Speed Mail: Shelmerdine epitomizes racing dream

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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.


Steve from Hopkinsville, Ky.: Wouldn't it be nice to hear more about things such as Kirk Shelmerdine's 20th-place finish — with Richard Childress donating an engine to him and flying his son in for the race and some Dale Earnhardt fans picking up his tire bill — than all the negatives we heard this past weekend? Racers like Kirk Shelmerdine are what made NASCAR what it is today... not the high-dollar sponsored, multi-car teams. Larry McReynolds: Every year, we say, "That was probably one of the best 500's that we've ever seen, and there's no question that Sunday's race ranks right up there with several different stories.

The most pleasant Speedweeks surprise was Kirk Shelmerdine, a struggling, aspiring racecar driver. He's missed many races trying to qualify on a shoestring budget. He probably doesn't have 1/20th of the resources or funds to race as some of the mid-range teams. But as I wrote last week, even if he didn't make the Daytona 500, he outqualified all three DEI cars so he should have been proud of what he accomplished. Darrell Waltrip asked Shelmerdine if he was trying to sell his ride, and he said he may sell the quarterpanels, but he wasn't selling his seat. For the first time in his career, he had a chance to leave out his dream of starting the Daytona 500. Finishing 20th is a phenomenal story. Just think about how close that man came to winning several Daytona 500s as Dale Earnhardt's crew chief and earning four Cup championships on top of the pit box. He's living proof that if you put yourself in the right spot and things can work out for you, you can reach your dreams and goals in NASCAR.

Shelmerdine was one of 31 cars that finished on the lead lap, and halfway through that race, no cars were officially out. Even though there were some pretty bonehead moves on the track, the drivers kept their cool for the most part. The race set a track record for leaders (18) which is phenomenal. Not to knock other series, but there's a good chance Formula 1 and maybe even IRL won't see 18 different leaders over the course of a season.

Oh Bowyer!

Even though it was well-documented that Richard Childress had great engines and fast racecars, Clint Bowyer kept his nose clean and finished 6th in his first Daytona 500 start and only his second Nextel Cup start. In his own way, he was probably wondering if he was moving too fast. All it takes is a strong finish — no matter where it is — to boost a driver's confidence and the team's confidence and give them momentum.

2nd place for Case

During the off-season, it looked like Casey Mears was going to be the odd man out at Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. When the driver moves hit high gear last year, Mears was still going to have a ride, but it was going to be with a brand new team without any points. He was going to have to qualify for all of the events because he wasn't locked in. When everything shuffled out after Jamie McMurray was released, Mears was the real winner. Even though Mears and crew chief Jimmy Elledge complemented each other well and had a lot of success, Donnie Wingo is going to be awesome for Mears. And Mears is going to be awesome for Wingo. I would not be surprised to see those guys win races.

Speed Mail Larry

Top of the heap

Daytona International Speedway president Robin Braig was on SPEED's NASCAR Live on Sunday morning. Every state of the union and several countries, including New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Japan and England, were represented in the Daytona 500 crowd. That's confirmation of how big our sport is. There were 168,000 people in the grandstands, which is well over twice the number of people that attended the Super Bowl in Detroit, and that doesn't even include the people in the infield. And for most of the race, they didn't even need those seats because people stood for the entire event. The Super Bowl and the Indianapolis 500 are huge spectacles, and the Daytona 500 is right there at the top when it comes to sporting events.

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

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

Tagged: Casey Mears

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