Like most race fans, I am one that anticipates the Speed weeks in Daytona with excitement and a bit of trepidation for the safety of the drivers. I also wait, at the end of each day, for the latest report on the news/NASCAR.com/and friends who are at the track to see what unique and interesting event or events transpired that day.
When the 500 was over Sunday, I got up from my recliner and contributed my small part of getting the table ready for the wonderful dinner Ann had prepared. Walking to the kitchen I sort of smiled to myself as I remembered all the years I had been a part of that traffic jam leaving that infield. I remember all the convoluted ways the Volusia County Sheriff and Florida Highway Patrol manufactured each year to lead us astray. I remember one year when they sent us down two lane roads forever, until we were almost to Melbourne, Florida before we were allowed to get on I-95 North. From the track on northbound it was always "pack racing" whether it was Sunday evening or Monday. I have many memories of seeing that Daytona Exit disappearing in my rearview mirror as I headed north after another Daytona 500. Usually, we had a car full, or in later years a motor home full, and we relived almost every lap of the race between Daytona and Columbia. Now it is all there on television for us to watch and that leaves me the option of being at home, in the recliner, 30 steps or so from the bathroom and less that 20 steps to the fridge. Very nice for me!!!!
Now that the glory and glitter of Daytona has faded to the memory of another year, another 500, and another season starting, I'm going to offer up a few opinions. Those of you who know me are well aware that I rarely express opinions in these segments, but tonight, here we go!
Let's start with this "knock-out qualifying". I did not see the telecast of that debacle for the Cup cars because I was on the way to Daytona that day to do other things more important than watching such a farce. I did, however, see both the trucks and Xfinity series qualify using that format. My only comment to that is to say that doing such qualifying on tracks where restrictor plates are required is insane. You see the drivers and teams playing the system. If that is supposed to be entertaining to the fans, I must be missing something.
Next, let’s talk about the Thursday night Duels (meaning fighting it out) or Duals (meaning fighting it out twice). For years, and I do mean years, I have tried to understand the Daytona 500 qualifying system but have never been able to wrap my math challenged brain around such non-sense. The two races were, to a degree, exciting, but left much to be determined as to who should be in and who should be out. I guess the highlight of the night was Danica attacking Denny and Denny putting his arm around her and saying "No one has your back like I do". Ricky, where were you? Was Denny hitting on your girlfriend OFF the track? He was sure hitting on her on the track. I am no fan of Hamlin or Patrick so I had no dog in that fight but it was hilarious to see Patrick pounding on Hamlin's chest. We've always known Danica has a potty mouth and she was proving it that night.
Next to the truck race. I was especially excited about the trucks because for the first time in a long time, we had a field made up of Camping World regulars and no Cup drivers to spoil the fun. Tyler Reddick in a Ford beat our 18-year-old Erick Jones in a Toyota for the win. It was an exciting race to watch but NOT because half the trucks were sidelined in the "big one" on lap 48. I was very relieved and thankful when all the drivers were out of the trucks and walking around. Scary moment, but then Daytona in particular and racing in general has many scary moments.
Now we come to Saturday and the slightly rain delayed Xfinity 300 mile race. Ryan Reed won for the first time in his career, barely beating out his teammate Chris Buescher. Both were in Fords. The race was exciting, to say the least, but also very, very scary. Not only did Mike Wallace manage to slam into the back of a stopped Austin Dillon, but the last lap crash of Kyle Busch caused a huge panic in his pit, for his wife Samantha, and for this fan watching the crash happen. I did not know, and could not believe, that Daytona had not installed the "soft walls" all the way around every exposed area of the track. Being the simple-minded person I am, I assumed they had covered that everywhere. Boy, was I ever wrong! Of course, it was Joie Chitwood, President of Daytona Speedway and NOT NASCAR, who accepted the responsibility for no soft walls at that location. Joie, of course, apologized and we did not have to watch Mike Helton announce that "we have lost Kyle Busch", but in my opinion, there is no excuse, no excuse whatsoever, for there having been no soft walls on that exposed concrete. Kyle Busch is very fortunate to have survived that crash with no more than the broken leg and broken food, not that such injury is trivial. NASCAR and Daytona are lucky they didn't claim another victim due to their interest in building grandstand seats rather than protecting the drivers.
I was especially impressed with Ryan Reed's interview in Victory Lane when he talked about fighting the battle with Diabetes which would have one suppose he should not be racing. He has shown the spirit of someone who can be a model for kids who fight that battle every day by showing what can be accomplished. I knew a kid who fought that battle and showed the same resolve as Ryan. He is a success in his adult life now as I expect Ryan to be.
As for the Daytona 500, it has to be considered a success as the stands were close to being full. Of course Brad Keselowski mentioned in his pre-race interview that over 10,000 "hot passes" were given out. Not sure what that really means but the terminology would lead me to believe there were 10,000 freebies there. But, regardless, the infield was full of campers and motor homes and the stands really looked full. The weather was as perfect as any Daytona 500 ever run. The racing was, in my opinion, pretty good although the first 170 laps or so were more of a follow the leader type deal. Certainly the last 30 laps, or 32 laps, I suppose, were as good as anything I've ever seen at Daytona. I don't especially agree that NASCAR had to throw that caution as Logano and Harvick were setting up for some finish line bashing, but it came out ok in the end so I guess if they did make a mistake, it was in the interest of caution.
It was Jeff Gordon's last Daytona 500. He really showed himself to still be the competitive champion he has always been. His finish of 33rd, due to that accident at the end if not indicative of the great run he had. As for Logano taking the win, I am happy for him, but I am frankly happier for Roger Penske. Roger just seems to be the kind of guy I could really like although I have never met him.
So, all in all, Daytona was a success in spades this year. But now allow me to make a few points not so kind, but very truthful.
As to FOX and the broadcast. You, the network, proved once more that you are incapable to presenting a decent product to the public. We saw much more of commercials that we did of racing, but yes, you have an answer for that so there is no point in bringing that up. D.W. still aggravates us with the "Boogity crap" and Mickey continues to be a disgrace to the race, the human race. Larry Mac made so many errors in comments I can't begin to list them, but I must commend him on his comments after the Kyle Busch crash into the concrete wall. He flatly said there was NO excuse for that wall not being protected by the soft walls. I have no idea whether or not he has been called on the carpet for that but I would suspect NASCAR is not happy with him for such a strong stance criticizing the "product". Speaking of gross errors, the one that really sticks out to me is the comment that Fireball Roberts won the 1961 Daytona 500. Wonder how Marvin Panch feels about that? And D.W.'s comment that the most remarkable thing about the Wood Brothers winning the 1963 Daytona 500 was not having to change tires. Excuse me, D.W., but the entire set of circumstances leading up to the Wood Brothers having Tiny Lund in Victory Lane far outweigh whether or not any tires were changed during that race.
I will touch on this briefly, but will not go into great detail. The Kurt Busch situation is a travesty. NASCAR reacted with a knee-jerk response brought about mostly by the failure of the NFL to properly and quickly address their domestic abuse issues. Seeing a football player do what he did to his girlfriend/wife is greatly different from a Judge writing an opinion full comments like "maybe, could have, may have, etc.” While I am not a fan of Kurt Busch, I am a believer in the American Judicial system premise of innocent until proven guilty. Had Kurt been proven guilty? Not from anything I've seen. Admittedly, Kurt has personal issues and apparently so does that woman he was involved with. I won't go further than that, but I believe NASCAR acted improperly in this instance and if it was NASCAR's intention to rid itself of Kurt Busch, I believe they have succeeded. I would doubt he ever appears in the premier division again. That's a shame really. He was a good driver and he had a lot of fans. I have no idea what will happen to him now. And his brother will be out indefinitely due to his injuries. So, there will be no Busch’s in the sport for the foreseeable future.
So, as Daytona fades away in the rearview mirror, we look forward to Atlanta. Or is "look forward to" the proper term? The new "package" instituted by NASCAR will be applied to the cars on that super fast track. We really don't know how the cars and drivers will respond, but I'll be watching. I'm just thankful Kyle Busch will be watching too while he is healing. The season is off to a good start, other than Kyle's injury. Let's see what NASCAR can do with that. It is, after all, all about the fans.
One final note, and I thought this over at length before deciding to include it. My final decision is based upon the inability of the NBC television network to be considered a viable part of American news reporting. NBC is suffering through the Brian Williams debacle by removing his name from everything, much as NASCAR has done to Kurt Busch. At issue here is what NBC reported on their National News Broadcast Sunday evening. A female reporter, I don't recall seeing on NBC before, commented for about 10 seconds on Joey's win in the 500. Then she went to the wall of tires stacked against the wall Kyle Busch had hit as she explained why they had been placed there. So far, so good, right. Next thing we see is the accident Tony Stewart had with the wall and this reporter went on to explain that Tony is the same guy who "killed Kevin Ward, Jr.", her words, as NBC showed the sprint car race where Ward was killed. That part of the report had absolutely no bearing on the Daytona 500 and should have had no bearing on Tony Stewart's accident in the 500. What NBC did is disgusting and below the lowest standard of broadcasting. NBC, you have many more problems than Brian Williams. The jokes on-line about Brian are rampant, but you, NBC, are the joke. There is NOTHING, and I mean NOTHING you will ever say in the future that should be accepted or believed. You are liars and idiots. You are, simply put, disgusting. I can't wait to see what NBC Sports does when they get the coverage in July.