Beneath the surface, all was not as healthy as it seemed. While Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards were there to win the race per usual, the reasons some cars and drivers showed up were far different than what you’d want to believe as a race fan. These teams – nestled within the middle and back of NASCAR’s starting fields – were there not to compete, but to turn a healthy profit, all while padding the sport’s bottom line in the process. For these organizations – which have comprised up to 20% of the Truck Series field in some races – their version of competition is to slowly take a qualifying lap around the racetrack, making the starting lineup in the back of the pack – only to pull the car off the speedway in the first few laps of the race, what’s known in racing circles as the dreaded “start-and-park.” In doing so, they bring an undamaged car in the garage area, make off with tens of thousands of dollars in purse money, and ensure the sport collects its most important lifeline of all… cold, hard cash.
It’s no small feat to finish in the top 10 in a NASCAR Sprint Cup race. But to do it less than 24 hours after being rushed to the hospital for a painful kidney stone is even tougher. Yet that’s exactly what Martin Truex Jr. did. Unsure late Saturday if he’d be able to race at all, Truex did pass the stone (an extremely painful process by all counts) and took the green flag. He also battled battery issues during the race but managed a solid 10th-place finish.
NASCAR had an up and down weekend in Las Vegas. There were three red flags during the Nationwide race, but none in the Sprint Cup Series event the following day despite several late crashes. Should NASCAR have thrown the red when Paul Menard pounded the wall with 17 laps to go, or was keeping the cars under caution the right thing to do?
On lap 269, Kyle Busch nudged aside Clint Bowyer to take the lead. Busch, who had won the pole for the race, was forced to start out back after blowing an engine in practice – so the accomplishment is much more impressive than it will appear in the record books.
Daytona was just a minor hiccup: the No. 18 team is back with a vengeance in 2009. Las Vegas native Kyle Busch won the pole this weekend, only to have to start at the back after an engine change. Nonetheless, Busch methodically made his way back to the front to score his first career win at his hometown track, a win that he likened to being as big to him as the Daytona 500.
The race featured 17 lead changes as each leader tried to outdo each other and lose this race. In the end, it was Greg Biffle who overcame running himself out of gas under green to hold off a hard-charging Carl Edwards to score his first Nationwide Series win since 2006, a stretch of 76 races. Biffle nearly lost the lead coming to the white flag as Edwards got a run under his Ford in turn 3, but Biffle pinned Edwards on the low side of the track and maintained his lead. Brian Vickers, Jason Leffler and Dale Earnhardt Jr. rounded out the top five in the finishing order.
I had a really good time in Daytona. It was fun for me, driving the motorhome down to Ocala. We won some races in Ocala and then we went over to Volusia. We were like a traveling dirt team – like the old days – setting the motorhome up and just feeling normal again. Then we started 2009 off with a really competitive run and finished 16th in the Nationwide Series race at Daytona.
The announced attendance for Saturday’s NNS event was 15,000. 15,000. To put that in perspective, that’s 75,000 empty seats on the frontstretch. DC United of Major League Soccer draws more than 15,000 fans for many of their regular season games. Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C. draws more than 15,000 for their Whelen All-American Series races. Duke football draws more than 15,000 fans to the ditch that is Wallace Wade Stadium to watch one of the nation’s lowliest college football programs.
Did You Notice? The latest way in which NASCAR’s “locked-in” qualifying rule has spiraled out of control? For the past year plus, MSRP Motorsports has existed in the Nationwide Series for seemingly one goal – to make money. Each week, the team owned by Phil Parsons’s wife, Marcia, and Randy Humphrey trots out two unsponsored Chevrolets, hoping to simply qualify within the field of 43. It’s their only big hurdle to clear each weekend – not so they can compete, but so they can gain the opportunity to park their cars before they’d need to make an actual pit stop. Doing that pockets them as much cash as possible while avoiding costs like a real pit crew, extra sets of tires, etc. In 63 career starts in the series, the team’s No. 90 and No. 91 cars have been running at the finish a total of zero times. That’s right… zero.
NASCAR has kept two races on the schedule at Auto Club Speedway despite faltering attendance and fan complaints about the quality of racing, claiming that it needs to have these dates in the California market. But is it really better for the sport to have a presence in certain cities than it is to provide a better product to the larger number of fans who tune in on television each week?