By admin | February 14, 2009
By Richard Allen
The 2009 version of the Daytona 500 may well be remembered for all the drama that has taken place before the race ever started, no matter what actually happens in the race itself.
The drama really began at the end of the 2008 season. It was obvious at that time there were numerous teams in financial trouble. Sponsors were dropping out at an alarming rate and the scramble was on among owners, sponsors and drivers to align themselves for the next season. At one point it even looked as if there might be the possibility of not having 43 cars to show up in Daytona.
As late December and early January rolled in a wave of mergers, layoffs and closings swept through the Charlotte area.
In the wake of all that gloom and doom new teams began to emerge. Familiar old names such as Jeremy Mayfield, Tommy Baldwin and Joe Nemechek found themselves in the new role of team owner.
Once the cars arrived in Daytona the drama only multiplied. Some teams found out they were locked into the race by virtue of acquiring Top 35 points from other teams while some teams found out they were not locked in as the maneuvering was carried out.
On the track Bill Elliott provided a buzz by putting his legendary name and that of his team, Wood Brothers Racing, at the top of the speed charts in early practice sessions. Elliott, who has turned the fastest official lap in NASCAR history, was considered by some to be the favorite for the pole position. His time was only good enough for 5th place. That lap was good enough, however, to lock the Woods, who missed last year’s Daytona 500, into the race.
Two of those newly formed teams provided some feel good material during Thursday’s qualifying races. Jeremy Mayfield, driving for himself, and Scott Riggs, driving for Tommy Baldwin, each made the big race with gutsy runs.
There has been a good deal of drama centered around the newly formed Stewart-Haas Racing team as well. Ryan Newman has crashed two cars during the pre race events, one time collecting his teammate and boss, Tony Stewart. The crash took place when Newman’s right rear tire blew in turn one.
Stewart, in turn, added something for everyone to talk about by going after one of his favorite targets, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. “It’s just a Goodyear right-rear tire,” Stewart said. “So it’s the same thing everybody has been talking about all week. It’s the same stuff that we always talk about every year — the failures that Goodyear has. I think that’s part of their marketing campaign. The more we talk about it, the more press they get. I think they forget that it’s supposed to be in a good way, not a bad way.”
Joe Gibbs Racing has also provided some interesting discussion material. Joey Logano, rookie driver of the #20 Toyota, has had a struggle adjusting to the handle of his car. During the Friday practice session, JGR decided to put Kyle Busch in that car to ‘shake it down’. Time will show whether or not the move paid off.
Few Daytona 500s have had so much to talk about before ever even taking the green flag. Hopefully, the race itself will provide as much drama as the pre race.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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