Racing, not rules, the story at Daytona

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Larry McReynolds

Larry McReynolds has more than 30 years of NASCAR experience as a mechanic, Daytona 500-winning crew chief and broadcaster. He earned 23 Sprint Cup wins as a crew chief, including two victories in the prestigious Daytona 500, as well as a pair of non-points victories in the annual all-star race. Follow him on Twitter.

During the first 8 to 10 days of the 11 days of Speedweeks, not many people were talking about the racing even though the Budweiser Shootout and the Duel 150s were good races.

At the start, all of the talk was about Dale Earnhardt Jr., Teresa Earnhardt and their contract negotiation saga. Then, everybody talked about the penalties, suspensions and fines. Certainly, those were newsworthy stories, but they received the spotlight because of the caliber of teams involved. Not to take anything away from them, but if those same six penalties had been against Mike Wallace, Kenny Wallace, Derrike Cope, Kevin Lepage, Kirk Shelmerdine and Stanton Barrett, we may not have talked about them on our NASCAR on FOX prerace show. It was Toyota's first race with two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip and then former champions Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth as well as owner Ray Evernham were penalized so their infractions received a lot of coverage But I kept saying all week that some awfully good racing was happening on the racetrack. Certainly, it came to fruition on Sunday, and it was good to see that the talk was about the race. During an awesome Daytona 500, a lot of stories unfolded. We had a lot of drama, and the race was decided by .02 of a second. The starting time — at 3 to 3:30 p.m. ET — was perfect for a NASCAR race. It wasn't too late. We didn't end up racing until 10 or 11 o'clock at night. But it was late enough to let fans go to church or have Sunday dinner or run some errands before getting home to watch the race. When it was over, I went back to my motorcoach and watched SPEED's Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain. I was a little disheartened by what I saw. Every call was about how NASCAR screwed up the race, and the very first fan e-mail was about whether a caution should have been thrown before Kevin Harvick and Mark Martin crossed the finish line. Can't we just enjoy the race? Why do we have to figure out what was wrong with it and what we didn't like about it?

No caution

Jim from Chesapeake, Va.: What do you think? A caution flag should have flown when the last-lap accident started. Mark Martin won the race. Larry McReynolds: I really was tickled to death to see Mike Joy and Dick Berggren on Wind Tunnel from the Hollywood Hotel at Daytona. When they rewound the tape to the minute Kyle Busch's No. 5 car was sideways, there was a really good shot of Harvick ahead of Martin as they just entered the tri-oval at about the pit road entrance. If NASCAR had thrown the caution, the race winner would have still been the race winner. Would throwing the flag have kept any of those other cars from wrecking and crashing? No, so I am thrilled to death because nothing would have changed I applaud NASCAR for letting the race end with a green flag. A lot of people are going to see it differently, but NASCAR had thrown the caution, the same group of fans would have asked: "Why did they throw the caution?"

Steal away?

Wesley from Tuscaloosa, Ala.: Larry, do you think people will remember Harvick for winning the 2007 Daytona 500, or will they remember Harvick for stealing a Daytona 500 win from Mark Martin? Larry McReynolds: I don't see how anybody can say that he stole it. It all started in Turn 2. He got a phenomenal run on the high side with Matt Kenseth pushing him. They looked like they were running 15 to 20 mph faster than the inside line. Obviously, Martin lost his wing man when Busch got sideways. I'm sure plenty of pencil pushers will write that Harvick stole the win, but I want people to remember that we don't have that type of racing and those types of finishes just once a year when we go to Daytona. We've had finishes like that at Atlanta, Darlington, Charlotte, Las Vegas, Michigan and Texas. Finishes like that are not uncommon in NASCAR.

Pushed down

Jennifer from Portland, Texas: In the Craftsman Truck race, Johnny Benson went below the yellow line at the finsh line. I thought that was out of bounds, and you can't gain a position. Was he out of bounds or not? Larry McReynolds: If he was forced down there, then NASCAR looks at it differently than if he just drove down there to make the pass. Was he forced down there? I didn't have enough to go on to say he was or he wasn't forced down there, but four years ago at Talladega, NASCAR said that Dale Earnhardt Jr. was forced below the yellow line so it was a ball-strike call.

Montoya miffed

Bill from Inuvik NWT Canada: Larry, I want to give the nod to Juan Pablo Montoya for coming home around the top 20 in his first superspeedway race. Way to go, Juan! Larry McReynolds: I was probably a little surprised that he didn't run any better than he ran, and I'll bet that he's not that happy about his performance. I spent some time with him on Sunday morning doing a hospitality event for the Havoline folks. There's no question that he wants to succeed right away. It's not that he's being cocky; it's just his demeanor and agenda. Most rookie of the year candidates might say they ended up with a good 19th-place finish. Most rookies just want to finish races, learn the racetrack and gain the respect of the competitors. Those things are all part of Juan's agenda, but he's thinking wins and making the Chase. That's the type of racer that he is. Based on his performance last Thursday in the Duel — in which he led some laps — I was quite surprised at his performance on Sunday, when his car pushed and didn't turn all day long. But here's the difference. In Thursday's race, he started at the front and was there until he had a wheel-bearing failure. He started the Daytona 500 way back and had to fight traffic so he was never in the same configuration on Sunday that he was in on Thursday. It could have been what threw him and the race team a bit of a curve on their car.

Speed Mail Larry McReynolds

Ginn's great run

Andy from Salisbury, N.C.: Just heard your comments on Mark Martin in the Daytona 500 basically driving a Hendrick car, and that is totally untrue. We, at Ginn Racing, have our own fab shop where we build chassis, hang bodies and the whole deal. We do rely on Hendrick horsepower, but that is all. As an employee of Ginn Racing, I was very disappointed with those remarks. You should stop in and see us some time; I'm sure you'd be impressed. Larry McReynolds: We may have gotten caught up in the moment on Sunday, but I feel pretty confident that I never said Mark Martin's No. 01 car was a Hendrick car. In fact, I have actually cleared up some comments that Darrell Waltrip made last year when he said Ginn Racing — which was then MB2 Motorsports — was a Hendrick satellite team. It is not. I'm totally aware that Ginn only leases Hendrick engines. I will try to make a point of saying so at California, especially during qualifying. Ginn Racing is not only standing on its own two feet as an operation, but it is doing very well.

FOX race analyst Larry McReynolds has more than 25 years of NASCAR experience as a mechanic, crew chief and broadcaster. He and his fellow Crew Chief Club members take you behind the wall at www.crewchiefclub.com.

"How to Become a Winning Crew Chief" is on bookstore shelves, or you may order your own autographed copy from www.DWStore.com.

Tagged: Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Juan Pablo Montoya, Mike Wallace, Kyle Busch, Mark Martin, Michael Waltrip, Kenny Wallace, Kevin Lepage

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