Dallas Motorsports: Clint Bowyer
Sounds like a focus issue, Clint.
"Focus is a huge problem for me anyway," Bowyer said, chuckling. "I woke up thinking about that deer. That deer yesterday was huge. It was huge."
No, Bowyer didn't shoot the deer.
"It was on the wrong side of the fence," Bowyer said. "I needed it on the other side of the fence. If it's on the wrong side of the fence, you'll get shot for things like that in Kansas."
Bowyer did, eventually, start talking about racing. His fifth-place finish combined with Denny Hamlin's struggles at Martinsville has him at third place in the standings. But Bowyer is 24 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson and 22 back of Brad Keselowski. There's talk that this has become a two-man race and Bowyer knows he needs some help to get even closer to the top. So what needs to happen for him to claim this championship?
"Jimmie wasn’t in New York when Sandy hit. He was win Charlotte, so he made it (to Texas for the race)," Bowyer said. "So scratch that from teh list of ideas that I could possibly when this championship. A hit-man is out of the order. He rides his bicycle a lot, maybe he'd blow his knee out -- not career-ending, but painful enough to keep him out of the car.
"You’ve got to beat him. It’s a challenge to try to outrun him. We saw in it in Kasnas. You think, 'Well they’ve stubbed their toe now,' and they have a hell of a band-aid and they finish right behind us."
Bowyer does feel he's got some confidence at 1.5-mile ovals thanks to his win in Charlotte a few weeks ago. That same car was unloaded at TMS on Friday with the team hoping they've got the right setup to win on Sunday. Bowyer noted he has run better at TMS in the fall races. He was ninth in last year's AAA Texas 500 and had top-10 finishes in last four November races at TMS, including a four-place showing in 2008. He was the runner-up in the spring race in 2011.
"We need to win this weekend," Bowyer said. "We need to answer the call and get ourselves back in the race."
SONOMA, Calif. -- There is a new big-boy team in NASCAR. If you've being paying attention this season, it's not a surprise.
Michael Waltrip Racing has been coming on all year. The only thing MWR lacked in 2012 was a victory. Mission accomplished.
Clint Bowyer, the hired gun who came to MWR this season after six years at Richard Childress Racing, finally got the organization into the win column this year with a dominating victory Sunday on the Sonoma road course.
"To have this dirt [track] boy from Kansas in Victory Lane here is big, trust me," Bowyer said. "It's just a dream come true. To switch teams like I did was a huge new chance for me and a chance to showcase my talent."
Read more of Terry Blount's column on the race here.
Clint Bowyer, a winner from last season, recently made the transition from Chevrolet to Toyota with Michael Waltrip Racing. Mark Martin is another former Chevrolet driver racing for MWR this season. We've already seen great success with this team and with the newly formed alliance between Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota Racing Development. I think Toyota will be stepping up its program all around.
Ford had a tough year in 2011, but it has been a strong force this season with two of its drivers in the top five in points. Greg Biffle is leading the point standings and has three top fives. Matt Kenseth, who won the Daytona 500, is third.
The recent news with Penske Racing moving to Ford in 2013 left uncertainty for Dodge, but with its new Charger debuting in the Sprint Cup Series next season the organization has received a lot of interest in its NASCAR program. One prospect is Richard Petty Motorsports, which is in its last contract year with Ford. Petty and Dodge have a history together, and the team is looking into renewing that relationship.
And then we have Chevy -- the powerhouse of the sport that has earned the most manufacturers' championships since NASCAR's inception and is currently on a spree of consecutive Sprint Cup championships. Chevrolet has earned a star driver with Kasey Kahne competing for Hendrick Motorsports this year and we've seen early success with Dale Earnhardt Jr., who I believe will be in Victory Lane soon.
All of this is great for the sport. The amount of competitiveness increases the level of excitement among fans and sponsors, and keeps them engaged from week to week.
Hang on NASCAR nation, because it's shaping up to be a sensational year.
Heading into the Feb. 26 Daytona 500, "New" is a word Bowyer and the No. 15 5-hour ENERGY team will hear a lot this season.
Bowyer said he doesn't necessarily like changes, but after seven seasons with Richard Childress Racing, he's not afraid of his change to Michael Waltrip Racing.
"I know these cars are a lot the same," Bowyer said Tuesday night at the Gear Up for the Green Flag event at Texas Motor Speedway. "For the most part, it all comes down to the people working together and getting the most out of each other. That's what makes up the difference."
Bowyer said this offseason was the busiest of his career, and most of it was spent getting used to veteran crew chief Brian Pattie.
"The communication is better, way farther ahead than I thought it would be at this time," Bowyer said. "For a new team like that, getting that 'gelling' of everybody is so crucial."
Bowyer won't be the only one making a big switch to Michael Waltrip Racing. Veteran Mark Martin will drive at least 25 races this season in the No. 55 car.
"Mark is a great asset that I'm going to learn a lot from, even at this stage in my career," Bowyer said.
For the second consecutive year, Bowyer and the Sprint Cup drivers will race under the lights of Texas Motor Speedway. The Samsung Mobile 500 was traditionally a Sunday afternoon race but switched to Saturday night last season.
"Night races are always better," Bowyer said. "I don't know why. We all grew up racing under the lights. It just adds that extra element of excitement."
This year's Samsung Mobile 500 is Saturday, April 14 at 7 p.m.
Sources said the Toyota team is looking to expand to a third Sprint Cup team with Bowyer, whose contract with Richard Childress Racing expires after this season.
For more on the story, click here.
Like all playoffs, the eventual champion of the 2011 NACAR Sprint Cup season may not be the driver with the best performance all season. It may well be the driver that gets on a hot streak and performs at an unconscious level throughout the 10-race Chase.
Jimmie Johnson, the winner of an unprecedented five consecutive championships, has set the standard so high with his performance in the Chase that it’s a case study for how to win in modern NASCAR. What Johnson has shown is that a driver and team have to average finishing sixth or better over the last 10 races, a feat that has proven virtually impossible for all other drivers.
“You’re going to have to be in the top-10 every week,” said Jeff Gordon, himself a four-time NASCAR champ but never under the newer Chase format. “And you are going to have to win races.”
Kevin Harvick, who has been in the points lead for much of the year and won Saturday night’s regular-season finale -- his fourth win this season -- said the ability to make lemonade out of lemons is also a key to winning the title.
“It’s going to be who makes the least amount of mistakes and capitalizes on the day that you are off,” Harvick said.
While Harvick is right, this weekend’s race in Chicago is the first in the Chase. But you can’t automatically count out any Chase drivers that perform poorly there. In 2006 Johnson finished 39th in the first race of the Chase at New Hampshire but zoomed back to win his first title. And Clint Bowyer won last year’s Chase opener at New Hampshire but wound up finishing 10th in the final standings.
The point is that you may get away with a poor finish here or there, but it only raises the stakes for the team in the rest of the Chase races. The later the race, the more important to your championship dreams.
Johnson, who is in town Wednesday to promote the Nov. 6 AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, said that seven or eight drivers have the momentum to win the 2011 title. With a new point system, teams tightly bunched, momentum carrying into the Chase for so many drivers and with more emotion than seen in years, it appears this year’s Chase could be a classic.
Let the Chase begin.
We're three months into the NASCAR Sprint Cup season and certain things remain the same and certain things are, well, shocking. Unprecedented. And interesting.
Which is exactly what NASCAR wanted when they jacked around with the point system back in the offseason.
Carl Edwards is on top of the point standings. No surprise considering how strong he finished the 2010 season.
Quietly, Jimmie Johnson is second. The only surprise here is how a guy that has won an unprecedented five straight championships races under the radar? But he has, winning only once this year.
Kyle Busch finally seems to be reaching the level everyone expected of him, as he sits third. Many believe the young Busch is the most talented driver in the sport. He's won lots of races in his brief career, but immature outbursts have marred the consistent performances needed to win titles. Perhaps he has matured to a championship level.
Perhaps most stunning: Dale Earnhardt Jr., is solid in fourth. This turnaround could be the story of the year.
Unless, of course, you discount the poor performance of Jeff Gordon, who has contended for the championship every season of his long career. He currently stands 19th but has one win. It's hard to imagine a championship race at the end of the year without Gordon, but it appears highly unlikely that he can make up the difference.
Denny Hamlin entered into the 2011 season with high hopes. Those hopes have dimmed to his current 13th in the point standings.
A.J. Allmendinger is a shocking 10th in the current points. Almendinger is a very talented driver, and Richard Petty Motorsports continues to show quantum leaps of improvement. But this is a position drivers in position 11-20 are eyeing as an opportunity.
Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman also reside in the top 10. All of them could win the title once The Chase begins.
Lots of racing to go until we settle in for the final 10-race slugfest to determine the champ, but this thing is interesting.
All I want for Christmas is ...
- More "Have at it, boys!" Good call, NASCAR!
- A better economy so fans can attend more races and companies can sponsor more cars, races, etc.
- Peace on earth at Richard Petty Motorsports. The team with A.J. Allmendinger showed real progress and was on the verge of a breakthrough when money problems for principal owner George Gillette forced the team to operate on a week-to-week basis. Give them their resources and let them go -- this team can win.
- A tape recording of the comments during Jeff Gordon's and Jeff Burton's ambulance ride from Turn 2 to the HCA Infield Hospital here at Texas. Wonder what was said and by whom?
- A solid IndyCar ride at de Ferran/Dragon Racing for Tony Kanaan. He is clearly the best driver at Andretti Motorsport, but it's obvious how he became odd man out to the other two drivers, Marco Andretti and Danica Patrick.
- For the local media to realize how big a deal the racers are. The Associated Press named Jimmie Johnson the runner-up to Drew Brees for their 2010 Athlete of the Year. The names Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Romo, Ian Kinsler or any of the local athletes did not come up on the list. Pay attention, locals. This thought process is one of the reasons why circulation/viewership/listenership is down. Obviously, the media in the rest of the country gets it.
- A championship for Kevin Harvick. He led the points standings virtually the entire season and he is a throwback type of driver who appeals to fans.
- Speaking of throwback drivers, Clint Bowyer may be the guy to hang on to all the fans of the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. His ability, mannerisms and working-man persona is going to be very popular with the fans.
- That Kyle Busch keeps on being Kyle Busch. Somebody has to wear the black hat, and it fits perfectly on Busch's head. He is likely the most talented driver in American motorsports. But the fact that all he cares about is winning makes him very appealing to me. And the subject of boos from many fans.
- An IndyCar win for Danica Patrick. Time is running out for Danica. She has to put some points on the board or be considered a novelty. She has all the talent in the world.
- Same for Dale Jr. Time may have just about run out for "Little E." He really needs to win and contend in 2011. And at least act like he wants to be here.
- Photo finishes at all races. And races so close that it takes a couple of days to determine the winner of all the races in Texas! No Limits, baby!
- For a NASCAR Sprint Cup car to look like, well, a stock car. I want to see Chevys and Fords and Dodges and Toyotas. I don't want to see cars that all look alike except for the decals on the nose. Come on, NASCAR!
- Bruce Springsteen to play the pre-race show at one of the races here at Texas Motor Speedway.
- More success, and perhaps another championship, for Tony Stewart. He may be the guy with the most real race fans in the sport.
- Lots more wins for Jeff Gordon. He's not through but we all want to see Jeff win. I bet this time there won't be a single "boo!" High time!
- More Americans driving Indy Cars. Come on team owners ... this is the fastest way back to relevance.
- Fewer penalties and fines from NASCAR and IndyCar. Let the racers settle it themselves. Fans don't want you involved in the outcome of races.
- More backflips for Carl Edwards.
- Another opportunity in the Cup series for Elliott Sadler. This guy has "star" written all over him.
- More seat time for Brad Keselowski. Just like a young Dale Earnhardt Sr., a young Ernie Irvan, a young Kyle Busch and others before him, he's bouncing off of cars and walls everywhere as he learns. He will make it. And he will be exciting!
- The end to start-and-park teams in NASCAR.
- Respect for Jimmie Johnson. Five straight championships may be the definition of motor racing perfection. It will never be accomplished again.
- That you get to know Brittany, Stephanie and Becky -- The Great American Sweethearts -- in 2010. They aren't just beautiful, they personify the "No Limits" attitude, love racing and love meeting race fans. We could not have found three better people to serve in that role.
- More appreciation from the local fans for what the IndyCar drivers do here at Texas Motor Speedway. They run almost 220 mph, wheel-to-wheel and in packs. The precision is amazing. One little bobble and there is trouble. And if the IndyCar officials will leave them alone, they put on the best races in the world.
- No more trial balloons from NASCAR in which they say fans are interested in shorter races, fewer races, fewer days in the race weekend, etc. These are just trendy little rumors NASCAR leaks to the media because they are tired of being on the road. Hello! NASCAR ... this is about the fans! Not your personal wishes. If you don't want to travel, there are other jobs in this world.
- Greater appreciation for Kurt Busch. The former Cup series champion is the epitome of a professional. And he's got loads of talent!
- Success for Kasey Kahne. He's popular with the young ladies and the cougars, too!
- Appreciation for the accomplishments of Michael Waltrip Racing. David Reutimann is a solid contender week after week.
- A "No Limits" Christmas and New Year for you and all your loved ones!
Hamlin, who tabbed himself the choice to end Jimmie Johnson’s unprecedented run of four consecutive championships at the end of last season, uncharacteristically blasted Bowyer and Childress during pre-race media sessions at Dover this past weekend. Not typically the most vociferous driver in the field, Hamlin’s long diatribe left little to the imagination. He was blunt and specific in calling out RCR and Bowyer. He paid a price when Kevin Harvick, an RCR teammate of Bowyer, made contact with his car during the first few laps of practice causing both cars to lose valuable practice time to make repairs. It was an obvious case of payback.
Why did Hamlin lash out?
Was it part of the mind games teams play with other teams as the season winds down and the point race heats up? If so, what was the point? Bowyer effectively received the death penalty in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship, a loss of 150-points which is virtually insurmountable in the nine remaining races (RCR has appealed the penalty).
Was it Hamlin’s way of defending his team from comments made by Bowyer earlier in the weekend? Bowyer angrily defended his team, claiming every team tries to push the envelope on all measurements, citing both Hamlin’s and Johnson’s cars initially failing to meet pre-race height requirements before making changes that met NASCAR specs. Bowyer’s comments were relatively benign since teams frequently have to go through pre-race inspection more than once.
Did Hamlin’s comments help or hurt his team’s chances of winning the 2010 NASCAR title? Hamlin continues to lead the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings after Dover, where he finished ninth. He holds a 35-point lead over Johnson. So while Hamlin took care of business at Dover, team president J.D. Gibbs admitted he preferred Hamlin avoid causing distractions like the one during the acrimonious weekend.
In other words, what’s the point?
Hamlin is an eminently qualified championship caliber driver. He can very well win the 2010 championship as well as others down the line. He proved his toughness winning here in Texas in April just one week after having serious knee surgery. I know because as I presented him the Samsung 500 trophy in Victory Lane, Hamlin muttered about the pain and it was evident in his eyes. But he focused on the race and tuned out the pain. It was mightily impressive.
But nothing was to gain at making the comments. The media like it. The promoters like it.
But it doesn’t win championships.
Expect Gibbs’ words to take root. Expect a quiet and focused Hamlin for the rest of the championship Chase.
With the 2001 death of the legendary Dale Earnhardt, fans have been looking for someone just like them to pull for at the races. Earnhardt's legion of fans shifted their devotion to The Intimidator's son, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Initially, he did not disappoint. He's posted 18 career NASCAR Sprint Cup wins. There are drivers in various halls of fame with fewer career wins.
But Junior hasn't won since 2008. And that year he scored only the single victory. Driving for the potent Hendrick Motorsports Team, more is expected of Earnhardt. Many have become disenchanted with his carefree attitude, a 180-degree difference from the all-consumed nature of his Dad.
It is unfair to compare him -- or any driver -- to his uber-successful racing dad. Just ask Kyle Petty, whose father answers to the name "King," as in "Richard Petty ... the King of Stock Car Racing." Kyle Petty told me that he told to the younger Earnhardt to tune out all the folks making comparisons. He told him he would go crazy trying to match his father's seven championships and 83 career wins. Petty's father is the only other seven-time NASCAR champion and the all-time wins leader in the sport with 200 career victories. Nobody, not Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, Darrell Waltrip or any of the other greats, could match both those marks.
But comparison is an inevitable reality. And when you are the highest-paid, most popular driver in the sport, the burden is heavy.
So while Earnhardt Jr. struggles, the TV ratings and live attendance at the races have suffered. Many in the sport see a direct correlation to both Earnhardt Jr.'s performance and non-Dale Earnardt-like attitude and lifestyle. The elder Earnhardt would win the race by "rattling the cage" of a fellow competitor, call out drivers as "candy asses" from victory lane, kiss the trophy queen and still be out at his chicken ranch on his bulldozer by 6 a.m. the next morning. Just like me (if only I drove race cars and bulldozers).
Which takes us back to Clint Bowyer.
Winning races like he did Sunday raises his profile. And perhaps more than any other driver, Bowyer has some of the elder Earnhardt's qualities. He doesn't appear to be one of these privileged, smooth, polished, NASCAR-issue drivers. He comes across as a guy who climbed the ranks of the Saturday night short tracks back home and through hard work, effort and talent caught the eye of team owner Richard Childress. Childress, of course, was the guy Earnhardt drove for to all those victories and six championships. Maybe he, too, saw some of Earnhardt in Bowyer.
When Earnhardt burst on the scene winning the 1979 Rookie of the Year title before winning the 1980 NASCAR title, he was as rough as a Texas dirt road. Bowyer isn't nearly that rough, but he'll occasionally drop a cuss word and look out of place off the track in the spotlight -- just like Dale Sr. But he also exudes an "I can't believe I'm here" attitude missing from so many drivers today. That -- and his ability on the race track -- are endearing qualities. Qualities that the sport can build on as we go down the road.
America's original blue-collar sport needs a blue-collar hero. It really hasn't had one since that fateful crash in 2001.
Winning more races more often for Bowyer will be a big help to that end. Earnhardt Jr. tried but wasn't able to sustain the winning ways. Certainly he has the talent and is having a much better year than he did in 2009. He can get back to his winning ways.
But Bowyer could be just the answer.
The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship starts this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
|Jeff Gordon joins Galloway & Company to talk about the chase for the Sprint Cup, Kyle Busch's fiancée, connecting with the fans, and more.
Denny Hamlin (5060 points)
- Hot: Since the end of 2009, Hamlin has been talked about as the favorite to beat Jimmie Johnson. He’s also shown on the track that he can back it up. Two of his six wins this season were on Chase tracks (Texas, Martinsville).
- Not hot: Over the last ten races, Hamlin has been outperformed by every single driver in the Chase. Last year, Hamlin had three DNF’s in the Chase that were caused by either engine failure or a crash. In the last five races this season, he’s had two DNF’s caused by an engine failure or crash.
- Hot: Four-time Champion. He knows how to win the Chase. Johnson has finished a whopping 75 percent of all Chase races inside the top ten. What’s even more impressive is that in over half of the races -- 33 of the 60, Johnson has finished inside the top five. Johnson has also claimed 18 total Chase victories. That’s an average of three Chase wins per year. Most drivers would be happy with three total wins per year.
- Not hot: With an average finish of 17th over the last 10 races, is Johnson as invincible as he’s been the past four seasons?
- Hot: Regular-season points leader. Earnhardt/Childress Racing engines have been the strongest all season. That could pay off in a big way at tracks like Texas, Charlotte, California, Kansas, Homestead and Talladega.
- Not hot: Has a career average finish of 17th or worse at California, Martinsville, Charlotte, and Dover. Only once in the history of the Chase has the regular-season points leader won the championship (Tony Stewart in 2005).
- Hot: Has won Cup races on five of the ten Chase tracks. Busch has also learned how to be a more consistent driver. He’s been running at the finish in 25 of 26 races so far this year. His only DNF was a crash at Daytona.
- Not hot: Busch has never won a NASCAR Sprint Cup race on any one of the five, 1.5-mile tracks in the Chase. Busch has also never won in the final 10 races of any season.
- Not: First Chase champion (2004). As the only Penske driver in the Chase, it’s “all hands on deck” for Busch. Sam Hornish Jr. unloaded at Richmond with Busch’s setup, ready to assist the No. 2 in any way possible. Brad Keselowski’s team is also doing everything it can to help bring a title to Penske.
- Not hot: As the only Dodge team in the Cup Series, there is no one else available to share notes or develop engines with. Also, both of the teammates that are helping Busch have not had a single top ten all year.
- Hot: Momentum has picked up at just the right time for Stewart. He also has the best record in the last 10 races that have been held at tracks that are one mile or longer. Nine of the ten Chase tracks fit this category.
- Not hot: While Stewart’s results at any track are impressive, seven of the ten tracks in the Chase are statistically some of his worst.
- Hot: Biffle goes into the Chase knowing the he and his team are capable of winning races. The No. 16 team earned its first 2010 victory at Pocono in August.
- Not hot: Biffle has finished on the lead lap in only six of the last ten races.
- Hot: Gordon spent most of the summer second in the Sprint Cup point standings. Gordon’s average finish of 8.4 in the last 10 mile-and-a-half races is the best in the Sprint Cup Series. Gordon is also the only Cup driver that has finished on the lead lap of each of the last ten races.
- Not hot: Gordon has still not been to Victory Lane since winning at Texas in April of 2009 -- the longest stretch he’s ever had without a race win.
- Hot: Edwards has scored more points than any other driver in the last ten races, finishing in the top 10 in eight of those races. He’s also started on the pole in two of the last five races. A win (or several wins) is right around the corner for the No. 99 team
- Not hot: Even though a win might be right around the corner, the fact is that Edwards has still not been to Victory Lane since the last race of 2008.
- Hot: It’s been said that to finish first, first you have to finish. Burton is one of only three drivers that have not had a DNF all season long. Burton has also led a respectable 390 laps this year.
- Not hot: Burton has not won a race since October of 2008.
- Hot: Mr. Consistency has one very impressive stat this year. Kenseth has completed all but seven laps this entire season for a total of 23 lead lap finishes.
- Not hot: Kenseth has only led 35 of the 7,699 laps that he’s completed. He has also not won a race since February of 2009.
- Hot: In Bowyer’s last two Chase appearances, he ended up fifth and third in the final point standings.
- Not hot: In 120 career Cup races, Bowyer has only two wins. His last trip to Victory Lane was in May of 2008.
Sunday’s race at New Hampshire gets the green flag at noon CT.
Poor Kevin Harvick.
Clearly the car to beat at Daytona, Harvick again had a strong car at Auto Club Speedway, finishing second in Sunday's race. An unfortunate speeding violation on pit road may have cost him a chance at the win. Four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champ Jimmie Johnson won Sunday's race, the 48th of his career.
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Kevin Harvick led 27 laps Sunday at Auto Club Speedway.
Harvick's "speeding ticket" forced him to chase Johnson down to the wire. His car looked faster than Johnson's, but Harvick brushed the fourth-turn wall with four laps to go. Without the violation, Harvick may not have been forced to press so hard at the end, perhaps making a mistake.
Teammate Jeff Burton finished third in the California race. After Harvick wounded his car bouncing off the fourth-turn wall, Burton closed but ran out of laps to make the pass.
Despite not winding up in Victory Lane in either of NASCAR's first two races, Harvick has reason to smile. It appears his Richard Childress Racing Team has made improvements and put Harvick, Burton and teammate Clint Bowyer in contention. Last season all three failed to make The Chase. It was a long fall from grace for the team that Dale Earnhardt Sr. drove for en route to six of the seven NASCAR Cup Series titles.
At Daytona, Bowyer finished fourth, Harvick seventh and Burton wound up 14th.
Sunday, not only did Harvick and Burton finish second and third, but Bowyer came home eighth.
It's too early to be counting points, but coming out of the box strong is important. Harvick and his RCR teammates are picking up points and confidence. And confidence breeds confidence.
Look for Harvick to win races and contend for the 2010 title.
Commercials in the Daytona 500 are as much fun to race fans as commercials in the Super Bowl. This is the time all the big sponsors roll out their new TV spots and try to out-do each other.
It seems the fan favorite was the Toyota commercial giving fans the chance to design a paint scheme that will actually be used in a race this year. Seeing wild man Kyle Busch in a pink uniform driving a car with kittens painted on it was clever. I especially liked Kyle's helmet with the big kitty painted on top.
And then there was the Coca-Cola commercial with drivers Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Bobby Labonte, Joey Logano, Ryan Newman, David Ragan, Elliott Sadler and Tony Stewart all singing, "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing in Perfect Harmony," while racing hard. The old Coke jingle has a warm, fuzzy, kum-bay-yah feel to it ... a real juxtaposition to the battle-hardened racers trading paint at 200 mph.
Jamie McMurray's win in Sunday's Daytona 500 will sadly be overshadowed by a pothole. What a shame because the dramatic end of the "Super Bowl of NASCAR" makes last Sunday's Super Bowl look, well, boring.
First, the dramatic finish.
McMurray was probably not listed as anyone's pre-race favorite going into Daytona. In retrospect, he should have been on the radar screen. Certainly it's not an upset.
AP Photo/David Graham
Dale Earnhardt Jr., second from front, filled Jamie McMurray's rearview as the checkered flag dropped Sunday at Daytona.
Also in the mix at the end were Dale Earnhardt Jr., Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr. Dale Jr. ought to split his second-place paycheck with David Reutimann for the powerful bump draft he received down the middle of the backstretch on the final lap. Earnhardt qualified second but never really appeared to be a contender in the race. The powerful lick Reutimann laid on Earnhardt's bumper propelled Junior's car past about five cars that magically parted for Earnhardt's Chevy. You could hear the Junior Nation in the Daytona crowd all the way to D-FW.
McMurray was almost considered a wash-out after four unmemorable years with Roush Racing. He joined the Roush program as a dead-solid-lock young driver commanding a big salary. When he left, he had to beg team owners Chip Ganassi and Felix Sabates for an opportunity. Now, Ganassi and Sabates look pretty smart.
There may be no crying in baseball, but there's nothing wrong with a little emotion in Victory Lane. I saw Darrell Waltrip in tears after winning the 1989 Daytona 500. I remember Jeff Gordon crying in Victory Lane after winning his first Cup race in Charlotte. Now, McMurray sheds a few over the Daytona trophy. I'll take that over other athletes in other sports pounding their chest over a simple 5-yard gain.
The win in the Daytona 500 may put McMurray's team at a disadvantage in the three remaining 2010 restrictor-plate races (two at Talladega and one more in Daytona) as well as the 2011 Daytona 500. The reason: the winning car at the Daytona 500 is rolled out of Victory Lane and into the Daytona 500 Museum for display for the next 12 months. The car, complete with grease marks, tire rubber, sandblasted nose and confetti from Victory Lane, will be seen by fans for the next year. That means that a car good enough to win Daytona is not available to the team for the next four restrictor-plate races. It's a high price to pay, but nobody seems to mind after winning the race.
AP Photo/Bill Friel
NASCAR officials examine broken asphalt between Turns 1 and 2 that caused two lengthy red-flag delays Sunday.
How do you foresee a pothole developing in Turn 2? Daytona International Speedway will be criticized for the problem and the two red flags that forced the fans on hand and millions more at home to sit two-and-a-half hours while repairs were made. Trust me, nobody at Daytona wanted to see that happen.
The frustrating thing is that the TV ratings will be clearly impacted by the delay. While track officials tried to make repairs, you could just hear viewers hitting their remotes and changing to, say, the Winter Olympics. The opportunity for huge ratings exists because much of the country is still dealing with snow and cold weather, stacking things up for great TV ratings. A similar situation -- coupled with a fight after the race between Cale Yarborough and the Allison brothers -- catapulted the sport on the national sports scene in 1979.
And then the pothole happened.
Thousands upon thousands of miles of practice, qualifying and racing have been run at Daytona in the last month without any problems with the asphalt until the biggest race of the season unfolded. Why it didn't rear its head until then is unknown. And horribly unfortunate.
NASCAR appropriately explained that speedway officials were doing everything possible to fix the pothole. And I'll vouch for them 100 percent. Everybody was excited for this season to start and the 200 mph bare-knuckle brawl that was going on at the 2.5-mile Daytona oval was living up to expectations. Until. Kind of like being told there's no Santa.
But more than one friend and media member called, e-mailed or sent me a text to remind me that NASCAR didn't seem to understand when something similar happened at Texas Motor Speedway in 1998. NASCAR officials condemned the speedway, Bruton Smith and, mostly, me. I've been there. I was sad for my friends at Daytona Speedway. Sad for the sport. Sad for the fans.
But I can also tell you I'm still waiting for an apology from NASCAR for the things they said to the media back then. Hey, a guy can hope, can't he? After all, the New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl! Stranger things have happened.