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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2012 Daytona 500

Looking for the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How behind each Sprint Cup event? Amy Henderson has you covered with the answers to six race day questions, covering all five Ws and even the H… the Big Six.

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

It wasn’t a lack of talent or even lack of equipment that cost Dale Earnhardt Jr. a shot at Victory Lane when all was said and done. It was the lack of a drafting partner. Pack racing or tandems, in the end, a single car can’t pass a pair, and when Denny Hamlin dropped off Earnhardt’s tail on the final restart, it sealed the fate of NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver… and added one more race to Earnhardt’s winless streak (now up to 130 races) in the process. So why the shoutout? Because Earnhardt drove a smart, clean race, stayed out of trouble, and finished with an intact car while showing he still knows his way around a racetrack. If this race is any indication of his 2012 season, that winless streak doesn’t look like it’s going to last too much longer.

What… was THAT?

OK, call me naïve or what you will, but how can a car that fits the template but “doesn’t look right” and never turned a lap attract a bigger penalty than a car that was found to be illegally low after making a qualifying run? Once upon a time, the garage in Daytona featured a large table of confiscated parts taken from cars in opening tech; it served as a warning for teams of what not to do while the offending cars had been fixed before they even hit the track. No harm, no foul right? Apparently, those days are long gone as the table was not visible in the garage this year and NASCAR prepares to hand out a large punishment to Chad Knaus for a C-Post infraction that wasn’t even technically an infraction (my guess is Knaus will get an eight-week vacation in NASCAR purgatory as his consolation prize). Meanwhile, Clint Bowyer completed a qualifying run with a car too low, ran his Duel from the rear and, well, that was about it. No further penalties are expected for Bowyer’s 11th-place result, while Jimmie Johnson‘s team will get the book thrown at them this week.

That just doesn’t seem right. People can say “The No. 48 team planned to run that illegal part if they hadn’t been caught,” but that’s not accurate. Yes, they would have run the part… if it hadn’t been found illegal. And if it hadn’t been found illegal, it’s not an infraction. Meanwhile, NASCAR has caught cars with measurable template infractions in pre-race inspections and allowed those cars to fix the issue with no penalty. The answer is simple: either allow anyone with something found in opening tech to fix the car and reinspect before being allowed to practice, or hand out a fine, suspension, or points penalty to every car that fails the opening inspection for any reason. And while they’re at it, make the punishment for actually competing with in illegal car, whether in qualifying or in a race, a harsher penalty than that handed to one which never made a single illegal lap.

Where… did the polesitter wind up?

Despite crash damage and a penalty from NASCAR, after the smoke cleared, Carl Edwards, who laid down his pole-winning qualifying run more than a week ago, was able to coast home to an eighth-place finish. Edwards was penalized after the red-flag period when a crew member removed a windshield tear-away under the red. Crewmen had been given permission to assist drivers in hooking up radios and window nets, but not to work on the racecars, and removing the tearaways falls into that category. Edwards then suffered heavy damage in one of several late-race crashes, and also got lucky on a yellow-line call by NASCAR before he survived to the checkers for that eighth spot.

When… will I be loved?

Any time a new system is rolled out, there are going to be bugs. Anyone who suffered through the mercifully fairly short incarnation of Windows Millenium Edition can attest to that. So while the first race for the electronic fuel injection system showed that EFI works in the Cup cars, it was not without issues, and those “bumps in the road” make EFI this week’s villain, left to sadly sing the Everly Brothers alone. Fuel pressure problems ended the hopes of several teams, including some, like the No. 33 of Elliott Sadler and the No. 13 of Casey Mears, who had appeared to have a real chance of winning before their pickup problems. It’s never fun to see a driver’s day ruined by a mechanical failure, and to see several have issues with the same system put a damper on the race. Hopefully, by the time Talladega rolls around in May, these issues will be a distant memory.

Why… does NASCAR think the current restrictor-plate packages were a good idea?

After two weeks of absolute carnage that saw at least one multi-car wreck every time the Cup cars were on track as well as during both the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series races, have NASCAR’s efforts to restore the big packs really been successful? The cars were unstable enough before NASCAR chopped the spoiler height, and with no downforce, it’s hard to really get into the racetrack. This style of racing is dangerous, plain and simple. And wasn’t electronic fuel injection supposed to eliminate the need for a restrictor plate? The fuel mixture is controlled by the EFI computer… so why do these cars even have a plate on them?

How… scary was that jet dryer explosion?

Just when I thought I’d seen it all from Daytona this weekend, with the improbable victories of John King and James Buescher in the Camping World Truck and Nationwide Series races and the carnage that marred the entire two weeks in Daytona, we get the scariest wreck I’ve ever seen. If you missed it, Juan Pablo Montoya was passing the jet dryers to catch up with the field under caution when something broke underneath the No 42, causing Montoya to shoot straight up the track into the side of the jet dryer, which exploded in a ball of flame.

Both Montoya and the driver of the jet dryer, Duane Barnes escaped, but the jet fuel continued to burn so intensely that it melted the tires on the truck, the jet dryer itself and the paint on the SAFER barrier. To make matters worse, safety crews on hand did not have the proper extinguishers to put it out as the flames advanced toward the workers standing on the grass. It wasn’t the dramatic crash that viewers usually expect at Daytona, but it’s safe to say that this is the Big One of Speedweeks… if not one of the scariest wrecks of all time.