Parks Pit Report: 52nd Annual Daytona 500

It’s the marque event of the year.  It’s the race that every NASCAR fan wants to witness.  It’s the one race that can make a driver’s career.

One event, two weeks to prepare, and over 200,000 people in attendance.  It is the Daytona 500.  On a cool, yet sunny afternoon, 43 drivers strapped in to start the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Season at the Daytona International Speedway.

Front row starters Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. brought the field to the first green flag of the season.  It was Martin who got the big push right from the start to get his first lead of the season.  He held the outside line in check, but Kasey Kahne was coming with a head of steam and went side-by-side with Martin for the top spot, actually taking the lead on lap 5.  Martin then battled back to get the lead again one lap later.

The first caution of the season came out on lap 7 when Brad Keselowski blew a tire in the second turn.  The ensuing wreck took out Regan Smith. Sam Hornish Jr, Mike Bliss, Boris Said and Max Papis.

Martin, Earnhardt Jr. and Juan Montoya elected to stay out while the rest of the field decided to get off-sequence and come to pit road, most of which got new tires and some minor adjustments.

Martin again brought the field to green, but Montoya got a huge push from behind and took the lead on the next lap.  Soon after, the guy who was pushing him then rocketed to the front as it was Earnhardt Jr. heading to the point.  The No. 88 held the lead until Kevin Harvick got a huge run of momentum to overtake the lead.  But, the car on the move was the famous No. 43 driven by A.J. Allmendinger.  He got a big run and took the lead on lap 45.

Shortly after, a heavy favorite by some guys in the garage, Kurt Busch,  then makes the move to the front.  At this point in the race, pit stops were the next priority by some of the teams.  Some of the lead cars came to pit road starting at lap 50, Allmendinger and Busch included.

The field shuffled back to Busch on lap 52 as the pit cycle was completed.  The second caution in the race came on lap 65 after Joe Nemachek got loose and hit the wall in turn 3.  A lot of the drivers that had just pitted decided to come back in for some more service, however it was Matt Kenseth deciding to stay out for positioning.  But, a lap later he returned to pit road for service, and then Busch came back to the head of the field.

The field came to green on lap 70, and for the next four laps the lead was swapped between three drivers as Busch, Harvick and Allmendinger all took turns at the front.  That changed when the caution flew again on lap 77 when Mike Bliss spun out in the No. 36 Wave Energy Drink Toyota.

Pit stops didn’t change the field much as it was still Busch out front, but a few new faces came into play including Greg Biffle, Busch’s brother Kyle and Jeff Gordon.  The field got the restart on lap 81, but Biffle got the lead one lap later as the field went double-wide around the track.  Soon it was Kyle getting the lead from Biffle, but then Gordon got in the mix as he got the top spot.

The lead would go between these three, plus Clint Bowyer for the next 20 laps until the race got its fourth caution after John Andretti hit the wall.

At this point, the race took a unique twist.  Drivers began complaining under yellow that they saw a hole in the race track.  It started with a few, but soon grew and it forced NASCAR to take a look.  Sure enough, a major portion of the track right in the racing groove had come up and had a deep gap in the racing surface.

So, NASCAR made the call and pulled the cars to pit road and put out the red flag.  Originally, it was thought that the repair wouldn’t take long.  But…that was proven not to be the case.  The cold temperatures and the moisture in the track caused the original method of repair not to work.  So, NASCAR told the drivers if they wanted out of the race car, they could do so.  Some went for a bathroom break, some for snacks and drinks, some even signed autographs for fans in the infield.

After an hour and 30 minutes, the teams had their crews return to the cars and soon after, the engines refired and we were back under yellow.  Quite possibly one of the more unique moments in the sport’s history.  I’ve seen tracks have water seeping through the seams in the asphalt, but this is only the second time I’ve actually seen the track come apart.

But, in any case, the drivers returned to their cars and the engines fired and the field got back to racing at lap 125.  Immediately the teams got extremely racy as the cooler temperatures increased the horsepower.

Bowyer held the lead, but got a major challenge from Elliott Sadler and Kasey Kahne, with Kahne taking the lead.  Sadler and Bowyer then began battling for the top spot as Kahne got shuffled out, but just as things began heating up, they cooled off as the race went under caution again.  This time, Allmendinger got loose coming out of turn 2 and spun down the backstretch.

Teams elected to pit for service, but Sadler got out front first with only two right-side tires.  This would prove to be a bad idea as immediately the handling went out on the car and he began falling back.  Meanwhile, new driver of the NAPA Toyota, Martin Truex Jr, managed to get out front and hold a strong lead.

But, Harvick was coming on the prowl and soon got the lead back on lap 151.  But, eight laps later, the caution came back out.

Once again, the hole in the track came up, this time bigger according to some drivers.  In a case of deja vu, the cars came to pit road, the drivers let out and once again, the red flag was put out.  This is an unbelievable debacle for this race to deal with, but it’s something that cannot be predicted but something track crews come prepared for.  It’s unfortunate for everyone involved.

Following another 45 minute delay, drivers could get back in their cars and once again the field was back under yellow.  By this time the lights had been turned on at the track, and I assure you any fans that decided to leave early at this point were probably regreting it.  Despite the 1 p.m. start time, this race was going to end under the lights.

The field restarted on lap 168 with Scott Speed now up front by him electing to not take on tires or fuel.  He got into a big duel up front as Biffle came on strong with fresh tires and he would soon get back out front.  Soon these two would get in a side-by-side battle that would last up until lap 185 when Bowyer decided to stick his nose in and get the lead back himself.

Bowyer would be out front as the caution flew again on lap 194 as Sadler, Travis Kvapil and Ryan Newman all wrecked on the backstretch after Sadler got loose.  Some of the cars decided to pit for a few new tires, but majority of the front cars decided to stay out.  This would prove to be real critical as the race began winding down.

The field would restart on lap 198 with Bowyer out front, howeve the field slowed quickly as Bill Elliott and Joey Logano got together entering turn 3.  But, lucky for everyone, this would give NASCAR the opportunity to officially test out their new rules for their “Green-White-Checkered” finishes.  Instead of giving one chance, they would now allow up to three as they wanted the field to end racing instead of pacing.

The first restart came on lap 202 with Biffle ahead of Bowyer, and right away the pushing and shoving came out as the lead cars went at it for the lead.  Behind them, the field gathered up as Kahne and Robert Richardson got tangled up out of turn 2.  With the leader not taking the white flag, it was going to be take two for the finish.

Biffle got shuffled back on the restart, and now it was Harvick out front looking to double-up at Daytona in 2010.  The final restart came officially on lap 206, with Harvick in the catbird seat.  However, behind him it was Jamie McMurray making a strong run to the front.  Harvick got slowed up by Carl Edwards and McMurray grabbed the top spot as the field headed to the white flag.

Meanwhile, behind him Earnhardt Jr. made a run from tenth to fourth in just two corners, and he was moving.  He put the No. 88 into second entering the third turn and made every effort to get around the No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevy.  But, it was not to be.  Coming to the checkered flag, it was Jamie McMurray, in his first official race with Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing, taking the checkered flag in the biggest race of the season, as he wins the Daytona 500.

On the radio, first words out of his mouth were, “OH MY GOD!”  Then, once he got to victory lane, it began sinking in.  Tears began flowing like a waterfall as the moment set in.  He gave congrats to his crew, his owner and many others as he tried to hold back, but he couldn’t.  This was his moment that he was dreaming of since childhood.  Now it’s reality.  His race car is going to the Daytona 500 Experience Museum outside the track, where it will be on display until next year’s race.  I think that’s a small sacrifice for a first-time Daytona 500 winner.

What an awesome race.  Yeah, it was delayed for a while because of a track issue, but you can’t blame NASCAR for that one.  They got it fixed and got the entire race in.  That’s a big credit to the sport, they wanted the fans to go home happy.  And I’m positive they did.

Next Sunday, it’s off to California amid the Hollywood lights and the movie sets.  The Auto Club 500 will go green shortly after 3 p.m. ET with coverage starting on FOX at 2.

RESULTS:  1-McMurray  2-Earnhardt Jr.  3-Biffle  4-Bowyer  5-Reutimann  6-Truex Jr.  7-Harvick  8-Kenseth  9-Edwards  10-Montoya

NOTABLE FINISHES:  12-Martin  14-Kyle Busch  17-Hamlin  22-Stewart  23-Kurt Busch  26-Gordon  30-Kahne  35-Johnson

CAUTIONS:  Nine for 46 laps.  Lap 7-11 (No. 12, 77, 78 wreck-T2), 65-69 (No. 87 spin-T3), 77-80 (No. 36 spin-BS), 116-124 (No. 34 spin-BS plus track issue-T2), 142-145 (No. 43 spin-BS), 159-167 (Debris and track issue-T2), 194-197 (No. 19, 37, 39 wreck-BS), 199-201 (No. 20, 21 wreck-T3), 203-205 (No. 9, 38 wreck-T2)

LEADERS:  51 lead changes among 24 drivers.  Martin 1-4, Kahne 5, Martin 6-12, Montoya 13, Earnhardt Jr. 14-17, Harvick 18-21, Sadler 22, Harvick 23-35, Kurt Busch 36-44, Allmendinger 45-47, Kurt Busch 48-49, Logano 50, R. Gordon 51, Kurt Busch 52-66, Kenseth 67, Kurt Busch 68-70, Allmendinger 71, Harvick 72, Allmendinger 73-77, Hamlin78, Kurt Busch 79-81, Biffle 82-94, Kyle Busch 95-97, J. Gordon 98-99, Bowyer 100-105, J. Gordon 106-107, Bowyer 108-109, Biffle 110, Bowyer 111-112, Ragan 113-114, Bowyer 115-118, Kvapil 119, Said 120, Bowyer 121-126, Kahne 127-129, Sadler 130, Bowyer 131-132, Sadler 133-135, Bowyer 136-137, Harvick 138-143, Said 144, Sadler 145-147, Truex Jr. 148-150, Harvick 151-163, Speed 164-168, Biffle 169-173, Speed 174-183, Biffle 184-185, Bowyer 186-198, Biffle 199-202, Harvick 203-206, McMurray 207-208.

POINT STANDINGS:  1. McMurray 190 points,  2. Earnhardt Jr -15,  3. Biffle -20,  4. Bowyer -25,  5. Harvick -34,  6. Reutimann -35,  7. Truex Jr -35,  8. Kenseth -43, 9. Montoya -51, 10. Edwards -52, 11. Martin -58, 12. Burton, -60

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