KENSETH WINS FIRE-AND-RAIN-DELAYED GREAT AMERICAN RACE
If there's anyone left out there who's still wondering how NASCAR became the dominant force in auto racing in North America, all they had to do was watch it in action over the three days it took to run the Daytona 500 - which finally finished early today with Matt Kenseth in Victory Lane.
Sunday, when the race was held up initially because of rain and it looked like the delay would carry on into the evening and the race would have to go up against the Academy Awards in a TV ratings showdown, NASCAR wisely cancelled its marquee event until Monday.
Then, rather than start the race in the afternoon (which was possible) when most people in North America were at work and the TV ratings would be negligible, the NASCAR braintrust announced Monday morning that the Great American Race would start sharp at 7 p.m., right when prime time starts in TV land.
Before you could say NASCAR! (and with no NBA basketball because of the all-star break) just about every eyeball on the continent was on that race and I would be surprised if the ratings don't turn out to be better than if they'd been able to run the thing when first scheduled.
Sunday afternoon is a time for families, recreation or shopping. So the Daytona 500 would have had competition. But Monday night? Particularly when most of North America is caught up in a deep freeze?
So the Daytona 500 had no distractions or other competition to speak of at all - and I won't be surprised if NASCAR now gives serious consideration to scheduling the 2013 race on a Monday night, rather than the traditional Sunday afternoon.
Having said that, isn't it weird - and I can't think of another word to explain it - that for the second time in three years a problem with the race track played havoc with the spectacle itself? And the delay pushed the end of the race - which took about six hours to complete - into the early hours of Tuesday, making it a three-day event.
Two years ago it was a pothole that just wouldn't stay fixed. Monday night, the most bizarre circumstance I think anybody involved in racing has ever encountered or experienced saw the speedway surface so badly damaged as the result of a fiery collision between Juan Pablo Montoya's car and a truck pulling a jet blower that it took more than two hours to repair it.
Earlier, five-time series champion Jimmie Johnson was crashed out of the race on the second lap, celebrity driver Danica Patrick's car was so badly damaged that she was knocked out of contention, and long-time favourite Jeff Gordon was eliminated by a blown engine.
So it had been a long night.
When they finally got the race going again shortly after midnight, with the grandstands still mostly filled and probably most of the TV audience sticking it out too, they had a couple of more "big one"-type crashes and a green-white-checkers finish that saw Kenseth win the classic for the second time, with Dale Earnhardt Jr. second and Greg Biffle third.
It would take too long to provide a blow-by-blow description of the last lap, but whether Biffle was blocking for Kenseth, or Earnhardt just couldn't push him past the leader, is something that could be debated in racing circles for some time.
On the other hand, it might not. As the racers like to say these days, it is what it is.
One thing's for certain, however. Jack Roush, whose Roush-Fenway Racing team owns the first and third-place cars, is off to a terrific start in 2012. His Ford engines not only powered the Daytona winner and the third-place car to the podium, but three of his other power plants finished one-two-three in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona Grand Am Sports Car Series race at the end of January.
Five out of six places ain't bad. NASCAR will be pleased.