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WAID’S WORLD: Observations On Daytona, Busch And More

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With your tolerance, here are some observations from a guy who has made many of them through the course of 41 consecutive Daytona 500s.

 

—- The jury is still out on NASCAR’s new racing format in which the Daytona 500 was broken up into three segments of 60, 60 and 80 laps.

Many racing fans sentenced the format to death. They were not in any jury room very long.

They couldn’t fathom what was going on, they hated it when the race was slowed after the first two segments – “Why stop a race? Let ‘em run!” – and condemned NASCAR for, yet again, tampering with its competition and points system.

Fair enough. If there is anything I’ve learned in this business, it’s that fans are rigid with their opinions and it’s best not to argue.

However….

Perhaps it would be fair to adopt a wait and see attitude. There might indeed be some extra drama created by this new format.

I think the drivers and teams have realized the importance of striving for the best position possible in each of two segments.

That was clarified when the Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row teams pitted early in the first sequence. The strategy was to make stops first and therefore complete the allotted 60-lap distance without having to refuel.

Sure, they would come out at the rear of the field but the lost distance would be made up when the other teams pitted. The goal was to be up front when the segment ended – and scoop up the points.

Didn’t work to perfection. Make that it didn’t work well at all. However, Kyle Busch was the segment winner and he received 10 bonus points.

Which was important, by the way. A flat tire led to a wreck after just 103 laps and Busch finished 38th.  Instead of receiving one point he got 11. When the season winds down that could make a huge difference.

That could be said for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kevin Harvick, among others. Involved in the Busch incident Earnhardt Jr. finished 37th and should have received two points. But he got five bonus points to come away with seven.

Harvick, running at the finish toward a 22nd-place finish, three laps down, wound up second in the first segment and won the second – worth 19 bonus points. Consequently, he is fourth in points instead of languishing out of the top 20.

It’s obvious that doing well in the segments has its reward. Early pit stops are not going to be routine although the strategy should apply at the big tracks and road courses.

And it’s very likely that, toward the end of the season, the TV announcers are going to tell us something like, “Today, there’s a driver who has to win at least one segment if he has any hope of making the playoffs,” or perhaps some other dramatic scenarios.

That should perk our interest.

Don’t take all of this as the definitive word that segment racing will succeed. The naysayers may be right.

It is only to suggest that we give it our attention. There’s some potential here.

 

—- Kurt Busch won his first Daytona 500 and deservedly so. He didn’t figure to be in the hunt partly because Stewart Haas Racing switched manufacturers from Chevrolet to Ford in the offseason.

Such a transition often takes time to produce results. Obviously, not for SHR.

Busch was chasing Kyle Larson and leader Chase Elliott with three laps remaining when Elliott fell out of the hunt when his car ran out of gas.

Two laps later Larson ran out of gas and Busch, who was also dangerously low on fuel, had a clear path to victory.

Busch, the 2004 champion, seems to have transformed from an often troubled, often angry and sometimes unprofessional competitor to one who is downright calmer and more at ease.

He won the Daytona on his 16th try and that is a long way from 2015, when he didn’t even get to compete. NASCAR suspended him for the first two races of the season while he was under investigation for alleged domestic abuse of his then girlfriend.

He was cleared of all charges.

Busch says he has a new attitude, a new mindset. He credits that to his marriage to the former Ashley Van Metre. He seems to be far removed from the Busch of the past who had more than his share of deep differences with fellow competitors, the media and even fans.

Busch’s Daytona 500 is something that he believes he earned and deserved He also feels deserving of all the good things in life, something, perhaps, instilled in him by his wife.

If Busch is indeed a changed man it is not only good for him, it’s good for NASCAR. Busch has never rated very high in popularity with the fans for obvious reasons.

That may very well change. And I truly hope it does.

 

—- Did you notice the drivers who finished in the four positions behind Busch? They were, in order, Ryan Blaney, A.J. Allmendinger, Aric Almirola and Paul Menard.

OK, the race was marred by eight caution periods for 40 laps, several of them caused by multicar accidents that prompted some fans to think the so-called “best” drivers in the world didn’t know what they were doing.

As a result such stalwarts as Matt Kenseth (can’t recall the last time he finished dead last), Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Earnhardt Jr. and others weren’t around at the finish.

Had they been perhaps the drivers who finished among the top five would never have done so.

Maybe – but they did, didn’t they? It’s official.

And who is to say they wouldn’t have made the top five? Driving for the Wood Brothers, Blaney made an impressive,strong charge to the front in the closing laps.

His runnerup finish is his best ever at Daytona.

“It was a solid day for us,” he said. “We had such a fast car. To go to a back-up car (due to an accident in the Can-Am Duel) and work so hard on it means a lot for Ford and our team. It’s a good start to the season.”

Which may be an understatement.

EMAIL STEVE AT steve.waid@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW STEVE ON TWITTER: @SteveWaid

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Steve Waid

Steve Waid has been in motor sports journalism since 1972, the year he first started covering NASCAR, when he started his newspaper career at the Martinsville (Va.) Bulletin. From there Waid spent time at the Roanoke Times & World as well as NASCAR Scene, where he was the executive editor for 10 years. After retiring in 2010 he became the Vice President of Unplugged Auto Group for its website, MotorsportsUnplugged.com and has now joined POPULAR SPEED as an editor and columnist. Waid has won numerous writing awards and other such accolades. In January of 2014 he was inducted into the NMPA Hall of Fame.