The Yawn at Daytona

Good golly. Mother Nature has sure made for some less than thrilling racing so far this season at Daytona.

First off, the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona race was slowed and then halted by rain. The cars tried to run in the rain but it was falling so heavily that the water pooled and the cars were out of control. That wasn’t racing at all. Fortunately the series red flagged the timed race and the cars and drivers sat out the final hours until Fernando Alonso and team were declared the DP1 class winner. Alex Zanardi competed and it was too bad the rain fizzled out the incredible story line around his race at Daytona. It is still amazing to me that he was able to compete. As a driver, you feel the track and car though your feet. Zanardi needs to feel that differently, especially on a wet track where the threat of hydroplaning was so prevalent.

Next up was the ARCA race and while I missed that race, it featured Harrison Burton getting a win for Venturini Motorsports. Natalie Decker finished 6th and Leilani Munter ended her racing career in 15th. You can count this as the best race of the young season so far.

This weekend saw Cup qualifying under the threat of rain and William Byron and crew chief Chad Knaus getting the pole with Alex Bowman on the outside pole. A great start to the season with Hendrick Motorsports and it’s stable of young drivers.

Speaking of great starts for Hendrick, Jimmie Johnson went on to win the rain shortened Advance Auto Parts Clash on Sunday. Intermittent rain slowed this “race” repeatedly and when the cars were under green, it was nothing but a high line parade. Any time the bottom line was attempted, the lack of momentum and drafting partners broke it up. This race was all about the money but you wouldn’t know it the way everyone stayed in line. Paul Menard took the early lead with the Ford’s strong up front and it pretty much stayed that way. With rain threatening again, Jimmie Johnson pulled out to go around Menard and aggressively side drafted him. Menard either came down or was pulled down by the draft and there was contact, sending Menard into the wall in front of the entire field. The ensuing melee collected nearly three quarters of the field and just a handful of cars survived. Fortunately, the rain fell hard, NASCAR called the race and Johnson was back in Victory Lane.

Was the parade around high-banked Daytona a harbinger of things to come in the 500? Who knows? We have seen this before in restrictor plate racing when the ability to pass and throttle response is taken away. I expect at least a little of this kind of racing though. While the mainstream NASCAR media is saying warmer tempos will make the race more competitive, and it might, I fully expect a good part of the race to run single file as we just witnessed.

First of all, it is plate racing. And while there will be double the amount of cars on the track, no one wants to be the guy that loses the draft and has a bad finish. Although, you can argue that wrecking the field means a bad finish but try telling that to a race car driver. I fully expect a fair amount of parade lap watching as the leaders log laps until the end. Might we get a little bit of mixing it up as each stage ends? Maybe. I don’t expect to see a wild finish for each stage. I think you’ll see the drivers mix it up on the final laps at the end of the race.

And watch for blocking to cause another giant crash or two. All the drivers know that blocking is dangerous at a plate race but they still do it. And not all of them are great at it.

So while I am hoping for a better 500, I am not holding my breath. I’ll wait for Atlanta to get a better race.

Heard in the booth: While the broadcast team was trying to make up for the boring racing, DW was talking about drafting and how Earnhardt would get up next to him, draft and pull away. DW said, “What are you doing out there?” Earnhardt smiled and said “Side drafting you.”  DW said they had never heard of such a thing.

Mike Joy countered and said he wondered if Earnhardt even knew what he was doing back then. Jeff Gordon quickly jumped in and said, “Oh, he knew.”

That was funny stuff right there.

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