ROSSBURG, Ohio – Unless you broke out your credit card for the HBO pay-per-view telecast of Wednesday night's eighth annual Prelude to the Dream at Tony Stewart's Eldora Speedway, you wouldn't know much about what happened during the evening.
So, in honor of the 26-driver field, here's 26 things that took place Wednesday that should give you pretty much everything you need to know:
1) Qualifying was challenging for several drivers, particularly for drivers who were making their first appearance in The Prelude. Danica Patrick started out things, qualifying from the fourth draw spot, and proceeding to clip the wall with her green Go Daddy late model. Others who also hit the wall included eventual race winner Kyle Busch, who drew a round of applause for the mishap. Ray Evernham's qualifying effort was less than stellar, as he backed his car into the Turn 3 fence. Kurt Busch, who will miss this weekend's Sprint Cup race in Pocono due to a one race suspension, also hit the wall but managed to continue on, and Bobby Labonte spun out.
I’m honored they were that committed to doing this with us tonight.
2) Dave Blaney missed his flight from Pocono – where all of the Cup drivers that participated in Wednesday's charity event were shuttled. Blaney finally arrived just before the start of the heat races. He showed he still has it, particularly in the main event, where he challenged for the lead much of the race until he wrecked.
3) A Toyota-powered late model appeared in The Prelude for the first time ever. Driver Kenny Wallace, who also owns a dirt racing team of his own, said Toyota is looking to expand its presence in grassroots racing...
4) During pre-event driver introductions, Kurt Busch drew the largest amount of boos from the roughly 15,000 fans in attendance. A close second was, who else, younger brother Kyle.
5) On the flip side, Danica Patrick and event host Tony Stewart both received the biggest round of applause from the appreciative crowd.
6) Several surprises occurred during qualifying, particularly with Nationwide Series rookie Austin Dillon taking the pole with a speed of 16.307 seconds, followed closely by Petty Motorsports' Aric Almirola (16.321) and veteran driver Ken Schrader (16.326). Even Danica surprised, qualifying 21st out of 25 drivers (Blaney had still not shown up at that point). Patrick started before drag racers Cruz Pedregon and Ron Capps, former Cup team owner Ray Evernham and IndyCar veteran Tony Kanaan.
7) The line of the night came after Tony Stewart finished running some hot laps around the track with NASCAR Hall of Famer and TV announcer Darrell Waltrip. Said Stewart: "I tried to make him scream like a little girl, but he didn't."
8) Waltrip had the second-best line of the night when he tweeted during the close to 10 laps he went around Eldora in the passenger side, next to Stewart: "Wave the damn white flag already."
9) Waltrip said he's experienced all kinds of thrills during his nearly six-decade racing career, but that Wednesday's ride along with Stewart "was the thrill of a lifetime for me."
10) The race contained four 10-lap heat races to determine how the full 26-car final field for the main event would be set. Each heat race contained either six or seven drivers. The next four entries contain the highlights of each heat:
11) Heat 1: Tony Kanaan ran over the front nose of Danica Patrick’s car, probably something he'd wanted to do for a long time in their respective IndyCar careers, but couldn't do because of how fragile and unpredictable IndyCars can be. Still, Kanaan was spotted with a smile on his face after the heat. In other highlights, Ty Dillon was running away with the race and was less than two laps from victory when Patrick lost control and slammed into a retaining wall, forcing her car to be towed off the track (repairs would get her back and ready for the main event). The finishing order in Heat 1 was: Austin Dillon, younger brother Ty Dillon, Tony Stewart, Tony Kanaan, Steve Kinser, David Gilliland and Danica Patrick.
12) Heat 2: Jimmie Johnson did not look like a five-time Sprint Cup champion when he spun out on the first lap, but rebounded to get back into the race. The rest of the heat was pretty much uneventful, ending with Clint Bowyer winning the 10-lap sprint, followed by Ryan Newman, Aric Almirola, Johnson, Cruz Pedregon and Justin Allgaier.
13) Heat 3: Again, a pretty much uneventful heat that was won by Kyle Busch in dominating fashion, followed by Bobby Labonte, Ken Schrader, Kenny Wallace, Bill Elliott and Ron Capps.
14) Heat 4: This race was probably a close second to the opening heat for the most excitement. Fresh off his airplane ride to Ohio and a quick commuter flight via helicopter to Eldora, Dave Blaney spun on Lap 1. Not having any practice laps will do that to you. Seconds later, Kurt Busch and J.J. Yeley were involved in a wreck that knocked Busch out of the rest of the heat – and ultimately out of the main event, as his car could not be repaired in time. Then, on Lap 8, Blaney crashed, collecting Yeley, but both drivers were able to have their cars repaired and managed to make the main event. So, do the math and you'll see that only four of the seven drivers that started the final heat finished it. Kasey Kahne won the heat, followed by Donny Schatz, Jason Leffler and Ray Evernham.
15) Kurt Busch was unable to have his car repaired in time. When that was announced, fans again cheered wildly. There obviously weren't many Kurt Busch fans in attendance.
16) In one of the coolest displays ever seen at The Prelude, drivers did two parade laps in four-wide formation. NASCAR may have flyovers, but you'd be hard-pressed to not be impressed by the display the 25 entrants did in their own salute to the fans.
17) The main event was a 40-lap affair, with Kahne and Kyle Busch on the front row. Danica Patrick, meanwhile, was the caboose, bringing up the rear of the shortened 25-car field.
18) The main event was, as Tony Stewart said afterward, "full of a lot of carnage." Bobby Labonte spun on the first lap, but that was just for starters as six cars were involved in a spectacular wreck on Lap 2 involving Labonte, David Gilliland, Danica Patrick, Tony Kanaan and Ron Capps.
19) Another wreck occurred on Lap 4 of the main event that involved Ty Dillon, Donny Schatz and J.J. Yeley. Speaking of Yeley, by the end of the race, his car was unrecognizable with all the damage it had on it.
20) Conspicuous by their absence from Wednesday's field are several drivers who are Prelude veterans, including Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon. And once again not making an appearance was NASCAR's most popular driver the last nine years running, Dale Earnhardt Jr.
21) It took just 9 laps before Danica Patrick was lapped, with Kasey Kahne doing the honors.
22) Speaking of Kahne, he had the most dominating car and was cruising to victory when on Lap 26; he somehow did not see Labonte stopped at the entrance to Turn 3. Kahne could not stop in time and slid broadside into Labonte's car, totally destroying Kahne's car – including knocking a wheel off – and ending his chance of winning the race.
23) Had Kahne not wrecked, it would have been a close finish between him, Kyle Busch and possibly Clint Bowyer. As it turned out, Kahne's misfortune turned into KyBusch's enjoyment, as the younger Busch brother led most of the 14 laps after Kahne was knocked out, and ultimately becoming the sixth different driver to win in the eight-year history of The Prelude.
24) Busch's victory showed how fickle race fans can be. In pre-race introductions, he gets roundly booed. But when he climbed from his car to celebrate victory, he actually received a large round of applause merited by the way he won and the driving exhibition he put on.
25) KyBusch on the win: "This is such a cool place to come out to. The last few years, we've been inching closer and closer. It was fun to come out here and finally win this deal. I hated we weren't able to race each other (with Kahne). I just had to run it for every lap it was worth. I had so much fun tonight. We got to race some laps, sling some mud and have some fun."
26) The finishing order was – First through 5th: Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart, Austin Dillon, Donny Schatz, and Ryan Newman. Sixth through 10th: Aric Almirola, Cruz Pedregon, Dave Blaney, Ty Dillon and Justin Allgaier. Eleventh through 15th: Jimmie Johnson, Kenny Wallace, Ray Evernham, Bill Elliott and Danica Patrick. Sixteenth through 20th (all of the drivers from 16th on back were knocked out due to mechanical failure or crashes): Kasey Kahne, Bobby Labonte, Jason Leffler, Clint Bowyer and David Gilliland. Lastly, 21st through 25th: Ron Capps, Tony Kanaan, J.J. Yeley, Ken Schrader and Steve Kinser. The 26th entry, Kurt Busch, failed to start due to the damage he sustained in the wreck during his heat race earlier in the evening.
All in all, the eighth edition of The Prelude was an exciting event. I still remember when Stewart said after the first Prelude that he hoped there'd be enough support to come back for a second year. And now, eight years later, The Prelude has only gotten bigger and better, something that will likely continue for many more years to come.
Stewart said it best when asked after the race what it meant to have so many of his fellow Cup drivers – who are in Pocono for an extra day of practice to test on the new repaved surface – were willing to fly to Eldora and then return after the race, making for a rather long night and short sleep.
“Really, ‘honored’ is the best word I can think of to describe it," Stewart said. "It’s truly an honor with the week we’ve got this week at Eldora and Pocono. There’s a lot of stuff going on. Five days in a row at Pocono, and for these guys to leave practice at the end of the day today, fly here and race, and then fly back to Pocono tonight and be back in cars at Pocono at 9 in the morning, I think that speaks volumes to what this event is all about and what it means for these guys to be here. I know as a promoter and a fellow driver in the Cup series, I’m honored they were that committed to doing this with us tonight."
And perhaps the best news of all: each of the top-10 finishing drivers will choose either a charity or city that will receive donations of money or food from the co-sponsoring Feed the Children charity. Sum it all up after something like that and everyone was a winner Wednesday, not just the drivers, but the fans and those charities that will benefit from the race proceeds, as well.