Speedweeks 2012 was crazier than anybody thought possible. It started with Jimmie Johnson’s team getting in trouble for illegal C-posts on their Daytona 500 car before any cars even touched the track, and ended Matt Kenseth winning the Daytona 500 early Tuesday morning.
The main storyline heading into the Budweiser Shootout last Saturday night was if NASCAR had eradicated the two-car tandem style of drafting that was seen at Daytona and Talladega last season. The Shootout showed that the tandem draft was mostly gone. Drivers couldn’t push for longer than two laps at a time and it wasn’t much faster than running in the pack. The tandem was gone for most of the race but appeared at the finish when Kyle Busch worked in tandem with Tony Stewart to break away from the pack, then used the old slingshot move to beat Stewart to the finish.
But NASCAR’s move to eliminate the tandem resulted in a crash-filled Bud Shootout. If a car was tapped on the left-rear corner of the car they were going to spin out. And most of those spins resulted in some big wrecks. One of those wrecks even resulted in Jeff Gordon flipping for the first time in his NASCAR career. Kyle Busch got tapped on the left-rear on two separate occasions during the Shootout, but both times he managed to save his car from spinning around. They were two of the craziest saves you will ever see. Then Busch came back to win the race.
The Gatorade Duels were calm compared to the rest of the week, but even those races had some craziness to them. Robby Gordon started Duel race one with a massive tire-rub. But Robby was able to come back and race his way into the Daytona 500. Michael Waltrip also had to race his way into the 500, but he failed to do so. Waltrip pit with about 10 laps left, and crashed hard on the backstretch all on his own. He was trying to get up to speed as quickly as possible, got onto the banking too early and lost control of the car, ending his chances to get into the race. Then the race ended with Danica Patrick’s incredibly hard crash on the backstretch.
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Have you ever heard of John King? Have you ever heard of John King the racecar driver and not the CNN anchor? No? Neither had anybody else before he won the Camping World Truck Series race on Friday night. King had two career wins before Friday night. He won a dirt late model race and a late model stock race. He also had only run six prior NCWTS races. But there he was celebrating in victory lane at Daytona late Friday night.
That truck race saw an all-Brazilian front row, incredible pack racing, Miguel Paludo crashing hard into the inside wall off of turn-four and going airborne, Joey Coulter flipping up into the catch-fence on the last lap, and John King winning.
Saturday’s Nationwide Series race saw a female driver lead the field to the green flag for the first time since 1994. Danica Patrick became the first female driver to win a pole since Shawna Robinson won the pole at Atlanta Motor Speedway. It also saw the most tandem drafting of the whole week. But Saturday’s tandem drafting was different than it was last year. It was more of a hybrid draft of tandem and pack racing. The field didn’t get strung out much like it had last year, and on the few occasions that the pack did start to separate, the field would come back together like a rubber-band after about 10 laps. Due to the hybrid of pack and tandem, the race set a series record for lead changes and different leaders at Daytona. The race saw 38 lead changes, and 16 different leaders. The previous records were 35 and 12.
It was a relatively calm race until about 22 laps remaining when a massive wreck was started off of turn four. The wreck saw Justin Allgaier’s car on top of Reed Sorenson’s car, and resulted in a red flag to remove Kenny Wallace’s splitter from the SAFER Barrier. James Buescher ended up winning the race, coming from eleventh to first within the distance from turn four to finish line due to a crazy 14-car wreck. Joey Logano and Trevor Bayne tried to block a hard charging tandem of Tony Stewart and Elliott Sadler while also trying to pass the Busch brothers who were working in tandem on the bottom lane. Stewart spun into Kurt Busch who spun into Logano who spun into Ricky Stenhouse Jr. who spun into Kyle Busch who hit the wall head on. While this was all happening Buescher weaved his way through the madness to win his first ever NASCAR race. Buescher isn’t even running a full Nationwide Series schedule this season. See? Craziness.
Sunday meant it was time for the 54th running of the Daytona 500. Or so we all thought. The rain came on Sunday morning and lasted all day resulting in the first ever postponement of the Daytona 500. NASCAR rescheduled the race for Monday at noon, but hours before that it was obvious the race wouldn’t start at that time either since it was still raining. The race was pushed back to 7 p.m. on Fox. It became the first time a Daytona 500 would be run at night, and the first time that a NASCAR race would be run on a weeknight.
Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch, Patrick, Trevor Bayne, and David Ragan only completed 2.5 miles before their chances to win were gone. Johnson got turned shortly after completing the first lap by Elliott Sadler. Sadler tapped Johnson on the left-rear bumper and it was on from there. Those drivers waited 30 hours to finally start the race and found themselves crashed after one lap.
The rest of the race was fairly calm. It was all pack racing, but it wasn’t the crazy style of pack racing we saw in the Budweiser Shootout a week earlier. The $200,000 halfway bonus didn’t produce the crazy racing that it was expected to. But the Great American Race that was expected to be the craziest one yet lived up to the hype for a reason that no one could have predicted.
Juan Pablo Montoya smashed into a jet dryer under caution with 40 laps remaining igniting a massive explosion and fire that delayed the race for over two hours. 200 gallons of jet fuel spilled onto the track surface in turn three and burned. NASCAR and Daytona International Speedway track workers tried to put the fire out as fast possible before the fire burned through the track. And they succeeded. They put the fire out, and then had to wash away the jet fuel with of all things, powdered Tide laundry detergent. Track workers had to use a forklift to pick up the jet dryer off of the track surface. If they dragged the truck down the banking they would have ripped the track apart.
While the race was under the red flag, Brad Keselowski tweeted a picture of his view of the fire from inside of his car. Apparently he kept his iPhone with him in the car and decided to have some fun. All of the drivers got out their cars. Kyle Busch ran to the bathroom. So did Danica Patrick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Earnhardt said that he took Keselowski’s phone to check the weather. Keselowski started tweeting with fans while standing on the track. He gained 55,000 new followers within a half-hour of the delay. By the time the race ended Keselowski had over 200,000 followers. He started the race with a little over 66,000. That’s pretty crazy.
Dave Blaney, driving for Tommy Baldwin Racing, had to race his way into the Daytona 500. He did. When Montoya hit the jet dryer Blaney was the leader of the race. TBR was a start-and-park team just a few years ago. Now, they were in position to win the Daytona 500 if the race didn’t restart.
But it did. The Tide worked. The track was fine. And the last 100 miles of the Daytona 500 was completed. And Matt Kenseth won with Earnhardt finishing second. At 1:15 a.m. Eastern time. The race was scheduled to start on Sunday, delayed to Monday, and finished on Tuesday.
And to top it all off, the drivers and teams weren’t able to fly home after the race. After battling rain and fire, the fog rolled in and kept everybody in Daytona another night. Just crazy.