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Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2010 Daytona 500 Race Recap

The Key Moment: Greg Biffle gave his friend and former teammate Jamie McMurray a vital push down the backstretch on the final lap to propel the No. 1 car to the win.

In a Nutshell: Daytona International: Putting the “Car” back in “Carnage.”

Dramatic Moment: Kevin Harvick’s take no prisoners move to the inside on the restart following the eighth caution wasn’t pretty, but it was effective. Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s headlong charge from 10th to second on the final lap had the fans on their feet.

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

If the Daytona 500 is indeed the “Super Bowl” of racing, as some term it, having the field of play come apart in the middle of the race is completely unacceptable. So the folks that own it might be ready to repave it in 2012 after a mere 34 years? They could have saved themselves some egg on the face and done it after last year’s Firecracker 400.

Wasn’t it Jeff Gordon who ran crying to NASCAR saying they needed to clamp down on bump-drafting? It occurs to me he wrecked Biffle out on the final lap of the Shootout, then wiped out Kasey Kahne on one of the many final restarts of the 500. But in an ugly case of what goes around, comes around, it was Gordon who wound up wrecked on the race’s final lap.

Bigger restrictor plates? Somewhere up there, Dale Earnhardt the Original is flashing that infamous grin. Now, if they’ll just fix the tracks and get rid of the plates altogether, they might really be onto something. It was telling that all three networks covering Speedweeks continuously showed the “pre-restricted” finishes of the 1976 and 1979 500s as the best ever.

Maybe there is hope for NASCAR on FOX after all? The opening round of the season was notably lighter on lame comedy bits and gimmicks (Face it… you were dreading Hammond and Myers in the hot tub for Valentine’s Day again). It was a full 52 minutes before Little Digger made his first appearance, and while the cartoon vermin made an occasional cameo, it was without vocals and uncommented upon by the boys in the booth. There was actually some intelligent discussion of racing early in the broadcast, too – although faced with a couple hours of dead air to fill during the two red flags, things quickly spun back out of control.

To be fair, since I harped on it last season it did seem like the crowd for all the events during Speedweeks was bigger than last year’s. My guess is that was in large part due to the Hellish Apocalyptic winter those of us here in the Northeast are enduring. Florida might not have been the tropical respite that some fans were hoping for, but at least you don’t have to shovel rain. (Ironically, the Winter Olympics are being hampered by a lack of snow. Vancouver, if you need snow, send the dump trucks and skid steers here. The only grass I’ve seen this month was being smoked in a buddy’s basement.)

In another nod to the fans’ wishes in the aftermath of the Bud Shootout, NASCAR quickly adopted a new rule wherein there will be three attempts at a green-white-checkered finish to have races finish under green. Hoo-ray! Nice job, NASCAR – although I’m not sure they should be using the rules at Daytona or Talladega. Given the nature of restrictor-plate races, it would seem that’s a prescription for six-hour marathons that end when the last two drivers running wreck each other out short of the start/finish line. But let’s give credit where credit is due. Now the next step, if NASCAR officials really want to convince fans gone AWOL that they’re serious about drawing them home, is to return the Southern 500 to Labor Day weekend at Darlington….

Isn’t it interesting that the head FOX honcho recently said that he’s optimistic about good TV ratings given the new standardized start times? David Hill was once the chief architect of the later starts that put race finishes into primetime, a change he tried forcing down the throats of race fans only to end up with a steaming pile of vomit all over his shoes.

It’s Danica Patrick’s world; you just live here. Honestly, I’ve never seen so much attention devoted to a Nationwide Series driver who was running 30-somethingth. But as ESPN’s coverage persisted, it had to be a horror show to the rest of the sponsors and drivers looking for their fair share of Joyce Julius mentions. In fact, I’d recommend to any up-and-coming driver they might want to consider growing their hair out, a gender change operation, and breast implants to appear on screen from here on out. The fact ESPN’s Bottom Line ticker noted only Ms. Patrick’s misfortunes and not Earnhardt Jr. (who used to be pretty popular himself) ending on his roof – or the eventual race winner – was an Alice in Wonderland moment for true race fans. Now, don’t get me wrong; Patrick did well for a rookie during Speedweeks. I’m all for inclusiveness of talented drivers regardless of their gender, race, creed, or country of origin. But it seems that all the attention directed Danica’s way was a form of reverse discrimination for other rookie drivers looking to make a name for themselves. In the wake of last year’s “Batgirl” brouhaha, perhaps I should be more circumspect but, gentle readers, when you opened this column you just knew when it comes to this rodeo, it’s Bull Out of the Chute time. Frankly, absent the makeup consultants and hairstylists, on race day itself, I find Ms. Patrick, well… um… unremarkable. The fact she needs GoDaddy, the leading purveyor of internet soft-core porn, to be able to race speaks volumes….

I couldn’t help but wonder how the other drivers involved in the wreck that ended Patrick’s day on Saturday felt about the network’s apparent lack of concern for their safety or misfortune. When we last saw the No. 16 car, it was going up in flames. Where was the fire crew… standing in line to get Danica’s autograph? Did the car eventually burn to the ground, or did they get it put out?

It was a bit odd to see all the pre and post-race coverage with Jimmy Spencer missing in action. As I have cause to know, NASCAR can be pretty harsh in crushing voices of dissent; so Mr. Spencer, should you need an in, I’m pretty well connected. If you need a job, I can always gain you entrance to the Citizen Journalists Corps and teach you the secret handshake so you don’t look foolish at our First Annual Spring Gala. Mr. Weber, sorry; there’s no fixing stupid.

I’ve always said “there’s no crying in car racing,” but I’ll give McMurray a pass on his victory lane interview. After all, I know what it’s like to be on the outside looking in with no place in the circus a couple months before the season starts, even if I am just a clown. Speaking of which, does anyone know where RacingOne disappeared to during the offseason? To paraphrase Bruce Springsteen, I’m still here, they’re all gone….

Jezum Crowe, there’s no arguing that Daytona now has the nicest flagstand on the circuit, replete with an elevator to carry race officials to its summit. After Krista Voda waxed eloquently about this massive edifice during the Truck race, I think perhaps it’s time to add the flag-tower as an eighth Wonder of the World. But it would have been nice if Daytona spent a few bucks eliminating some of the bumps on the track instead, or seeing to it the double yellow lines that now mark “out of bounds” ran parallel to one another. Wouldn’t your average county road crew been fired and charged with fraud if they’d lined a road that badly? And given their new lofty perch, you’d have thought the Nationwide officials could have seen the safety truck blocking the pit road entrance right in front of them before opening the pits. My old buddy Bob Weir used to sing a song about monkeys, trains, and tragedy narrowly averted. (And speaking of the Dead, what was the deal with using “Alabama Getaway” as a segue to commercials for a race held in Florida?)

Fans of Matt Kenseth can be forgiven for panicking watching the yellow No. 17 Ford being pushed to the garage area while the cars were warming up on pit road prior to the race. Fortunately for them, that was last year’s 500-winning car being retired from the Daytona museum to make way for this year’s winner. For those who didn’t buy a program, this year Kenseth is driving the purple-blue Crown Royal car.

Yeah, I’m a nasty, cynical, bad-tempered old SOB who has been following the sport for over four decades, but I still get a little choked up listening to the National Anthem and watching the flyover prior to the Daytona 500.

It was hard not to crack up when Todd Bodine ended up the central figure in the “Just For Men” hair-coloring promo during the Truck race.

Maybe I’m just too sensitive (and long-term readers know I’m the shrinking violet type), but even almost a decade later I’m not comfortable seeing a black and silver No. 3 RCR race vehicle out there on the track.

Denny Hamlin’s season is off to a poor start due to an injury playing basketball. Jimmie Johnson got hurt playing golf. Carl Edwards got hurt playing Frisbee. Any more questions about if today’s drivers are as tough as guys like Junior Johnson and Cale Yarborough?

In the interest of historical accuracy, Richard Petty did not win the 1969 Riverside season opener in a Ford Torino Talladega. The car was a regular Torino. Ironically, the Torino Talladega debuted at Daytona, while the Dodge Charger Daytona debuted at Talladega back in 1969.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Uber-aggressive Brad Kesolowski was vocal in stating he didn’t care if he ticked off other drivers. He wasn’t at Daytona to win friends. Apparently, he wasn’t there to win the race, either. Keselowski earned the dubious honor of triggering the first wreck of the 2010 Daytona 500 when he lost a right rear tire.

Kahne had a fast car, as evidenced by his winning his qualifying race, but he fell back through the field late and into the clutches of whatever demons have possessed the driver of the No. 24 car.

Axle issues thwarted any attempt by Johnson to get his title defense off to a fast start.

AJ Allmendinger clearly had a fast car, and he was up on the wheel, but problems in the pits and a spin later in the race ended his chances.

Elliott Sadler, with that new Ford engine under the hood, ran strong most of the day, but wound up 24th in the final rundown after overheating.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Months before the season began, McMurray was still out a ride after NASCAR rules forced Jack Roush to eliminate one of his teams and McMurray was selected as odd man out. My guess is that that Bass Pro Shops’ reluctance to have him as their driver is now officially at an end.

Earnhardt Jr.’s motivation and determination to win have been questioned in many quarters, by this writer included, but it sure did look like he wanted to win the 500 on the last lap.

David Reutimann is going to be a lot more popular with a large faction of race fans for pushing Junior to a second-place finish.

After a disastrous 2009 Cup campaign, Richard Childress had to have left Daytona grinning after watching two of his drivers lead laps and all three of his entries posting top-15 finishes.

Worth Noting

  • The top-10 finishers at Daytona drove five Chevys, three Fords and two Toyotas.
  • Clint Bowyer, Harvick and Kenseth are the only three drivers to post top-10 finishes in both the 2009 and 2010 Daytona 500s. McMurray finished 37th in last year’s 500.

What’s the Points?

Oddly enough, the points pretty much mirror the finish of the Daytona 500. Can we not get our shorts all in a wad about points until at least springtime? After all, eventual champion Johnson left Daytona 31st in the points last year.

Harvick finished seventh, but is actually fifth in the standings thanks to the 10-point bonus for leading the most laps. Reutimann and Martin Truex Jr. are tied for sixth behind Harvick.

If they were to lock the top 12 in points into the Chase right now… it would spare us from having to go to Fontana 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): We’ll give this one four icy cold Coronas, and it might have been five if the track hadn’t fell apart. It seems these drivers are actually able to police themselves pretty nicely. (For the record, I award the Twin 150s a six-pack apiece.)

Next Up: After all the PT Barnum hype of the Daytona 500, the actual race season kicks off next weekend in Fontana. Perhaps not surprisingly, good seats remain available… in blocks of 500, if you wish to bring along a lot of friends. Color me surprised.

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