impressive in Sunday’s Daytona 500?

Without a doubt, Jamie McMurray and the entire No. 1 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing team was impressive during Sunday’s 52nd running of the Daytona 500. While he may not have had the strongest car or the best run on Sunday, the circumstances of McMurray’s win were more than impressive.

Rejoining Ganassi after leaving the team at the end of the 2005 season, McMurray jumped into a situation in which the crew and crew chief had worked with the same driver – Martin Truex Jr. – for nearly six years. As I noted in the Frontstretch newsletter earlier this week, Kevin ‘Bono’ Manion felt he and McMurray had meshed surprisingly well in the little time they worked together. McMurray agreed, explaining after his victory that ‘Bono’ was the biggest surprise in his return to Ganassi.

Team owner Chip Ganassi was also quick to point out this was the second ‘first’ victory for McMurray in a Ganassi car. Substituting for the injured Sterling Marlin in 2002, McMurray piloted the No. 40 car to victory in the October race in Charlotte in just his second career start in the Cup Series. Sunday, in his first race in the No. 1 car, McMurray was celebrating the biggest win of his career with his old friend Chip Ganassi and his new friend Kevin ‘Bono’ Manion.

What… the heck was with the hole in the track?

On a day that saw some of the best racing of the week, the biggest story of the day was a hole that developed on the racing surface between turns 1 and 2. The 9x15x2 inch hole developed in the lower groove of the track and brought out the red flag not once, but twice.

The unexpected situation sent NASCAR and track officials scrambling for a solution and battling weather conditions that would simply not cooperate. The abrasive track surface has aged since it was last repaved in 1978 and Sunday’s incident showed it may be time to bring out the paving equipment again.

While NASCAR and track officials looked for ways to fix the problem, Dale Earnhardt Jr. offered a reason why it occurred.

“I mean, this wasn’t a fault of NASCAR. It wasn’t a fault of Daytona’s or nobody’s,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “It was probably more or less everybody’s cars beating on the racetrack with trailing arm mounts and tail pipes. That’s going to knock a hole in some asphalt, I don’t care where you’re at.

“They’ll patch it or whatever they’ll do, and it won’t have this problem again, I promise you that.”

Where…did Dale Earnhardt Jr. come from?

After hanging around mid-pack for much of the race, Earnhardt Jr. made a last lap charge down the backstretch that surprised many in the stands and the press box. Running like a bat out of hell, Earnhardt threaded the needle between Greg Biffle and Clint Bowyer to go from 10th to second on the final lap.

“I don’t really remember much about it,” Earnhardt Jr. admitted. “It was all a blur. I was just going wherever they weren’t. I really don’t enjoy being that aggressive. But if there was enough room for the radiator to fit, you just kind of held the gas down and prayed for the best.”

The best nearly happened for Earnhardt Jr., but his charge stalled after splitting the Nos. 16 and 33 going into the last two corners.

“It was frustrating to come that close,” Earnhardt Jr. went on to say. “But, hell, we were running 22nd at the first green-white-checkered.”

When… will Daytona International Speedway be repaved?

Even before Saturday’s hole in the track slowed the action, rumors around the garage were the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway could be repaved as soon as next year. Following the debacle in turns 1 and 2, that question became much more of a priority.

Opinions seemed to vary on the solution to this problem, but most drivers seemed to feel the uniqueness of the surface is one thing that makes Daytona special. The speedway has not been resurfaced since 1978 and the track is definitely showing its age.

Addressing the media following the race, track president Robin Braig used an analogy, saying he didn’t want to paint the whole house if all it needed was a touch up.

“You know, we’ve got to look and see whether it was the gouge from the cars in that dip there and we’ll evaluate that,” Braig said. “Y’all have already mentioned that 2012 or 2013 or 2014, was when we were thinking of repaving. It may not need repaving. We’ve been told by the drivers, crew chiefs, NASCAR, Goodyear, that the uniqueness of this track is special.”

During the first red flag period, Earnhardt Jr. was harsh to say the least when talking about the track surface here at Daytona.

Joking with his crew when they told him NASCAR had found the hole, he responded, “They finally found the hole at this track? There’s 2.5 miles of hole. #*&@ hole. It’s so damn slick, it shouldn’t be like this. It’s 2010, wake up.”

After the race he explained, “They should have repaved it several years ago. We’d have it all weathered and ready to go right now. It would be in good shape. But it will get there again one day. It wasn’t paved and hasn’t been since 1978. It’s due, I would say.”

Why… did some fans leave the track?

As the work to repair the hole between turns 1 and 2 went over the one-hour mark, fans began emptying the seats and heading for the parking lots. Uncertain of when the race would restart and with the temperatures dropping with the sun, many felt it wasn’t worth the wait as NASCAR and the track scrambled to fix the track.

“We pay a lot of money to go see a race and they’re all broke down here,” one fan said. “This is the second year here, got rained out last year. I would actually love to stay and watch the race, but it’s getting dark. I don’t want to sit in the cold. I’m not prepared for it.”

“We’re not going to sit up there for those guys who don’t know what the hell they’re doing with that track,” another fan said. “They’re trying to put cold patch in a cold track and it won’t work. They said it’s going to be at least another hour.”

How… did Daytona track president Robin Braig respond to track issues?

“We will be reaching out to them before they can reach out to us,” Braig said after the race. “We have all kinds of ways of doing that. We know whether we reach them on the Internet or through our call centers. We’ll be reaching out to them first and listening to some of their concerns.

“But they did see 500 miles of racing,” he pointed out. “They did see some unbelievable finishes. We thank NASCAR for our ‘green-white-checkered’ rule change. We’ll reach out to them and speak to them individually. I speak to many of ’em. We’ll hear their concerns and make sure they understand we will fix the problem.”

Braig argued the speedway’s guest services is the best around, but does not blame the fans that did leave. Much like with the hole in the track, Braig realized the weather worked against them with the fans.

“I absolutely don’t blame them,” Braig said. “I would suggest to you, as most of us were watching the crowd, when that sun dipped down, we lost about 20 degrees of temperature, that didn’t help us not very much either. I don’t have any estimates on that.

“But I was very pleased with the frontstretch and the superstretch crowd when the checkered flag went.”