Because it was awesome, because I spent two hours trying to get out of Lot 7 and because I was bump drafted on the way back to Orlando (almost!) I am going rogue and writing about my Daytona experience.
It was my first time to Daytona, and I came away really impressed. When I walked into the track for the Budweiser Duels on Thursday, the first thing I noticed was that it looked nothing like it did on TV. I mean, I had been watching they Daytona 500 almost as long as I have watched the Indy 500, in fact, I'm pretty certain that I watched the famous 1979 race with my dad. Like most, we were snowed in, what else were we going to do?
I checked out the Duels on Thursday with my mom, who as always is an awesome companion. She is 75 years old but was a true trooper all day long. And she actually liked it a lot. A new tradition perhaps?
For the race, I brought along my girlfriend and trusted sidekick, Darcy, who has now been to just two race tracks in her life...Daytona and Indy. Not bad. She had never seen a real race in person, so it was a very new experience for her too.
Anyway, as far as the race went, I really enjoyed it. Now, I know that many watching at home found it boring, and there were some slow parts, but overall we had a great time and there were some stretches where the racing was good if you knew what to look for.
Besides, when I mentioned to my mom on Thursday that I overheard a guy talk about how boring he felt the first Duel had been she said that while she wished there had been more passing, it was worth watching just to appreciate the skill of the drivers and how they are able to do what they do. My sentiments exactly.
Remember what I said about the track looking different than on TV? Watching the cars go two and three-wide in person and to see how close they get to each other was really impressive.
I'm going to highlight a few drivers in the top 10 and a couple of other noteworthy items.
Winner: Jimmie Johnson. For a long time, I wasn't a fan of Johnson's, but this epic video with Rick Mears started to change my mind. His run was truly Mears-ian in that he kept the leaders in sight until the final 100 miles then worked his way to the front. If the race had gone one more lap, I'm not quite sure if he could've held off a charging Dale Earnhardt Jr., who followed much the same script Five Time did, but he crossed the line first and that's all that mattered.
His trophy case is starting to stack up: two Daytona 500 wins, four Brickyard victories, 61 wins and five championships. He turns 38 this year and it's getting time to start looking at where he stands among the all-time greats. You'd have to guess he gets to around 75 wins, not too shabby.
4th place: Brad Keselowski. Last year's Sprint Cup champion had a day that was just so NASCAR, banged up his car in two separate crashes, at one point went in and out of the pits each lap during a caution for repairs (officially he pitted 12 times), and fell as far as 33rd place on the pylon. But still, when it all sorted out, he was fighting for the win at the head of the field. He got a huge break when he pitted before everyone else just before a caution came out that kept him out front, but like Ryan Newman, who finished fifth, he had to grind through a tough day, which is what champions do.
8th place: Danica Patrick. The pole sitter surprised a lot of people with her run today, me included. But she drove a smart race and kept her head together throughout the day. I listened to her a lot on the scanner (more on that later) and thought she worked well with her spotter and crew chief. A bad decision on the last lap shuffled her back several spots, but that is a mistake she probably had to make so she could learn from it.
Patrick also found her way to the point for several laps mid-race, making me one of probably just a few people in this world (besides her mom and dad probably) to have seen her lead both the Indy 500 and Daytona 500. I think that's kinda cool.
My pick to click, Tony Stewart, saw his day pretty much end when he got caught up in the Lap 33 melee that also took out another favorite, Kevin Harvick, who had looked really impressive all week long. I thought Smoke was one of the few drivers that could work his car anywhere in traffic (Harvick was the other), but he didn't get it going before Sunday's accident. He came out after spending almost 100 laps in the garage, but pretty much drove around in circles the rest of the day.
Still, he had one of the funnier lines of the day as his car came to a stop after he wrecked when he radioed the following back to his crew: "Awwww, f**k...I'm sorry guys." Pretty classic stuff.
Having a scanner is a must. Darcy brought up a good point when she said listening to the scanner helped her learn more about the drivers and the sport. I just like to listen to what gets said back and forth, and how it all differs from driver to driver.
As a newbie, Patrick and her spotter were always talking. When she was coming in for a stop she double and triple-checked the procedures, like whether she was to take off when she felt the car come off the jack or at the sound of crew chief.
While she has a reputation for raging over the radio, Patrick was pretty subdued, although she did have some choice words near the end of the race when her spotter told her Earnhardt's spotter had complained about her backing up into him. Junior's spotter passed along the message that he'd allow it one more time but the next time he was wrecking her. Glad it didn't come to that.
Oh yeah, and if anyone was wondering, she never asked how Ricky Stenhouse was doing.
Many of the experienced drivers, like Johnson, Gordon and Keselowski, just kept to themselves and drove with little being said most of the time. I was hoping for some entertainment from Keselowski, but he was pretty business-like.
After taking some time to digest the weekend, I can say for sure that I will be going back again, maybe as soon as the July race. But at the same time, for me, it wasn't the same as Indy. Now, I'm not saying that because this is a primarily open wheel blog and I don't want to upset my usual readers (ha, ha), but while it was an electric place to be Sunday, I just didn't get the feel-it-all-the-way-to-my-core feeling like I do when I go to Indy. There is a lot to be said about traditions that go back more than a century.
Put it this way: three months after Daytona held its first race in 1959, Indy hosted the 500 for the 43rd time. You just can't compare the two.
Not saying that's a bad thing, it was just different. Indy still has me, and always will.
Speaking of, now that we have Daytona out of the way, is it May yet?