Speedos? Cheating? Awkward
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- It was one of those awkward moments between reporter and driver.
Kyle Busch was discussing all that Danica Patrick has brought to NASCAR during Thursday's media day chaos when I broached the subject of posing for magazine spreads in skimpy outfits, as the GoDaddy.com driver has done.
"So, would you wear a Speedo for a magazine?" I asked.
Busch smiled and said, "I've got a lot of work to do. But once I get there, I'll do it."
As Busch began answering another question, he paused, turned back and said with a smirk, "You want to see it? Is that why you asked?"
Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway typically are full of awkward moments, and this one is no different. Here's a list of six things that seem strange as we begin another season:
Jimmie Johnson's Daytona 500 car failed initial inspection for modifications to the C-posts on Friday, apparently to create an aerodynamic advantage. NASCAR says suspensions could follow.
"A helluva way to start the 2012 season," Hendrick Motorsports vice president of competition Ken Howes said.
The last thing you want to do is get caught cheating before the first race, and under the eyes of NASCAR this is a definite attempt at cheating.
But at least the No. 48 team has a good record here after being caught. In 2006, crew chief Chad Knaus was suspended for four races before the 500 for modifications to the rear window. Johnson went on to win the race with Darian Grubb as his interim crew chief.
Still, it'll be an awkward Speedweeks for Knaus and company.
Sure they're all Chevrolets, and Busch will be in Hendrick Motorsports equipment. But RCR and HMS have no ties. Owners Richard Childress and Rick Hendrick are considered rivals by many.
There's nothing illegal here. Maybe this is just a sign of tough economic times or simply a matter of selling cars, but it seems wrong.
NASCAR actually might have made racing more dangerous at Daytona with all the rules changes to reduce two-car dancing.
Because drivers know tandem racing still is the fastest way around the 2.5-mile track and NASCAR has made it nearly impossible to push in the conventional way without overheating, drivers will have to offset the bumpers even more to allow for more air flow.
That takes up more room on the track and increases the odds that the pusher will spin out the pushee. There also will be more swapping, which some believe increases the possibility for catastrophe.
"If there's still a two-car tandem and yeah, we're going to be swapping it's certainly dangerous, there's no doubt about it," Kyle Busch said.
Said Robby Gordon, "Obviously, they've cut the air off. But that's just going to make the splits [changing position] a little bit more different, which is probably going to cause a bigger one [accident] more."
Could make for an awkward postrace explanation at the NASCAR hauler.
Defending Daytona 500 champion Trevor Bayne isn't guaranteed a spot in the Feb. 26 opener, but several drivers who've never been in the "Great American Race" are.
Among those are Patrick, who's never driven in a Cup race, period.
Odds are Bayne will make the field on speed. The Wood Brothers typically have fast restrictor-plate cars.
He also can make it with a solid finish in the twin qualifying races.
But what if something catastrophic happens to Bayne in both events? Certainly will be hard to explain if the defending race winner is on the sideline and those who could afford to make what are becoming sketchy points swaps aren't.
At least one reporter wasn't aware of this Thursday, asking Smith how the Shootout was going to help him set up for the 500.
"It's not going to help me at all because I don't get to race it this year," Smith said.
Not Speedo awkward, but awkward.
This year's Shootout rules, rules that seem to be rewritten every year to get certain drivers in the field, invited every driver who was in the top 25 in points last season. Vickers at 25th was on the invite list even though he hasn't had a ride since Red Bull Racing dissolved.
Smith at 26th was not on the list.
"I think everybody else is in it but us and Bobby Labonte just about," Smith said.
Maybe it's time to rethink the invite list again.
This one seems awkward.
NASCAR reprimanded three-time champion Tony Stewart for comparing the sport to pro wrestling in 2007. Now it's OK for WWE Raw star John Cena to be the honorary starter for the Daytona 500?
If you're trying to distance yourself from an image -- in this case, that the sport is choreographed like wrestling -- why put a wrestler in the spotlight for the biggest race of the year?
This is almost as awkward as Phoenix International Raceway's original plan to allow PGA star Bubba Watson, an honorary official for its March 4 race, to appear in the Dodge Charger General Lee of "Dukes of Hazzard" fame he recently purchased for $110,000 at an auction.
Fortunately, NASCAR recognized that having a Confederate flag proudly displayed on the roof, as it would have been with that car, wasn't promoting the right image.
Wrote Watson on Twitter: "Sorry to say @NASCAR won't let me drive The General Lee at the @PhoenixRaceway!!! #dreamcrushed."
NASCAR seems proud of the Cena appearance, though. It recently had Carl Edwards drive his No. 99 Ford into the arena of a WWE telecast to personally invite him to be the starter "on behalf of NASCAR."
Perhaps this is the sport's attempt to get back in touch with its fan base as it did with "boys, have at it."
Just seems awkward.
But hey, it's Speedweeks.
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @DNewtonespn.
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2012 Daytona 500
The 54th running of the Daytona 500 is in the books. What started as a new season of hope for all ended its first chapter with one of the most memorable events in NASCAR history.