Monday, February 21, 2011

A few SpeedWeeks Thoughts

A few thoughts on the recently completed Daytona SpeedWeeks…

- The two-car draft phenomenon wasn’t necessarily all that aesthetically pleasing, but it raised the level of excitement throughout the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series races immensely. Seeing cars run 200 miles per hour was breathtaking, and that was all due to the two-car drafts. While some of the techniques used in the old pack-style of drafting carried over, it showcased a new level of skill and bravery that we haven’t seen at Daytona in many years. Not surprisingly, some drivers that excelled in the old style of racing struggled. Not surprisingly, a young driver with no drafting experience in packs won, I believe in large part because he didn’t have to unlearn anything to succeed.

- While the Wood Bros. Racing team was the winner of the race, the official car owner listed in all of NASCAR’s post-race reports was none other than The King, Richard Petty. With former Wood Bros. Driver David Pearson being inducted into the Hall of Fame this year, with the throwback paint job on the car, and it being the 35th anniversary of the 1976 Petty-Pearson finish at the 500, it’s really a nice twist that Petty (who transferred the points from the shut down No. 19 Richard Petty Motorsports team to guarantee the No. 21 a spot in the field for the 500) and the Woods somehow managed to share the victory together, even if it’s just on paper.

- There is a reason why NASCAR races aren’t just one lap. Success doesn’t automatically go to the fastest car that way. One has to finish before they can finish first. All of the negative comments about Jennifer Jo Cobb and Jeffrey Earnhardt lucking into good finishes in Friday night’s Camping World Truck Series race are nothing more than sour grapes. They both did a great job of staying out of trouble and being there at the end. It doesn’t matter how you get there, only that you did. Ask Derrike Cope if it matters to him that he didn’t lap the field en route to Daytona 500 glory. Would it have been nice? Sure. Did he win the race without it? Sure did, and that’s all that matters.

- If there was any justice in the racing world, Regan Smith would have been battling with Trevor Bayne for the win in the Daytona 500. Smith was excellent all week and even with the accident on the backstretch that left his No. 78 Chevrolet bruised and battered he still managed to salvage a top-ten. Hopefully he can carry some of the momentum from Daytona to some other races this season – particularly at Talladega in a couple of months.

- Dale Earnhardt, Jr. seemed like a different man on Sunday. The competitive fire was there, there was the Earnhardt swagger coming across in his radio transmissions, and he drove perhaps the smartest race I’ve seen him drive in his career. I really thought he had a chance to win, even with the late-race flat tire. But that flat eventually cost him his chance as he was caught up in a wreck just after the unscheduled stop to change it. I don’t believe one driver’s success or lack thereof has that much impact on the sport, even a driver as popular as Dale Earnhardt, Jr., but after seeing the run at Daytona I am convinced Earnhardt, Jr. can return to victory lane again in 2011.

- With the old pack style of racing, every car could run with every other car. Any driver, as long as he or she could keep the car behind the one in front, could run with any other. This new style of racing truly highlighted driver skill. Those that quickly mastered swapping position could get to the front and stay there. Those that couldn’t languished in the back.

- Someone raised an interesting question regarding Friday night’s Truck race: what would happen if a driver’s window net came down? Surely he’d be black flagged. What would happen if a driver lost half his spoiler on lap 50? Again, surely he’d be black flagged. So why no black flag for losing it on lap 99? Remember, the spoiler isn’t there just for the downforce it creates, it’s there standing nearly straight up because of the drag it creates and Michael Waltrip had half of that drag eliminated in the dash to the checkered. It would have been an unpopular call considering the driver, the date, and the incredible amount of pre-race talk that had been focused on Dale Earnhardt, but NASCAR would have been as justified in that black flag as they were on Sunday when they flagged David Ragan for an improper restart.

- It’s a shame the underdog stories from Thursday’s Gatorade Duels came to such an inglorious end on Sunday. J.J. Yeley fell victim to engine failure before he could work up a sweat and Brian Keselowski was taken out in the big wreck on lap 29. But the fact that either of these drivers made the 500 was a victory in and of itself, it’s just a shame they couldn’t make it to the end.

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