Daytona 500 Road Oval -- First of all, Jimmie Johnson won, followed by June-yer (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) and Mark Martin. Danica Patrick ended up 8th. Full results here.
So if you started up front, you needed to fixate on getting into or staying in the top line of cars and then just cruise. "Hold station" (DRINK, ye BASTARDS) as Marty Reid used to say. Danica said she spent most of the day in the draft at half throttle. Then, on the last half lap, you pop out and go for the win.
And, just like a road race, there were spots to be made in the pits and restarts and off other driver's errors. Great pit stop gets you a couple spots and, given the draft limitations discussed above, you could stick there. So pit work was super key in this race.
You could also get spots on double-file restarts, again, advancing a few then popping back into the high line before The Draft made it impossible to overtake on the low line again. Also, if a driver in line left too big of a gap in front of him/her (make an error), you could maybe pop out and grab the position and tuck back in before the WALL OF AIR hit you. If you timed it right. There were a few drivers who did that, including Brad Keselowski who led late.
So, in some sense, this kind of superspeedway race put some emphasis on skill. Mostly mental skill and pit stop skill, but still. The veterans won in the end, and the rookie (Danica Patrick) got a little snookered. She followed the wrong guy (Greg Biffle) who faded like an old Polaroid at the end. Danica should have jumped out in front of the charging Dale Earnhart Jr. at the end and maybe gotten pushed up, but hindsight is 20/20. She was conservative because, as she said, she didn't want to throw away a great start trying something crazy as a rookie.
I will say that even "impossible to pass" road races have far more opportunity for driver error -- what with all that shifting and right and left turning and everything -- so that makes it a bit more interesting than watching a line of cars.
I was reminded, frankly, of the Indy 500s between about 2008 and 2010, which (and I'll get a lot of argument here) were the deadly dull combination of road ovals AND fuel mileage races. Not thrilling. Here are my notes from the 2010 Indy 500 which was indicative. To some every Indy 500 is SUPER AWESOME simply because it's the Indy 500 and criticizing it for any reason is BLASPHEMY. I'm not one of those. Call a spade a spade is how I roll.
Reasons for Optimism -- The good news is the 2012 Indy 500 was probably the best race there in at least the last five years (ish), because the new IndyCar formula helped make overtaking, etc. possible. Why is that good news for Daytona? Because it shows that nothing is set in stone. Daytona was the first retrictor plate track with the new Gen. 6 car, so there were a million unknowns. Now that some of those unknowns are known, some tweaking can take place to try and stimulate overtaking.The configuration of Daytona isn't ever going to change -- just as the configuration of Indy isn't ever going to change -- but the car has a million variables. I'm confident NASCAR will work on it.
I saw some twitter based gnashing about how the race was boring and fears that people who tuned in because of the Danica publicity might be turned off. Maybe, but I'm not sure what could have been done about that, given the untested new car, etc. Knowing NASCAR's willingness to change stuff to improve the show, I'm confident they'll do some stuff to make the next plate track (Talladega? I think.) more exciting. Still, expressing concern as a fan (customer) isn't a bad thing. It helps the Powers that Be understand not everyone was Super Excited about the race. Putting on a Happy Face rarely improves the product. Honest feedback does.
I wasn't bored sightless by Daytona, but then again my driver (you know who) was in the top 10 all day and top 5 late. Also I have a road race brain I can engage and focus on pit strategy, spots taken on restarts, etc. Also there was SOME movement through the field. If you had a fast car you could climb through the field of slower cars. You just had to be smart about it and overtake a few at a time, like on the interstate, then dip back into line. Once you got up to the front with the rest of the fast cars, you were kind of stuck there and it was all about the last-lap strategy.
Another reason to be happy is that NASCAR has a good diversity of tracks and a LOT of races. That is really a big strength for NASCAR among oval lovers. Not all ovals are equal by any stretch of the imagination. So if you don't like the high-banked superspeedways, there are smaller, flatter tracks and even a couple road races.
The Fox Commentary for the Race -- I didn't listen to it. I invest $40 for a year of NASCAR's Track Scanner, now called Raceview Audio (I think). That (when it works) lets me listen to any the radio of any driver in the field. So I pretty much turn down the FOX crew and keep You Know Who in my earphones, have Twitter open and the leaderboard (when it works) and go from there.
This is an especially good plan if your driver isn't in the top five or so, which TV tends to fixate on. So if you are a fan of Marcos Ambrose, for example, and he's back in P19, he'll get zero love from TV but you can listen to him on the radio and kind of track his progress. I highly recommend. Having said that, NASCAR.com still needs to get its shit together. I was able to listen but a lot of people couldn't access their online stuff. Fix it.
Danica Danica Danica -- Briefly (lord knows I do prattle on about Danica), she drove a great race Sunday. She stayed calm. Stayed tucked into the top line. Hung around in the top 5 most of the race and was P3 coming to crunch time. Her drive, along with her winning the pole, earned a lot of respect with a lot of people. Of course the hard-core will find a reason why she SUCKED or it didn't count because it was a plate race or she got "the call" or whatever, but I don't expend energy worrying about what unreasonable people think.
I think Danica has a legit shot to win a race this season. She's got a great team -- which is super critical in any racing series -- and she's got some talent. Throw in the randomness of NASCAR races with all their contact, etc. and it could happen. She'll have to win a couple, probably, to convince the hard-core dislikers. Once could theoretically be a fluke, but twice? But, again, I'm not concerned with what the Negative People think.
So I'm looking forward to the one-mile Phoenix. Bring it on. That's all I got. Feel free to discuss (civilly, please) below. pdog ... out.