When is someone at NASCAR going to realize that, year in and year out, the best race at Speed Weeks is the Truck race? Rick Crawford lost and then regained the lead on the last lap, and the top three trucks finished within .047 of second -- i.e. less than a truck-length -- of one another. And what did the Cup race give us? One green-flag pass.
Face it, if it wasn't for the rain -- which created a scenario in which Todd Bodine would have won NASCAR's Super Bowl had the precipitation started on lap 97 -- Sunday's race would have been a complete yawner. Would it kill NASCAR and the car manufacturers to throw out the existing templates at Daytona and Talladega and run cars that are essentially trucks?
I know, the Dodge people want the Dodge you see on the track to look like the Dodge you see down at the showroom. (Ditto the other factories.) But come on. Let the other 32 races be about selling cars. At the superspeedways, make them run big, boxy cars that look nothing like Intrepids (and Grand Prix, Taurus's and Monte Carlos) without plates. Heck, make them run trucks.
Would it be different? Sure. But had those three trucks at the front of the pack during Friday's race been driven by Junior, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart in front of a packed house and broadcast by a network on a Sunday afternoon, it would have gone down as the greatest 500 ever, hands down. Fans would have stormed the track and torn down the big 76 ball in Turn 4. And they would have run out and bought a bunch of trucks, which is what a majority of NASCAR's fan base drives anyway.
DEI -- I appreciate their dominance, but am I the only one who feels a little bad for Steve Park? It's almost as if DEI puts him out there in junk just so he makes Junior and Michael Waltrip look better. The worst snub happened when Ricky Rudd said that for anyone else to have a chance to win the 500 the five DEI and RCR cars were going to have to crash out. Uh, Ricky? There are six of them.
RCR -- Jeff Green won the pole and was 20th after five laps. Kevin Harvick and Robby Gordon were fourth and sixth, respectively, but neither looked like a serious threat to win.
The Penske boys (and, by extension, lushes all over Daytona Beach) -- First Ryan Newman lost an axle and tumbled down the backstretch. Then Rusty was only the third-best Wallace, finishing 25th and forcing the fans to buy their own beer.
Spencer vs. Ganassi -- So there I was having dinner at the Chart House, the back wall of which is a giant window overlooking Daytona's marina, surreptitiously eyeing a boat that was not only bigger than the house I grew up in, but bigger than the town I grew up in. I felt like Sonny Crockett on a stakeout on Miami Vice, a feeling enhanced by the facts that a) I was wearing a linen suit and sandals with no socks, and b) there was a lurking figure who looked suspiciously like Philip Michael Thomas (and who, upon closer examination, turned out to be PMT, now working as a cabin boy).
Among the evening's guests on the boat -- which is owned by Felix Sabates -- was his partner, Chip Ganassi. But life's not all topsiders and blue blazers for the ol' Chipper, for as the jalopy painted jet black with Jimmy Spencer's No. 7 stenciled on the side sitting in front of a pizza parlor on International Speedway Blvd. reminded us, some people out there think "Chip Gnasi sux." Other Spencer advocates who feel the same way -- and who can presumably spell Ganassi's name correctly -- are Spencer's attorneys, who filed a breach of contract lawsuit over Spencer's termination as the driver of Ganassi's No. 41 car following last season. Spencer also accused Ganassi of attempting to sabotage his racing career. In his preseason press kit put out by his new team, Ultra Motorsports, Spencer says his pet peeve is "People who lie, and people who don't have the [nerve] to tell you the truth face-to-face."
Wonder if that's a jab at anyone in particular?
Gordon vs. Gordon -- In her quest to make sure she gets her fair share of everything, including the corn dogs Jeff Gordon's team traditionally eats on qualifying day, Gordon's soon-to-be-ex, Brooke, started serving subpoenas to Gordon's competitors at the track. (Can you imagine what Dale Earnhardt would have told the process server to do with his subpoena were he still with us?) I fear this sordid little affair will be with us for a while.
Junior vs. the World -- He started a brew-haha with Rusty Wallace, intimating that one reason they don't work together on the track is that they are sponsored by rival beer makers. Then Junior dissed all three RCR drivers, prompting Jeff Green to call his tactics "chickens---." Don't expect much lingering hostility here, though, as the RCR boys are likely to write it off as Junior being Junior.
Harvick vs. Busch -- This could be good. Two powderkegs, mixing it up on the track. At first, however, it looked like it was all going to blow over. After Busch hit Harvick on pit road during their qualifying race Friday the best Harvick could do was to say that Busch "was driving way over his head, and it ended up costing us big." Busch remorsefully owned up to it, and it looked like it was case closed. But when Busch crowded Harvick out of his pit stall Sunday Harvick called Busch -- who is sponsored by Rubbermaid -- "Rubberhead" in a TV interview during the rain delay.
FOX Sports President Ed Goren said the network would be amenable to showing the Daytona 500 in prime time. (February is sweeps, remember, and the Bud Shootout won its time slot last Saturday night.) The only catch: he wants to do it on Sunday night, which might not sit well with drivers, who prefer to do their night racing on Saturdays.
God Bless Jayski, who on jayski.com went to the trouble of translating a press release about Hideo Fukuyama from Japanese to English. When it wasn't blathering on about how "we would like to convey the charm of the most radical American stock car race to also the Japanese motor sport fan in the world," the release said Fukuyama, the Japanese driver who made his cup debut for Travis Carter last fall, would be back in the No. 66 car for 22 Cup races, plus a handful of Busch and Arca starts. Charmingly radical, indeed.
New Jersey Nets forward Rodney Rogers was in the garage last week on a fact-finding tour. Seems he's a lifelong fan who wouldn't mind getting into the game as an owner when he retires. Let's hope he does. His presence would shake things up, and according to people who spoke with him, he has saved a hefty chunk of the money he has made playing hoops.
Steve Park has just two months to save his hide at DEI, says AutoRacing1.com.
"Sometimes when he opens his mouth he just sounds constipated."
-- Bill France offers his good pal Bruton Smith a free proctologic diagnosis, albeit from the wrong end of things
"I never did Horshack."
--Grand marshal John Travolta (He's talking about impersonations -- we hope.)
Since this is Week 1 of this column, I'll pose the first query: Are those Ford ads that feature Mark Martin as a driving instructor the best NASCAR commercials ever? OK, now it's your turn to ask a question. (Or answer one.)
Rockingham is a weird place. It is a tricky track to figure out, but the guys who seem to have done so aren't exactly habitual front-runners. Sure, Matt Kenseth won the first race there last year, but the other three winners the past two years were Johnny Benson (who also has two top-10 finishes), Steve Park and Joe Nemechek.
For Benson it was his first Winston Cup win; for Park and Nemechek their second. Kenny Wallace nearly won the Fall 2001 race at Rockingham from the pole while driving Park's car, and Ricky Craven has been the most consistent guy at this place over the past two years.
Nothing about Daytona really translates to the Rock, but I still like the way Craven (my dark-horse top-10 pick) is driving that new Pontiac. He's the pick here.
Mark Bechtel covers NASCAR for Sports Illustrated and SI.com.