I will say, no other race in the Sprint Cup circuit is more highly anticipated for drivers, teams, and fans than the celebrated Daytona 500. We waited it out for 2 and a half long winter months, watching teams switch drivers, car numbers, and crew members during the break. Our level of excitement only heightened after qualifying races held on Thursday left us holding our breath as we watched fan favorites Danica Patrick qualify for Sunday’s race at mid-pack, and Michael Waltrip fail to qualify at all after starting 25 consecutive Daytona 500 races. We watched Kyle Busch master the return of pack racing on one of the fastest tracks in NASCAR to win the Budweiser Shootout in an action-packed thriller. We asked ourselves, “But is Busch good enough to win on Sunday, will Danica Patrick withstand the pressures of performing well in her first Sprint Cup appearance, will Mark Martin finally win a Harley J. Earl trophy, and has Jimmie recovered from his championship loss hangover”? Sunday couldn’t come soon enough for any of us.
But after Sunday’s rain postponement turned into a Monday afternoon rain delay, turned into a Monday night race, we were exhausted from holding up any shred of hope that “America’s Greatest Race” would live up to the anticipated hype left by the Shootout, especially with more inclement weather in the forecast.
After the start of the engines and D.W’s signature line, “Boogity, Boogity, Boogity, let’s go racing boys!” I was once again, poised to exude my enthusiasm; however, by the end of lap one , I was sobbing into my soggy, day-old nachos as perennial favorite in my house, Jimmie Johnson, was swiftly removed from the equation, along with defending Daytona 500 champ Trevor Bayne, David Ragan, Kurt Busch, and the highly anticipated Sprint Cup debutante, Danica Patrick. What a disappointment to all NASCAR fans to watch THE most hotly debated inauguration of a NASCAR rookie spin off the track and then left to sit perched in her lifted car for over an hour while her garage team repaired the damage to her rear bumper.
After noting that she was disappointed for any new fans who might have tuned in to watch her race, Patrick acknowledged that she also was disappointed for herself.
“I would have loved to have run up there. I would have loved to have got the experience when you actually were racing for positions as opposed to just feeling it out,” Patrick said. “But I truly believe everything happens for a reason.”
When Danica finally returned to the track to finish what she started some 60 laps ago to finish in 38th place, I stood and pledged my allegiance as “I Am Woman” roared in my head. I am officially a fan.
But it did nothing to soothe my fractured and weary spirit when Jeff Gordon blew his engine on lap 81. Gordon, who has won the season opening Daytona 500 three times, never seemed up to speed even though he did manage to tuck himself inside the top 10 a few times before his engine went up in flames, with no indication of trouble beforehand.
“There has been so much reliability testing that if we had seen some high temps or some high water pressure, then I would have kind of expected some of this to happen,” Gordon said. “But, I was actually seeing some surprising low temps and low pressures. I don’t know, maybe something was off there.”
And just when you thought it couldn’t get any more bizarre, a 7th caution flag came out on lap 160 to remove debris from the track when Juan Pablo Montoya re-entered the track to take his place at the end of the pack when suddenly, a mechanical failure pitched his car into a hard right turn and directly into the back of a jet drying truck blowing the caution debris off the track. The truck, filled with 200 gallons of jet fuel, erupted into a fireball and sent a fiery line of leaking fuel onto the track, halting the race for over 2 hours while NASCAR crews and officials worked feverishly to extinguish the blaze, remove the wreckage and assess the track for damage. Thankfully, neither Montoya nor the truck driver was seriously injured; both were treated and released from the care center.
My only thought now, was, “when will this race ever end”?
Almost 6 hours from the start of the race, 12:54 a.m. Tuesday morning, to be exact, Matt Kenseth held off Greg Biffle to win the Daytona 500 for the second time in his career. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. finished second, followed by Greg Biffle, Denny Hamlin, and Jeff Burton.
Unfortunately, this race will probably be remembered for everything that went wrong rather than for what the winner did right.
Bring onPhoenix. Please!