I Hope You’ll Dance

Well, we’ve down here for something like 10 days now. Last Saturday night we had an exciting Budweiser Shootout with an amazing finish with Ryan Newman trying to hold off Kurt Busch, but he wasn’t quite able to do it. Now Denny Hamlin actually crossed the line first, but because he went below the yellow line, which is NASCAR’s version of out-of-bounds on the superspeedway tracks, the win was taken away from him.

That was pretty much an indication of things to come. We’ve also seen a style of racing down here that we’ve never seen before. It’s just like when the drivers first came to Daytona back in the day. They had never seen a track this size, let alone raced on one. It was like nothing they had ever seen before. Well it’s February 2011 and once again the drivers of today have never seen racing like this before.

Remember this track has been repaved for the first time since 1979. Now it’s smooth as ice. I keep telling folks it has more grip than Spiderman. Now we had seen this two-car breakaway at Talladega but never here. Now these guys can push the lead car all the way around the racetrack. The grip is just that good.

We shot a piece for the NASCAR on FOX prerace show on Friday. I was out driving on the track and again, it literally is smooth as ice. All the bumps and dips are gone. There is not a ripple in it.

Last week before the mandated NASCAR changes, we were seeing speeds upwards to 206 mph in the Budweiser Shootout. Even with all the changes, in the Sprint Cup Final practice, there were still cars running at 200 mph. The speeds are the highest they have ever been here. Again, this two-car tandem is nothing we’ve ever seen here.

I have been telling folks for a week now that they may have created a new Olympic sport — synchronized stock car racing. It reminds me of synchronized diving. There, they are diving off into a pool of water. Well here, they are diving off into a corner at over 200 mph. It really is fascinating to watch.

Just think about the car that is pushing the front car. That driver can’t see anything ahead of him. He relies totally on the guy up ahead to lead him. Once again, don’t forget they are doing that at over 200 mph. Now they have it set up on their in-car radios where they can talk to any driver, not just their teammate.

So there are a lot of things going on here that we have never seen before. I still maintain this will be the most difficult Daytona 500 to win of all time. There are questions about fuel strategy because the cars aren’t getting quite as much fuel mileage as before. The pit stops are slower because it takes longer to fill a car with the new fueling can. Also don’t forget you have one less man going over the wall because the catch-can man is no longer there.

The aerodynamics are different because of the new nose. Our cars have a lot more brand identity now. The cars are faster. That has just made for fascinating racing. The one thing we haven’t seen is a lot of blocking. When these guys see two cars coming that are 10 to 15 mph faster, they don’t pull down in front of them because they know it will wreck them all.

Kevin Harvick, Inc. had a pretty good day in the Saturday race. Its cars finished first and second. Tony Stewart outdueled teammate Clint Bowyer to the line. It was Tony’s fourth Saturday win in a row at Daytona. It was also the closest finish in series history at Daytona.

Words really don’t do justice when I try to explain the emotions of Friday evening in the TV booth calling the Camping World Truck race. It was 10 years to the day, Feb. 18, that I called my first Sprint Car race for FOX. My brother, Michael, won his first-ever race 10 years ago here, while at the same time my good friend Dale Earnhardt lost his life.

So 10 years later, I am literally standing in the same spot and here I am up in the booth cheering my brother on to his first-ever Camping World Truck Series win. This week I really believe we have seen a lot of healing going on in our sport. We’ve seen and read interviews from folks who played a role 10 years ago but had never spoken about it. Just like in July last year when Dale Earnhardt Jr. won in the No. 3 Wrangler car, the healing continued Friday night when my brother won.

Ten years ago, instead of going to Victory Lane to be with my brother, I was in Halifax Hospital praying for a miracle that didn’t come for my friend. Friday night I was able to go to Victory Lane in Daytona to be with my brother.

I just really think as a sport, this week has been about closure to the 2001 tragedy. In the Sprint Cup race, the honoring of Dale with a silent Lap 3 is going to be special. Even though he is forced to go to the rear of the field because he wrecked his primary car, don’t for one minute count out Dale Jr. in the Daytona 500.

How fitting would it be for my brother, in the No. 15 again, to push Dale Jr. to victory? That would be a storybook ending.