The Daytona 500 = The Great American Race. Daytona International Speedway = The World Center of Racing.
The Americans will never be accused of under-selling their product, but the start to the 2010 season was in sharp focus.
This year is crucial to the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, aka NASCAR, and Valentine's Day 2010 also marked the richest, most prestigious race of the Sprint Cup year.
Speed Week in Daytona Beach is a wild affair, with 2010 providing more sub-headlines than you could shake a stick at. NSCAR had spent months working out how to stop the slide in ratings, both at trackside and in the media. This was the week that proved the strategy... or not!
From the much anticipated arrivals of US motorsport darling Danica Patrick and F1 villain Nelson Piquet Jnr in Daytona's opening ARCA race, to the rule changes and anticipation of the effect those changes might have on the showcase 52nd running of the Daytona 500, this week was crucial to the NASCAR empire.
It took two goes before magnificent Jamie McMurray could lead the race for just two laps and take the biggest prize in this sport. He and the rest of the Cup drivers had rescued this great day from farce. Despite the delays, it had finally been worth it all.
Quotes of the week
It was a week of major wrecks and close finishes as NASCAR worked it's way through the stock car card. Headline-rabbing newbies Patrick and Piquet battled in the ARCA race, culminating in a coming together, but both showing great promise in a stock car.
The 'for fun' Budweiser Shootout gave us a glimpse of how the Cup cars would run with bigger restrictor plates and with the easing of the 'bump-draft' rules. And even though the weather had messed around with the schedules all week, everything was just about on course.
The Truck race saw Piquet finish sixthnd the Nationwide race saw a good drive from Patrick, (albeit with a lowly 35th finishing spot). And she had proved a massive hit with the fans too, perhaps underlined by the ripples of comment down pit road from disgruntled observers. In the Indy Car series she is the biggest name, but with only one race win. She's heard it all before, though.
Mark Martin had also pulled off another achievement. Now 51, he had secured his first '500' pole position in Cup qualifying, the oldest driver ever to do so. And with Dale Earnhardt Junior locking out second place on the grid for Hendrick Motorsports, it was a very popular front row.
The two Gatorade Duels sorted out the rest of the line-up for Sunday afternoon's main event, with legendary defending four-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson coming from the back of the grid to win his Duel by 0.0006 of a second, giving himself a second row start in the '500'.
So on Sunday afternoon, with everything going according to plan for NASCAR and the fans in a frenzy for more, Harry Connick Junior sung the anthem as, with perfect timing and plenty of noise, the USAF flew by. Then, while the hairs on every limb trackside settled back down, another stock car legend, Junior Johnson, growled the command to "start your engines". Wow, I defy you not to be impressed! What an atmosphere!
The 52nd running of the Daytona 500 rolled out of pit road, two-and-a-half hours earlier than the previous year, in cool bright sunshine to massive applause and even greater expectation. The start of the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup season was about to get underway, the build up to which could not have gone better. The Great American Race was looking every bit as good as the billing!
But just like every great American suspense movie, after the sweet build-up there is an impending and unforeseen disaster just waiting to happen. And on lap 122 it struck. A hole appeared right on the racing line in turn two! The red flag was out and a first indication from NASCAR was that it would take 15 minutes to fix. No problem, the weather was cool but lovely, a chance then to take your eyes off the great racing for a trackside break and for the TV companies an opportunity to run what ever package they'd prepared for such an eventuality!
And then all the good works of the previous week started to unravel. If it hadn't been the biggest race of the year it might have even been funny. Serious-looking men, looking down a small hole of about two feet in diameter, attempting to, firstly, insert some sticky gunge in the appropriate place and 'cure' it with a single blow torch, before testing the sustainability of said repair with a single digit poke or press of the foot! Classic! My local council repairs the roads round here with a similar method. And the whole thing was destined to last about as long too!
During the previous 121 laps commentators around the world had been discussing the aging and bumpy tarmac and how the track had only been resurfaced once since it was built in 1959 (we settled on 1978). The rumoured schedule for a new surface is 2011, but it had been talked about for the past 12 years I am told.
Now came the day of payback for that lack of timely investment, and oh how the track had timed it's revenge to absolute perfection!
Eventually, a whole one hour and 41 minutes later, the drivers were back on board and slowly back up to speed. But not even the battle of the best stock car drivers in the world could distract fans from an unhealthy obsession with that tiny crevice in the two-and-a-half mile track! And, sure enough, on lap 161 red flags and red faces swamped NASCAR as the track broke up again.
A modified compound of glue, with a great white splodge on top, and a good few laps behind the pace car ensured that we would see the full 200 laps of the race finished. In fact, we got a few extra laps, due to another new rule implemented to the Green/White/Checker finishing sequence this week. It took two goes before magnificent Jamie McMurray could lead the race for just two laps and take the biggest prize in this sport. He and the rest of the Cup drivers had rescued this great day from farce. Despite the delays, it had finally been worth it all.
More importantly for NASCAR, and to the enormous credit of the drivers and teams, we never heard a single dissenting voice. In fact their good humour enhanced the reputation of the sport for me. And that is the central key to the huge success of NASCAR, everyone taking part is part of the show! Everyone pulls together to make it the best show possible, with the attitude; if we have to race to midnight, no problem, we'll do whatever it takes! That alone will ensure continued success for NASCAR in difficult times in America. And deservedly so.
The highlights of every NASCAR Cup round will be on Sky Sports on Monday evenings following each event.
What did you make of Sunday's race? Let us know by filling in the feedback form below...
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Paul Ager says...
The race was fantastic. Full of drama capped off by the surge from the 88...just like his old man used to do... Most noticable from this piece was the last line...HIGHLIGHTS of each race to be shown...I am absolutely gutted!!!!! Is there no live NASCAR this season.... Paul
Posted 13:26 16th February 2010
Lee Knight says...
Loved The daytona 500. Hope sky show live races for the remainder of the season.
Posted 12:46 16th February 2010
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