The Daytona 500, A Half Century of Heartbreak

They say that nobody remembers who finishes in second place. Whoever says that clearly doesn’t understand the history of the Daytona 500.

Not only do we often remember the drivers who lost the Daytona 500 in heartbreaking fashion, sometimes we remember these victims of soul crushing defeats more than the winner themselves. Take 1979, do you remember who won? I bet you recall who wrecked in turn three on the last lap though. Quick, who led them across the line in 1990? Need a second? Ok, who cut a tire while leading a mere mile from victory? Do you remember the man who won in 2007, or the man he beat to the stripe by agonizing inches?

While we celebrate and memorialize the triumphs, we also vividly recall devastating and gut wrenching shortcomings just as much, if not more.

What is considered by many to be one of the greatest triumphs in Daytona 500 history is not remembered for the race itself, which was rather pedestrian, but for the immense heartbreak the winner had endured in prior Daytona 500s.

So while many will spend the week lauding the victors in Daytona 500s past, let’s not forget the most agonizing defeats.

Beginning tomorrow I’ll count down the 10 who have suffered the biggest heartbreak at the hands of The Great American Race during the past 50 years. But to get things started, I’ll list some that just missed the list, including a look at a Daytona 500 that took the wind right out of the sails of not a driver, but rather we the fans. And no, not 2001, that one is discussed enough, besides, its tragedy wasn’t yet known at the time of the conclusion of the event.

Honorable Mentions

The Fans, 1992

Weather had never postponed the Daytona 500 until 2012, but that doesn’t mean it never left the fans holding the bag by denying the fans a true finish.

The 1965, 2003 and 2009 versions were cut short due to rain, and each left fans feeling short changed with an incomplete, less than “true” finish. However, neither of those runnings featured the emptiness the ultimate fan heartbreak version contained.

The 1992 Daytona 500 promised to be one of the best in recent memory. Story lines flew in from everywhere. Bill Elliott, synonymous with Daytona success in the 80′s, was driving for the legendary Junior Johnson, his first foray out of the family shop in Dawsonville, Georgia. Second generation driver Davey Allison ended the previous season as one of the hottest drivers on the circuit and was poised to have the Allison name back at the top of the sport. Darrell Waltrip was returning to Daytona, site of two horrific accidents in the last year and a half. Then you had Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs making his debut in NASCAR with another second generation driver carrying a legendary name, Dale Jarrett. Dale Earnhardt, fresh off three straight narrow losses was STILL trying to win the Daytona 500, and there was the small matter of this being the final Daytona 500 start in the storied career of “The King” Richard Petty, he the winner of seven Daytona 500′s.

Unfortunately, all but one of these story lines was deemed irrelevant before halfway.

On lap 92, Elliott, having established himself as perhaps the strongest car in the field, was battling teammate and pole sitter Sterling Marlin for the lead in turns one and two when defending race champion Ernie Irvan dove beneath the two of them exiting turn two. The ill fated move only needed seconds to turn into a disaster. The three tangled and before the smoke cleared, just about anybody and everybody wound up with a wrecked racecar. Elliott, Irvan, Marlin, Waltrip, Jarrett, Petty, and Earnhardt were all among those involved. Additionally notable names like Rusty Wallace, Ken Schrader and Mark Martin also found their days ruined. Only a small handful of cars that had proven to be of any consequence survived the incident unscathed, and only two of them (Michael Waltrip and Morgan Sheppard) had any hope of being able to match up with the strongest survivor, Davey Allison.

Sheppard and Waltrip (who saw his chance at victory evaporate due to late engine failure) combined to lead 10 of the final 109 laps. Allison easily led the other 99 and had no trouble keeping Sheppard at bay down the stretch and across the line.

What promised to be one of the best Daytona 500′s, perhaps ever, quickly became a snooze fest with all the on track competition of a Formula 1 race for the final 250 miles.

Darrell Waltrip 1984

Much was made of it taking Waltrip 17 years to win the Daytona 500, and while the number of failed attempts for one of the ten greatest drivers ever was frustrating, the manner in which he lost pales in comparison to the nature of losses suffered by a couple of other multi-time series champions.

However, in 1984 Waltrip held the lead on the final lap, unfortunately the man who’d been trailing him for 38 laps was doing so according to plan. And that man was the guy who’d been fastest all week. Cale Yarborough executed the sling shot perfectly and before it was over Waltrip was relegated to third. Of all of his failed attempts to win, this was easily the closest he’d been to victory, more so than the bizarre 1979 runner-up performance.

David Pearson, 1975

With ten laps left, Pearson held a seemingly insurmountable lead of 5.2 seconds over Benny Parsons. When it was over Pearson found himself two laps down in fourth place.

With drafting assistance from Richard Petty, eight laps in arrears himself and eager to assist in the defeat of his arch rival, Parsons began cutting into the lead, and had it down to two seconds with three laps left.

Pearson, now under far more pressure than he expected was trying to navigate lap traffic, and doing so with much more urgency. The urgency resulted in Pearson tangling with Cale Yarborough sending the Wood Brothers owned Mercury sliding into the grass and Parsons into victory lane.

What would’ve happened had Petty pulled Parsons all the way to Pearson? We’ll never know. What we do know is Pearson never got the chance to fend off Parsons charge, only made possible itself thanks to a driver multiple laps behind.

Ken Schrader, 1989

All he did was win the pole, dominate the Busch Clash en route to victory, do the same thing in the Gatorade 125 Mile Qualifier on Thursday, and then lead 114 of the first 189 laps in the Daytona 500. Unfortunately that wasn’t enough. The aforementioned Waltrip, in his 17th try to win the 500, managed to stretch his fuel considerably longer than anyone else and “stole” the Daytona 500 from his Hendrick Motorsports teammate.

Buddy Baker, 1973

Richard Petty may have won the race, but there was no doubt who had the best car.

Despite a faster late race pit stop that appeared to have won the race for Petty, Baker showed the superiority in his Dodge while chasing Petty down at a rate that ensured he’d get to Petty’s back bumper before the end of the race.

Unfortunately his engine expired six laps from the finish, and despite leading a whopping 157 laps, Baker finished sixth.

Bobby Allison, 1981

Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good, as Petty found out in 1973 and 1974. And sometimes its better to be smart than fast.

Bobby Allison led for 117 laps from the pole, this after also winning his qualifier on Thursday. But when he made his final pit stop on lap 173 he took on right side tires, requiring a 17.4 second pit stop.

When Petty made his stop two laps later crew chief Dale Inman decided to forego fresh tires, opting only for gas only, resulting in a stop that was seven seconds quicker than his rival’s, creating a lead that Allison could never overcome.

Sterling Marlin, 2002

Short is the list of drivers who won the Daytona 500 more than twice, but if not for one of the most memorable boneheaded moves in sports history, it might be one longer.

While attempting to get underneath race leader Jeff Gordon on a late restart, Marlin came into contact with the four time champion, resulting in Gordon sliding thru the grass sideways and Marlin edging Ward Burton back to the line to get the caution, and presumably (pre GWC days) the win.

But instead of finishing under yellow, NASCAR opted to red flag the field to ensure a race to the checkered flag (a few losers of previous 500s wonder where this was in 1991 and 1997) under green flag conditions. Under the red flag, during which no work may be done on the racecar, Marlin became worried about the right front fender rubbing, and potentially cutting, the right front tire as a result of the contact with Gordon.

Marlin hopped out of his car on the back stretch and to the dismay of everyone, began tugging on the fender. Per NASCAR rules, Marlin was ordered to the rear of the field for the day’s final restart, ending his quest for a third Daytona 500 victory.

Would Marlin have pitted and lost track position regardless? Would the tire have held up for five miles? We don’t know the answer to either question.

And truthfully, most of us don’t even know that Ward Burton won the Daytona 500 that day, but we all know Sterling Marlin didn’t.

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25 Sports Moments That Would’ve Broken Twitter

There are those moments when your suddenly fast and efficient Twitter timeline starts acting sluggish, even failing to refresh, or allow you to post. Usually it’s because something so big happened that everyone had to tweet about it at once, and we, “break Twitter”. There are those moments where suddenly 98% of the tweets on our timeline suddenly all become about the very same thing. In fact, many of the tweets are identical. And sometimes, these moments happen and the conversation continues to dominate hours, and days, after the initial event. Richard Sherman’s interview is the latest example of this phenomenon that was spawned by the sudden growth of social media. But what about those monumental events that were pre twitter? Which ones would we have loved, or hated, to have seen our timelines blow up over?

Every sports moment in history, while technically eligible, really isn’t. More recent events are at the forefront, as the popularity of sports has boomed thanks to TV, in particular, cable TV. Before the last quarter of the 20th century, I would argue few sports stories really and truly gripped a nation. So instead, I’m looking at the ones that did have everyone’s eye, or at least a glance, and the absolute madness with which twitter would have exploded were it around then. As such, the perceived popularity of the sport at the time goes a long way in dictating the inclusion and location of an event on this list.

Additionally, events that transpired beyond just sports rank higher thanks to the manner in which even the non sports fan finds themselves part of the discussion. And while perhaps a particular event itself may not have had the same power in terms of the ramifications regarding it’s sport as others, if it spawned debate, or even had people drawing battle lines, it crawls up the list as well. A moment where the “WOW” factor is such that upon reading the exclamations and adjectives used to describe what just took place leaves even the non fan reaching for the remote to tune in just to see what’s going on. A lot goes into making something memorable, and even more goes into giving it the ability to have everyone talking. That said though, we’re not all going to agree, but here are the 25 moments with the most ability to “break twitter”.

25. Colorado 5th Down vs Missouri- Could you imagine if a national championship contender was allowed a fifth down to pull out a late victory and stay in the title hunt? Bad calls become news very quickly, and one has to wonder if the Big Eight would’ve handled things differently had they come under intense fire, immediately.

24. SMU Death Penalty Handed Out- This would be higher if we had perhaps known just how deep college football, and of course SMU, would feel its impact years later. I tell you though, the pay for play debate would have never been more front and center.

23. Eric Gregg’s Game Five Strike Zone- As mentioned, few things get the masses stirring like questionable officiating, but let it happen in the postseason and involve one of sports most polarizing teams of its generation. Marlins fans would’ve been ashamed to claim victory.

22. U.S. Robbed vs Soviets in 76 Olympics- I can’t really speak too well on the popularity of Olympic basketball, but I do know we were not exactly sending Christmas cards to the soviets then, and Americans excel at feigning patriotism. So if we feel we’ve been screwed, by our biggest international enemy, see how fast we unite…. For a day or two.

21. Pass Interference on Miami vs Ohio State Fiesta Bowl- Few programs elicit the type of reaction from fans that Miami did when Miami was being Miami. If you didn’t jump on the bandwagon, you probably hated them. But even if you did, even you would’ve been a bit dismayed at a pass interference flag being thrown so absurdly late that the Miami celebration was well in full effect before the ref threw his flag. Correct call or not, the late nature of it would’ve been met with tremendous uproar.

20. Jordan Championship Clincher vs Utah- We assumed this was Jordan’s final career shot, and it should’ve been. It was the perfect singular moment to wrap up one of the most incredible careers of all-time. Or so it should’ve been.

19. Jimmy V’s Cancer Speech at ESPYs- This is one of those moments where the tweets would read, “Doesn’t matter if you like sports or not, turn it to the Espys to hear this incredible speech”. The only reason its not higher is that this likely became a much bigger story the next day.

18. Nancy vs Tonya- Oh, we love some drama and violence in our society, and while figure skating only partially grabs any of our attention just once every four years, this story would’ve been impossible to ignore. Mainly because I can’t imagine what all the meme and gif artists would do with Nancy and her, “why me?” crys of anguish.

17. Buster Douglass Knocks Out Tyson- The indestructible had been destroyed. Tyson going down forever changed him, and forever changed boxing. It was one of the most monumental upsets in sports history, and the shock would’ve been felt everywhere.

16. Blown Call 1985 World Series- Have you noticed the controversial call theme? Of course this wasn’t controversial, this was just wrong. And who knows, maybe the Royals come back and win game six anyway. But let’s be real, every last one of us would’ve felt like the Cardinals had a World Series stolen from them. We get it MLB, you’ve spent the next thirty years trying to make up for it.

15. Pete Rose’s Lifetime Ban- Alex Rodriguez still is a topic of conversation, and we hate, and are tired if him, and just want him to go away. That wasn’t the case with Pete Rose, and there were multiple camps people found themselves in, depending on their view, and just how extreme they went with it. But announcing the all time hit king was banned, for life…

14. Jeffrey Maier- More postseason baseball controversy, aided by involving the biggest professional sports team in the world. The play gave Jeter a home run and the Yankees a win, that unfairly changed the direction of the ALCS. And without this, Jim Leyritz may never happen. Just throwing that out there.

13. Webber’s Timeout- There’s little society seems to enjoy more than shredding celebrities for making mistakes, especially athletes, and especially really dumb mistakes. The polarizing nature of the Fab Five and the status of North Carolina basketball, along with one of the dumbest blunders ever, and Twitter would’ve erupted. Of course, had he not taken the timeout and had Michigan won, we’d been talking about the egregious missed travel call that immediately preceded the ill fated timeout.

12. Scott Norwood Miss- In all fairness, Norwood has been unfairly vilified for missing the field goal that would’ve given the Bills a Super Bowl, and potentially prevented the Patriots dynasty. But that wouldn’t have mattered then. The reaction to the missed kick would have sent Twitter into a tizzy. Though, with real football fans, that would’ve begun earlier, as the questioning of Buffalo suddenly getting conservative once across the 40 would’ve made Marv Levy far more culpable in the defeat.

11. Buckner’s Blunder- One of the most famous sports curses to ever exist was on the verge of being exorcised, in a matchup involving two gigantic fan bases. And then the routine of the routine suddenly became not so routine. Bill Buckner got it bad enough as it was, could you imagine if this happened today?

10. Mike Tyson Ear Bite- To quote Al Michaels, “He did what?” Because for those not watching the fight live, this would’ve been the reply from just about everyone upon reading of what Mike Tyson did to Evander Holyfield in the ring that night. We thought the Douglass fight sent shockwaves, no, not even close.

9. Steve Bartman- This was similar to the Jeffery Maier debacle, except, this wasn’t an illegal play, and, oh, right, this did not help the home team. Instead, it only substantiated a belief in curses. Oh, sure, there was the Alex Gonzalez error, and the fact that the Cubs didn’t get out of that 8th inning anyway, but who cares? This moment encapsulated a century of failure.

8. 1979 Daytona 500 Ending- People are going to question this, but there’s a very good argument for this being so high. This was in the days before cable TV was a thing, you watched what the broadcast networks had, and that was it. It was the dead period of the sports year, and a massive winter storm pretty much snowed the entire east coast in. In other words, most of the country was tuned into the first ever live, flag to flag televised Nascar race ever. And what they saw would have had anyone and everyone talking.
7. Do You Believe in Miracles- As mentioned earlier, we Americans love displaying that contrived patriotism, and the Olympics are our favorite stage. Amazing how many people are huge hockey fans every four years, myself included. But this one was a little different. For starters, it was our good friends the soviets on the other side, and even better, we played the role of the one thing America loves the most, the underdog. And were we ever an underdog.

6. Mark McGwire 62- Baseball was undone by the strike and was in desperate need of something to help it recapture its place in our hearts. While at the time we were naive to the long term ramifications, or perhaps just turning a blind eye, we got it with Mark McGwire and the great home run race of 1998. The night McGwire hit 62, every last one of us was glued to the TV, and if we could’ve been, glued to Twitter.

5. Dale Earnhardt’s Death- Earnhardt’s death remains as large as any death in American sports history. From the sheer magnitude thanks to his mega superstar status, to the safety reform all throughout motorsports, all the way to being on the cover of Time Magazine, this was big. Adding to it was that never before had such a superstar in any sport been killed while in competition. Throw in the fact that any time Nascar comes up the absurd discussion (and I purposefully don’t use the word debate, because its not one) as to whether its a sport or not takes hold, and you have the epitome of a Twitter takeover.

4. Brawl at the Palace- It will always go down as one of the darkest days in American sports, and it seemed to personify everything that was perceived to be wrong about the NBA. To say it was ugly barely scratches the surface. And of course, this story put the race card in the center of the table where it couldn’t be ignored.

3. Baseball Cancels End of 1994 Season- Albeit for entirely different reasons, the day they announced there would be no World Series in 1994 was equally as dark. And while of a different nature, battle lines were drawn. Were you a fan of billionaire owners or millionaire players? Or did you hate them both? We think we suffer through no baseball from November to March, imagine being told in August there’d be no baseball until….. Until who knows when.

2. Magic AIDS Announcement- The religious moral police? The acceptance of homosexuality? Race? Yeah, let’s roll them all into one and see how many of us don’t lose about twenty followers a day. The Macklemore performance had people typically friendly involved on heated discussions where animosity was clear. Just imagine this. This was the day AIDS became real. This went beyond the arguably greatest basketball player of a generation retiring early. Transcendent was made part of the dictionary just for stories like this.

1. The O.J. Trial Verdict- As big as the Magic story was, the verdict coming down on the biggest trial in American history trumps it. From a pure historical and societal context this story alone contends for the top spot. Think about the Casey Anthony and George Zimmermann verdicts and recall how huge those stories were. Recall the debates, arguments, and vitriol spawned from them. Now make it O.J. Simpson, no regular Joe who is only famous because of his trial, and you have, pre 9/11, the biggest news story, period, of our generation.

There were also stories that lacked a defining moment, but were themselves large enough, and captivating enough, that I’d be remiss to ignore them.

Ray Lewis Atlanta Murders Saga

Tiger Woods First Masters Win

Latrell Spreewell Choking Incident

Mike Tyson Rape Case

John Elway vs Baltimore Colts Standoff

And strictly for my own Atlanta people, there’s a few that for could vie for a top five overall spot. So here are the twenty-five moments that would’ve broken Atlanta twitter

25. Jamal Tears ACL 1999
24. Otis Nixon, The Catch
23. Bobby Hebert to Terrance Mathis and Into the Playoffs
22. Calvin Johnson vs Clemson
21. Signed Greg Maddux
20. Greene to Michael Johnson vs Auburn
19. Colorado 5th Down
18. Lindsey Scott
17. Marvin Williams Over Chris Paul
16. Otis Nixon Bunts to Finish 1992 World Series
15. Hideo Nomo Named Rookie of the Year
14. John Rocker
13. Reggie Ball on Fourth Down
12. We’ll See You Tomorrow Night, Kirby Puckett
11. Acquired pick to draft Michael Vick
10. Jasper Sanks “Fumble”
9. Eric Gregg’s Strike Zone
8. Bobby Petrino Quits
7. Vick Breaks Leg
6. Clinch 1991 National League Pennant
5. Jim Leyritz
4. Gary Andersen’s Miss
3. Morten Andersen’s Make
2. Braves Win! Braves Win! Braves Win!
1. World Champs

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The Ultimate Hate List

So which athletes did, and do, I openly root against? Who makes me cringe at their mere presence? Who gives me nightmares? Who am I sick of hearing about? With no further explanation, my twenty most reviled sports stars.

20. Ernie Irvan- He wasn’t a bad guy, but he wrecked a lot of racecars, and not just his. Accidents he directly caused ended Neil Bonnett’s career, broke Kyle Petty’s leg, and Dale Earnhardt’s clavicle. He also cost Bill Elliott a potential third Daytona 500 and second championship.

19. Jerry Rice- Without the Falcons, Jerry Rice goes down as one of the greatest receivers in NFL history. The Atlanta Falcons made him arguably the greatest football player of all-time.

18. Kirby Puckett- Game six. That’s all.

17. Bryce Harper- He’s the face of the baseball team I hate the most, idolized by the most moronic and delusional fan base in sports. That alone is enough. The cocky arrogance he plays with that goes above and beyond what’s called for, cement his place.

16. Carmelo Anthony- I don’t know exactly why, but I just do not like him. He’s overrated, if you ask me. Sure, he’s a great scorer, but what else? A great teammate? A leader? A defender? These ideas make me laugh. Yet he fancies himself on the same elite platform as Lebron or Durant.

15. Dale Earnhardt- As a person off the track, there are few better. I have my own personal story from Dixie Speedway in the fall of 1990 to attest to that. But I can’t ignore what happened on the track. He wrecked people, constantly, and intentionally. Some loved the hard charging, rough driving style. I didn’t. To me, he took good hard racing to unacceptable levels of just plain dirty driving. And anybody who was ever anybody during his prime, can cite plenty of examples. Waltrip, Wallace, Elliott, Bodine, Marlin, Labonte, etc…, you name ‘em.

14. Eli Manning- I can’t put him here simply because he’s the most overrated quarterback since another SEC quarterback in New York was a part of a monumental Super Bowl upset. No, that alone isn’t enough. But much like John Elway years before, I absolutely loathe the manner he dictated which team he would go to upon being drafted by threatening not to even play if the Chargers drafted him. Who do you think you are? Seriously. What you are is the second coming of Joe Namath. Hype and great moments overshadow what a mediocre quarterback he is.

13. Terrell Owens- Does this really require explanation? Arrogant? Jerk? Locker room cancer? Everything you could possibly not want in a teammate. So much of it that the fact he was a great football player hardly even mattered.

12. Roger Clemens- He’s kind of like an Alex Rodriguez light. And not THAT light a version. He’s delusional, arrogant, self centered, and a liar. The stunt with Piazza and his incredulous explanation sums this asshole up perfectly.

11. Kyle Busch- I don’t mind cockiness and arrogance, “I like that in a pilot”. But you can go too far. I’m sorry, what Daytona 500, or Brickyard 400, or Coke 600 have you won? Have you even contended for a championship? Oh, you manage to regularly beat up on guys at the AA and AAA levels? Good for you. And this, “I’ve never wrecked someone on purpose”, bit. I really don’t know why he isn’t higher. Maybe the cease and desist letter from him endeared me to him a bit.

10. Drew Brees- Someone from the Saints has to be on this list, and Brees is as good a choice as anyone. He’s a guy who strikes me as less than genuine, and much more about self promotion than people think. To me, he’s done a fabulous job convincing people he’s this selfless, great team guy. I think he loves the attention all that brings on him. And he regularly kicks our ass.

9. Michael Vick- The despicable dog fighting aside, how many times can a player “rededicate” himself? Vick was given the keys to the franchise, and then spit on the face of everyone associated with it. His admittance that he put in minimal effort? Yeah, I’ll never root for his success on the football field.

8. Reggie Ball- If I didn’t actually number each person on this list, Reggie would have no idea where he ranks.

7. Richard Sherman- I think rule number one in sports and in competition is to respect your opponent. If you two want to talk trash on the field between the two if you, that’s fine. But I take issue when you publicly disrespect your peers. And if you’re going to talk a lot, and talk even more when you back it up, then face the music when you fail to back it up. Richard Sherman ducked the media last year after losing to a team he assured us they’d beat, and being burned by an overrated, sorry, “system wide receiver”.

6. Deangelo Hall- The only reason Sherman isn’t 6th. Hall is everything Sherman is, except a great player.

5. Kevin Garnet- Garnett defines bully. He rarely runs his mouth to people his own size or bigger, but he has no reservations about mixing it up with someone smaller than him. He’s a great player, but he’s an instigative bully that walks around like he’s never done anything wrong.

4. Kurt Busch- He and his brother are similar. The difference is, Kyle pretty much owns his black hat. Kurt pretends it’s everyone’s fault but his. Everything he says that tries to dispel that comes across as fake and contrived.

3. Alex Rodriguez- His own players union wants to expel him. Does anything more really need to be said? He’s the biggest fraud since that guy who nearly bought the Islanders. He’s the most disingenuous public figure I can think of. And to think, he was almost a Brave. Yikes.

2. Ray Lewis- I don’t care what he plead to. Ray Lewis was either partially (to what extent, we’ll never know) responsible for the death of another human being, or in the very least, responsible for the fact the killers never received justice. What makes it worse is how Lewis used this to make himself a victim, and talk about how Good was testing him, and citing this incident as his path to faith. Are you kidding me? People may hate the way Tim Tebow invokes God at every turn, but it doesn’t even compare to Ray Lewis. So spare me the “leadership”, and the theatrics, and dramatic speeches. Ray Lewis knows why a man was killed, but chose rather to cover up what happened to protect his friends, and then call himself a victim. Ok.

1. Jim Leyritz- I’m not even going here

15 most disliked media members

15. Matt Millen
14. Joe Simpson
13. Shannon Sharpe
12. Charles Davis
11. Joe Buck
10. Harold Reynolds
9. Phil Simms
8. Tim McCarver
7. Mitch Williams
6. Mark May
5. Skip Bayless
4. Donovan McNabb
3. Pam Ward
2. Chip Caray
1. Joe Morgan

10 most disliked coaches

10.Buddy Ryan
9. John Calipari
8. Tony Larussa
7. Barry Switzer
6. Lane Kiffin
5. Nick Saban
4. Bill Belichek
3. Urban Meyer
2. Sean Payton
1. Bobby Petrino

Dishonorable mentions- Yasiel Puig, Danny White, Manny Ramirez, Jeff George, Albert Belle, Jay Cutler, Matt Barnes, Dwyane Wade, Robert Smith, Kent Hrbek, Armando Benitez, Dwight Howard, Milton Bradley, Donovan McNabb, Roberto Alomar, Albert Belle, Ben Roethlisberger, Randy Moss, Latrell Spreewell

*There are obviously a slew of criminal athletes, even murderers, but some were before my time, and others were too inconsequential as an athlete to be considered*

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Quick thoughts from week two

Lane Kiffin won’t be the head coach at USC next year. He won’t ever be the head coach anywhere again. He’s a joke.

Michigan State is a really good team with really bad quarterback play. No way they can best out the likes of Nebraska, Michigan, and Northwestern in what is a very good division.

Jeff Driskel is bad. Real bad. Florida has to have a better option on that roster.

Miami and Florida State have easy schedules the rest of the way. A couple double digit win seasons from these two could help shift the balance of power in Florida.

It’s not just the two Florida schools though. Clemson and Virginia have also produced impressive non conference wins. The ACC may not be the joke it’s been lately, Logan Thomas not withstanding.

Texas, really? The other contenders on the Big XII have all shown dramatic defensive improvement. Without massive improvement, and quickly, Texas could struggle to reach .500. Saturday against Ole Miss is a must win.

Tennessee has looked good against lesser competition. Reality check this week.

Louisville isn’t playing around. The competition hadn’t been tough, but they’ve handled it like a contender should.

Indiana blew a chance for a strong start to their season by losing to Navy.

Raheem Cato and Marshall can score some points, lots of them. Watch them when you can.

Southern Miss has gone from 12-2 to one of three worst teams in the nation in the blink of an eye. It’s astonishing.

I’ve tried telling people that Ohio is overrated and Bowling Green will win that division. Maybe they’ll start listening now.

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Newest FBS Members May Impact Sun Belt pt 2

Earlier I wrote about the fledgling South Alabama Jaguars and the possible spoiler role they could play in the Sun Belt conference in the 2013 season. They aren’t the only new kid on the FBS block though. In 2012 the Texas State Bobcats made the jump from the FCS and competed in the now defunct WAC conference and this year will join fellow newcomers South Alabama and Georgia State in the Sun Belt.

The Bobcats of Texas State though enter the 2013 season with expectations a little higher, and reasonably so.

Andy Erickson and the Bobcats shocked Houston a year ago, and this year Dennis Franchione and his squad look to continue climbing the totem poll  in Texas

Andy Erickson and the Bobcats shocked Houston a year ago, and this year Dennis Franchione and his squad look to continue climbing the totem pole in Texas

It starts with none other than former TCU and Alabama head coach Dennis Franchione. Gary Patterson may receive the love and adoration at TCU, but let’s not forget that it was Franchione who laid the groundwork for the Horned Frogs ascension into the upper reaches of college football, and ultimately a place in the Big 12 conference.

The groundwork laid at TCU is a large part Franchione is a perfect fit for Texas State. He’s used to swooping in under the heavy hitters that recruit the talent rich state of Texas and picking up the best of the leftovers, and the best of what went overlooked.

We all know the state of Texas is rich in high school football talent, and if a few of the smaller schools can snatch some of it up, the chance is there for a quick turnaround and rise to prominence. TCU, Baylor, Houston, and SMU have all risen from obscurity and ashes in the past 20 years to now being members of AQ conferences with dreams of playing in a BCS bowl. Three of the four have finished in the top 25 in recent years, and SMU has gone from 2-22  in 2007 and 2008 to just 23 losses in the 4 years since, with four consecutive bowl trips. Texas State looks to follow in those footsteps.

Just last season the Bobcats went to Houston and trounced the Cougars 30-13. They also lost by just 13 to Nevada, and 11 to San Jose State, though they were outgained by very wide margins in both games. They fell by merely a touchdown to 19th ranked Louisiana Tech  and won their final two games of the season in finishing 4-8.

Overall, it wouldn’t seem all that much to get overly excited about, but remember, that was their first year as an FBS team.

The 2013 Bobcats should be a better version than 2012 squad, and also plays a more forgiving schedule.

They do lose quarterback Shaun Rutheford and tailback Marcus Curry, both dynamic playmakers, and the majority of their rushing attack a season ago.

However, Franchione feels comfortable turning the reins over to Tyler Arndt, who was recruited by TCU, Missouri and Arizona among others. The hope is Arndt can deliver on the promise he offered as one of the program’s top signees.

It’s tailback though where Franchione feels his replacement will be an upgrade. In house, the Bobcats are expecting Terrence Franks to return to his form as a freshmen when he ran for 863 yards, as opposed to last seasons disappointing 269 yard campaign, though he did tack on five scores.

Beyond just the hopeful return to form by Franks though is JUCO C.J. Best, who following spring practice was atop the depth chart, and true freshmen Jamel James, a sought after running back with great size and strength.

Together, that trio of backs will run behind an offensive line with four starters back from a team that averaged 5.2 yard per carry a season ago. Six times a year ago they topped 150 yards rushing, and with the vast majority of the offensive line back, figure to potentially improve upon those numbers in 2013.

Leading receivers Andy Erickson and Isaiah Battle also return to the mix after combing for over 900 yards a season ago to help aid the passing game in keeping defenses honest. But there’s no secret here, the ability to run the football will make or break this team, and they have the linemen and stable of backs to do just that.

Defensively they lost three of their top four tacklers, but return 5-12, so they don’t have to replace much on defense. The secondary returns intact, and his talented, and the defensive line will be among the very best in the conference.  They will also add in former Colroado State linebacker Michael Orakpo.

All told, the Bobcats will be exceptionally strong on both sides of the line. Generally in football, teams who have the edge on both the offensive and defensive line win football games.

The home schedule offers six winnable football games, with conference tilts with pre-season favorites Louisiana-Monroe and Western Kentucky rating as the toughest tests they’ll face in San Marcos. On the road, Idaho, Troy and, yes, even Southern Miss, all present as winnable games. Not that Arkansas State and Louisiana can’t be won, but realistically speaking, those three offer the best chances.

Getting ULM and Western Kentucky both at home offers the Bobcats a chance to play a major role in the conference title race. The Bobcats open conference play with games against the Louisiana schools in back to back weeks, with home games against Georgia State and South Alabama immediately following. A victory over either of the Louisiana schools could leave them 3-1 in conference play before their end of the year stretch with Arkansas State and Troy on the road sandwiching the visit by Western Kentucky.

While I don’t anticipate them winning the conference crown, the possibility of entering that final trio of games 3-1 in the Sun Belt, and potentially 6-3 overall could leave them without a lot to play for in those final three games. A trip to the postseason included, meaning they won’t just be playing spoiler down the stretch.

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Newest FBS Members May Impact Sun Belt pt 1

No, this is not about my local Georgia State Panthers, they’re not about to surprise anyone. Unfortunately, the Georgia Dome, while fielding a winner on Sundays, will likely be host the home team recieving several lopsided beat downs on Saturdays this fall.

Rather, a couple of the other newest members to the highest level of college football may look to surprise in the Sun Belt Conference this fall. And by surprise, I’m not sure I just mean play the spoiler role when it comes to ruining another teams run at the conference title and likely spot in New Orleans on the first day of of Bowl Season.

Last year South Alabama competed at the FBS level for the first time, having spent three years as an FCS team and going 23-4 in those three years, albeit as an independent and not facing a very difficult schedule.

The Jaguars won only two games a year ago, but were surprisingly competitive in many of their defeats. They were underdogs by 30 points or more to North Carolina State and Mississippi State, but lost by 24 points or less in both contests, while only being outgained by 79 yards in the two games combined. It may not seem like much, but for a young program like South Alabama, it was a very positive sign.

They fell by only 7 to an Arkansas State team that won 10 games and won the conference a year ago, and were also fairly competitive against both Louisiana and Louisiana-Monroe, two Sun Belt teams who combined to win 17 games.

Oh, there were bad points in the year as well, such as gaining only 166 yards in a 23-7 loss at Hawaii and downing Nicholls State by only a 9-3 count. But overall, the year would likely be deemed a success by Joey Jones, the only head coach the program has known.

With 17 starters (9 on offense, 8 on defense) the Jaguars should be able to build on their competitiveness of a year ago. Enough to possibly get to .500 or even make a bowl game? Playing in the postseason may be a bit of a reach, but in a day and age of parity where seemingly 6 or 7 plays make the difference in 8-4 and 4-8, it’s not beyond the realm of possibilities.

The Jaguars bring back four starters on the offensive life, and center Ucambre Williams started five games last season before being lost for the year to injury. The Jaguars topped 100 yards rushing in 9 of 12 games last season, and averaged 147 yards a game on the ground in conference play. Demetre Baker, a former Georgia signee and Kendall Houston both return in the backfield and continued improvement should be expected.

Their four leading receivers from a season ago are also all back, including Jereme’ Jones and Corey Betesda. Jones is the possession guy, while Betesda averaged over 15 yards per catch in 2012. Ross Metheny is back for his senior year at quarterback and should build over his 2012 season. The signs were there during Metheny’s first two years at Virginia, and were a reason he was a decent rated recruit coming out of high school.

The Jaguar offense shouldn’t have to make incredible leaps this season though, because the defense should be solid. South Alabama was -12 in turnovers last year, contributing to the near 30 points a game they allowed, despite yielding just 383 yards per game.

They return 9 of their top 12 tacklers from a year ago, with 5 of the front 7 being back, and just one starter missing from the secondary. They have awards canidates at all three levels of the defense, and Alex Page (DE), Enrique Williams, and Tyrell Pearson (CB) will be among the best players in the conference at their respective positions.

Page is the start of the defenisve line after having six sacks a season ago, but may not be the key to the defensive front. Cesare Johnson will be the anchor their 3-4, and some around Mobile will tell you tell you he has the potential to play on Sundays. If he starts tapping into that potential this season, the linebackers will be the beneficiaries of his efforts.

As mentioned, the secondary loses only one starter, but the hope is that JUCO transfer Steffon Fuller may be able to fill that void, and join a secondary that included Pearson and safety Terrel Brigham who had 71 tackles and defended 7 passes as a sophomore a year ago.

South Alabama isn’t going to win 10 games this season, that just won’t happen. But odds are good they won’t lose 10 either. The fact of the matter is, they’re still probably not quite ready to make a bowl game either. However, the three favorites (Louisiana, Louisiana-Monroe, Western Kentucky) in the conference all must come to Mobile. And while that doesn’t bode well for a good record, it does mean, in many ways the conference title will go through Mobile. There is a strong possibility that the Jaguars trip up one of those three, and whichever one they defeat, they deal a serious blow to their hopes of winning the conference.

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Ranking the Daytona 500s of the Last Thirty 30 Years; 21-25

25. 2003 Daytona 500

About the only thing anyone remembers from 2003 besides the rain.

About the only thing anyone remembers from 2003 besides the rain.

The 2003 Daytona 500 may go down as one of the strangest Daytona 500s ever. This was during the period of DEI dominance at the restrictor plates, and the 2003 Daytona 500 was no exception. Just the previous Thursday, Dale Earnhardt Jr and Michael Waltrip had started, and finished, first and second in their Gatorade 125 Mile Qualifier. And on an overcast Sunday at the beach, it appeared a similar story was being written.

Earnhardt however would suffer from electrical problems and would fall multiple laps in arrears, effectively taking him out of contention for his first Daytona 500 victory. Waltrip however was still around, and it appeared his stiffest competition would be from either Tony Stewart or Jimmie Johnson. While Earnhardt may have no longer been in contention for the victory himself, he still was in position to play a huge role in deciding just who would go to victory lane.

A caution flew on lap 96, and following the pit stops by the leaders, Jimmie Johnson emerged as the leader for the first time. Waltrip (64) and Earnhardt (22) had led 86 of the first 95 laps of the event and it would appear to only be a matter of time before Waltrip would make his way back to the front. Earnhardt was at this point still battling to make up the multiple laps he’d lost while suffering through his ailments earlier in the day. Time, however, was not on anyone’s side this day. Well, perhaps it was on one man’s side.

The race restarted and only three green flag laps were run, as another caution flew, this one for debris. Johnson still maintained the lead, but lining up to his inside on the restart would be the car of Dale Earnhardt Jr, who was two laps down. This was before the days of the double file restart with only lead-lap cars, and wave arounds, and lucky dogs. This was when the lead lap cars restarted on the outside, and the cars one or more laps in arrears restarted on the bottom. Period. No ifs, ands, or buts. It made all the difference in the world on this day.

Immediately after the green dropped on lap 106 Waltrip dropped from his spot on Johnson’s bumper to the bottom line behind teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. Earnhardt raced past Johnson to bring himself back to just one lap down, but more importantly, he pulled Waltrip with him. Everyone knew that the two DEI cars hooked up together were next to unbeatable. So the circumstances surrounding what turned out to be the final restart did not at all make Johnson’s crew chief Chad Knaus very happy.

While the leaders were coming off of turn four, defending Daytona 500 champion Ward Burton crashed, bringing out the race’s third caution in the last twelve laps. It would be the final caution. The skies completely opened up while the field was pacing around the track, and it did not take long for NASCAR to call the race after just 109 laps, or 272.5 miles.

The irony in it all was that once again, Waltrip was denied a true victory lane celebration of a Daytona 500 victory. Amazing, for a man who won two Daytona 500s (though many hesitate to say that, considering this one wasn’t even the distance of the Nationwide race that precedes it on Saturday), he’s yet to truly experience victory lane in The Great American Race.

Kurt Busch would wind up second, and it would not be the last time he would be the bridesmaid, while Johnson took third. Earnhardt would never get the chance to make up his other lost lap, but of course, if you’ve been reading you know, he would take the checkered flag the very next February.

The race itself saw just 11 lead changes during its 109 laps, and only Waltrips pass of Johnson on the restart took place under green. Coupled with the weather, and the shortened distance, there really wasn’t much to enjoy about this Daytona 500. Ryan Newman’s accident, and the subplots of Waltrip winning another Daytona 500 that seemed to be marred and overshadowed by a bigger story are the only things that made this race remotely memorable.

24. 1985 Daytona 500

A portrait of dominance

A portrait of dominance

When it comes down to it, there may not have been a less competitive Daytona 500 in the past 30 years than the 1985 edition. And it’s for that reason, actually, that it doesn’t rank as the least enjoyable of the past thirty years.

The 1985 Daytona 500 should in fact be appreciated for what it was. And what it was was a domination of unheard of proportions, and of proportions that will never be seen again at the famed 2.5 mile track. What Bill Elliott managed to do to the field at Daytona in the February of 1985 bordered on criminal.

Elliott had already won the pole with a track record lap that bettered 205 mph, and was over a full mph faster than outside pole sitter Cale Yarborough. On Thursday, Elliott went out and proceeded to absolutely crush what fleeting hope anyone had of catching the red Ford by leading all 50 laps of his Twin 125 Qualifier…..and lapping all but five cars. That’s right, in a 50 lap sprint at Daytona, Elliott left a mere five cars on the lead lap and won by 37 seconds. Yes, 37 seconds. If Elliott didn’t break, nobody had a chance on Sunday.

And as it would happen, Elliott did not break. But just about everybody else did in their attempts, futile at that, to try and keep up the pace. By days end, only 18 of the 40 starters were still running at the finish, and only Lake Speed finished on the same lap as Elliott. The list of names who succumbed to Elliott’s prowess was long and distinguished. Nobody had anything for the youngster from Georgia, and anyone who tried to keep the pace found themselves in the garage.

At one point in the race Elliott built up a 44 second lead. Again, you’re reading this right, a 44 second lead. Apparently NASCAR didn’t like the way Elliott was stinking up their show however and had him come to pit road to repair a hole over the headlight cover. Elliott made his stop, lost the lead as the crew made the repairs, rejoined the fray and he was back in the lead again in 10 laps.

The 1985 Daytona 500 was not particularly enjoyable to watch, and it certainly was not competitive as Elliott led for 136 laps. However, what it was, was something we won’t ever witness again. What it was was a case of man and machine completely dominating every other combination of man and machine to levels that were just unfathomable. People talk about how dominant the Morgan-McClure car was at the plate tracks for a stretch in the mid 90s, or the DEI dominance of the early 2000s, or even of Jimmie Johnson’s success at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. None of those compare to how dominant Bill Elliott was at Daytona during Speed Weeks in 1985. Never since has one man been such a heavy favorite entering a NASCAR race, and for good reason. This sort of thing just doesn’t happen.

23. 2012 Daytona 500

Perhaps the most surreal moment in Daytona 500 history

Perhaps the most surreal moment in Daytona 500 history

The most recent edition of the Daytona 500 is remembered much more for things that happened while the green flag was NOT out, than what took place at speed on the racetrack.

For starters, for the first time ever, the Daytona 500 was pushed to Monday. The race had been shortened in the past, and it had been delayed. But it had never been postponed. As they say, there’s a first time for everything. Not that FOX, or NASCAR really seemed to mind. With inclement weather still lingering around on Monday, NASCAR was able to get a prime time Monday night showcase slot for it’s premier event, which so happened to also be the debut of one, Danica Patrick.

The race itself, to long-time NASCAR fans, wasn’t exactly a lot to write home about. The two Jack Roush cars of Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle were clearly the class of the field, with seemingly the only driver with any possibility of besting the two blue ovals being Denny Hamlin. A first lap crash had already taken out Jimmie Johnson, as well as Danica Patrick. Hamlin seemed early on to be the class of the field, but anyone who’d seen the Roush cars all week long knew how stout they were. And in the second half of the race the two flexed their muscle.

The end was fairly anti-climatic. Kenseth led the final 38 laps, an unheard of number in today’s day and age of plate racing, and was never seriously challenged at the end. Dale Earnhardt Jr. managed to get around Kenseth’s teammate Greg Biffle for 2nd, but Earnhardt had no chance of passing Kenseth without any drafting help, and obviously, Biffle wasn’t going to be helping a Chevrolet beat his teammate.

However, it almost came to be that Kenseth never got to lead those last 38 laps. And had that stayed true, this Daytona 500 would have gone down as one of the most memorable ever.

NASCAR has a way of having big moments happen when the national television spotlight is brightest. In 1979 when they televised the race flag to flag live for the first time, there was the fight. In 2001, when FOX televised its first race, there was Dale Earnhardt’s death. And, then in 2012 when NASCAR got its first Monday Night race, there was Juan Pablo Montoya and the jet-dryer. Darrell Waltrip likes to say in the booth, “have you ever?” The answer in this case, from anyone who saw this, was, “No”.

Montoya’s escapade into the jet dryer left jet fuel spilling all over the race track in turn three, and the possibility of damage to the track’s surface made it very possible the race would not be restarted. Had that happened, Dave Blaney would be your defending Daytona 500 champion.

Of course, after a lengthy clean-up, and lots of Tide, and Brad Keselowski tweeting pictures from inside his car, the race did re-start. So, as it stands, the Montoya/jet-dryer explosion makes this race memorable. But had it allowed Dave Blaney to be a Daytona 500 winner, it would have been one of the most memorable of all-time.

22. 2006 Daytona 500

With his victory in 2006, Jimmie Johnson has avoided the question that dogged Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip, and now haunts Tony Stewart; Will you ever win the big one?

With his victory in 2006, Jimmie Johnson has avoided the question that dogged Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip, and now haunts Tony Stewart; Will you ever win the big one?

It wasn’t that the 2006 Daytona 500 wasn’t competitive, there were 32 lead changes among 18 different drivers. It was just that it was…….well, what was it? And there in lies the problem. There is no identity to this edition of the Daytona 500, nothing memorable to stand out. Well, I guess you could count Tony Stewart body slamming Matt Kenseth into the grass down the backstretch, only days after Stewart himself claimed, “We’re going to kill somebody driving like this”. But aside from that?

Perhaps it’s more memorable for Ryan Newman, Dodge, and Chip Ganassi. It was on this night that they realized Casey Mears would opt to help someone from his home state win, and driving a rival team’s car, in a rival manufacturer, as opposed to helping a fellow Dodge. Newman made a move on race leader Jimmie Johnson on the back stretch of the final lap, expecting help from a fellow Dodge lined up behind him. Instead, the Dodge driver decided his allegiances to California were deeper than those to the manufacturer of his race cars, and he Mears stuck with Johnson, handing Johnson the win.

For Johnson it was particularly sweet, as early during Speed Weeks NASCAR had kindly, or maybe not so kindly, escorted Chad Knaus out of the race track, and told him he was not welcome back to the track for six weeks after they found some creative workings of his on the race car to be a little too blatant a smudging of the rules. Interesting enough, the man filling in on the top of the pit box for Knaus was none other than Darian Grubb, he off the 2012 Sprint Cup championship with Tony Stewart.

I feel like there should be more to say here, but, really, there just isn’t. The race was competitive, so it wasn’t boring, and there was drama at the conclusion. There was just something missing…….

21. 1986 Daytona 500

Quite possibly the finest looking race car to ever win a Daytona 500

Quite possibly the finest looking race car to ever win a Daytona 500

The 1986 Daytona 500, despite NASCAR’s efforts to slow down the Fords, particularly one built in a tiny shop in Dawsonville, Ga, seemed very similar to its predecessor. Bill Elliott was on the pole, qualifying at over 205 mph….again.

But Elliott’s ’86 Ford wasn’t as dominant as his 1985 model had been. Partly due to NASCAR rules aimed to slow him down, and partly due to the diligence and work of the other teams in the garage, particularly the Chevrolets owned by Richard Childress and upstart owner Rick Hendrick, the elite competition seemed on an even playing field with Elliott.

Setting the stage was the budding rivalry that Richard Childress and his driver Dale Earnhardt had already established with Rick Hendrick and Geoff Bodine. On track skirmishes were frequent between the two, and even after this Daytona 500, would remain so. So much so, the feud between Rowdy Burns and Cole Trickle, and the meeting with NASCAR at the hospital was modeled after the rivalry between these two Chevy drivers.

For Sunday, Bodine had qualified on the outside pole along side Elliott and finished 2nd in his Twin 125 Mile Qualifer…..second to Earnhardt.

The race saw 19 lead changes in the first 113 laps, as the Fords, particularly Elliott, were not able to run away and hide. Elliott was in contention of course, but the race changed dramatically on the 117th lap. Neil Bonnett, who had led 32 laps earlier in the race, had suffered mechanical problems and found himself 18 laps off the pace. Yet, for some reason, he was still up at the front of the pack mixing it up with the leaders. This proved to be fatal to the hopes of many contenders. Bonnett broke a wheel on lap 117, and by the time he had collected all he was going to eliminate, he’d ended the hopes of Elliott, Cale Yarborough, Joe Ruttman, Buddy Baker and Tommy Ellis among others. At this point, it was pretty much down to Earnhardt and Bodine.

Bodine would dominate the second half of the race, but many, Bodine included, will tell you it was only because Earnhardt let him. Bodine would later say that as the race wound down, that Earnhardt’s Wrangler Monte Carlo was the faster of the two Chevrolets, even though Bodine led over half of the event. Bodine held the lead late, but Earnhardt was in the cat bird seat, exactly where he wanted, and needed to be, to win the Daytona 500. Ultimately, it didn’t matter.

Aided by pitting one lap after Earnhardt came to pit road, and by superior gas mileage, Bodine was able to stretch his fuel to the end, while Earnhardt could not. Earnhardt, likely from frustration and anger at losing the Daytona 500 in heartbreaking fashion (and it would not be the last) slid through his pit, and then when taking off from pit-road, tore something up in the motor, relegating him to a 14th place finish.

For Bodine and Hendrick, it was a sign that the used car salesman from Charlotte was serious about this stock car racing thing. It was the first big win for Hendrick, and as we all know, it would not be his last. For Bodine, this win would easily mark the highlight of his career. It also wouldn’t be the last time a Hendrick car won the Daytona 500 thanks to some impressive fuel mileage.

The budding rivalry between Bodine and Earnhardt had a few more coals added to the fire with this outcome. And for Earnhardt, little did he know how many more tries it would take to get a Daytona 500. It was already the second time he’d lost one in the closing laps, and as mentioned, it would not be the last.

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