|ESPN.com: Sprint Cup||[Print without images]|
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.
All times Eastern
The 2009 season got off to a wild start.
Kevin Harvick won Saturday night's Budweiser Shootout, taking the lead from Jamie McMurray just before a three-car accident erupted behind him to end the race on the final lap of a green-white-checkered finish.
McMurray appeared poised for the victory as he approached the final two turns, but Harvick charged through the field and nudged to the front as Jimmie Johnson, Casey Mears and Denny Hamlin spun out behind him.
"The first thing I want to do is thank all the fans," said Harvick, the 2007 Daytona 500 winner. "If you don't enjoy that What a race. That was wild as heck."
McMurray finished second, followed by Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and AJ Allmendinger.
"Damn, we almost won the thing," said McMurray's crew chief, Donnie Wingo, as his driver settled for second.
A lot of people did. Gordon and crew chief Steve Letarte thought they were poised to win on the final restart as he lined up outside of McMurray."Do anything you have to," Letarte radioed. "We've got another [car] in the truck."
Maybe this will be Jeff Gordon's year. He miraculously avoided his second wreck on lap 32, sliding past Greg Biffle after hitting him in the rear and sending him into a spin.
His former crew chief, Ray Evernham, recently said Gordon was walking around with the same swagger he had when they won three titles in 1995, '97 and '98.
Rick Hendrick's early-morning prediction was right. It didn't take long for a wreck to occur.
Four laps, to be exact.
Only Hendrick probably didn't think his driver would play a part in it. OK, so Jimmie Johnson wasn't totally to blame. But when a car got loose in front of Johnson, he checked up, causing David Ragan to check up, causing Robby Gordon to hit Ragan and start a six-car chain reaction.
Those involved included Gordon, Ragan, Joey Logano, Scott Speed, Casey Mears and Greg Biffle.
"I guess it was my fault 'cause I was the first car to hit a car," Gordon said, tongue-in-cheek. "All I saw was the 48 [Johnson] check up, and that caused David to check up, and I got into him.
"I thought we could run 75 miles very hard to the end, but there's just too much action."
Logano summed up his first race in a Cup car at the 2.5-mile race like this: "It sucks. It's too early."
For the record, Jeff Gordon deserves kudos for the way he got through the melee. Perhaps it's a sign this year will be better for the four-time Cup champion, who went winless in 2008.
It was a strange sight, Richard Petty on top of the No. 9 hauler of Kasey Kahne watching the Budweiser Shootout.
There's nothing wrong with the seat. The "King" has a state-of-the-art television set up there and a great view of the entire track. At least they could put a nice set on top of the No. 43 hauler that Petty brought from Petty Enterprises to Gillett Evernham Motorsports, now Richard Petty Motorsports.
Where is Mark Martin? It's so wrong that the 1999 Budweiser Shootout winner, a man who appeared in a record 19 straight in 2007, was left out of this year's race.
All NASCAR had to do to get him into the field was rewrite the rule to say all past Shootout champions get in. That would have gotten Martin and three-time champ Tony Stewart into the field from which he originally was excluded.
Red-flag that call.
At about the time the track minister said, "Let us pray," Joey Logano walked into the drivers' meeting.
Logano can't catch a break. Two weeks ago he was vilified for taking out Peyton Sellers on the last lap of the Toyota All-Star Showdown in California.
On Saturday night he was forced to start at the back for the Budweiser Shootout because he missed the mandatory drivers' meeting to complete the ARCA race. Apparently, there are no exceptions to this rule, even if you arrive in time for the prayer.
"Well, he needs to [pray]," joked Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president of competition, as he explained the ruling.
Logano was slated to start 19th.
NASCAR is taking control of restarts.
Last year it was up to the leader to start the race within 15 or so feet of the double red line positioned on the wall before the flag stand. Some questioned the integrity of a few restarts, forcing officials to take a second look at it.
They came up with a stricter interpretation, saying a driver must restart the race between the double red line and a single red line separated by about 50 feet. There's also a white line across the track to help clarify the final spot.
If the lead driver doesn't start the race, which he's supposed to, during that span it will start by the command of the green flag whether he's ready or not.
Ryan Newman isn't in the Budweiser Shootout because officials didn't rewrite the rules to get the defending Daytona 500 champion into the exhibition, as they did to get owner/teammate Tony Stewart in.
That didn't stop Newman from coming to the drivers' meeting or from sitting on Stewart's pit box during the race. He's soaking in all he can as he prepares to defend his title, his first race at Stewart-Haas Racing.
The owner with the fastest car in practice for Sunday's Daytona 500 qualifying doesn't like that there are teams in the garage with cars purchased for as little as $6,500.
"There's a lot of people trying to take advantage of what's going on here," Eddie Wood said after watching Bill Elliott top the speed charts Saturday in the famed No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford. "I'm not a fan of that. I don't like that.
"Yeah, you come here to race. That's why it's the Daytona 500. A lot of people are coming down here to be opportunistic about things. I don't go for that. I don't like it at all. I'd quit first."
NASCAR announced last month that 15 people had applied for new ownership in the Sprint Cup Series. Most did so to take advantage of tough economic conditions that have resulted on teams folding and merging, leaving a lot of inventory for sale.
Many came from Bill Davis Racing, which folded, and Chip Ganassi Racing, which went from Dodge to Chevrolet after merging with Dale Earnhardt Inc.
A top NASCAR official said many of those cars were purchased for less than $20,000, with at least one for $6,500. A typical Cup car costs between $100,000 and $200,000.
A look at the lower end of Saturday's speed chart indicates that the new teams are far from those that have competed on a regular basis. James Hylton, who had hoped to become the oldest driver (72) to qualify for the 500, couldn't make the minimum speed of 175 mph necessary to qualify.
Only two Cup regulars -- Kurt Busch and Juan Pablo Montoya -- were among the 14 slowest cars.
"It's like going to a baseball game and knowing you're going to lose when you get there but you're going to be there," Wood said. "It's not me. I'd quit."
Jack Roush, the co-owner of Roush Fenway Racing, agreed.
"That wouldn't be the thing to do," he said.
But Roush was in complete support of the Wood Brothers' approach to the tough economic times. Instead of folding or merging, they plan to run only 12 of the 36 races, spending only the money their sponsorship will allow.
Many of the new teams are hoping to collect a large portion of the approximately $3.5 million they could earn by making each race and finishing last.
"What they're doing is not the way it's done," Wood said. "It's not what the sport was built on. I'll argue that 'til the end."
The sport was built on teams such as the Wood Brothers. But as pleased as Wood was with Saturday's practice -- Elliott had a top speed of 187.950 mph -- he won't get too excited until qualifying is complete.
Elliott was among the top 10 in practice last season and blew a gear, keeping the car out of the race.
Only the top two qualifiers automatically qualify for the 500. The rest of the field will be set by Thursday's 150-mile qualifying races.
"It's just another day," Wood said. "It looks good and feels good. Until you go back and do it when it counts it's not real. The guys really did a great job. [New crew chief] David Hyder came in and basically turned our world around."
Those that saw the 21 before qualifying weren't surprised it topped the charts.
"My guys tell me they've got the nicest-looking car with the most detail on it of any car they've seen," Roush said. "If I can't have the pole tomorrow in one of my cars, I hope they get the pole."
Scott Riggs, who was 19th fastest for upstart Tommy Baldwin Racing, said his boss/crew chief predicted Friday that the 21 would be fast.
"As he went through tech he went over to Hyder and told him it was an absolute masterpiece, the best-looking car he's seen at a superspeedway," Riggs said of Baldwin.
And it cost well over $6,500.
Bill Elliott showed he may have a little something left in him, and the Wood Brothers No. 21 Ford, after all. The veteran champ ran the fastest Daytona 500 practice speed Saturday with a lap of 187.950 mph. Martin Truex Jr. was second in a Chevy at 187.504 and three more Chevys right behind in Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Newman and Mark Martin. Elliott also led the first practice at 185.645.
Jayski's Daytona 500 stats page
Jimmie Johnson was the fastest in Budweiser Shootout Happy Hour at 192.620. AJ Allmendinger, Earnhardt, Kasey Kahne and Tony Stewart rounded out the top five.
Jayski's Bud Shootout stats page
Jeff Gordon crawled out of the silver No. 24 car early Saturday morning and went straight to the left fender of Jimmie Johnson's silver No. 48 car.
"Me and the 48 touched a little bit," the four-time Sprint Cup champion said with a sheepish grin.
It was only supposed to be a slow-speed trip around Daytona International Speedway to show off the special silver anniversary paint schemes that Hendrick Motorsports will use later this year at Lowe's Motor Speedway to commemorate 25 years in the sport.
But Daytona isn't designed for cars to go four-wide -- Mark Martin in the No. 5 and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 also made the lap -- particularly coming off Turn 4 toward the checkered flag.
"At first we thought we couldn't go four-wide," Gordon said. "We were going to go two and two. Of course, the drivers were like, 'C'mon. You're kidding? We can do it.' "
So they came up with a plan to have Martin pull down low with Gordon following beside him. Next would come Johnson and then Earnhardt.
"When Junior got in there, it squeezed us, and Jimmie and I actually touched," Gordon said. "It's a narrow race track."
It was cool to watch, though. And many of those standing along pit road were betting the competitive juices would come out in one or several of them and something stupid might happen.
"I can remember doing similar type of media opportunities when I first started," said Gordon, who ran his first full Cup season in 1993. "Something always happened because somebody was being dumb. Luckily, we've got a lot of experienced drivers here."
It was extremely important for Martin, who obviously hadn't been fitted for the show car he drove.
"I don't know about you, but I was looking under the steering wheel," he said.
Rick Hendrick doesn't know who will win Saturday night's Budweiser Shootout, but he guarantees one thing.
"There's going to be a wreck the way the cars are moving around," he said.
Odds in the garage are that Joey Logano will be involved in it. His car was so loose in Friday's Shootout practice that he had to let off the gas while leading the pack.
And according to Earnhardt, Logano's car was looser in the pack.
"He doesn't have a lot of experience," NASCAR's most popular driver said of NASCAR's youngest driver (age 18). "Hopefully, he gets his team to tighten it up a little bit."David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.