2010 Daytona 500

February  2010                                               Dale Wilkerson

With the exception of the pothole, Sunday’s Daytona 500 was just what the doctor ordered for NASCAR.

21 drivers swapped the lead 52 times before Jamie McMurray held of a hard charging Dale Earnhardt Jr. to pick up his first ever win in the sports biggest race.

At times a couple of cars could pull free from the pack, but it did not take long for the pack to reel them back in. Even with the huge pack of cars running door to door and bumper to bumper, we never saw the big one happen. There were several two and three car incidents, but nothing like the carnage we saw Saturday with the Nationwide Series and the Camping World Trucks.

Saturday no less than 79 vehicles were damaged in several multi-car accidents. No drivers were injured but team owners started writing checks to cover the damage probably before leaving the speedway. Included in those 79 wrecked vehicles, was the car of rookie driver Danica Patrick. Oh, you heard about that one already.

At times it seemed like we were receiving Tweeter updates about Danica. We would see the pack, but we would also be updated on where Danica was running, distance from the leader, laps until her next pit stop, how many bugs had hit her windshield, the number of times she had moved the visor on her helmet, yes perhaps a little too much information about her.

No driver has ever been under such a microscope in the Nationwide Series. The only other driver that has come close to being so hounded by the media at Daytona was perhaps Al Unser Jr. during Speedweeks 1993.

Little Al won the 1992 Indianapolis 500 and he came to Daytona in a Hendrick car looking to make the Daytona 500. Where ever he went in the garage area members of the media were in tow. Unser’s 500 ended like Patrick’s run in the Nationwide race, involved in an accident in the tri-oval not of their own making. Unser never made another NASCAR start. He won numerous IROC races and championships in full bodied stock cars, but for whatever reason he never ventured back into NASCAR.

Patrick will be attempting her second race this weekend at Fontana. All eyes will be focused on her again this weekend, to see how she handles a stock car at top speeds without a restrictor plate. Patrick has raced on this track before, so she will have an idea of what to expect from the track.

Sunday at Daytona the grandstands were filled to capacity, which will not be the case in California.

NASCAR has a lot of momentum going into week two of the season, but that momentum will be wasted on empty seats this week. The California Speedway has had trouble selling tickets over the years. They have blamed the weather, the economy, their spots on the schedule, and other options for folks to obtain entertainment in Southern California over going to a race.

This year could be a make or break year for this track, for at least one of its race weekends. Rumors continue to float that the Kansas Speedway is attempting to get another date, and since both track are owned by the International Speedway Corporation, they may decide to move some dates around, stripping a date from Fontana to give the folks in Kansas another race.

But back to the Daytona 500, event with the late green-white-checkered restarts, you just didn’t know who was going to capture the flag until they came of turn four on the last lap. Some folks where surprised to see McMurray pick up the win, but I was not.

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Jamie has shown that he has a knack for the plate races. He is now driving for the team that won the pole for last year’s Daytona 500, and looked to have a strong car the entire Speedweeks. Remember he won at Talladega last fall and he won the July Daytona race a couple of years ago. So the boy cried in Victory Lane, well if I had just won the Daytona 500, I would have been crying also. It is a dream of every race car driver, and Jamie was not the first to shed tears of joy in Daytona’s Winners Circle.

But let’s go back a couple of years. Now if Junior had stayed with DEI, followed with the merger with Ganassi, would the #1 car had been parked instead of the #8? Yes that could have been Junior winning instead of running second.

But Junior fans, don’t be mad, the charge of the (now really looking to be AMPEd up) #88 looked so remanisant of his father making a late race charge, that you have to be ready for Sunday’s race.

As much as Junior Nation wants to see him back in the Winner’s Circle right away, don’t rush things. If the 88-team can string together several top five/top ten runs to start the 2010 campaign, the wins will come.

Knowing that Las Vegas will be sold out, or at least a lot closer to full than half full, I do wish that race #2 of the season, since it is no longer at Richmond or Rockingham, would be held at Vegas. I can’t help but wonder if the Speedway Motorsports group will look to move a race date to Vegas in the near future. If one race date is moved by ISC or SMI, we could see a major schedule overhaul before the end of the year.