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Results at the Daytona 500 were good

Feb. 25, 2008

by Jesse Menden

In my opinion, the results of the Daytona 500 could not have been better for NASCAR.

With all of the talk surrounding Rick Hendrick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and the Car of Today leading up to the race, I think there was a collective sigh among many when none of those topics was a major player in the race.

The top two drivers in Hendrick’s stable, Jeff Gordon and two-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson, both had their share of problems almost from the beginning.

Earnhardt Jr. had a good car, but with his teammates either off the track or in the back of the field, he was not a major threat and finished ninth.

And the Car of Today did provide an interesting race and escaped without causing any problems, which let the fans focus on the racing. There was plenty of single-line racing, but that happened with the old car, too. It was a nice surprise to see a lot of passing and lead changes among many drivers, especially in the last 20 laps. Many thought that might not be the case.

The Car of Today was developed for many reasons – one was to even the playing field, financially and competitively. The results of the Daytona 500 may be an indication that it is already working.

The story of the day turned out to be Ryan Newman and his ALLTEL Dodge that broke an 81-race winless streak by winning the prestigious race.

Outside of Newman, Toyota was the real victor on the day. The foreign nameplate led 138 of the 200 laps, and placed two in the top four and six in the top 18.

There was no question that the enigmatic Kyle Busch and his No. 18 M & M’s Toyota was the best combination on the track the entire race, but he got shuffled out at the end and finished fourth. His Joe Gibbs teammate, Tony Stewart, also had a very fast car, and had one of his better days at Daytona in taking third.

Outside of Pensky Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing, Roush Fenway Racing also had a good day. Greg Biffle flirted with the top for a while, but just like Junior, did not have many helpers with him. Matt Kenseth and David Ragan had good runs going until they got into a wreck late in the race.

I won’t shy away from saying that I hope the results of the Daytona reflect what we see this season. Parity is common these days in just about every major sport – I wouldn’t mind if we see a lot of that this summer in NASCAR.
IRL/Champ Car deal

While the Northwest/Delta talks currently dominate the topic of mergers in this area, there is another that is flying under the radar.

The long overdue blending (it won’t quite be a merger) between the Indy Racing League (IRL) and Champ Car is nearing completion.

The good news: forming the new IRL won’t eventually steal jobs from Minnesota. Actually, the good news from this deal is the overall health of open-wheel racing here in the US.

Both the IRL and Champ Car (formerly known as CART) series have seen drops in attendance, sponsorship, and the number of teams in recent years – mostly because they have been competing head-to-head.

The two racing series were continually battling for the top drivers, and the fields were shrinking by the season. It has been reported that IRL was going to have as few as 16 cars this season, and Champ Car around 17 – that is not very exciting to watch.

On top of that, they were losing drivers to NASCAR, as well.

This agreement, which I proposed in 2004 when CART went bankrupt and formed Champ Car, just seems to make sense for everyone.

It will provide a new start for IRL, which can look into creating a new schedule, recruiting new teams, and finding new sponsors that should be more willing to participate. And if the people in charge do a good job, they will retain and draw some of the top drivers in the world, as in the past.

The new IRL could potentially turn into a showcase of open-wheel competition now that it will have no competition and a fresh start.