Monday, February 9, 2009

Some Daytona thoughts...

Here are some thoughts from a busy weekend of racing down in Daytona...

Saturday's ARCA race was an interesting affair, as it always is. Some new fans to the sport might not realize the importance of this event, and truthfully, that's understandable because SPEED has relegated the SpeedWeeks opener to afterthought status. ARCA has been racing at Daytona for 46 years, and it has given numerous NASCAR winners their first look at superspeedway-style racing.

The ARCA race is always peppered with accidents as the mix of young guns and career ARCA racers takes to the World Center of Speed. Many of the crashes in Saturday's race were due to a mix of inexperience and impatience. On a couple of occasions, a driver in the second groove tried to move into the bottom lane when that groove was already occupied. Thankfully Patrick Sheltra wasn't injured more seriously than he was as a result of his crash; Sheltra was running third when he tried to move low to block Justin Lofton and the result was Larry Hollenbeck drilling Sheltra in the left-rear wheel. The question does need to be asked, however: what was Hollenbeck's spotter watching? He narrowly missed Bobby Gearhart's stricken car just a handful of laps earlier while still running at a high speed and the contact with Sheltra was at high speed too.

ARCA winner James Buescher kicked off a big year on the right foot. Buescher also won at Lakeland a couple of years ago to become ARCA's youngest winner. He moves to NASCAR Camping World Truck Series competition full-time this season with Circle Bar Racing.

The nightcap on Saturday, the Budweiser Shootout, was every bit as rough and tumble as the ARCA race. The 28-car field raced for 75 laps, with six cautions for on-track accidents throughout the race. Over half the starting field was eliminated or heavily damaged by crashes. Greg Biffle was involved in no fewer than four of the cautions. These are supposedly the best stock car drivers in the world, yet they can't race more than a dozen laps on the sport's biggest stage without running into one another.

Some of that is due to the rules that keep the cars stacked up in one big pack at the two restrictor-plate tracks. Some of it is due to the drivers themselves; regardless of what Fox or NASCAR might want us to believe many of the current crop of drivers are not among the best in the business. There are simply too many incidents started by the same drivers over and over. But even the best aren't immune at Daytona: both Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon played instigator in a couple of big crashes.

David Poole has a blog on talking about Sunday's pole qualifying for the Daytona 500. I don't always agree with Poole, but in this instance he's right: superspeedway qualifying is boring. It's a necessary evil, but it's as fun as watching grass grow. The qualifying formula for the 500 used to be interesting and thrilling, because you never knew who would be brave enough be able to hold the pedal down the entire way around. Cars were on the ragged edge trying to find that speed: spoilers were laid back and drivers were wound up tight. Now someone like me could hop into the pole winning car and drive it at the same speed. The cars are much safer now than they were 25 years ago, but they are also planted to the racetrack too much - especially when they are in qualifying trim.

Good for the Earnhardt-Ganassi organization that they've come out of the gate strong. Many were wondering how this team would perform after a rough off season. One race doesn't necessarily indicate how the rest of the season will go - especially when that race is Daytona and absolutely nothing that goes on here transfers over to 33 of the following 36 races. But EGR has two cars in the top-five in qualifying, including pole winner Martin Truex, Jr. and getting to hold your head up a little higher than the competition for the rest of the week is a great way to start the year for that group.

It's also nice to see the Wood Bros. team back in the 500 after missing the race last year. Hopefully Bill Elliott will make it through Thursday's Gatorade Duel unscathed and can be competitive in the 500.

More later in the week...

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