SpeedWeeks 2010: Should We Be Surprised?

As Speedweeks 2010 came to an end on Sunday night as Jamie McMurray won the Daytona 500, this was not the storyline everyone was talking about Monday morning.

Danica Patrick’s debut in the NASCAR Nationwide Series on Saturday afternoon was also on the list of stories to be discussed around the water cooler on Monday morning. This too, was not the feature story. Patrick crashed mid-way through the race, and did not finish.

The topic people were talking about is the over two hours in delays of the Daytona 500 to twice fix a pothole that developed between turns one and two during the Daytona 500.

On lap 122, NASCAR issued a red flag, halting the race for one hour and 41 minutes to repair a piece of the track where the asphalt came up. NASCAR CEO Brian France said on the FOX telecast of the race that the reason for the long delays was due to the track workers not being able to find a compound that would actually work.

NASCAR resumed the race, only for it to be stopped again with 39 laps to go, as the hole returned. This time, Daytona International Speedway track workers had figured out the correct compound that would piece together the track that was last paved in 1978.

Obviously, NASCAR or the speedway inspectors had no clue this was going to happen, and who could blame them. No one expected the famed speedway to start to break apart. However, a harsh winter may be partly to blame for the track’s condition.

NASCAR was hoping that the 2010 Daytona 500 would kick start a sport that is seeing television ratings dwindle and attendance at races decreasing. The sport decided to put control back in the driver’s hands, by allowing the bump draft and making changes to the car to make it more about driver’s ability, than how well a crew can set up the car.

However, like recent Daytona 500s, the racing was not what people were talking about. In 2009, rain was the name of the game, as the race was called 48 laps before its scheduled ending due to rain (Matt Kenseth was declared the winner). In addition, the no-testing policy was put in place prior to the race to ease economic worries; everybody was concerned about the level of competition without the ability to test before the race as in years past.

In 2008, NASCAR debuted its Car of Tomorrow full time, starting with the season-opening Daytona 500. There was concern that the new car would not provide the most competitive race in the sport’s most celebrated event.

In 2007, controversy arose on two occasions. During the qualifying races on Thursday, Jeff Gordon penalized post-race inspection, and was forced to start in the rear of the field. At the end of the Daytona 500, there was discussion over who was the winner. The caution was held until the leaders crossed the finish line. Kevin Harvick just edged Mark Martin at the line, as the rest of the field was crashing behind them. The caution was not thrown until after the leaders took the checkered flag. Many fans felt that NASCAR should have thrown the caution flag earlier, perhaps changing the outcome of the event.

And in 2006, the race winner, Jimmie Johnson, had his crew chief, Chad Knaus thrown out of Daytona prior to the race. Chad Knaus tinkered with the suspension a little too much, causing NASCAR to eject him and suspend him for four more races.

Enter Darian Grubb. In his first career race, he led Jimmie Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports team to the win of the Great American Race.

In the end, should we be surprised that the racing was not the topic of discussion the Monday after the big race, probably not. There is countless Daytona 500s where the focus was not on the winner of the race, but something that happened during or even before the race.

For one guy, Jamie McMurray, he will forever be known as Daytona 500 champion Jamie McMurray. Even though his race winning move will probably not be the memory of the 2010 race, his name will forever etched in history.

So now the sport heads off to Fontana, California and the Auto Club Speedway. It is unofficially, the first points race of the season. (Points are awarded for the Daytona 500, but every driver wants to win more than points race.)

Danica Patrick attempts her second race in a Nationwide car, as ESPN is hoping that Danica-mania will continue providing the highest television ratings in the series’ history. Hopefully, rain will not be the story at Fontana as it was last year, when we learned the definition of a weeper.

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