Pothole sinks spotlight for McMurray, Daytona

February, 14, 2010
2/14/10
10:49
PM CT

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.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

AP Photo/David Graham

Dale Earnhardt Jr., second from front, filled Jamie McMurray's rearview as the checkered flag dropped Sunday at Daytona.

He has won Daytona's July race before. He's a master at the draft but he appeared out of nowhere at the end of the race, only leading two laps. Like the old saying goes, "The only lap that counts is the last one."


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.

Pothole

AP Photo/Bill Friel

NASCAR officials examine broken asphalt between Turns 1 and 2 that caused two lengthy red-flag delays Sunday.

Now, the pothole.


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.

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