Writing about racing. Most of it is NASCAR, but occasionally I write about other series too.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Daytona 500 repost from the Benicia Herald

NOTE: I am the Assistant Editor for a little paper called the Benicia Herald, out in Benicia, California. My partner in crime and star reporter (and fellow NASCAR nut), Donna Beth, was at Daytona, but missed the email saying it was ok for her to stay an extra day. That meant she was in the air when the race was going on. I covered the race, listened to the post-race press conference, etc. and wrote a lot of this. She added her perspective from being at the track and tied it all together. Our awesome editor put the finishing touches on it. Enjoy!

P.S. This story ran in the Sports page on February 29th, which doesn't get posted on the web site. Our other story was in the main section of the newspaper and did get posted. It can be found here.


Gordon, Montoya provide sparks in rain-delayed Daytona 500
By Keri Luiz
Assistant Editor
and Donna Beth Weilenman
Staff Reporter

Matt Kenseth grabbed the Daytona 500's checkered flag Monday night for the second time in his career and gave his owner, Roush Racing, its 300th NASCAR win in 25 years.

But his victory may be overshadowed by other events surrounding the 54th running of the premier NASCAR Sprint Cup race.

The season-opener's start, scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday, was delayed about 30 hours — unprecedented in the race's history — by a series of rain storms that refused to quit long enough for the track to be dried by the speedway's 10 jet dryers.

And 40 laps from the finish Monday night, the race and track were threatened by fire when, under caution, Juan Pablo Montoya's No. 42 Target Chevrolet slammed into one of those dryers.

Montoya's crash ignited 200 gallons of jet fuel into an enormous fireball, damaging the track that had been resurfaced for the 2011 season.

"The biggest concern was the condition of the asphalt underneath the flame, underneath the truck," said Mike Helton, NASCAR president. "We were comfortable with the fact that the driver of the race car and the driver of the jet dryer were in pretty good shape." Removing the damaged jet dryer gouged the track's surface, Helton said, "but it's not uncommon to have gouges on a race surface."

The repair required a variety of materials to prevent a second ignition, including Tide detergent, which was used to cleanse the track of the jet fuel. The job took a couple of hours to complete — the same amount of time it took to fill a pothole that developed during the 2010 running of the race.

"It was amazing that NASCAR was able to have enough Tide and have enough oil dry and had people trained and were able to really save the race track," winning team owner Jack Roush said. "I thought surely the race track would be damaged to the point it wouldn't be suitable for continuing the race."

If that had been the case, the No. 36 car driven by Dave Blaney would have won. "The NASCAR crew and the management did a great job keeping the race track, saving the race track and having a race for the fans," Roush said. "Having Matt finish fifth would have been too bad. But I'm glad they got it going."

Speedway President Joe Chitwood III said after the fire was suppressed, crews used at least 10 different procedures to rescue the track's surface.

They first applied Safety-Kleen's absorbent material to soak up the fuel, rinsed the track with water, then scrubbed it with soap. "After that, we applied street bond to make sure any excess stone or anything that was showing from the fuel leak was covered," Chitwood said.

Blowers and sweepers dried the track, which was tamped down with another jet dryer. "There is not a true training manual to light a track on fire and respond to it," he said. "I'm really proud of the way the team responded."

During the halt, Brad Keselowski became the first NASCAR driver to post a picture to Twitter from inside a race car during a red-flag caution.

Prior to that conflagration, Vallejo native Jeff Gordon had had a flameout of his own when the engine blew on his No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet.

The incident, on lap 81 of the 200-lap feature, brought out the fourth caution of the night. As fire spread from beneath his car, Gordon radioed to Crew Chief Alan Gustafson that he didn't know what caused the breakdown, advising that according to the car's gauges, "I didn't red-line anything."

After the race, Gordon said, "Ultimately, we broke a crank, but we're trying to figure out what caused that.

"It's pretty strange, you know. We've gone through so much reliability testing that if we had seen some high temps, or some high water pressure, then you know I would have kind of expected some of this to happen.

"But I was actually seeing surprisingly low temps and low pressures. I don't know. Maybe something was off there.

"Boy, it's a shame," Gordon summed up his experience in the race. "Our Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet was really strong. We were just biding our time and being patient and working with guys once in a while (so) we could get up there to the front. But we weren't really even trying at that time.

"This is not the way we wanted to start the season, the Daytona 500, so we'll go on to Phoenix," Gordon said.

But Gordon and his crew chief had a better night Monday than teammate Jimmie Johnson and his crew chief Chad Knaus, who may be penalized after the No. 48 car failed initial inspection Feb. 17.

Johnson, who saw his streak of five Sprint Cup championships end last year, was among those collected in the race's first caution. It occurred 600 feet into the second lap when Elliot Saddler, driving the No. 33 General Mills-Kroger Chevrolet, tapped the back of Johnson's No. 48 Lowe's Chevy, sending the El Cajon native into the wall. "Last hit when I hit the door was pretty hard, but we're just all trying to make our lane work — a lot of energy in that lane," Johnson said.

"I was kind of pushing the 78 a little bit and I could feel some help from behind," he said. "It just turned me around and sent me down the inside lane and back up the outside lane.

"Then when I was sitting in the middle of the race track, I knew at some point that someone's going to come along. Unfortunately, David Ragan had nowhere to go, but unfortunately, I got drilled by him pretty hard."

When Ragan's No. 78 Scorpion Truck Bedliners Ford struck Johnson's car, the resulting chain reaction crash collected Danica Patrick's No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet.

Patrick was the third woman driver to start in a Daytona 500. Her pit crew spent an hour repairing her car, and she returned to the track and finished 38th after completing 138 laps of the 202-lap race.

"I was so proud of everyone working so hard. And they were working hard to get me back on the track," she said later. "There wasn't much to gain, as far as position-wise, but what there was to gain was for me to get the experience of running out there."

The crashes continued as the race wound down. With 23 laps left, Aric Almirola struck Ricky Stenhouse Jr., which in turn sent Marcos Ambrose and Casey Mears into a tandem spin. At 13 laps to go, Jamie McMurray cut a tire, sending his car out of control to cause another multicar accident.

The 10th caution, for another multicar smashup, came with four laps left, setting up a green-white-checkered flag finish to the race that ended with Kenseth in the lead. In fact, Kenseth's No. 17 Best Buy Ford had been the front-runner for the final 38 laps.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished second, and Greg Biffle, ending third, made their challenges for the lead. But Kenseth said, "Once we were in the front, it was hard for anybody to get locked onto you.

"We had enough speed. Once we took the white, I felt sort of OK about it. But I still thought they were going to get a run and pass me. "By the time I got to (Turn) 3, I could see they couldn't get enough speed mustered up to try to make a move," he said.

"We had a really fast car all day, had a lot of adversity to overcome, a lot of problems with the car," he said. "We were able to get it figured out and had a great pit stop at the end that put us in position, and it feels great. I wasn't expecting to win when I woke up this morning, so it feels good to be sitting here."

Kenseth first won the race in 2009 in the No. 17 Ford, giving his owner, Roush Fenway Racing, its first Daytona 500 win. Ironically, that race ended 48 laps early because of rain.

1 comment:

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