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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2012 Daytona 500 Race Recap

The Key MomentMatt Kenseth drifted high on the final restart to pick up teammate Greg Biffle, who never made a move on his teammate down the stretch. While Biffle and Dale Earnhardt Jr. battled for second, Kenseth drove to his second Daytona 500 victory in four years.

In a Nutshell – And the hits just keep on coming…

Dramatic Moment – When the field hit turn three for the first time after the cleanup of the jet dryer fire, I wasn’t sure any of the drivers would make it to turn four.

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

The Daytona International Speedway… putting the “car” back in “carnage.”

Think the NASCAR officials were just a tad slow in throwing the caution flag at the end of the Nationwide race? Sure, they want to the fans to see an exciting finish but the safety of the drivers involved (and about to get involved) in that savage wreck, along with the ability to get rescue crews to them quickly should have taken precedence. And speaking of precedent, NASCAR needs to set one for what happens when there’s a violent multi-car wreck on the final lap of the race. Are we going to use the last scoring loop at the time caution is displayed, review videotape to decide who was running where when the yellow lights came on, or are we going to wait to throw the flag until someone takes the checkers, as happened on Saturday?

While the teams gear up to run the first season with fuel injection in the Cup Series it appears that some of the parts and pieces needed for EFI are in short supply. When a team as big and wealthy as Hendrick Motorsports rolls a backup car off the rig for Kasey Kahne and it doesn’t even have an engine inside, that should tell you something.

It’ll be interesting to see the TV ratings for the 500 later this week (overnights had them at a 7.7, down 6% from last year). However inadvertently, the race became the first broadcast on a weeknight in primetime, and right in the middle of the February Sweeps. If the ratings are good, might we see some NASCAR races moved to weeknight slots? Will America choose Two and a Half Men or 42 Men and Danica?

I’m told after Daytona Speedweeks, the price of scrap metal has dropped 10 cents a pound. The supply now greatly exceeds demand.

If Dave Blaney had in fact won the Daytona 500, could Tommy Baldwin have sold the win to Danica Patrick?

The penalties for the unapproved C-pillars on the No. 48 car won’t be announced until sometime this week, but car owner Rick Hendrick has already said whatever penalties are levied against Johnson and Co., he will appeal them. He claims that the No. 48 car that failed pre-practice testing last week was the same car that had been entered in all four plate races in 2011, and as a result it was inspected and approved countless times. I’m not following the logic here. It’s like telling a store clerk, hey I passed four counterfeit $50 bills here last month so you have to take this one, too.

John King might have won Friday night’s Truck Series race, but the last portion of that event looked like it was scripted by Stephen King.

What sort of “handout” did Rick Hendrick give the FOX broadcasters? Should race broadcasters be taking handouts from team owners they are paid to cover? Editor’s Note: Hendrick flew the entire FOX broadcasting crew to California for free in order for them to attend Chris Myers’ son’s funeral. Yes, it was a classy gesture; but however nice it was, Matt’s question still definitively applies.

And now, for the latest installment in As The Keg Turns: None of us realized it last Saturday night, but we were watching the final Bud Shootout (nee Busch Clash) this year. Starting in 2013, Budweiser will no longer be the sponsor of the quasi-All-Star race that kicks off the season. Why? Well, it’s gotten to be a rather awkward state of affairs for an event originally limited to pole winners from the previous season now that Coors Light is the official sponsor of the weekly contest for the pole in Cup and Nationwide Racing. You can’t very well have a Bud Shootout limited to the winners of the Coors Light Pole Award, now, can you? But this changing of the guard should be no big deal. In theory, Coors Light would just take over sponsorship of the quasi-All-Star race for winners of Coors Light Pole Awards (and any other driver born on a day of the week that ends in “Y” if history bears witness to the declining eligibility standards.)

Not so fast, Bubbalouie. Bud has also signed on to be the exclusive beer sponsor of next year’s Speedweeks (leaving very much in question what they’ll call the pole winner; it sure won’t be the Coors Light Pole Award winner, right?) In addition, Bud will replace Gatorade as the official sponsor of the Twin 150s (now Budweiser Dual Duels, presumably.) And the ultimate irony would be if the Miller/Coors Dodge wins one of them, which would probably lead to a shooting war between Missouri and Colorado. How did this whole sorry state of affairs come to be? Simple. NASCAR wants to dig their fingers deep into the wallet pocket of both breweries. And if another brewery wants to be the Official Imported Beer of NASCAR, doubtless the France family would want their snouts in that trough as well. It’s enough to make you want to go have a Corona.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Juan Pablo Montoya was lucky to escape injury in the most bizarre incident I’ve ever seen during a race. He was accelerating to catch back up to the field under caution when something in the steering linkage broke. The No. 42 car then ran into the back of a jet dryer truck, igniting nearly 200 gallons of jet fuel in a hellish inferno. Fortunately, both Montoya and the truck’s driver Duane Barnes, escaped relatively unscathed from the frightening-looking wreck, which caused a two-hour red flag for cleanup. (Montoya ended the race 36th.)

Danica Watch 2012: Edition One. 150-mile qualifier: a wreck and a 16th-place finish. Nationwide Series race: a wreck and a 38th-place finish. Daytona 500: a wreck on lap 2 and finished 38th again. During the red flag period, she also got confused and started taking her clothes off yet again. I also hear FOX’s experiment to have Danica walk across Lake Lloyd was a dismal failure as well…

This weekend’s big losers, as in any rain-delayed race, were the fans. Thousands held tickets to the 500, NASCAR’s Super Bowl for months but – due to work or family obligations – weren’t able to stay over until Monday for the race.

If that storm cell had held together a little better or the track had fallen apart a little bit more, Blaney would have won the race. Instead, he finished 15th, but that had to feel like 40th considering the circumstances.

Barely a lap into the race, Jimmie Johnson got turned into the wall. As he slid back across the track, Johnson took a savage hit to the driver’s side of the No. 48 car. That Chevy got hit so damn hard it probably bent both C-pillars, so tell Chad not to worry about post-race inspection this week. The No. 48 team… putting the “car” back in Karma. He wound up 42nd.

Things didn’t go much better for Johnson’s teammate, Jeff Gordon. The No. 24 had its engine expire in a fireball on lap 81; unofficially, it broke a crankshaft as four-time wound up 40th.

When Ryan Newman lost a wheel in the pits, AJ Allmendinger drove into the back of the No. 39 car, ruining his debut at Penske Racing. He wound up 25 laps down in 34th place.

Rick Hendrick had six cars destroyed during Speedweeks. James Finch saw three of his cars totaled. My unofficial count lists 68 race vehicles (and one jet dryer) totaled during Speedweeks. But like John Prine used to sing, “If heartaches were commercials, we’d all be on TV.”

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Kenseth’s No. 17 car began overheating badly early in the event. He experienced fuel pickup problems, a failed tachometer and a broken radio. Yet, somehow, Kenseth still won the race.

Earnhardt Jr. started off the season well with a second-place finish. His was also one of the few Hendrick cars that could be driven back onto the truck after a race.

While he finished 12th, Martin Truex Jr. did bank $200,000 for leading at the halfway point.

Carl Edwards got sent to the back of the field after the red flag period for removing a windshield tearoff under the red. He got a piece of the ninth caution of the day but still soldiered on to an eighth-place finish.

James Buescher found himself running 11th exiting the final corner of Saturday’s Nationwide race, but all 10 cars ahead of him wrecked in that final dash to the checkers. A clearly surprised Buescher swerved his way through the carnage to take his first Series win. They may still be debating who finished second…

After a five-year absence, Ward Burton returned to NASCAR racing in Friday night’s Truck event. While he suffered mechanical issues, Burton’s experience in Daytona allowed him to survive the carnage and post an eighth-place finish.

Worth Noting

  • This year’s Daytona 500 marked the first time in 54 years the event had to be postponed until the next day.
  • No driver who posted a top-five finish in the 2011 Daytona 500 repeated the feat this year. Paul Menard, Edwards and Mark Martin managed top-10 finishes in both races.
  • Tony Stewart is now 0-for-14 in Daytona 500 starts. In comparison, Dale Earnhardt, Sr. went 0-for-19 before win number one in 1998.
  • Earnhardt’s second-place finish was his sixth runner-up result since he last won a Cup race at Michigan 130 races ago.
  • Johnson’s finishes at the Daytona 500?
    2012: 42nd
    2011: 27th
    2010: 35th
    2009: 31st
    2008: 27th
    2007: 39th
    2006: Winner

You’ll note in four of his five championship seasons, Johnson started the year poorly at Daytona but won a title anyway.

What’s the Points? – Not surprisingly, the points look a whole lot like the the finishing order of the race. Kenseth is atop the standings, by five over Biffle, Earnhardt, and Denny Hamlin. Jeff Burton, after a horrific 2011 season starts off this one sitting fifth. Menard is sixth, Kevin Harvick is seventh, and then there’s a tie between Edwards and Joey Logano for eighth. Martin rounds out the top 10, while Clint Bowyer and Truex would be the “wild cards.” Of course, it’s “wild” to be thinking about points after just one race.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans, with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) — I’ll give this one three cans of well dented Bud with a slight aftertaste of jet fuel and smoke.

Next Up – The circuit heads off to Phoenix for what many people consider the start of the “real” racing season. Last Fall, the newly redesigned track out West sold out. It’ll be interesting to see what sort of crowd they draw this time.

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