Tuesday, February 22, 2011

5 Questions After ... Daytona 500

Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images for NASCAR
Wow, wow, and wow! Those are the words (or word) that kept coming from my mouth after the end of the Daytona 500, and not just because of the winner. Several track records were broken during the race - the number of lead changes (74), number of race leaders (22), and number of cautions (16). Oh yeah, the biggest surprise was Trevor Bayne becoming the youngest Daytona 500 winner ever!

Here are some questions on my mind after the first race of the season…

Who saw that coming? … Seriously, who picked Trevor Bayne to win the Daytona 500? If you did, you’re nuts! Not only was this Bayne’s first Daytona 500, it was only his second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start!

Somehow, though, he pulled it off! Even after losing his drafting partner in David Ragan, who was black-flagged for an improper restart, Bayne received some drafting help from 2000 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion/veteran Bobby Labonte. As a result, he won the Daytona 500 at just 20 years old. The first words from Bayne on the scanner, after taking the checkered flag, were, “Are you kidding me?!”

Bayne even told his crew he didn’t know where Victory Lane was and they had to help guide him there! Not only was this Bayne’s first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory, it was his first NASCAR victory ever. Bayne isn’t even eligible for Sprint Cup Series points since he opted to run for the Nationwide Series points upon applying for his NASCAR license at the beginning of the year.

Bayne was pinching himself all night, but reality might finally set in this week during his media tour between now and Phoenix.

Why were there so many lead changes/cautions? … All three national series races (Camping World Truck, Nationwide, and Sprint Cup Series) were - in a word - wreckfests. They weren’t bad races by any means although some people might tell you differently.  Daytona has been known for its big crashes for many years now but the amount of torn-up sheet metal at the end of the race seemed to be excessive.

The record number of lead changes can be explained by the two-car draft that has been such a big part of Speedweeks; however, no one can seem to give a justifiable answer as to what is causing this trend.

Some liked it, some didn’t. Personally, I thought all three races (plus the Gatorade Duel races and the Budweiser Shootout) were fantastic. The tandem racing took a while to get used to but I’ve come to accept that it’s the kind of racing we have right now and it’s really not that bad. We have lead changes, unpredictability, and driver skill all involved in a race. I can’t really ask for anymore than that.

What happened to the “60%”? … I’ll admit I don’t watch Pardon the Interruption at all. Until approximately one week ago, I didn’t really know anything about Tony Kornheiser. In fact, I still don’t a lot about this gentleman. All I know is that he made some unorthodox comments on PTI that he was 60% sure NASCAR was going to fix the race for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to win on the 10th anniversary of his father’s death. Liz Clarke from the Washington Post made a similar remark on ESPN Radio.

OK, so where did Earnhardt finish?

He was credited with finishing 24th. In fact, he didn’t even finish the race. He ended up crashing after the first green-white-checkered attempt and had to park it in the garage before the race ended.

Threw a monkey wrench in that theory, didn’t it?

Is Richard Childress’s wallet hurting? … Three of the four Richard Childress Racing cars had trouble on Sunday. Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton both had engine failures, while Clint Bowyer was involved in a crash with just a few laps left to go in the race. Paul Menard was the highest-finishing RCR driver, bringing it home ninth.

What was horrible for Richard Childress is the fact that both Burton and Bowyer were running very strong until both of their days went sour. Burton and Bowyer had been drafting together toward the front until Burton’s engine let go just 92 laps into the race. Bowyer and Menard were drafting at the front together for a while until Bowyer became an innocent victim of a bump draft gone wrong and had to settle with finishing 17th.

What will happen to Brian Keselowski? … Keselowski, the feel-good story of the Daytona weekend, got bit by the restrictor plate “Big One” and ended his first Daytona 500 only 28 laps into the race. Despite his misfortune, Keselowski was still able to put on a smile and hope for the best. The optimism and attitude Keselowski has is what has made him such a hit with the fans in the first place. If Keselowski made enough of an impression on not only the NASCAR community but on sponsors as well, we might be seeing a lot more from this driver in the near future.

Bonus questions: Has Bayne quit pinching himself yet? … Could Hendrick Motorsports have had a worse day? … Has Trevor Bayne thanked David Ragan for botching the restart?

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