Race Weekend Central

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2011 Daytona 500 Race Recap

The Key MomentTrevor Bayne got a great jump on the final restart and Bobby Labonte offered a vital assist, pushing the No. 21 car before Bayne blocked Carl Edwards coming to the stripe and pulled the upset.

In a Nutshell – They said with the new surface and rules, this 500 was going to be unpredictable. Well, it was all that and then some. About the only predictable part was an all-time record 16 cautions that yielded the second-slowest Daytona 500 ever.

Dramatic Moment – With each restart shuffling the deck and potentially separating drafting partners, all 16 of them were pretty intense.

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

Bayne? Where did he come from? (Though to be fair, he’d been running well all of Speedweeks.) Bayne isn’t even competing for Cup points under this system as he only has (had?) a part-time ride in the top series and thus opted to compete for the Nationwide title instead. Will NASCAR let him recheck that little box on his license after Sunday?

Editor’s Note: Jenna Fryer is reporting through her Twitter feed NASCAR would let Bayne switch eligibility going forward; however, no points would be earned from Sunday’s Daytona 500 if he does so.

A lot of fans I’ve spoken to don’t like this new tandem racing at Daytona. I will say this much: I prefer it to the old snarling packs of 34 cars running centimeters apart. Of course, somehow we still ended up with the “Big One” that decimated a third of the field. Plate racing has got to go. Friday night’s Truck race, while exciting, was a glimpse of the old style “pileup plate” racing and at points I wasn’t sure anyone was going to finish the event.

To sum up, I’m left feeling, “Nice result, but not a great race.” Agree? Disagree? Use the comments section below to respond. Yes, I want to hear from you and I care about your opinion… unless your initials are RG.

NASCAR has become decidedly politically correct. Since Bayne isn’t yet 21, the “Coors Light” contingency sticker on the side of his Ford is black with white lettering and the logo “21 means 21.” There was also no champagne in Victory Lane.

Will a more-worn track surface and higher temperatures at Daytona in July yield less grip and eliminate the “tandem” effect?

Editor’s Note: Based on what we’re hearing from the drivers … probably not. One crewman said this type of racing with the plates is what we’ll see at Daytona for the next 10 years.

There were a lot of nice tributes to the late Dale Earnhardt this week at the track and on TV. Most were well made and respectfully done, though they still hurt to watch sometimes. But some media types and other folks need to get over this insane notion that Earnhardt’s death led NASCAR to immediately start to try making the sport safer. They fought SAFER barriers on banked tracks as a “cure worse than the disease” and didn’t require the HANS device until the week after Blaise Alexander was killed in a late race ARCA crash at Charlotte that October. Of course, that came after two drivers died from the same basalar skull injury in NASCAR during the 2000 season.

Did you realize some teams ran the entire race on one set of left side tires?

What was Robby Gordon thinking trying to bully his way back onto the track after getting crossed up on the next-to-last lap of the race? My guess is Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Ryan Newman would like to discuss the move with him.

Did Jeff Gordon get away with jumping the start of the race?

Are we seeing a kinder, gentler Kyle Busch or do they finally have him on Ritalin?

It wasn’t a sellout by any means, but track owners and promoters have to be enthused by the crowds at Daytona much of the week.

Does anyone else feel that Saturday’s hour-and-a-half of pre-race programming and pageantry is a bit excessive for a two-and-a-half hour race? Not that Sunday’s pre-race programming was a paragon of brevity, clarity and information. Looks like we’ve got the annual battle between DW and Hammond to see who can speak the most and say the least.

Am I correct that Phoenix’s new ticket promotion commercials can be termed the “come here and drink beer” campaign? Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but some of those coolers look too big to get into the track and at least one young lady holding a Bud in the spot appears to be somewhat underage to these elderly eyes.

Again, maybe I’m just getting old(er) and cranky but I sure hope FOX doesn’t do the pre-race show in the infield grass again. One of my pet peeves is supposed adults making idiots of themselves and waving signs around so they can be “on TV.” Hey, any idiot can be on TV; Jeff Hammond and Chris Myers even get paid for it.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

David Ragan led a late restart but got black-flagged for changing lanes coming to the green flag. Otherwise, he’d likely have won the race.

Earnhardt Jr. seemed to be able to work his way to the front anytime he chose, but cut down a tire and then got caught up in the wreck that caused the 16th caution flag to fly in “overtime.” It had to be a nasty shock for fans of his late father to see the No. 88 car run into a section of the outside wall that STILL doesn’t have the SAFER barrier installed; he wound up 24th.

Current Cup champion Jimmie Johnson didn’t have a great Daytona 500; he got caught up in the lap 30 debacle and wound up 27th. But before you go writing off his title hopes for 2011, recall Johnson has finished outside the top 20 in seven of the last nine 500s, including a 35th-place finish in last year’s event. Maybe next year they’ll let him run the Transformer car with the armor and the weapons?

Kevin Harvick blew an engine and finished 42nd. It was the first mechanical DNF for Harvick and the No. 29 team since Dover in the fall of 2006.

Harvick’s teammate Jeff Burton also suffered a powerplant meltdown. It’s the first “double engine” failure for Richard Childress Racing in the same event since Michigan in August, 2006.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Tony Stewart won his fourth straight Daytona Nationwide race on Sunday. He’s now won six of the February AAA races there since 2005.

Mark Martin also tore up his car badly in the lap 30 wreck and had numerous other on-track skirmishes only to rally to a 10th-place finish, the best of the HMS quartet. At one point, Martin had been three laps down.

Kyle Busch was sent spinning off the front bumper of Michael Waltrip’s car just five laps into the race, igniting a series of contact with other cars while getting fully sideways in a huge pack. Eventually, that led to a flat tire, but despite it all he rallied back to finish eighth.

Juan Pablo Montoya spun to bring out the eighth caution, then tangled with Greg Biffle to produce the 11th yellow but went on to finish sixth.

Kurt Busch made a pretty nice Speedweeks debut in his new colors, winning the Bud Shootout, his 150-mile qualifying race and finishing fifth.

Worth Noting

  • It was a good day to be 20, but it also wasn’t a bad day to be a more mature former Cup champion. Bobby Labonte finished fourth, Bill Elliott 12th, and Terry Labonte 15th.
  • Bayne tied Jamie McMurray‘s record by winning a Cup race in just his second Cup start. He was the youngest winner ever of a Daytona 500 and the second-youngest driver ever to win a top-tier Cup event. (The youngest ever was Joey Logano at NHIS while still 19. Donald Thomas won at Atlanta in 1952 at 20 years and four months.) Bayne is also the seventh driver to score his first ever Cup victory in the Daytona 500.
  • The Wood Brothers won for the first time since Elliott Sadler took the checkers at Bristol in spring, 2001.
  • The top 10 finishers at Daytona drove three Fords (the top three finishers), four Chevys, two Toyotas and a Dodge.
  • Edwards (second) and Montoya (sixth) are the only two drivers to score a top 10 in last year’s 500 to repeat the feat this season.
  • Edwards has two wins and a second-place finish in the last three points-paying Cup races.
  • Edwards, and Kurt and Kyle Busch were the only three drivers in last year’s Chase to come away from this year’s Daytona 500 with a top-10 result. Yeah, it was that weird a race. The younger Busch brother at one point called the race “insanely stupid.” The results were “insanely weird.” Strange days, indeed… most peculiar.
  • Bobby Labonte (fourth) enjoyed his best Cup result since Martinsville in the fall of 2006.
  • Regan Smith (seventh) scored his best official Cup result ever, even if he did actually beat Stewart to the line at Talladega in 2008.

What’s the Points?

For the first time since the Daytona 500 became the first race of the season, the winner of the race isn’t the points leader. Since Bayne signed on to compete for points in the Nationwide Series (a new rule this year says a driver can only run a for a title in one division), he earned no points (but big bucks) for winning the 500.

Edwards leads the points with 42. David Gilliland, who never led a lap, and Bobby Labonte, who did, are tied for second with 41.

I feel silly, almost dirty, discussing points after the first race. Let’s give it a few weeks before we start wringing our hands over points, OK?

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) — We give this one four and a half cans of Near Beer in honor of the winner’s age and the return of the Wood Brothers to Victory Lane at Daytona.

Next Up – After the pageantry and foolishness of Daytona, the series heads off to Phoenix where many folks feel the “real” season begins.

About the author

Matt joined Frontstretch in 2007 after a decade of race-writing, paired with the first generation of racing internet sites like RaceComm and Racing One. Now semi-retired, he submits occasional special features while his retrospectives on drivers like Alan Kulwicki, Davey Allison, and other fallen NASCAR legends pop up every summer on Frontstretch. A motorcycle nut, look for the closest open road near you and you can catch him on the Harley during those bright, summer days in his beloved Pennsylvania.

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