(Kenseth celebrated his second career Daytona 500 win to cap a wild night - Getty Images)
COMPLETE DAYTONA 500 RESULTS
The 24 Hours of Daytona is annually held in January.
It only felt like it was part of this week’s stock car portion of Speedweeks in Daytona.
A first-time rain out in its 54 year history and a bizarre fire that halted the race for more than two hours were just part of wackiness in this year’s running of “The Great American Race.”
The off-season controversy of whether tandem racing or pack drafting would be the order of the day in the wake of NASCAR’s many rule changes took a back seat to a race filled with weirdness, crashes and in the end a second time winner.
Matt Kenseth held off – or some believe was pushed by – teammate Greg Biffle to score Daytona 500 victory number two, a follow-up to his 2009 rain-abbreviated trip to victory lane.
“I could get a pretty good start on the bottom and either Denny or Dale Jr. could push me for awhile and then they just couldn’t stay attached and I would get away from them just in time to get in front of Greg and the two of us together could make some unbelievable speed,” Kenseth said. “I have to thank Greg. We worked together really good all day long. He had a really fast car all day as well.”
Kenseth had to overcome troubles of his own including a busted radio that wouldn’t allow him to communicate with his own crew.
But the dry Wisconsin native actually believes that may have been beneficial.
“We had a lot of problems and almost ended up a lap down,” he said. “I had my radio break and my tach break and we pushed all the water out and had to come in and put water in it. These guys did a great job. They never panicked and I think they enjoyed their day more because they couldn’t hear me on the radio with my radio problems.”
However when historians looks back at the 2012 Daytona 500 it won’t be Kenseth’s wit, radio problems, assistance from his teammate or adding another Harley J. Earl trophy to his collection they’ll remember.
No this year’s Daytona 500 will go down in history as the one with fire and rain, when NASCAR held its biggest race on a Monday night in prime time thanks to Mother Nature.
All that was missing was a full moon
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Kicked off his 2012 with a second place finish, a far cry from when a cut tire ruined his Daytona 500 of a year ago. Earnhardt said all week long how much more comfortable he was in the old pack style of racing at Daytona and it showed. Came within a position of finally ending his long winless drought but added to his already solid confidence level.
His first outing with new crew chief Darian Grubb resulted in a Top 5 finish and had to provide the Joe Gibbs Racing driver with a much-needed shot of confidence. Hamlin desperately needs to put last year’s disappointing season behind as quickly as possible and his Daytona effort is a big help in that department.
He was involved in two crashes this week and ripped NASCAR for manipulating the rules to bring back pack drafting. But Menard recovered from those earlier altercations to notch a solid Top 10 finish, one of three Richard Childress Racing entries to do so.
The quest to get back to the top of the Sprint Cup point standings and start a new championship winning streak got off to a rocky start. First the 48 car failed pre-race inspection and crew chief Chad Knaus faces a possible suspension later this week. Then Johnson crashed on only the second lap of the race sweeping up several others in the melee that has put the five-time champ in a pretty big hole with only one race in the book.
Her much-anticipated first full season in NASCAR began with three different crashes, although none of her own doing. Patrick was clipped by other cars in her Gatorade Duel accident, turned by teammate Cole Whitt in Saturday’s Nationwide Series race wreck and then clipped by Johnson in the lap two Daytona 500 pile-up. Her mettle will be tested early and it may be a relief for Patrick to simply have her Nationwide program to concentrate on for the next few weeks.
The new phase of his career ultimately ended up with a poor finish and another crash for Busch, an unfortunate similar fate experienced earlier in the week. Busch showed perseverance in finishing the race for the Phoenix Racing team despite being several laps down but one of his best chances to perform well – at a restrictor plate track – went by the wayside and the reality of the grueling Cup schedule is now about to set in.
(Choice comments and communications from drivers and crew chiefs)
"The thing that comes in my mind is NASCAR just can't catch a break. We've had some unfortunate things happen." – Dale Earnhardt Jr.
"They're going to wreck again." – Carl Edwards
"It burned the helmet and everything." – Juan Pablo Montoya after his fiery crash with a jet dryer
“That's the Tasmanian Devil! Mr. Ambrose got him." – Crew Chief Steve Letarte pointing out who spun out Terry Labonte
On a scale of one to five "Pistone Pistons" I'll give Monday night’s Daytona 500 a three. There are things out of even NASCAR’s control with weather and fire certainly near the top of the list. Not much anyone can do when Mother Nature decides to intervene and there isn’t a person on earth who could have predicted the bizarre fire scene between Juan Pablo Montoya and the jet dryer. As for the racing itself, it pretty much lived up to what was expected since Speedweeks began with a combo of tandem racing, single file competition and a mad dash to the checkered flag. Unfortunately I’m not sure any of that will erase the memory of a rain-delayed race that took more than six hours to finish on a Monday night and saw two teammates not really challenge one another for the win as they raced to the finish line.
DOWN THE ROAD
After one of the longest and most bizarre Speedweeks in history the Sprint Cup Series heads to Phoenix International Raceway to begin what many believe is the real season. Last fall PIR hosted its first race on the newly reconfigured and repaved one-mile speedway and produced an exciting event that has drivers anxious to get back to the desert oval. No matter what happens at PIR, it will have to go a long way to beat the Daytona opener.