Daytona International Speedway always hosts some of the best white knuckle tension filled races and this years night event was no different. This 2.5 mile super speedway which has 31 degrees of banking in the turns is much more narrow than Talladega making some of the transitions from the corners to the straightaways very treacherous.
The reason why the pack of 43 cars runs so close here and pretty much resembles a moving parking lot (although you wouldn't park your car 1 inch from another car!) traveling at 190 mph+ is that ever since the late 80's when a wreck saw a stock car get airborne and hit the top of the fence nearly getting into the grandstands NASCAR deemed the speeds to be too high and implemented the restrictor plate. Top speeds back then were about 212 mph and with today's improved aerodynamics these stock cars would be probably be running into the 220 mph + range. These cars weigh a whopping 3400 pounds and unlike the open wheel cars they don't have traction control or the stability to safely run at these speeds. Bottom line they're much harder to drive than open wheel cars no matter how you look at it. The restrictor plate is a flat plate with small holes in it. It's place over the carborator thus restricting the air flow and cutting the engines horsepower by half! Going from about 800 horses to 400. With this reduction in horsepower the cars take about an entire lap to get up to speed. With everyone more or less running at about the same speed pack racing is the result as the cars bunch up together. Add this closeness to the high speeds and sliding around that the cars inevitably do and there's the recipe for the "big one." Luckily this years night event was free of the "big one" but that's not to say it didn't have it's share of wrecks! There were quite a few actually.
With qualifying rained out the rules state that the field shall be lined up in the order of driver points and therefore Jeff Gordon sat on the pole with Jimmie Johnson starting in 4th position!
TNT's broadcast was one of the most innovative that I've seen in years. With their "wide open" coverage the race broadcast ran uninterrupted for long stretches free of full screen commercials that usually occur every 10 to 15 minutes or so regularly. The reason I say full screen commercials is that at the bottom of the screen below the ticker there was a rectangular area on the screen which was used to create a picture in picture format so that the commercials could be shown there while the race coverage continued on the rest of the screen. It's a pretty smart idea! You get to see way more of the race as there were only a few spread out local commercial breaks which required full screen coverage. I hope that they continue this format as it worked really well I thought. The only problem is when do you go to the restroom as they're are hardly any real commercial breaks. lol. A good problem to have!
Now some of the wrecks in last night's event and it started early: Lap 3: Casey Kahne is pinned into the wall by Jeff Green as it appeared as though Green didn't know Kahne was there. Lap 14: Team mates Hamlin and Stewart are leading the race running 1st and 2nd and Hamlin slightly slows in front of Stewart causing the #20 to get into the back of him sending him into a spin which collects both cars sending them both into the wall. Dale Jr., Bobby Labonte, and Reed Sorenson are involved in a separate wreck behind Hamlin & Stewart when the field started to check up. Lap 22: Tony Raines swerves into David Stremme sending him hard into the wall. Shortly after, Montoya hits Harvick and he slams the wall. Lap 46: Sterling Marlin blows a tire and hits Ricky Rudd and then the wall. With 29 laps to go: Andretti swerves to miss a car that's up against the wall and collects Montoya who has nowhere to go. Bobby Labonte also involved. 17 laps to go: David Gilliland loses control for a single car spin in the middle of the pack that amazingly doesn't collect anyone else. 10 laps to go: Joe Nemechek slides into Brian Vickers sending him hard into the wall. Okay that about does it for the wreck fest.
Jimmie Johnson had been running pretty strong for most of the race staying up front but Jeff Gordon who started on the pole wasn't handling quite as good and he faded to mid pack for most of the race. But with 20 laps to go Johnson and Gordon finally get hooked up together as they work their way towards the front. This was a great sight as with only 13 laps left in the race Hendrick cars are lined up in positions 2-5! Behind the leader is Mears in 2nd, Johnson in 3rd, Kyle Busch in 4th, and Jeff Gordon in 5th!
After a late caution with only 7 laps left Jeff Gordon now leads! With a late race move Gordon drops back to finish in 5th while Johnson finishes in the 10th spot. It was a good day for my 2 favorite drivers on a track where survival and uncertainty are key elements. Gordon continues to lead the points while Johnson remains in 4th place 407 points back.
Now for the incredible finish!! This finish is tied for 2nd closest in NASCAR history ever since electronic scoring was implemented back in 1992. The margin of victory: .005 of a second!! as Jamie McMurray edges Kyle Busch by a hair. This win ended McMurray's 166 winless streak which dates back to 2002! Here's a clearer picture of them at the line. Breathtaking and amazingly close! This was a great race and it had me feeling nervous for 4 or so hours!