Did You Notice? … A Toyota has never won the Daytona 500 in eight tries? In fact, the Camry make has scored just one trophy at the 2.5-mile superspeedway, taking the July 2008 race with Kyle Busch. The manufacturer is known more here for what they’ve done wrong (see: Michael Waltrip, jet fuel, a long list of high-end DNQs in the early years) rather than what they’ve done right.
This year, though change appears to be in the air. A Toyota in Matt Kenseth won the Sprint Unlimited, following up on a victory in the Gatorade Duels from last year. All four Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas made the final twelve in qualiying; all appear to be formidable for Sunday’s 500. Offseason tweaks to improve communication across all programs appear to have paid major dividends as even small-time BK Racing has showed some signs of life. New driver Johnny Sauter was 13th-fastest in qualifying while JJ Yeley posted a strong time before getting caught up in the Reed Sorenson-Clint Bowyer wreck.
A closer look at the Toyota roster reveals a list of hungry drivers on superspeedways. Denny Hamlin, who won Talladega last year was second in the 500 last season and is itching to capture his first NASCAR “major.” Carl Edwards, while a former pole sitter has also gone winless in the 500 and is hoping to capitalize on momentum with a new team. Kyle Busch, so fast here in recent years has an 0-for-10 record in Daytona’s big race, a famous series of near-misses that rivals only Tony Stewart’s 0-for-16. An then there’s Kenseth, a two-time Daytona 500 champion going for a trifecta that puts him in pretty elusive company.
Michael Waltrip Racing, with Bowyer’s primary car destroyed and the aging, part-time Michael Waltrip at the controls are longshots at best. But that JGR foursome is my pick to win the 500. It’s only a matter of time before a Toyota cashes in.
Did You Notice? … A lively Twitter discussion with the one and only Orange Cone about Kurt Busch? I love the Cone; he’s great, an important mix of sarcasm and intelligence for a sport who needs it. Respectful, differing opinions like the ones we have are what makes the world so great; wouldn’t it be boring if we all thought the same?
But even after Tuesday’s exchange, I still respectfully disagree on where we are with the Busch case. How I feel about Kurt Busch, or how NASCAR feels about it are completely irrelevant. People rushed to conclusions that I am anti-Busch or a “Busch hater;” it is not true and also inconsequential. What is relevant is a written decision, by a judge in which he claimed an “act of domestic violence had occurred” with Busch against Patricia Driscoll. The judge also sent Busch to mandatory anger management counseling. That will occur regardless if any additional charges are filed, under rule of law which in itself is a ruling in favor of violence, not a bunch of lies.
The most common response I’ve gotten on the issue is that such a written decision is different from criminal charges. While that may be true, those damning words are written by a judge. If we don’t respect the legal system, then who do we respect? When O.J. Simpson was ruled not guilty, back in the day for murder the court of public opinion felt otherwise. But that didn’t mean the public got to walk to his house, grab some handcuffs and put the guy back in jail. The decision of the legal system, in that matter was respected. Without that respect, in a sense we live in a world of anarchy.
What I find so surprising in this case is that people are waiting for someone else to contradict this decision, to negate it because so many would have made a different decision. But none of those people responding are a judge; that’s the only opinion that matters. And what will be different with actual criminal charges? With that judge’s written decision, someone in the state of Delaware with legal authority and power has stated an act of domestic violence occurred. To me, it’s so cut and dry; what more do you need to take action?
I’m not even saying NASCAR needs to punish Busch; it can choose to do nothing. It’s the sanctioning body’s decision. But you can’t “closely monitor” a situation that’s already developed to the point of near-conclusion.
Did You Notice? … Quick hits before we take off this Wednesday…
- An audience of 4.66 million for the Sprint Unlimited is promising. That number, while down significantly from 2013 is up 1.5 million-plus from last year’s failed FOX Sports 1 experiment. The total is also bigger than the All-Star event and the average audience during NASCAR’s ten-race Chase, which means I wouldn’t expect it to drop off the calendar in 2016 and beyond.
- The Truck Series has 37 Daytona entries for 32 spots; at first glance, it appears healthy enough maybe a 36-truck starting field was still attainable most weeks after all. But it’s better to be perceived as having healthy competition than just trying to get enough trucks to fill a field. The fact there will be five DNQs this week will be good for the fledgling series, lead to more purse money for those who do make it and put a greater emphasis on an otherwise snoozeworthy qualifying session.
- Speaking of qualifying, here’s my take on how to fix Sunday’s mess. Have NASCAR put three cars on the track at a time, 15 seconds apart for single-car qualifying runs. Set the qualifying order as best you can so each three-car group consists of one Ford, one Chevy, and one Toyota. Add a penalty for intentionally slowing up to draft with the car behind and in front of you and… voila! You’re set. Single-car qualifying gets done in about an hour or so and you don’t have fans nodding themselves off to sleep. Honestly, this problem isn’t that hard to solve.
- The Sorenson-Bowyer wreck leaves me with a sneaky feeling a semi-big name will miss Sunday’s Daytona 500. Of the 49 cars on the entry list, about 45-46 can make the race with ease which means the right circumstances can knock a decent driver out. Edwards, whose new team had no owner points is locked in; that means the focus could fall to Danica Patrick. Patrick, if her team encounters trouble in the Duels only had the 31st-fastest time in qualifying. She also ended the 2014 season outside the top 25 in owner points, leaving her lower down the standings for a provisional. Will it be easy for Danica to outright miss the field? No… but stranger things have happened. Just don’t tell the poor girl, please, because she’s been acting in public like a driver stressed over her future employment. No need to make it worse.
- Danica’s life might be less stressful if Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. had a haircut. You know what I’m sayin’…
- The last two times the Daytona 500 has been won from the pole: Jeff Gordon (1999) and Dale Jarrett (2000). Well, wouldn’t ya know? Gordon has the pole for this weekend.
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