Race Weekend Central

Daytona is an Amazing Show: Is It Actually a Race?

On Saturday night, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. added his second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup win to his resume by taking the black and white checkered flag for the Coke Zero 400. We enjoyed three-wide racing that resulted in 33 lead changes, but also generated 10 cautions for wrecks and spins.  That all sounds like a typical run down for a race, but when we are at Daytona, the stats do not tell the entire tale.

When we look deeper, we find that teams and drivers that typically do not manage to crack the top 20 are capable of taking home a trophy.  The top 10 this week reads more like the bottom quarter of the listings any other week including names like McDowell, Ragan, Brendan Gaughan and last year’s Chase surprise, Chris Buescher.  So if this isn’t our usual weekly racing fare, what would we call this restrictor plate competition?

Is It a Demolition Derby?

Well, could be. If we were sitting in the stands at the local bullring and were watching some tattered old shade-tree rust buckets mix it up, that would likely be the name of the headlining event on the program.  Yes, you recognize the names of the competitors and can probably identify their trusty rides, but can you tell for sure which one won’t bust a radiator or have their suspension shattered by an impact?  It’s pretty much a crap shoot as to who will win this week, but you are guaranteed there will be lots of action to keep you distracted.

Is It an Endurance Marathon?

While those teams with the most experience most likely will not suffer a mechanical failure, the same cannot be said for those teams that generally show up on race day to fill out the field. With the opportunity for an actual win dangling for the taking, teams will take chances with their usual bulletproof setups in hopes of eking past the usual leaders for some valuable TV time.  This means that we do tend to see more engines detonate at Daytona and Talladega than other less prestigious events. Ryan Sieg’s No. 83 didn’t even manage to log a lap this week before his machine gave up the ghost.  So, there is some question as to whether a “surprise” leader can even make it to the end, adding some small amount of tension to the marathon feel of the event.

Is it a Lottery?

Bingo! I think we’re on to something here.  The odds are actually fairly good.  If you show up and can run all 160 laps, Daytona does present you with the chance to steal a win from under the nose of the Chosen Dozen that typically reap all the rewards in NASCAR.  Hmmm, what do you think?  Maybe next year it can be the Florida Lottery 400 or Even the Odds 400? Perhaps they should hold a lottery to enter this sweepstakes.

“Enter to Win the Chance to Win a real NASCAR Race!”

I can see the marquee tent going up in the FanZone at every other track on the circuit with rabid fans stuffing the box in hopes of being the lucky guy.

In the end, it is mesmerizing. It’s entertainment. Do we ever learn something vital about our sport when we visit one of the greatest tracks in the world? No. But we will return with a certain amount of nostalgia for all the excitement that we’ve experienced in the past because it does appeal to something very basic in the human heart.

As the cars fly by the main grandstand, collecting and reflecting the light in streaks of excitement and noise, the anticipation we feel heightens with each spin around the track. The speed combined with tight quarters is mesmerizing in its potential for mayhem. And we are usually rewarded for our bloodthirsty desires. The surge of adrenaline when the wreck occurs reinforces physical memories of other years where our heroes won and lost.

Races are defined by those that are the strongest and fastest.  Daytona’s mythology is etched out of luck and shredded sheet metal. So, let’s stop trying to call our visits to the plate tracks races and finally admit the truth, we love the energy and unpredictability of these locations. And on a hot summer night with the fireflies dancing in the lights, maybe that’s all we really need.

SOMETHING SHINY

Ah, so along with high banks and drafting, the Coke Zero 400 heralded the return of NBC as the broadcasting partner for the second half of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.  Which means we get to hear Black Shelton’s “Bringing Back the Sunshine” intro every week before the green flag flies.  I may be slightly addicted to this song.  Enjoy!

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