Sunday, February 17, 2008

Daytona 500 recap

By Rick Morris

The driver with the best car on the track did not win the race today. Instead, his brother ended up giving a bump-draft to the eventual winner.

All day long, commentators and drivers alike commented on "the power of the 18," as Kyle Busch's car allowed him to lead the most laps and put him in position to become the youngest winner in the history of the race in its 50th running. But with utter chaos prevailing after the green flag reemerged in the final four laps, a jammed-up front of the field saw classic restrictor-plate parity at the end. Kyle Busch ended up on the yellow line down low and would have been penalized for making a pass at that point. The ultimate beneficiary ended up being Ryan Newman, who received a push from teammate Kurt Busch as both blew past Tony Stewart to give Roger Penske his first victory at Daytona and a 1-2 finish to boot for the Penske Dodges. Stewart finished third, Kyle Busch fourth and Reed Sorenson a surprising fifth.

After speaking with NASCAR analyst Mike Ptak, some postrace thoughts came into clear focus:

^ In our final Daytona 500 preview on our fantasy sports show last Thursday night, Mike and I agreed that one of the elements that would render an IRL-Champ Car merger five years to late to matter would be the fact that Penske was getting more immersed in the NASCAR side of operations. Today's outcome will only strengthen Penske's attention to NASCAR, likely at the expense of open-wheel.

^ Mike noted the presence of Helio Castroneves at the race as a guest of Penske's. Newman's contract is up at the end of 2008, but now he'll enter negotiations to keep his seat away from Helio as the defending Daytona 500 champion. Interesting ...

^ Lil'E correctly noted in the interviews afterwards that the early departures of his new teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon hurt him in terms of getting the necessary help that other drivers received from their stablemates. We will see more demonstrations of teamwork than ever, as what is now the Car of Today continues to build towards more parity on the track -- much like the restrictor plates already do at Daytona and Talladega.

^ The fact that Kyle Busch had the greatest car by far came as a surprise to everyone. Regardless of the extremely fortuitous circumstances that made Ryan Newman a first-time Daytona 500 winner, Kyle Busch emerges from today as the man who gained the most attention going forward.

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