A funny thing happened on the way to the checkered flag at Daytona…
Noah’s Ark crashed hard and the racing returned a bit to the days of huge packs that have entertained NASCAR fans for 40 years.
It was a race that saw two-by-two drafting for the first half, and then, as if a switch had been thrown, the packs began to grow exponentially. Of course, some of that occurred with late-race cautions and restarts, but it was a welcome addition.
Much had been made of the fact that the only way to go fast at Daytona and Talladega was to hook up with a dancing partner and stay on the bumper until the cows come home.
From the green flag, it was pick a teammate and push the pedal down. Those without teammates chose from among the available “singles” and did the same. From the green flag, it was also not very exciting, save for Trevor Bayne’s early exit at the hands…or bumper…of Brad Keselowski.
“I wanted to be a pusher because I know that these things can happen,” Bayne said. “He [Keselowski] got to us and was pushing us down the frontstretch. I was still kind of lifting a little bit, letting him get to my bumper and then I got back to the gas wide open.”
OK, Daytona’s a restrictor-plate track. Drivers talk like that.
“I don’t know if I turned down more getting in or if he kind of came up across our bumper, but, either way, our bumpers caught wrong and it sent us spinning,” Bayne said. “You know that can happen here.”
Yes, it can, and yes, it did. The two-by-two method is notorious for that kind of accident. It wasn’t too long ago that NASCAR mandated no-bumping zones in the corners. How did we get from that to this?
The new car certainly comes to mind, though it isn’t really new any more. The bumpers match up, the engines are restricted… you can see how it happened.
The two-by-two method means that teammates aid teammates and the rest of them are fending for themselves. I remember middle-school dances playing out that way, too, and it didn’t end well then either.
By the time the race came down to the nitty-gritty, the two-car units had been strung into 10-, 12- 14-car gaggles that raced together kind of like they used to. Inside line, outside line, sometimes a middle line that lasted as long as it took the other two to spit them out the other end.
That was a major player in the crash that led to the second green-white-checkered. Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman got gobbled up by the pack and spit out the back, only to become a two-car hamburger for the beast that is the draft.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., who won this race 10 years ago by managing the draft like the master he called Daddy, was totally twisted by the way it played out.
“I don’t like this kind of racing, and you know it,” he spit after the race. Asked why no one made a move at the end of the race, Junior snapped.
“What kind of move can you make?” he half-yelled. “I mean, Jesus, man! What kind of frickin’ move can you make when you’re racing like this? There ain’t no move you can make. You just hold it on the mat and try not to wreck into each other – and you see how good we are at that.”
He was up to sixth after being stuck in the back without his partner, Jimmie Johnson, who pitted late without him.
“I’m driving my car, do what I’m told,” Earnhardt said. “They decided to do something different. I can’t run the whole damn thing from the seat of the damn racecar. I’m just doing what I’m told out there. I don’t know how that affected us, if it did at all. It probably didn’t.”
He had no help and fell back, right into the second half of the last-lap crash when Jamie McMurray ran over him on the way to the infield grass…twice.
“I had it saved, and then he came on and got him another shot,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “Brought the K.O. punch the second time and spun us around.” He finished 19th.
There is much chatter on the Twitterverse about how Five-Time left him hanging. Five-Time is not happy about that, either, saying he pits when he’s told and that the crew chiefs work it out.
Points leader Carl Edwards suffered at the hands of the two-by-two edict as well. Coming up on the cars of Regan Smith and Kurt Busch, he chose the high line off turn 4. Unfortunately, his pusher, teammate Greg Biffle, was attached to his bumper and shot him out of the pack and into the inside wall.
Edwards finished 37th and lost the points lead to Kevin Harvick. In retrospect, he merely had his crash a couple of hours before all the other leaders did.
Helped by a caution flag for Jeff Gordon’s spin-and-recovery, the field lined up in a wad and raced that way to the second turn, where another crash triggered by the draft happened with Mark Martin and Joey Logano.
That led to the final restart, where David Ragan used Matt Kenseth’s push to earn his first career victory. He did so at the head of a four-car breakaway…or two two-car units, whichever you prefer.
Nobody, it seems, likes the Noah’s Ark parade. Fans don’t, 42 of the 43 drivers don’t. Maybe, by dint of the way the Coke Zero 400 finished, Noah’s Ark will give way to the giant packs of yesteryear.
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