Slowing Down on the Backstretch – February 15, 2010

Published On February 15, 2010 » 938 Views» By admin » Blogs, Cup Series

Well, it was an eventful, long opening week of NASCAR, wasn’t it?

I might be the only one who was happy that Rolex 24 at Daytona, er, make that Daytona 500, lasted around seven hours because that’s about how long it probably took to remind people that yes, there was a race last week at Daytona that was bigger than the Daytonica 300 Nationwide Series race Saturday, Feb. 13.

Danica Patrick was a BIG story last week at Daytona International Speedway, from her solid sixth-place debut in the ARCA Series race Feb. 6 to her early exit from her NASCAR debut after being tangled in a crash in the Nationwide Series race Feb. 13.

But never in my Johnnie Walker Black dreams did I envision Danica would make Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s shadow over Daytona about as large as Delma Cowart’s or Phil Barkdoll’s until Junior made his phenomenal drive toward the front over the closing laps Sunday night. Even Junior’s crazy wreck in the Nationwide race, which normally would have elicited The Beatles at Shea Stadium or Jonas Brothers-style gasps from Junior Nation, was a sideshow to Danica.

The coverage bordered on ridiculous, from Twitter and Facebook posts from media and fans chronicling Danica’s move to an ESPN TV ticker devoted to Danica.

But you know what? She did a solid job all week. Maybe the girl can drive, after all. I say that with tongue planted firmly in cheek. Not because of Danica’s driving ability but because it amazed me how fans and media were gobsmacked that Danica actually has skill.

Did they not know that she has competed wheel-to-wheel at 225 mph in an IZOD IndyCar Series car? Did they not know that she has arguably the best recent record in the Indianapolis 500 of a driver not named Helio, with four top-10 finishes in five career starts? Did they not know that she finished second in 2000 in the Formula Ford Festival, one of the most cut-throat junior formula races in the world?

For example, Darrell Waltrip gushed so much praise on Danica’s driving that it was like she was Chuck Heston parting The Red Sea in “The Ten Commandments” or Beyonce lip-synching at any of the music awards shows. DW, I thought you said you were an Indy 500 and IndyCar fan. Have you not been watching the last five years? The lady can drive.

Speaking of Ol’ DW, I was somewhat struck by the about-face of FOX’s broadcast team during Speedweeks. DW and Larry Mac were among the more vocal critics of NASCAR last season from the booth and got into a bit of hot water with their negative comments about the quality of Sprint Cup Series racing last year in a blog with prominent NASCAR journalist Dustin Long.

But FOX sung from a different hymnal last week. I thought DW was going to kiss NASCAR boss Brian France in the booth Sunday when France gave a status update on the track repair during the Daytona 500. And you would have thought that Cale, Bobby, Donnie, King Richard and The Silver Fox were racing based on DW and Larry Mac’s man-crush on the racing.

But fact is, the racing was good. It was a hell of a lot better than the single-file shuffles we’ve seen in recent years at Daytona.

Dale Jr.’s charge to the front over the last few laps, to use the most overused word in NASCAR, was OW-SUM. The dude can drive.

And what about Scott Speed? The Euro-fashion plate transplant into the NASCAR garage by way of California drove up front in the closing laps at Daytona as if he belonged there. Yet you’d never have known it from the coverage. I think former Formula One driver Speed was mentioned about three times during the time he led 12 laps in the last quarter of the race.

Mike Joy, DW and Larry Mac chatted on about Harvick and Bowyer and Biffle, yet Scott Speed was leading the Daytona 500 with some authority. SCOTT FREAKING SPEED, people! This had Derrike Cope written all over it. I was screaming at my TV, “SCOTT FREAKING SPEED IS LEADING THE DAYTONA 500,” to which my oldest son replied nonchalantly, “Is that really his name, Dad?”

Maybe the announcers and my son knew more than me, knew Speed had no chance of winning the race. After all, what NASCAR driver is going to draft with a guy who raced in Formula One, wears white sunglasses and baseball cap cocked sideways, hip-hop style? This ain’t the MTV Video Music Awards or the NBA All-Star game, boy – this is the Great American Race!

Speaking of F1, there were fun F1 angles all over Daytona besides Speed’s strong late run. Nelson Piquet Jr. may have moved to stock car racing in America, but he proved that he remains the most visible rolling chicane in the world, bouncing off cars with glee just as he did in F1.

First, Piquet hit Danica in the ARCA Series race to trigger her famous sliding spin and save – possibly the most publicized spin and continue in American racing since Danny Sullivan’s spin-and-win in the 1985 Indy 500. Then he dumped Max Papis in the Camping World Truck Series race Saturday night.

Is Flavio Briatore still this guy’s team owner in ARCA and the Trucks? Is he still ordered to crash, or is he just good at it? I’m about ready to start a pool to see which Truck Series driver kicks Nelsinho’s ass first this season. We’ll also start an over-under for how many races it takes for that beatdown. Any takers?

Among the F1 refugee set at Daytona, I was really happy to see Papis make the show. He showed true emotion after racing into the Daytona 500 in the Twin 150’s Thursday, something that should be encouraged. He also gave a great, heartfelt interview Saturday afternoon with DW and Co. on one of SPEED’s 14,527 weekly NASCAR shows.

As I watched Papis, I thought: “How can anyone dislike this guy because he’s not from America? So what if he’s not an American short-tracker? How is the ideal of working your butt off from nothing to rise to the big leagues a uniquely American ideal?” This guy is a FREAKING JEWEL and breath of fresh air, just like Tasmania’s Marcos Ambrose was last season.

Yes, I love Max Papis these days almost as much as DW loves Brian France. Nearly man-crush territory. Don’t tell my wife.

And it also was great to see true emotion from Jamie McMurray in the winner’s circle Sunday night at Daytona after the biggest victory of his life. DW was right in the FOX booth: There is NOTHING wrong, NOTHING unmanly about a guy crying after a win in such a big race. Especially when you consider that Jamie Mac was considered by some to be NASCAR surplus after being dumped by Roush Racing after last season.

Just don’t let the tears flow again, son. I’m not sure how the Chipster would take that. But Ganassi had reason to cry in Victory Lane if he wanted to, as he joined Roger Penske as the only team owners to win the Indianapolis 500 and Daytona 500. Ah, the rivalry grows. Beautiful! Music to my ears.

That’s not the only kind of music I dig. I’m a major-league tunes’ buff, mainly rock music and traditional jazz, so certain situations trigger certain songs in my mind. I’ll offer a Song of the Week in this blog every week based on recent racing performances.

For the first song, it would have been easy to use The Kinks’ classic “Lola” after Lola unveiled its 2012 chassis concepts for the IZOD IndyCar Series on Monday, Feb. 15. Duh. No brainer. But too easy.

There was a bigger event in last week’s racing news than Lola. It was even bigger than Danica. I think the grunge classic “Down in a Hole” by Alice in Chains says it all.

One more tune comes to mind, too: The classic “With a Little Help from My Friends” by The Beatles. I need your help. No, don’t escort me to your rubber room or fit me for a straitjacket. I have come up with four names for this blog, and I can’t decide on one. Feel free to respond in the Comments section of this blog with your choice from these four choices:

Rubber Soul

This Is Quite True

Trouble in Turn 2

Slowing on the Backstretch

Until next time, keep your eyes on the road and your hands upon the wheel …


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