Race Weekend Central

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2010 Firecracker 400 at Daytona Race Recap

The Key Moment: Kevin Harvick got just enough of a jump on the final restart that he left the rest of the field battling furiously for second.

In a Nutshell: Bread and circuses, baby.

Dramatic Moment: Anytime you have a green/white/checkered restart at a plate track, it’s fixing to get ugly.

The lap 148 wreck that decimated half the field will make the highlight reels on SportsCenter all week. After all they’re not going to be talking about Tiger’s dominant performance in Newtown Square. (My hometown)

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

Given NASCAR’s propensity for throwing unnecessary debris cautions where was the yellow flag when Clint Bowyer went spinning after the final restart?

In February it will have been 10 years since Dale Earnhardt was killed in that last lap crash at the Daytona 500. Now the walls are lined with SAFER barriers and the drivers wear HANS devices, but let’s put the alphabet soup of safety devices aside a second. Someone could easily have died last night at Daytona. Almost 10 years down the road the underlying fault of plate racing, the banking at Daytona and Talladega, hasn’t been addressed.

Did anyone else see the No. 42 team working on Juan Pablo Montoya’s wounded racecar under the red flag in clear violation of the rules?

As I see it there’s no need to repave the bumpy and worn out track surface at Daytona. Just have the competitors run Class 2 Baja trucks rather than Cup cars on a track that ought to be an embarrassment to the France family after nearly 30 years without a repave. They really don’t get it. NASCAR said there was no problem with the track surface apparently not realizing in this new era of phones that take video and the various social media of the internet that their late-night track repairs Friday were going viral before dawn.

Related to the above, once Daytona is in fact repaved (and my guess is they’ll screw it up royally) the track is going to be a lot faster for a few years until it wears. That means NASCAR will have to issue smaller restrictor plates to keep speeds within reason. That means tighter packs of racecars, less passing opportunities, more desperate moves and bigger wrecks that will make Saturday night’s fiasco look like a Smurfs picnic. What’s the solution? I’m whistling Bobby Dylan’s “The Answer is Blowing in the Wind” as I type this. How many times must 19 cars wreck, before plate racing is forever banned…? As Denis Leary might say, Kumbaya, baby.

One nugget gleaned from the tsunami of words NASCAR’s Brian France unleashed on the press at Daytona is that the organization is internally debating “tweaks” to the Chase points system. That’s the equivalent of treating a brain tumor with a band aid and lollipop. In related news, BP executives say they are considering tweaks to the emergency cutoff valves they use in deep sea oil drilling.

France went on to say NASCAR was concerned about the number of full-time Cup drivers competing in the Nationwide Series (and winning all the money and points.) He said changes might be forthcoming, which is the equivalent of dialing 9-1-1 to report the Great Chicago Fire in the 1960s. The solution is simple. No driver in the top 20 in Cup points can compete in the Nationwide Series. An alternative is to allow such drivers to compete but not to award them any points or purse money.

During the summer, it rains in Daytona in the late afternoon and evening? Who knew? I mean, besides anyone with a lick of sense or anyone who has visited the Sunshine State during the summer and experienced the oppressive heat, soul-sucking humidity, and mosquitoes the size of robins firsthand. As the weather cools towards evening the atmosphere is no longer able to contain the super-saturated amount of moisture it contains and storms follow. That’s why the Firecracker 400 used to start around 11 a.m. and end by 2:00.

The new Nationwide Series car, at least in its Mustang and Challenger disguises, made its long anticipated debut at Daytona this weekend. Despite concerns that the race would be a wreck-fest after practice, the Nationwide race was relatively sedate at least by Daytona standards. Unfortunately the side-by-side racing and slingshot passes envisioned to be made possible by the new cars didn’t materialize, either. I’ll give NASCAR a pass on this one, given it was the first time the new cars ran and at least the winner didn’t label them a “piece of crap.” Aesthetically the new Mustang was a disappointment. It looks about as much like a 2011 Mustang as Granny Clampett looks like Heather Locklear. The new Challenger, at least when viewed from the front was more successful though the “cars” lacked the trademark vintage notchback Challenger roofline. You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.

It was bittersweet to see the No. 3 car back in victory lane, especially in its Wrangler livery, Friday night. But for Dale Junior fans, it must have been exciting to see Earnhardt winning anything but the most popular driver balloting for the first time in eons. Earnhardt’s win did seem to please the sparse crowd on hand for the event.

Uh-oh! Not only was Danica Patrick’s return to Nationwide racing last week at NHMS less than successful competitively (suffice to say she beat the start and parkers while remaining a rolling speed bump on track) but it didn’t boost TV ratings much. Maybe Danica-mania has gone the way of Macarena?

One of the things that benefits TNT race coverage compared to FOX is the LLL factor, as in Lots Less Larry. And when McReynolds does talk, absent his need to serve as straight man for DW he occasionally makes sense. But does anyone else think that Kyle Petty referring to his father as “the King” sounds like something out of a Southern Gothic novel?

My take on the list of nominees to make the NASCAR Hall of Fame next year? There’s not a man on that list that doesn’t deserve to be there eventually, though I stick by my picks of Bobby Allison, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip and Lee Petty. Being from the northeast and having seen the man work his magic in person, I was pleased to see the late Richie Evans included on that list.

In an odd statement Earnhardt Jr. (probably tongue in cheek) credited his recent upswing in performance to growing back his fungal beard and drinking beer on Mondays. I don’t know about that. I’ve been drinking beer on Mondays since I was sixteen and I haven’t won any Cup races.

The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune

Bowyer went from leading the race on the final restart to a 17th-place finish after getting spun out in the final two laps.

It’s been a while since veteran Mark Martin had to bail out of a burning car. Kudos to the No. 48 crew for rushing to assist Martin, but his mid-season slump has officially hit overdrive.

AJ Allmendinger was seen post-wreck in a hollering match with de facto boss Richard Petty. That probably wasn’t a wise career move.

Ryan Newman reposted his credentials in NASCAR’s Inadvertently Airborne Corps. Fortunately this time, the car came to rest rubber side down.

Kyle Busch wasn’t real happy with Montoya after his lap 104 wreck, but had to bite his tongue given his despicable performance in practice prior to the event that left a lot of bent sheet metal in his wake.

In the latest episode of “When Teammates Attack” Sam Hornish Jr. put Kurt Busch into the wall to set off the final yellow flag session of the evening.

So much for momentum. Jimmie Johnson won the last two Cup races but wound up 31st Saturday/Sunday after catching a big piece of the big wreck.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune

Kasey Kahne’s night seemed over after the lap 148 wreck but he recovered well enough to finish second. It’s a lot easier to make up positions when half the starting field is being shoveled into dumpsters in the garage area.

Earnhardt Jr. did a nifty bit of driving to dive low during the big wreck avoiding the worst of the carnage. His fourth-place finish in Saturday’s race (which actually occurred early Sunday morning) coupled with a win Friday made this Earnhardt’s most productive weekend in eons.

Jeff Gordon was another beneficiary of tragedy nearly avoided when he skated through the big wreck with inches to spare.

Given a pit road speeding penalty and his tangle with Hornish, Kurt Busch has to be satisfied with a seventh-place finish and a pulse after the race.

If there’s one nice thing about plate racing, it’s that the carnage gives drivers like Reed Sorenson, Mike Bliss and Scott Speed a chance to post a top-10 finish. Let me assure you, nobody won TNT’s $1 million challenge after this race.

Bobby Labonte finished 16th, but he completed 166 laps. He finished the race. He did not start and park his car, and hopefully no former Cup champion will ever do so again.

Steve Park’s return to Cup racing yielded a respectable 13th-place finish.

Worth Noting

  • Harvick’s last three Cup wins have occurred at plate tracks.
  • Kahne finished second for the second time in four races.
  • Gordon’s third-place finish was his best since Richmond and his fourth straight top-five result. Eventually, he might get the hang of this Cup racing stuff.
  • Earnhardt Jr.’s fourth-place finish was his best since… well… the Daytona 500.
  • Jeff Burton (fifth) managed a top-five result for the first time since Dover.
  • Carl Edwards‘s sixth-place finish was his best since Richmond.
  • Kurt Busch (seventh) has scored top-10 results in five of the last six Cup races and all five of the last five oval circuit events.
  • Team Red Bull had both their drivers (fill-in Sorenson and Speed) finish in the top 10.
  • Bliss (ninth) was undoubtedly blissful after posting his best career finish since Richmond in 2004.
  • Robby Gordon (12th) posted his best oval track result since Charlotte in May of last year.
  • Kevin Conway (14th) easily bested his career best Cup finish Saturday. His previous best result was 27th at Texas.
  • After winning two consecutive races Denny Hamlin (24th) has missed the top 10 the last three times out and is averaging a 21st-place finish in those three races.
  • Martin (28th) has now gone five straight Cup races without a top-10 finish.
  • The top-10 finishers drove five Chevys, two Fords, two Toyotas and a Dodge. The four drivers who finished in the last four positions all drove Toyotas.

What’s the Points?

Harvick retains his points lead. He is now 212 points (more than a full race worth) ahead of second-place Jeff Gordon, who advanced an impressive three spots to second.

Johnson dropped a spot to third, but is just thirteen points behind Gordon.

Kurt Busch advanced two spots to fourth in the standings, while his brother Kyle fell three spots to sixth. Hamlin fell a spot to fifth.

Earnhardt Jr. advanced two spots, and enters the top 12 in 11th position, 46 points to the good of 13th. Martin’s fiery wreck dropped him a spot to 13th and out of one of those coveted top-12 positions.

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 lay the beer aside and give this one three value meal BK dollar burgers. They aren’t real good or filling, but you got what you expected and hopefully your neighbors didn’t see you consuming “the product.”

Next Up: It’s 1,158 miles to Chicago-Land. We’ve got a full tank of gas, a half pack of cigarettes, it’s dark out and we’re wearing sunglasses. Hit it!

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