Monday, February 24, 2014

A Thrilling Start to the NASCAR Season

Feb 23, 2014; Daytona Beach, FL, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Dale Earnhardt Jr (88) celebrates winning the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

What a terrific start to the NASCAR season! Well, okay, there was that little matter of a six and half hour rain delay. That was rather frustrating. On the other hand, from the time the green flag dropped when they went back to racing, it was intense. There were passes for the lead and passes in the pack. NASCAR seems to have come up with a package...finally...to make restrictor plate racing exciting. Any lane could get going if enough cars joined in. All the manufacturers appeared to be more or less equal. The Fords were fast; the Toyotas were fast; the Chevys were fast - no one was left out. There were a couple of Big Ones for the fans who think a race is not complete without flames and flying sheet metal.  The race started with Dale Earnhardt's car number on the pole and ended with his son in Victory Lane. All hail Dale!

And the criticism has been surprisingly muted for NASCAR. I guess only the most hard-hearted could deny Dale, Jr. his elemental joy in this win. And no one could say, after coming in second three times in four years that it was a fluke (as is sometimes said about plate races). He flat-out drove to the checkered flag.

I'm a loyal Jimmie Johnson fan and always root for JJ first but at the end of this race, I was yelling - "Do it, Dale, do it, do it!"

With this year's rule changes, winning the first race of the season practically guarantees a Chase berth, which means that the 88 team can spend a little more time experimenting for the final ten races rather than having to focus exclusively on trying to pull off that elusive win.

Austen Dillon did somehow manage to come in 8th although he left a lot of wrecked cars in his wake doing it. Stewart-Haas' crappy luck continued although all their cars looked good at times. In fact, almost everyone looked good at times. The Gibbs cars were strong. Probably the only driver who could have given Dale, Jr. a run for his money was Denny Hamlin if his radio hadn't malfunctioned so he was left without a spotter. The Fords were right up there in the front although, this early on, Brad Keselowski appears to be the class of the blue oval camp so far.

Several of the rookies were doing a fine job until they got caught up in the wrecks. It might be a stronger Rookie of the Year competition than people who have already said its going to come down to Austen Dillon and Kyle Larson seem to think.

Over all, it was a thrilling race. The last 40 laps or so were on-the-edge-of-your-seat suspenseful. The finish was oh-so-satisfying. I hope all that bodes well for the rest of the year. Man, I'm glad NASCAR is back!