Monday, February 16, 2009

Daytona 380 musings

Overall, the Daytona 380 was pretty boring and nowhere near as riveting as last year's season-opening race. Rain all but killed any chance of an exciting finish, but seeing Matt Kenseth choke back tears more than made up for the lack of late-race drama.

When was the last time a driver openly sobbed on network television following a win? Probably have to go back to the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte in 1994 when a young Jeff Gordon captured his first victory. But there was the normally reserved Kenseth, sitting in his car Sunday night at Daytona and holding back a few tears. He couldn’t contain his emotions any longer when NASCAR called the race and declared him the winner.

Nowadays, it seems like Gatorade or champagne showers are all-too staged for Victory Lane, but this was a potent reminder of how much Daytona means to the drivers. There was nothing staged about Kenseth’s emotions. For someone who seems robotic in and out of the race car, it is nice to see a new side to the 2003 Cup champ. Who knows if he will be able to carry the momentum from this win throughout the season, but frankly, I don’t think it really matters to him. The No. 17 and Kenseth are back in victory lane, where they belong.

Quite simply, Elliot Sadler defeated himself. Leading the Daytona 500 with rain approaching the speedway, Sadler took a pessimistic attitude about what would develop on the track.

“Welcome to Elliott Sadler's world,” he said. “It's probably raining all around the racetrack. When I need it, in the lap where I get passed, it starts raining in turn three. It's the way it is.”

Who can blame the man for feeling that way? This is the same driver who had to threaten a lawsuit against his team to ensure he remained in the No. 19 car for 2009. What an awkward Victory Lane that would’ve been. It was the perfect opportunity to shove it in their face, but he knew he couldn’t win … shouldn’t win.

“I needed this after the off season that I've had,” Sadler said. “Really would have been cool. Didn't work out, but happy for my guys. Great mentality all night long.”

Except for the man behind the wheel.

What the hell happened to Dale Earnhardt Jr.? He made two crucial mistakes on pit road and then triggered The Big One near the end of the race. Something just didn’t seem right during his post-race interview, either.

He claimed that he missed his pit because all the signboards are pink, but later said all of them are yellow. Um, Junior, they looked orange to me. But, regardless of what color they are, it can’t be too hard to spot the giant 88 hanging from the sky over your stall. It’s not like you’re a rookie pitting for the first time.

During a later pit stop, a NASCAR official ruled he was parked outside his stall. Now, I’m no rules aficionado, but I thought you only needed three wheels in the box. Looked to me like he had three inside with the fourth resting on the white line. Did he really deserve a one-lap penalty for that atrocity?

But the biggest rumbling of the day came when Earnhardt and Brian Vickers tangled on the backstretch. Each blamed the other for the crash. I think they’re both at fault. Earnhardt had a run on Vickers and should’ve been able to make the move without being forced out of bounds. Meanwhle, Earnhardt should’ve given Vickers a bit more room when the re-entered the track. If both gave each other a little room, Kyle Busch would be the 2009 Daytona 500 champ.

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