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Anticipation: The Daytona 500 is finally here
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.Folks, after some wrecking and maybe even a little racing, the Daytona 500 is finally here. We arrived here 10 days ago, and like every year, everybody was glad to be back at the track. But, boy, it didn't take long for that to change.
Weekend rain, races and wrecksLast Saturday, everything got rained out and pushed to Sunday so we had the ARCA race, which was a wild one as usual. Bobby Gerhart ended up winning his second Daytona race in a row and fourth overall. We had some action there with a car turning over. Then we had Bud Pole qualifying, and it went pretty much as you would expect. Jeff Burton would have to be considered a surprise polewinner. His teammate, Kevin Harvick, had been quick in practice, but Burton ended up with the pole. Jeff Gordon qualified on the outside of Row 1. So we had two Jeffs on the front row. Elliott Sadler was a little bit disappointed that he didn't grab the pole because he had a fast car. Nonetheless, Sadler did win his qualifying race, and we'll get to that in a second. After qualifying, it was time for the old Budweiser Shootout, and a shootout it was. Holy cow! I've been coming down here for 30 years, and I've never seen a race that rough and aggressive. Guys were beating and banging on each other and bang drafting. Bump drafting went out the window in that race. They were knocking around each other, and you can always tell when there are no points on the line, just money. A lot like the all-star race in Charlotte, you end up with a wild one. And THAT was a wild one. After the Shootout, everyone wasn't so excited about being back at Daytona because when everybody got up on Monday, the papers were full of quotes from Tony Stewart saying that if NASCAR didn't get the bump drafting under control, somebody was going to get killed down here. That's alarming language from any driver, particularly from the defending champion and someone that doesn't mind mixing it up like Stewart. That comment in itself, coming from him, was an alarming statement.
After the race and Stewart's words, there was a lot of conversation in the garage among the drivers, crews and everybody else about what could be done. Most people wanted to work on the car.
More wrecking than racingOn Friday, it was time to run the IROC race and the Craftsman Truck race, and here we go again. The IROC race was a demolition derby conducted by a bunch of champions from several series. It looked like a Saturday night feature race at some short track. Cars were turned over. Cars wrecked each other. It was not the kind of race that you would expect 12 champions to put on. Then we moved on to the truck race, and here we go again. The truck race was as wild as they get. A lot of people were running over each other, and there were a lot of wrecks. Trucks were going airborne, and there was a big wreck on the last lap. They couldn't even see a green-white-checkered through to the finish. All of the sudden, we were almost back to the mayhem that we had earlier in the week. Before the Busch race on Saturday, NASCAR gave some more warnings, and apparently, they just weren't strong enough because the Busch race was another one of those spectacles with cars running over each other and wrecking. Tempers were flaring. People were mad at each other. Tires blew out. Mayhem! Just Saturday afternoon mayhem! Tony Stewart hung on to win it, but there was a huge crash on the last lap coming to get the checkered flag. So here we are on Sunday morning. It's time for the Great American Race. All of the things that we've been talking about all week long: tire problems, bump drafting, who can win, who's going to help who, teammates. Everything that's been going on down here for the last 10 days is all about to come to a head when they drop the flag at 2:30 p.m. ET for the 48th running of the Daytona 500.
And, oh, by the way...... the most excited guy in Daytona is Kirk Shelmerdine.