A lot of drama, and not all of it on the track.
Daytona Speedweeks – it used to be “Speedweek,” singular – varies in length according to how you figure the beginning. The ending is always the Daytona 500, but when does it begin? Some say February 14, when the ARCA race and the Sprint Unlimited took to the track, so its nine days until The Daytona 500, which was February 22nd. But the activity at local tracks starts at least a week earlier than the first race at Daytona, so I tend to include that. No matter: Here are some highlights.
1. Is Ford lucky, or good? Chevrolet qualified on top for the big races, and won the ARCA race, as well as the two Sprint Cup qualifying races. But Toyota (Matt Kenseth) won the Unlimited, and after that, it was all Ford – the truck race, the XFINITY race, the Daytona 500. After a disappointing 2014, does this mean Ford is back? We’ll know soon enough.
2. Few would accuse me of being a NASCAR apologist, but while I would have liked to have seen the 500 go green all the way to the end – though frankly, Joey Logano’s car was so strong I’m not sure 10 more laps would have made a difference – NASCAR did the right thing in throwing the checkered flag and the caution flag due to the crash on the back stretch. With a couple of seconds to react before the leaders came around to the finish line, they made the right call.
3. Similarly, after Kyle Busch smashed into the wall just before turn one and broke his leg and his foot in the Xfinity race, Daytona’s Joie Chitwood and NASCAR’s Steve O’Donnell manned up, said we should have had SAFER barriers there, and we will ASAP. For the Daytona 500, they had tire barriers in place, which aren’t as good as SAFER barriers but a whole lot better than concrete. That was a bizarre crash, the way Busch’s car just turned left and aimed straight for the wall, but tracks have to prepare for bizarre crashes. I’m sure he doesn’t feel like it, but Busch was lucky – going from probably 160 mph to zero likely generated some off-the-scale G-forces, and without a HANS device, I can’t imagine he would have survived that impact.
4. Speaking of Busch: What a miserable week for both brothers. As I’ve said before, Kurt Busch has been tried and convicted not by a judge in a criminal court, but by a commissioner in a Delaware family court based on his reading of the evidence, and deciding that, by a preponderance of said evidence, Busch is guilty of domestic abuse. “Preponderance” is a big, impressive word, but it just means that the commissioner – who is not a judge – found that, say, 50.001 percent of the evidence was that Busch assaulted ex-girlfriend Patricia Driscoll. NASCAR, as you know, based on the commissioner’s findings, has suspended Busch indefinitely, and Chevrolet – and this is just as important as NASCAR’s ruling – has disassociated itself with Busch. What bothers me the most is that there is no clear path back for Kurt Busch; no specified way to get his license reinstated. For someone to lose his livelihood based on the skimpy legal proceedings so far doesn’t seem right, but I guess NASCAR and Chevrolet have to be ultra-sensitive to allegations of abuse due to the miserable way other sports franchises have handed them.
5. The cleanest, best-driven, most carnage-free event of Speedweeks was the Lucas Oil 200 ARCA race. Who would have thought?
6. NASCAR Camping World truck driver Matt Crafton, who almost literally parachuted into Kyle Busch’s Toyota for the Daytona 500, did a commendable job. So did Regan Smith in Kurt Busch’s Chevrolet, but given his Sprint Cup experience and a little more time to prepare, that was expected.
7. I’ve always wondered: On what day exactly did a driver like Jeff Gordon go from being a “young gun” to a “crafty veteran?” Gordon began his farewell tour with, as expected, class and a lot of speed.
8. It’s time for Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., to step up or step back.
9. How can you not pull for the Wood Brothers any time that number 21 Ford is on the track?
10. I am so sick of smoky burnouts. Maybe the not-a-union Race Team Alliance, if indeed it still exists, could meet and offer some alternate post-win celebrations.
11. I’m grateful no one said on the Daytona 500 broadcasts: “If the 2015 Chase for the Championship ended today….”
12. I suppose I’ll make one more visit to the Daytona International Speedway press box for Bike Week, but after that, the massive cranes come in, and the whole building comes down. Despite the disco-era carpet and wood paneling, it’s the most comfortable place to watch a NASCAR race anywhere. We’re told there won’t be a press box at all for the July NASCAR races, meaning we’ll be in the infield watching it on TV, in the media center. I don’t fight traffic to go to races so I can watch them on TV, but you’d be stunned at how many tracks we go to where we never actually see, live, one lap of a race, including the newest and nicest track on the motorsports beat, Circuit of the Americas.
13. Speaking of the Daytona Rising construction going on at the track, I was pleasantly surprised at how well traffic – both human and automotive – moved around the Speedway. Nice job.
14. I would have liked to see Ron Hornaday get the call for either of the Busch brother’s fill-in seat for the Daytona 500. “Just take it easy” isn’t in his vocabulary.
15. Best of luck to NASCAR, Atlanta Motor Speedway, and the fans this weekend: Going north, even to Atlanta, this time of the year for race number 2 is a big risk weather-wise, but maybe whatever spirit smiled on Daytona Saturday and Sunday is still on the job.