Pothole sinks spotlight for McMurray, Daytona

February 14, 2010, 9:49 PM

By: Eddie Gossage

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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Get used to it: Danica-mania here to stay

February 9, 2010, 5:08 PM

By: Eddie Gossage

Now ... NASCAR racing ... all Danica Patrick, all the time!

Is that a good thing or a bad thing? It seems to me there is a lot of Danica hate out there. What did she do ... Spit on the star at Cowboys Stadium?

After hearing from major disgruntlement across the NASCAR nation (and no sport wants its fans "gruntled" more than NASCAR), I posed that question on my Facebook page. The response was interesting.

As it turns out, the overwhelming majority -- whether they realized it or not -- revealed they were not unhappy with Danica, but they were unhappy with the media. I thought only sports figures and politicians blamed the media for their problems. Now I find out the fans do, too.

"It's the hate of the media loving Danica," wrote one person. "We resent that she gets press for no reason other than she's a girl," said another. And another: "Just way too overdone on the part of the media."

Well, folks, is that Danica's fault? Danica doesn't write the stories. She simply is the story.

These things are news: Man bites dog. Chicken crosses road. Girl (especially pretty girl) beats man.

And Danica is doing better than many of the men. She's the only woman ever to have won an IndyCar race. She's scored 16 top-fives finishes and 46 top-10 finishes in 81 career Indy Car starts. And in her first -- FIRST -- stock car race, she finished sixth. That's a highly successful record. That's news folks.

I didn't see any women playing in the Super Bowl on Sunday evening, but if there had been one, it would have been bigger news than Drew Brees or Sean Payton. This woman is playing a game in a men's sport and doing it successfully. And she's not hitting from the women's tees.

One interesting fact about those Facebook responses, too. Sixty-three percent were from women. That means that the ladies are interested and following Danica -- whether they are complimenting or complaining about her. And as Dale Earnhardt Sr., told me one day, "I don't care whether they cheer or boo. The only time I get concerned is when they are quiet when they hear your name."

Earnhardt was right. Just make some noise, baby!

Others said they don't like the sexy marketing of Danica. She has appeared in Sports Illustrated's swimsuit edition twice and several suggestive GoDaddy.com commercials. And while I understand those concerns, I didn't hear anybody calling Carl Edwards out when he appeared oiled-up in a "beefcake" pose on the cover of ESPN The Magazine. Shouldn't it be a two-way street? What's good for Carl should be good for Danica.

So here's a couple of truths about "Danica-mania."

The media that I talked with in Daytona this week isn't pleased with their 24/7 coverage of Danica, but they know it's news.

Television viewership of the ARCA race in Daytona was up 59 percent from a year ago. The race got a 2.3 rating according to Nielsen, showing in 1,723,000 homes. People care.

It ain't going to change. Get used to it.

Danica-Danica-Danica! Coming to a speedway near you.

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Aggressive driving carries over to Shootout

February 8, 2010, 12:02 PM

By: Eddie Gossage

NASCAR told the Sprint Cup Series drivers that they were loosening the reigns on them this season and "to have it, boys." If you watched Saturday night's Budweiser Shootout at Daytona, did they ever.

There was aggressive driving beginning in practice earlier in the week and it carried right over into the Shootout. I wondered to myself if it was because of NASCAR's relaxing of the rules or because there were no points on the line?

The answer is "yes" on both counts. There was plenty of aggressive bump drafting going on from start to finish, and I thought the most impressive was when Juan Pablo Montoya was giving a push to Jimmie Johnson. You would have thought they were shot out of a cannon in the fashion they were moving up to the front.

Kurt Busch

Nick Laham/Getty Images

Kurt Busch took a scary ride across the Daytona infield after his hood flapped up against his windshield. Busch, who car went back up the track and hit the wall, was uninjured.

Some of the other aggressive bump drafts resulted in accidents, and several of the drivers talked about the bigger plate caused quicker closing times and that it will take some getting used to.

Kurt Busch already has been involved in two crashes, neither his own fault. He had one in practice and then took a wild ride through the tri-oval infield grass in the Shootout after contact with Mark Martin. The car's front splitter acted like a rototiller through the infield, sending dirt and grass through the engine compartment and blowing the hood up on the windshield. Imagine driving at almost 200 miles per hour for like two-thirds of a mile with your hood on your windshield. I can't imagine going 20 miles per hour for 10 feet like that. Thankfully, Kurt was uninjured and still had his sense of humor intact when they interviewed him afterward, joking he took more laps in the track ambulance than his Dodge Charger during the week.

It was also great to see good friend Kevin Harvick back in Victory Lane. He struggled through a very frustrating season in 2009 -- as did all the Richard Childress Racing folks -- so it was encouraging to see some promise for the upcoming season for him and hopefully his RCR teammates too.

Will we see more of the same racing in Sunday's Daytona 500? Probably so. Even though this will be a points-paying race and everyone wants to get off to a good start to the season, it is still the sport's biggest race of the year and there is a ton of loot and prestige on the line. It may not be as wild as the Shootout in the early going, but you can bet the last 10 to 20 laps will be as wild if not wilder than the Shootout.

I mentioned in my opening blog that Tony Stewart was going to drive down with our friends from Sprint and me to the Super Bowl, and that I was anticipating some entertaining stories from the off-track time with "Smoke."

Tony wound up meeting us at the game and I was a bit surprised that I didn't see the talkative and joking guy I know. I met the Tony Stewart that is one hardcore Colts fan, much like me with the Green Bay Packers. He sported his Colts cap and he was intense all game, sitting on the edge of his seat from start to finish. Pretty cool to see an athlete of another sport focus so intensely on the performance and execution of other athletes. And one that personally knows the desire, drive and teamwork it takes to become a champion.

Many in the NASCAR community were up -- including me -- at 4:14 a.m. Eastern Time in Daytona Beach this morning to see the Space Shuttle launch from Cape Canaveral. Driver Mike Skinner, however, thought the launch time was 4:19 a.m. He got up five minutes late. By then, the shuttle was literally halfway across the Atlantic Ocean. It gave a new meaning to the phrase, "You snooze, you lose."

Speaking of snoozing, I'm hopping on a plane back to DFW and plan to do a little of that along the way. It's been quite a weekend.

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Start the engines, and let's go racing

February 4, 2010, 6:03 PM

By: Eddie Gossage

"Introduce yourself," said the big cheese at ESPNDallas.com. "That's probably the best way to start your first blog with us."

So, hello. My name is Eddie. Starting today I'll pretty much be working full-time here at ESPNDallas.com, blogging three to four times a week. My "part-time gig" remains the same as it has for about the past 15 years -- I'm the president of Texas Motor Speedway.

Of course, the timing is good. Racing season started this past weekend at Daytona with the Budweiser Shootout, qualifying for the Daytona 500 (how about that 51-year-old Mark Martin!) and the stock car debut of Danica (her name is Danica Patrick but like Cher, Madonna and Rhianna, everybody seems to know her by one name). I was in Daytona on Saturday for the green flag for the 2010 season, and throughout the next few days I'll blog about some of the things I learned in Daytona and -- throughout the year -- my take on issues, incidents, controversies and personalities in the sport.

As race fans -- and race car drivers know -- I have some opinions. I've been doing this for 31 seasons now and have seen it all. To put that in perspective, I had 12 seasons under my belt before last year's Sprint Cup rookie-of-the-year Joey Logano was born. In that time, I've seen first-hand as NASCAR grew from a regional sport in the Southeast to an international sport. Did you know the April 18th Samsung Mobile 500 here in Texas will be broadcast in approximately 150 countries? I've also seen Indy car racing enjoy an incredible ascent in the '80s and into the '90s, only to see it fall back down the ladder. As a guy who likes all forms of racing -- and one that has particularly loved Indy cars through the years -- it's been heartbreaking to see that happen. Hopefully better things are around the corner.

I have a deep respect for race car drivers. People have no idea of the hard work, commitment and personal sacrifice race car drivers endure to make it to the big show. Some day I'll tell you the amazing story Greg Biffle told me about his career over fried chicken one night at Babe's Chicken House. I don't think you will find a story like his in the highly competitive world of the NFL, NBA, MLB, etc. But just because they have worked so hard doesn't mean they are always right (although you can pretty much take it to the bank if Mark Martin or Jeff Burton say it's so). As a result, the drivers know I'm one of the guys that will call their hand and wave the "BS" flag on them, no matter how popular they are. Ask Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Danica. Both are great talents but, again, that doesn't make them right all the time.

So stop in here frequently. I'll pull back the curtain and let you see backstage. I'll tell you the news of the day. I'll offer a couple of opinions. And I'll bet you will occasionally debate with me. That's okay, we can agree to disagree.

BTW, after the festivities in Daytona I went to the Super Bowl in Miami with Tony Stewart and about 10 other people with our friends from Sprint. The eight-hour, round-trip ride and spending the game with Tony is bound to be worth a couple of blogs. "Smoke" always does or says something interesting. I'll tell you about it here.

So drop the rag!

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