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Sunday, February 8, 2009

Did he really win that race? Harvick is last man standing at end of wild Shootout

Racing at Daytona means many things.

Exciting three-wide and four-wide racing? I expected that, and got it.
Cars bouncing all over the place like pinballs, leading me to scream “Oh S---” and expect a wreck every lap? Once again, check.
Lots of different leaders? Check.

I’m going to add one thing to that list: Kevin Harvick surprise victories.
Of the 28 drivers on the track, Harvick was among the most quiet all night. His name was barely mentioned, as everyone else went for the lead but him. He hung around the middle of the pack most of the night, never making himself appear to be a contender.

So how did he win this race? Easy -- he was there when it counted, just like he was in 2007 when he literally nosed past Mark Martin for the Daytona 500 victory. Literally a few seconds before the final big wreck on Saturday night, Harvick passed Jamie McMurray and took over the lead … just in time once again.

You have to give Harvick credit, as he could have easily been caught up in some of the many wrecks that plagued the 75-lap Shootout. When the dust cleared, the race had more different leaders than ever before, and only 13 drivers finished the race after more caution flags were thrown than ever before. That’s action of both the good and bad kind, so regardless of why you watch, you didn’t go away from this race disappointed.

For a while there, it looked like Jamie McMurray might bring his Roush Ford to Victory Lane. He was leading with just a couple turns to go, but as happens so often that doesn‘t mean you are going to win. I predicted in the offseason that McMurray would see great improvement as he tries to impress Roush enough to keep his ride, as Roush must trim to four teams for 2010. It appears that resurgence is already starting, but unless Roush dumps David Ragan (not likely), McMurray is still likely to move to Yates (a Roush affiliate) or elsewhere in 2010.

Another driver who, like Harvick, was bobbing and weaving his way through the endless wrecks was Jeff Gordon, who I saw make two or three evasive moves during one of the early wrecks and ended up fourth. He may not be what he once was, but Gordon still has the talent to compete and stay alive.

Meanwhile, Tony Stewart showed off his Daytona prowess in his new ride, finishing third.

Still in search of full-year sponsorship, A.J. Allmendinger very quietly put on a great run in the Shootout, finishing fifth, right ahead of his Richard Petty Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne. I’m amazed his teammate Reed Sorenson has the full season covered, but A.J. still does not. It’s obvious by now he’s a much more solid talent.

After a surge of success last year for the Red Bull team, it appears Brian Vickers is not going away. He was racing up front with the usual Daytona leader suspects (Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr., etc.) like he belonged there. A pit strategy move didn’t work out for him, and he ended up 11th. I fully expect him to grab at least one race victory this season and anyone counting him out of the Chase is making a mistake, as he very well could make it.

My hope for the 500 is that we can keep the kind of exciting racing I saw up front all night Saturday without all of the wrecks. Based on how the cars are behaving on the track, I know this is not a likely scenario and wrecks are likely, but I’d rather not see 20 cars finish the Daytona 500.

Daytona odds and ends

-- Most disturbing visual of the day: Jimmie Johnson is apparently trying to do his best impression of Tony Stewart’s facial hair. I’m sorry, Jimmie, but there can be only one master of the perpetual 9 o'clock shadow, and that’s Tony. You’ll have to develop a new setup for that fuzz or create a new look. Maybe you can bring back that 1993-era Jeff Gordon mustache.

-- Bill Elliott led both Saturday practices for the Daytona 500. Yes, that Bill Elliott. Either it’s 1992 again or the Wood Brothers, who are running a limited schedule this year, may actually have a decent car. It’s only Daytona, but I can’t remember the last time the team was that high on the speed charts.

-- I didn’t catch the race, but it sounds like the ARCA event Saturday at Daytona was the usual wreckfest and pretty brutal on the drivers, as three of them ended up in the hospital, including one (Larry Hollenbeck of Kalamazoo, Michigan) who had to be extricated from his car. In a way, you could even blame Joey Logano’s Shootout wreck on the ARCA race, too. After finishing second in the ARCA race, Logano had to start in the back of the Shootout field after missing the Shootout drivers’ meeting because he was busy racing his ARCA car at the time. Just a few laps into the Shootout, he ended up caught up in someone else’s wreck.

-- After running no laps due to mechanical issues, there will be no Daytona 500 attempt for 74-year-old James Hylton, leaving 56 drivers seeking 43 spots (or more accurately, 21 drivers seeking the eight remaining spots).. It’s not surprising, but I would have liked to see him try to make it, as Hylton is a great story.

-- It's been a rough start to the season for Scott Speed: Two wrecks in two days.


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