NASCAR markets its first weekend of racing as the “Super Bowl” of racing. After the events at Daytona Beach this weekend, however, NASCAR might have been better off if there would have been a blackout as in the real Super Bowl. The weekend started with over-racing and ended with under-racing with not much exciting racing in between.
Saturday’s Nationwide race was marred by a horrible crash heading to the finish line. Mangled parts of Kyle Larson’s race car, including flying sheet metal, metal parts and a tire, flew into the grandstands hitting many spectators. Fourteen of those spectators had to be taken to a local hospital, two in serious condition.
The force of the crash even forced the engine block of Larson’s car to separate from the frame and fly towards the stunned crowd, landing only feet away from the front row after breaking through the catch fence. Fortunately, there were no casualties among all the melee, and the two fans that were taken to the hospital in serious condition were upgraded to stable condition by Sunday.
NASCAR, however, still had a public relations nightmare on its hands as they had to answer the questions about, not only driver, but fan safety at its races.
Sunday’s Daytona 500 was suppose to bring the attention back to the racing and the excitement of NASCAR, especially since Danica Patrick was starting the race on the pole, the first female driver to ever win the pole for the Great American Race.
Yet, not even Patrick could save what would end up as one of the most boring Daytona 500s in the race’s 55-year history.
For the most part, Patrick held up her end of the deal. She never got herself or other drivers into a precarious situation and spent the majority of the race running inside the top 10, including running third with one lap to the finish. The importance of Patrick running and finishing well cannot be understated.
Yet, for a driver that prides herself on being a fierce competitor and doing anything to win, seeing her not make a move during the final laps when she had a chance to make history, just being content with falling in line and losing a few spots, was disappointing. Perhaps she was so afraid of causing a wreck and the aftermath in the media that would ensue, that she lost her identity and played it too safe.
Patrick, however, ended up being no different than the rest of the drivers. Greg Biffle, running second heading towards the checkered flag, also seemed content with finishing behind leader Jimmie Johnson. Everybody behind Patrick also seemed to fall in line. Sure, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. made a late charge with Mark Martin pushing him towards the front, but that came with half a lap left, far too late.
Watching the race, it seemed like 500 miles of follow the leader. One of the few drivers that did fall out of line and made a move towards the end of the race was Johnson, who would go on to win his second Daytona 500. Because of their risk-taking attitude, Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus had finished out of the top 25 during the previous four Daytona 500s, but they understand that keeping that mentality is the only way to win the biggest race in NASCAR.
Perhaps because of the horrible wreck the day before, drivers did not want to take big risks, or perhaps the drivers are adapting to a new car for this season and that forced them to be cautious, perhaps the inside lane wasn’t working which forced the drivers to drive single-file on the outside lane or perhaps drivers were considering gaining maximum points when debating whether to take a risk. But this is the Daytona 500, the only thing that matters here is winning. It is the first race of the year. It is very unlikely that even a last place finish will really affect the final point standings heading into the final 10 races.
Patrick, along with another 41 drivers, lost out on a chance to make history. And what’s worse, NASCAR fans lost out on watching a great race. NASCAR, along with its drivers, has to figure out how they can have exciting three-wide races in these super speedways without having what happened during the final lap on Saturday. A daunting task I admit.
I, like most diehard NASCAR fans, will continue to watch the races, but I understand why the casual fan is being turned off by these races and why NASCAR continues to lose viewers.