Daytona champ dodges potholes, crashes

DEAN MCNULTY , QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:35 AM ET

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. It felt a little like Toronto in rush hour at Daytona International Speedway on Sunday when a pothole and a series of crashes stretched the commute home to more than six hours.

It effectively turned the NASCAR Sprint Cup Daytona 500 into the Daytona 520 after three attempts at a shootout to get a winner.

First it was a pothole between Turns 1 and 2 that twice delayed the race by two hours, 44 minutes. And, then, just when they got that fixed a series of crashes involving former winners Ryan Newman and Bill Elliott in the final laps left the richest race in the NASCAR season decided by the three-lap shootouts.

By the time the checkered flag dropped six hours and 12 minutes after the race started it was Jamie McMurray in the No. 1 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Chevrolet who out-fought a hard-charging Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

The irony Earnhardt had left the family firm two seasons ago and McMurray joined the team this season wasnt lost on the winner.

When I saw the 88 behind me, I thought, Oh no. He had a good car and I just thought Earnhardt and Daytona, it just seems like they win all the time, McMurray said. You never know what to expect.

Earnhardt Jr. and his dad, the late Dale Earnhardt, have 20 wins between them at Daytona and Talladega NASCARs two superspeedways.

But it was the best finish for Earnhardt at one of those tracks since he joined Hendrick Motorsports in 2008.

McMurray set two records with the win leading only the final two laps and being the 21st different driver to lead the race.

He was emotional in Victory Lane, breaking down in tears. Little wonder as he was essentially fired from his last team RFR when NASCAR ordered owner Jack Roush to shed one of his five Sprint Cup teams.

And EGR had to convince sponsors to stay with the team when McMurray was hired.

I told my wife: If I win tonight, Im going to cry,  McMurray said.

He apologized for appearing cliche in saying that it was the greatest feeling in his life.

It sounds cliche, but it really is something you dream about from when you are a little kid, he said.

But it was the pothole that dominated the talk after the race.

NASCAR bosses blamed torrential rains that blasted the 2.5-mile high banked speedway on Friday and the race cars themselves for causing the hole in the track.

But veteran observers were pointing the finger at the track owner the France family controlled International Speedway Corporation for allowing it to happen.

The last time the track was paved was 32 years ago.

Several drivers, including Greg Biffle, who finished third in the No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford, said he likes the track the way it is, potholes and all.

Earnhardt, however, said the track has needed improvement for some time.

They should have repaved it several years ago, he said.

Daytonas operations vice-president Robin Braig wasnt offering excuses but he did say the track took responsibility for the mayhem.

This is the world centre of racing. This is not supposed to happen, Braig said. Of course our reputation takes a hit.

Braig said his staff inspected the track Sunday morning and saw nothing that would have led to the pot hole coming up during the race. He also said the re-paving is not on the books for right now.

Dale Jr. is on record as never having liked our racing surface, he said. But the majority of drivers and crew chiefs we talk to love the track the way it is.

dean.mcnulty@sunmedia.ca


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