In what had to be the most bizarre Daytona 500 ever contested, long-shot Jamie McMurray finally won "the Great American Race" more than six hours after it started.
Red-flagged twice because of potholes that developed in the lower groove between turns one and two of the Daytona Speedway, the 500-mile marathon featured a startling number of leader and lead-changes as compared to other years (21 different drivers led the race as compared to nine a year ago), several multi-car crashes that contributed to the extraordinary length of the event, and a surprise winner who was let go by his last team.
Although the race was one of the most exciting in recent memory, it was also one of the most irritating to watch because it had to be stopped twice so repairs could be made to the track.
More than two hours in total was spent trying to patch up the surface of the speedway – an hour and 41 minutes the first time (the race was originally stopped on lap 122 of the 200-lap contest) and then for 46 minutes the second time (on lap 161).
While the drivers were allowed to exit their vehicles to stretch their legs, the delays were aggravating and the maintenance of the old speedway came into question. It’s been more than 30 years since the 2.5-mile oval was repaved and a number of drivers suggested it was time to do it again.
"The track is old," said eventual second-place finisher Dale Earnhardt Jr. "It’s a terrible time (economically) to ask anyone to pave a race track but, if anyone needs it, it’s probably Daytona. You just can’t put on a good show."
There would be some who would argue with that because the race came down to the final two laps three times and it was all edge-of-your-seat stuff.
Yes, that’s correct. They had to try to finish the Daytona 500 three times.
There had been a wreck on lap 194 and it took the safety crew four laps to clean up the mess. So on lap 198, two laps before what was supposed to be the finish, Clint Bowyer brought the field down to take the green flag but a lap later, Bill Elliott and Joey Logana crashed on the backstretch to bring out the yellow.
That was the first try
NASCAR’s policy is for a green-white-checkers finish – the race leader has to complete a green lap and then take the white flag to make a race official – so the 500 had to go into overtime.
On lap 202, Greg Biffle brought the field down to the green but a lap later Kasey Kahne and Robert Richardson crashed.
That was the second attempt.
On lap 206, the third try, Kevin Harvick was in the lead when they waved the green. But McMurray got past him, as did Earnhardt Jr., Greg Biffle, Bowyer, David Reutimann and Martin Truex Jr.
Poor Harvick, who looked for the longest time like the guy to beat, wound up seventh.
Although Jeff Gordon and Robby Gordon crashed, it happened on what turned out to be the last lap and was too late for any flag other than the checkered.
"Oh, my God!" McMurray screamed after crossing the finish line. "I can't freaking believe it right now. Thank you so much. I can't believe we just won the Daytona 500."
McMurray, who's 33 and from Joplin, Mo., climbed from his car and ran to the Daytona 500 logo in the infield. He dropped to his knees and started to pound on the painted grass.
It was a fairy tale finish for the driver, who broke down in Victory Lane. "I said to my wife this morning that if I won this race . . . oh, I'm going to cry," he said, before using a towel to cover his face.
Although he’d only won three Sprint Cup races before this one, McMurray - who was listed as a 30-1 longshot by Las Vegas bookmakers - has been a steady performer since he broke into the big leagues in 2002 and is considered to be one of the really good guys.
He’d been racing for one of Roush-Fenway’s five teams but when NASCAR ruled that owners could only field a maximum of four entries following the 2009 season, McMurray found himself to be the odd man out.
He found a ride with Earhardt-Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates when Truex Jr. bailed to go drive for Michael Waltrip. As luck would have it, the Daytona 500 was McMurray’s first NASCAR race with Earnhardt-Ganassi and you have to believe it was the start of what could turn out to be a beautiful friendship.
Four-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson’s rotten luck in the Daytona 500 continued when he was forced out with a flat tire on lap 185. He won the 500 in 2006, the year of his first championship, but has been an also-ran at Daytona in February ever since.
Defending Daytona 500 champion Matt Kenseth finished eighth. Other notables: Juan Pablo Montoya was 10th, police-sitter Mark Martin was 12th, Kyle Busch was 14th and his brother Kurt was 23rd. Tony Stewart finished 22nd and Max Papis was 40th.
CORRECTION: In an earlier version of this post, I reported that the pace car was an Oshawa-built Camaro. Wrong. It was a Mustang. I apologize.
– Except for some of the drivers, the real stars of the eight-hour telecast on Fox (simulcast here on TSN) were the announcers – anchor Chris Myers and analyst Jeff Hammond, play-by-play announcer Mike Joy, colour commentators Darrel Waltrip and Larry McReynolds and pit reporters Dick Berggren, Krista Voda, Steve Byrnes and Matt Yocum.
It takes a lot of talent, knowledge and passion to keep talking just about forever, as those folks did during that extraordinarily long telecast. Yes, they filled some airtime with some tried and true stuff (Danica, Danica and more Danica), pit interviews ("what’s it like out there?) and they even managed to get NASCAR’s chief poobah Brian France to appear on camera and apologize to everybody watching for the delays, but the rest of the time they were on their own and they acquitted themselves wonderfully.
I got a big kick out of Myers’ throwaway line, in referring to an early race accident involving Regan Smith, as happening "about two days ago now." It was great stuff and they should win a collective Emmy for their performance.
– Oh, speaking of TSN, what was with those "NASCAR Canada moments?" What was "Canadian" about them? There is a NASCAR Canada series, you know. Couldn’t TSN, which is in business with NASCAR, have used those "filler" moments to promote the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series instead of talking about Toyota racing in the U.S.?
– Dale Jr. is correct. They should repave that place because it’s just too bumpy. It makes 200 mph racing too dangerous because the cars are jumping around out there. They blamed the potholes on heavy rains. Please. They have lots of heavy rains in Florida and they've had them just about forever. Something else is happening to the old speedway for that sort of thing to materialize.
By the way, usually those holes in the track are called "weepers." They had problems along those lines years ago at a speedway in England when CART was over there. In fact, I think that’s how Kirk Russell, who was the Indy car series’ tech director, lost his job.
I wonder if a head will roll in Daytona over this?
– The "loosening up" of the restrictor plates made for interesting racing. With increased horsepower and greater throttle response, drivers could really "get a run." Earnhardt Jr.’s last-lap run from tenth to second was wonderful to watch.
– It was too bad Regan Smith was eliminated by a crash in the early going. I cheer for him because, a) he comes from just outside Syracuse, which makes him kind of a "local" driver and, b) his crew chief is Ryan Coniam, who hails from Burlington.
– Best run of the day was made by ex-Champ Car star A.J. Allmendinger. Because he changed an engine after the qualifying races on Thursday, he had to start last in the 43-car field. Forty-five laps after the race got started he was in first place, which means he passed one car just about every lap. Now, that’s motoring. He had some issues and eventually finished 32nd but had the grandstands buzzing.
– By the way, is "issues" NASCAR’s new favourite word? For years, we’ve had to listen to everything being "awesome." Now, "issues" is everywhere. Kasey Kahne, in an in-car interview, said his team had "issues" to deal with. Chad Knaus said he and Johnson had some "tire issues" and even McMurray mentioned "issues" in Victory Lane.
– Harry Connick Jr. sang the U.S. national anthem the way an anthem should be sung. It sounded like an anthem, not a pop song. I liked a lot about the opening of the Olympics in Vancouver Friday night but the singing of the Canadian national anthem by the same woman who sings that annoying Olympics theme song was not one of them.
– What is with Jeff Gordon always carrying his daughter around with him?
– There are signs everywhere in NASCAR these days. The in-car cameras always show five or six signs for UPS, NAPA, Budweiser – whatever the sponsor. On Saturday, they put the in-car camera in Tony Stewart’s car on the steering column so that it looked "up" at him and what you saw was a helmet (where, presumably, his head was) with two signs – Ritz and Oreo.
Anyway, the first sign I saw when I turned on the NASCAR RaceDay telecast on Speed Sunday morning was someone in the crowd holding up a Canadian flag with "Alexandria, Ont." written across the front of the Maple Leaf.
So hello to you from Alexandria, Ont., whoever you are/were. I wish I’d been down there with you.
– Oh, Dale Jr. was still talking Sunday about the financial bath his team took on Saturday when his car was destroyed and Danica Patrick’s was badly damaged. The total bill was $650,000.