NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Happy Hour: What’s Left To Be Said About The Daytona 520

There I sat in my capacity as Official Columnist of NASCAR, after two long delays, which at least enabled me to spend some time with visiting in-laws that have zero interest in racing. Before the first green-white-we’ll-figure-it-out-eventually, my three fantasy drivers that day, Mark Martin, Jeff Burton and Jeff Gordon, were all in the top 15. I’m grateful in any plate race when two of my drivers even so much as finish, so I was happy about my prospects.

Two restarts and what had to be a little confusion in the flag stand later, Gordon was spinning out and Martin and Burton were being shuffled back to eventual 11th- and 12th-place finishes. Just that quickly, out the window went any money I could win this week.

This is the sort of thing that puts a competitor like me in a rotten mood. I wouldn’t go as far to say I would refuse to be interviewed afterward, but my frustration was certainly evident.

Then Jamie McMurray broke down in victory lane, and it all melted away.

Had my wife not been slightly irritated with me for retreating downstairs from company to watch the race, she would have liked seeing it. She watches Extreme Home Makeover frequently, a show where fire hydrants of happiness tears are shed as a requirement. Somehow Jamie’s breakdown was different from Gordon letting loose after his first win, where you sort of felt like saying, “get a grip, man” – and I say that as a big fan of Gordon. Maybe it was just evident on McMurray’s face that the guy’s had a rough few years, and that finally, even if unexpectedly, he reached a pinnacle in motorsports.

It was hard to argue that a sentimental favorite won. I always did think Jamie was a good guy and a better racecar driver than he has ever been given credit for. I’m not sure why things never seemed to work for him at Roush, but it happens.

And I sincerely hope that NASCAR doesn’t point to McMurray’s victory as a success of its four car per team rule. That rule screwed McMurray out of his ride at Roush, not anything McMurray, Jack Roush or a sponsor did.

Thankfully, things worked out for Big Mac.

Insert Awful Hole Pun Here

The hole in Daytona couldn’t be helped. It happens. As someone currently living up to his behind in global warming in the Northeast, I can personally testify that severe weather causes unexpected problems. Yes, the red flags were excitement killers, as they always are. But my only beef was that FOX could have shown replays of classic 500s instead of immediately reverting to let’s-get-a-Danica-segment-in mode.

It’d have been one thing if I or another commentator had been calling for repaving Daytona for years and forecasting disaster, but I wasn’t and as far as I know no one else was either. It’s easy to say it should have been prevented in hindsight.

But think of this… we still got to see what turned out to be a great ending. That would not have happened had the race started at 4 p.m., as we saw last year. The track would have been even colder and harder to fix. Instead of touting that new green-white-green-white-green-white-checkered rule, NASCAR ought to be happy about the new start times.

We’re Going Back To Our Roots With This Album

An analogy struck me as I was watching the same sport that frequently insists that it’s just as great as it always was talk about getting back to their roots.

All of my favorite bands had their heyday in the ’70s and ’80s… Rush, Chicago, ZZ Top, etc. Some of them are still around and even making good music, even if they are not as prolific as they once were. Chicago claimed to be going “back to their roots” with what ultimately became the “Stone of Sisyphus” album, and Rush said the same thing about “Snakes & Arrows,” and I will diplomatically say about two bands I love that neither CD is their finest hour.

It makes me skeptical of the whole “back to our roots” claim in general. It seems to be the de jour fallback for those whose superstardom has passed. You know who says, “We’re going back to our roots?” Someone who hasn’t had a hit in 20 years.

Besides, NASCAR isn’t, nor should they, go back to the days of a car winning a race by two laps and having maybe six drivers who could win on a given week. They just need to get rid of the Chase, loosen up on the car specs and testing restrictions, and add some variety to the schedule (a big “just,” I know). That, I believe, would fix a big chunk of their ratings problems, and it would do so much more effectively in the long term than putting every one of the sport’s eggs in the Danica Patrick basket.

This is hardly new, by the way. I’ve been hearing the “back to the roots” stuff for years from NASCAR, and, well, judge for yourself.

Buzz Aldrin Syndrome

Dale Earnhardt Jr. looked agitated about running second in the 500, and I expect it may have been because Teresa won a 500 before he did following their less than amicable split. Hell, he should have been grinning from ear to ear. When was the last time he ran second?

I don’t know about this “Junior looked like his dad out there” stuff. Yeah, so did Brad Keselowski at Talladega last year. With all due respect, Dale Sr. probably would have been the first to say that anyone can get to the front catching a draft at the right time. Still, Junior’s testiculars to the wall charge to the front at the end was most definitely exciting to watch, no matter who the driver would have been, but especially for a guy that was at the end of his rope last year. Caution to you Junior fans out there, though… don’t go thinking he’s back yet. It was a plate race after all.

By the way, where was Teresa?

HOT, STEAMING, SEXY 35TH-PLACE NATIONWIDE DRIVER UPDATE

It’s hard to argue what a boon Patrick is to the Nationwide Series after her 35th-place debut, driving right into a big wreck that she had about half a track to avoid. Who cares? Have you seen her in a bikini? If a scantily-clad Danica lying on the beach is not true racing, I don’t know what the hell is.

D.W. pointed out during the lengthy red flag that if you approach a sponsor who doesn’t know what the Nationwide Series is and tell them that Danica races there, that the sponsor would be much more willing hearing that news. Well hell’s bells, with that kind of thinking, what’s the holdup on putting Pamela Anderson in a Nationwide car? Pam only has one fewer major racing series wins and a more impressive set of bazongas.

I thought about DW’s assertion for a moment, and while I think he’s probably correct, I wondered why all a business owner would need to know about racing sponsorship was that Danica Patrick was racing in the series. Seriously, would you put $10 million into putting your company name on a racecar with that being the only selling point? Especially knowing, as you and I both know, how much coverage a non-Danica car will see on TV. Any business that runs that way, I’m interested in having them sponsor this column.

Hope you enjoyed this week’s Danica update. Who won that Nationwide race again?

That Jeff Gordon Wasn’t No Earnhardt!

Hey, how about Larry McReynolds showing his true Jeff Gordon-hating colors following Gordon’s probably unintentional bump draft of Kasey Kahne sending the No. 9 car spinning? “Now, I gotta say this, he (Gordon) was the one who went to NASCAR and told them to crack down on bump drafting!”

I wouldn’t have thought twice about it if he hadn’t added the “I gotta say this” qualifier, but that, to me anyway, betrayed his motivation. All of the standard “I hate that dang Jeff Gordon” code is in that comment: Gordon is a whiner, Gordon thinks rules don’t apply to him, NASCAR gives Gordon special treatment, Gordon races dirty. The only thing missing was “I think he might like other men too DW!” Maybe the word “crack” was a sly allusion to suspected homosexuality.

You’re just not a real Southerner unless you despise Gordon. Talk about getting back to our roots… where’s the anti-Gordon bile been in NASCAR these days?

My favorite Jeff Gordon Hater story: my Dad and I were in a racing collectibles shop some years ago, and we were talking about racing with a guy wearing a Dale Earnhardt (Senior) shirt. The Earnhardt fan referred to Gordon as “the fag” without saying his name. Dad asked him who “the fag” was, and he responded “Jeff Gordon!”, which, of course, we both knew was coming. And my Dad, a Chevy-hater who never really had a dog in that fight, says, “You just don’t like him ‘cause he used to beat the shit out of Earnhardt all the time.”

Classic. All I can say is from the look on the guy’s face, I’m glad he wasn’t armed.

We Now Return You To Racing At Different Speeds

I know it sounds sacrilegious, but I’m actually glad we take the plates off and go to a track where drivers don’t need help to pass. Fontana isn’t that bad, at least as the cookie-cutters go. And hey, before you know it, we’ll be at Bristol again.

So congratulations Jamie and Mrs. McMurray, hope you enjoyed the Big Macs. Here’s hoping the No. 1 runs as well as its driver is liked this year.

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