Tag Archives: Tony Stewart

Ranking The Daytona 500s Of My Lifetime


There’s really nothing like the Daytona 500.

So as we embark on the 60th Daytona 500 this Sunday, I decided to take a look at all the ones run in my lifetime. Fascinating enough, I actually have vivid memories of all but three of them. And that’s rather unfortunate, since one of those probably is going to rank pretty high on this list. 2018 will mark the 34th Daytona 500 of my lifetime, so how would I rank the three plus decades worth of Daytona 500s I have been alive for? Keep in mind, this isn’t based strictly on entertainment value, or the competitiveness of the race, it ranks on my level of enjoyment and the memories I personally have of the race, along with where it ranks in my personal lore. So while one race that’s vastly less competitive and enjoyable to watch from a neutral fan’s perspective might rank at the bottom for some, it might rank near the top for me dependent upon the characters at play.

33) 2017 Daytona 500 Kurt Busch- Well, it finally happened, a Daytona 500 that hurts my heart more than the 1992 race. And more than the 1997 race. And you know what, maybe more than both combined, thanks to the horrific timing of it. If you recall, just a few weeks earlier there was this little event called the Super Bowl, and in it my childhood team seemingly had a championship locked up and victory sealed. We know what happened next. Fast forward a few weeks to the Daytona 500 and the second generation star in the making, Chase Elliott, was in control of the Daytona 500 over the race’s final 50 miles. The son of my favorite driver Bill Elliott (who if you keep reading you will see mentioned multiple times, including in the next race on this list counting down from my least enjoyable Daytona 500 to my favorite) was in position to score his first career win, and do it 30 years after his father last won the sport’s biggest race. The stage was set. And then? I still don’t want want to talk about it. Watch for yourself.

32) 1992 Davey Allison- What could have been one of the more exciting 500s of my lifetime, on lap 92 became the worst. A massive crash on the backstretch eliminated essentially all but one or two contenders, and left nobody to challenge Davey Allison. Among the contenders, Bill Elliott, who, if you don’t understand why that’s important, I wonder if you know me at all. Making it worse was that Elliott had spent the week establishing himself as pretty much the favorite, represented by the fact that he was the leader when the shenanigans took place. Also taken out in the crash were guys like Waltrip, Petty (making his final start in the Daytona 500), and Earnhardt. Ernie Irvan became the first thing in sports I ever felt anything close to actual hatred for. And this is where it was born, as my dislike from previous wrecks he’d caused turned to hate with this one.

31) 2003 Michael Waltrip- Rain shortened? Check. My favorite driver in contention then having problems and finishing well back in the pack? Check. Lack of drama and excitement late? Check. No thank you.

30) 2009 Matt Kenseth- Despite the fact that I was in attendance, seeing Matt Kenseth (who I don’t particularly dislike, he just doesn’t move the needle for me) win a rain shortened race that was constantly threatened by inclement weather just didn’t provide much for me. The only redeeming part was that Kyle Busch, who dominated the race, was swept up in a massive wreck triggered by Dale Earnhardt Jr, who was not on the same lap as the leaders.

29) 1995 Sterling Marlin- Despite Bill Elliott beginning a new chapter by returning home to Dawsonville, this race lacked appeal for me, personally. Perhaps his cut tire that took a contending car out of contention had a lot to do with that. Then again, I say contending, I mean contending for second. Elliott himself told me at an autograph session later that week that, “we had enough for Earnhardt, but I don’t know about Marlin”. In other words, Sterling Marlin had them covered. For Earnhardt, it was just more of the same, coming up just short.

28) 1986 Geoff Bodine- The fuel mileage game is one may NASCAR fans turn their nose up, and with good reason. While the drama aspect is certainly there, there just seems to be something anti-climactic about watching a race get won on the basis of getting better gas mileage. However, when it comes to the Daytona 500, you’re there to win, any way possible. And that’s what Bodine did in handing Rick Hendrick his first of many Daytona 500 trophies. That the fuel game bit Dale Earnhardt, beginning what was an incredible streak of poor luck in the race, is about all the keeps this from being at the very bottom of the list.

27) 2006 Jimmie Johnson- My record for attending Daytona 500s is not so sterling, as yet another one was impacted by rain. While the race did see its conclusion, I suffered through a cold mist all afternoon and early evening long. Jimmie Johnson took the victory with Chad Knaus suspended, thanks in part to Casey Mears who went with his fellow Californian as opposed to his fellow Dodge driver late in the race, content to finish second rather than charge for the win. This has never sat well with me.

26) 2013 Jimmie Johnson- The Danica mania was pretty much the only enjoyable aspect of this parade fest that was won by five time champion Jimmie Johnson.

25) 2010- Jamie McMurray- Delays for track issues pushed the finish of this one well into the night. A late charge by Dale Earnhardt Jr in an effort to steal the win from McMurray was pretty much it for excitement, aside from a lap one wreck that eliminated Jimmie Johnson and Danica Patrick, who was making her first start. Jamie McMurray being a likable guy, and a guy in major need of a career revival helped add a feel good aspect to an otherwise un-entertaining day and evening.

24) 1994- Sterling Marlin- Though it wasn’t quite the story of Michael Waltrip, Marlin’s victory in the 1994 Daytona 500 was an extremely long time coming. A career full of close calls and second place finishes, Marlin finally broke through, and I can’t think of anyone who wasn’t happy for him.

23) 2012 Matt Kenseth- NASCAR’s first foray into “Monday Night NASCAR”. The delay from Sunday afternoon to Monday night both took away from the event, and added to it. The Juan Pablo Montoya jet dryer incident and the thought that Dave Blaney might win the thing were the only things that made watching the Roush Fenway Show bearable.

22) 1996 Dale Jarrett- It was the Dale and Dale Show Part II. Unfortunately, this one carried much less excitement, much less drama, and was just a more boring version of the original, though it did mark the third time in four years that Earnhardt came across the finish line in second place.

21) 1989 Darrell Waltrip- Before there was Dale Earnhardt, when it came to legendary drivers being able to win everything under the sun in the sport except the Daytona 500, there was Darrell Waltrip. But in his 17th try, in car 17, starting in 17th place……. But aside from that, Ken Schrader absolutely owned the event. Aside from Earnhardt in 1990, no driver dominated the 500 and came up empty in a way like Schrader did in 1989. It could’ve been a win that would’ve completely altered his career.

20) 2008 Ryan Newman- Newman, like Kenseth, isn’t much of a needle mover in my book. In fact, if anything, I have a dislike for him. That said, the racing itself was quality and the finish was exciting. Watching teammates work together, even though I disliked them both, was fun. Tony Stewart further cemented his Dale Earnhardt type legacy (more on this later this week) at Daytona by contending, and even leading late, and yet again, failing to win.

19) 2015- Joey Logano- At this point I was still very anti team Logano, and that would only continue to grow as the year went on. The unfortunate part of this particular race was the great finish we got robbed of by a late caution. While not shown in the above video, before this particular yellow flew, they were three wide at the head of the field for the win in the final ten laps. It was going to be an incredible finish, and while the actual finish proved less dramatic, the anticipation of what seemed to be coming, and the show these guys put on keeps this from tumbling too far down the list for the simple sake of who won.

18) 2000 Dale Jarrett- This was quite possibly one of the least competitive Daytona 500s I’ve ever seen. So why in the world is it this high? Because having not won a race since 1994, Bill Elliott had won the Gatorade 125 the previous Thursday, the first time he’d won anything in 5 1/2 years. So my anticipation entering Sunday was the highest it had been in a long while. While Elliott failed to win, he finished 3rd, in what would be the last great run and finish by Elliott in his homegrown team from Dawsonville. Had Elliott, or even Johnny Benson, which would’ve gone down as an upset on the levels of Derrike Cope in 1990, been able to win, this snooze fest suddenly becomes one of the most memorable Daytona 500s I’ve ever seen. Of coruse, it ended with Jarrett snatching his third Harley J. Earl trophy.

17) 2002 Ward Burton- The Sterling Marlin tire tug will go down in infamy, though I’m not really sure why. Marlin knew he was going to have to pit to fix it regardless, so he didn’t really lose all that much. But the drama in the final few laps, and Ward Burton breaking through with a career making victory were also key elements to the first Daytona 500 ever held that didn’t include Richard Petty or Dale Earnhardt.

16) 1991 Ernie Irvan- As mentioned, my disdain for Ernie Irvan didn’t begin in 1992, it began in 1990, so by the time the 1991 Daytona 500 rolled around, I didn’t care for the guy. So while many ate up the underdog, rags to riches, just a year ago was wondering if his career was over, story, I didn’t. That said, the race had compelling story lines. Wallace and Waltrip involved in a late crash, setting the stage where Dale Earnhardt (shocker) had a chance to win the Daytona 500, and for what wouldn’t be the last time in his career, crashed in the final laps off of turn two while battling for 2nd place with guys named Allison and Petty.

15) 1990 Derrike Cope- Quite possibly, as it pertains to the on track racing and entertainment value, this one ranks at the absolute bottom. To say Dale Earnhardt had them absolutely covered is one of the biggest understatements I’ve ever made. And I’m not using hyperbole. He spent the entire weekend proving time and time again that his car was the baddest around, and nobody was in his zip code. But a late caution and ensuing pit stop by Earnhardt gave the field a chance, and while the first 199 miles were absolutely dreadful, what happened in the final mile facilitated one of the greatest upsets that we’ve ever seen…in any sport.


14) 2004 Dale Earnhardt Jr- So I’m one for three on the weather when it comes to attending the Daytona 500, and even this one started out cold and rainy. But the skies cleared, just enough so Dale Earnhardt could smile down on his son as he scored his first career Daytona 500 victory. I wonder if part of Earnhardt also smiled at the man who his son passed for the win, Tony Stewart, as Stewart saw the first of what has become multiple late race opportunities for victory slip away. The race itself however saw the field incredibly spread out with limited action. But the Earnhardt/Stewart story line playing out helped atone for that. So did being there for my very first Daytona 500.

13) 1987 Bill Elliott- While not as dominant as he was in 1985, in 1987 Elliott set the qualifying record at Daytona, traveling around at over 210 mph and led over half the race en route to his second Daytona triumph in three years. The show itself was nothing special, Elliott just outran everyone, as he was apt to do in those days. But to hear Elliott tell it later, the excitement was completely inside the car. At the speeds they were traveling, Elliott would later tell people that he was out of control all race long. That sounds fun, between 200 and 210 mph and completely out of control. But you’d never know it watching him run.

12) 2014 Dale Earnhardt Jr- The race itself was delayed it seemed, forever, but once it got going, racing against the threat of rain, the drivers put on a whale of a show. The pure elation in Junior following his victory was alone enough to make anyone smile.

11) 1988 Bobby Allison- Perhaps this was what Dale Earnhardt envisioned would one day happen with him and Dale Jr…father against son for the Daytona 500, and the father still showing that even over the age of 50, he’s still got it. Had we known then, what we know now, about the absolute tragedy this family would go on to endure (Bobby suffering a life threatening, brain damaging accident just months later at Pocono, Davey’s younger brother Clifford dying in a crash at Michigan 4 years after that, and Davey dying in a helicopter crash just a year later) this moment would have been treasured even more. As it stands, it’s one of the greatest stories in Daytona 500 history, and the lore was only enhanced with the tragedies that befell the famed “Alabama Gang”. This race is actually the first racing memory I have, but not for the father/son finish, but the horrific accident that Richard Petty endured that had many fearing the sport had lost its greatest driver ever in its greatest race. Unfortunately, that fear would of course come true 13 years later.

10) 2007 Kevin Harvick- Had Mark Martin held on, this would move up the list. It’s not that I’m bothered that Harvick won, I love it, but this was one Mark wanted, needed even. The disappointment at losing by a few feet couldn’t have been more evident for a guy who was such the sentimental pick in seeking his first Daytona 500 victory. After watching Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch stink up the show before the two tangled and changed the outcome of the race, this was a snoozer. But once those two tangled, business picked up, in a big way. It was a mixed emotions kinda household, my cousin was a die-hard Harvick fan, so we were happy for Harvick, and for him. But we wanted the old guy to finally win one. But there was no denying how spectacular the finish was.

9) 1998 Dale Earnhardt- The 1998 Daytona 500 itself was not a good race. I know NASCAR fans will hate me for this, but it wasn’t. Dale Earnhardt flat dominated it, which, also made it similar to many previous 500s, though, Earnhardt dominated this one even more than most before. He equaled his 1993 laps led total for the second most laps led in a Daytona 500 in his career. What keeps this race from the bottom is the obvious. Unlike those others he dominated, this time, in his 20th try, having led in 17 of his previous 19, he actually won the thing. That’s what keeps this otherwise relatively boring show from bringing up the rear. The receiving-line on pit road is still one of the greatest moments in sports history.

8) 2011 Trevor Bayne- The tandem racing was a polarizing aspect of the racing on the track, but there was no question the entertainment value it provided with the intensity in the final twenty laps. Unfortunately it created a lot of accidents. It also created one of the more memorable Daytona 500 losses by anyone in history, with David Ragan’s untimely error (that ultimately completely rerouted his career) paving the way for the most unlikely of winners in Trevor Bayne, making just his second career start. Seeing the famous Wood Brothers back in victory lane was pretty cool too. And oh yeah, Tony Stewart, another opportunity just missed.

7) 2016 Denny Hamlin- The thoughts of this one are all over the map. From Chase Elliott being on the pole and leading those first laps making this a Daytona 500 I’ll never forget to Elliott wrecking within 20 laps turning it one I don’t want to recall, this race ran the gauntlet of emotions. The Gibbs Toyotas stunk up the show most of the day, which worked out okay as I hosted a party at my house that day and most of the crowd was not NASCAR fans. The goal was to win a few over of course, but I figured the dull race hurt that. Fortunately, the amount of people there kept everyone entertained until the end. And then the race took over. One lap does not a race make, but in trying to get new fans, having the sport’s biggest event end like that certainly could only help get a few more eyeballs and create a little bit more bar talk.

*after Martinsville in the fall of 2017, I have to strongly reconsider where I place this on the pecking order, considering who won this race*

6) 1993 Dale Jarrett- Here you had it again, Dale Earnhardt in position to win the Daytona 500, a handful of laps to go, and then….. oh, you’ve heard this story before? The 1993 tale though added a little something extra with second generation driver Dale Jarrett marking his arrival on the scene, while his legendary father memorably called him home from the CBS booth.

5) 1997 Jeff Gordon- If I ever wish to be reminded why I didn’t like Jeff Gordon during his prime, I simply watch this race. This race was a simple incident in turn two away from probably being the easy choice for number one on this list. Instead it falls. I still claim that without that wreck giving Gordon the support of his teammates, Elliott wins his third Daytona 500. The hurt from this one getting away will never go away. But neither will the memory of watching Elliott mix it up again with the big dogs after the worst year of his career in 1996. Elliott leading that race, in control, with ten laps left….. was something I hadn’t experienced in years. For Earnhardt, winding up wrecked while battling for second place in the closing laps? Well, it was the second time in six he had experienced that.

4) 2001 Michael Waltrip- This was easily the hardest to rank, because in light of the tragic events in turn four, it’s hard to call this entertaining. But it’s easily the most memorable ever, and we can’t forget, the racing throughout was top notch. Michael Waltrip, he of over 400 starts without a win, breaking through to the delight of his brother and proving Dale Earnhardt right while watching Earnhardt choose not to be the aggressor for the first time in his career was something else. Personally, watching Bill Elliott begin his career revival by leading the field to the green from the pole in and of itself catapulted this event into the upper half. Throw in everything else surrounding this race, and it’s place among the top tier is understandable.

3) 2005 Jeff Gordon- You want to see the biggest stars in the sport do battle for the biggest prize? Just watch the final few laps of this Daytona 500, and watch as the man who was the best of the bunch at the time found a way to get it done. As mentioned earlier, Tony Stewart had begun to cement a Dale Earnhardt type legacy at Daytona, and the 2005 version helped contribute to that. Stewart again found himself in position to win, and again, failed to do so. It really doesn’t get much better than this.

2) 1999 Jeff Gordon- The only way to top 2005 was to do the same thing, with the biggest names in the business, but this time, add some sort of mythological symbolism to the story. I give you 1999. Earnhardt vs Gordon. Just like Magic to Michael in the 1991 NBA Finals, this was Gordon seizing the throne. “Gutsiest move I ever saw man”, would be a very fitting way to describe the move Jeff Gordon made to take the lead in the waning laps. But his work wasn’t done, he still had to hold of Earnhardt the rest of the way, and the kid showed who really was the the king of the mountain. While the on track show overall was perhaps better in 2005, this transcending moment along with the move Jeff Gordon made elevates this a wee bit higher.

1) 1985 Bill Elliott- Remember when I mentioned this was about my personal enjoyment and memory of the race, and personal feelings about its significance? Well this is where it gets personal. The whipping Elliott put on the field in 1985 is only joined in its own special zip code outside of this world by what Earnhardt did in 1990, though the superiority of Elliott’s car was greater than that of Earnhardt’s. The difference of course was Elliott held on to win. A restart with a lap to go seemed to give hope to the other drivers, though I think they all knew better. The quickness with which Elliott raced away to the lead was evidence of how dominant this car was in 1985. Truth be told, when it came to superspeedways, the Elliotts dominated them in a way few teams have ever dominated American sports.


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Daytona Win Would Cure All Ills for Stewart

Everyone knows the Dale Earnhardt story, especially when it comes to the struggles to win the Daytona 500. Note, I did not say struggles at Daytona, but struggles to win the Daytona 500. Earnhardt was not alone. Many of the sport’s top drivers failed to win the Daytona 500, especially of the recent generations. Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin, Bobby Labonte, Kurt Busch, and Ricky Rudd headline the list of top tier drivers in the past 30 years who failed to ever win the Daytona 500. However, where Earnhardt separated himself from those other drivers however was his overwhelming career success.

In fact, the only drivers to join Earnhardt as multiple time series champions to make at least 16 starts in the Daytona 500 without a win are Darrell Waltrip, Terry Labonte, and Tony Stewart.

One of these was often compared to Earnhardt when it came to belaboring their Daytona nightmares.

Labonte, for all his successes at the Cup level, is what I would call the Tim Duncan of NASCAR. Almost nothing he did was noticed. While much was made of Earnhardt and Waltrip’s struggles to win the Daytona 500, it’s almost forgotten that Terry Labonte finished second in the Daytona 500 three different times. You can’t get much closer than that. Perhaps it was that Labonte only led a combined 12 laps in the three races. In fact, only once did Terry Labonte lead double digit laps (1996 when over heating issues relegated him to 24th place) in a single Daytona 500. So despite three runner-ups, and six top five finishes, Labonte, and his “mere” two championships never got quite the same attention when it came to striving for Daytona 500 glory, and as such, never received the sympathy for his failures.

Close, but not close enough for Labonte in 1997.

Close, but not close enough for Labonte in 1997.

Darrell Waltrip though was a different story. Before there was Earnhardt and his well documented struggles, there was D.W. Waltrip, like Earnhardt, was a multiple time champion (three) who had won everything there was to be won in the sport. Everything, of course, except Daytona. And much like Earnhardt, Waltrip had won just about everything at Daytona….except the Daytona 500. Well, with one exception. While he had won the qualifying race on Thursday five times, finishing second an additional three times, and also claimed victory in the Busch Clash, three of the Saturday Busch Series races (Now Xfinity Series), and an IROC race, Waltrip had never won a points paying Winston Cup race at Daytona. So even he didn’t compare similarly to Dale Earnhardt.

Waltrip's Daytona heartbreak stemmed more from hard accidents, including this one in 1983 that Waltrip says changed his career. "I want to win as many races as I can, going as slow as I can".

Waltrip’s Daytona heartbreak stemmed more from hard accidents, including this one in 1983 that Waltrip says changed his career. “I want to win as many races as I can, going as slow as I can”.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t someone who does.

Waltrip’s run of futility ended in his seventeenth start, which happens to be the number start Tony Stewart will make in the Daytona 500 when the green flag falls this Sunday.

And when it comes to comparing the Daytona nightmare to Earnhardt, nobody compares quite like Stewart.

Stewart, like Waltrip, is a three-time champion. But as good as Waltrip’s record was at Daytona, Stewart’s is vastly superior. The remarkable thing, is that as superior as Stewart’s is, Earnhardt’s is that much better. But I digress. Stewart has the overall career success, the Daytona success, and like Earnhardt, the supreme Daytona heartbreak riding with him in Sunday’s Daytona 500.

The resume speaks for itself for “Smoke”. He’s won the Sprint Unlimited three different times, finishing second on two other occasions. The Thursday Gatorade duels? Stewart has gone to victory lane three times in those as well, finishing second another five times. In fact, from 2002-2010 Stewart finished worse than second only twice. Stewart however did something Waltrip never did, win on Daytona’s road course, winning an IROC race there, while also adding a win on the traditional 2.5 mile layout in 2002. But where Stewart’s dominance at Daytona most resembled Earnhardt? The Saturday Nationwide Series (now Xfinity Series) race at Daytona. From 2005-2013 Tony Stewart won the race a remarkable seven times in nine years. But the Stewart Daytona 500 resume doesn’t end there. He also won the July Cup race four different times, and added a runner-up. If you’re doing the mat at home, that’s 19 wins at Daytona for Stewart and another eight runner-up finishes in events aside from the Daytona 500. To say he’s dominated this track is an understatement.


But he hasn’t won the Daytona 500.

And he’s been close. He’s been very close. He’s suffered heartbreak in every way imaginable, just like Earnhardt. He’s had the dominant car, he’s lost late leads, and he’s had the race end before it ever even got started.

Stewart qualified on the outside poll for his first Daytona 500 in 1999, but engine failure prevented him from contending for the win. Unfortunately for Stewart, it seemed the trend had been set.

Stewart has led in half of the Daytona 500s he has entered, and on multiple occasions established himself the class of the field.

The 2001 Daytona 500 is known for many things, but perhaps lost in that shuffle was the big accident that Earnhardt narrowly missed, the one that happened with 27 laps to go that resulted with Stewart flipping wildly down the back straightaway. 2001-02-18-daytona-crash2

In 2004 Stewart led almost half the race, for a total of 94 laps, but Dale Earnhardt Jr passed him with twenty laps to go en route to his first Daytona 500 victory.

In 2005 Stewart took it up a notch, leading over half the race, for a total of 107 laps, and held the lead with four laps to go, only to be shuffled back to seventh place by the event’s conclusion.

Two years later, Stewart had established himself, along with Kurt Busch, the clear class of the field. But after leading his 36th lap of the race on lap 152 of 200, Stewart and Busch tangled in turn four with Stewart leading, paving the way for the spectacular Mark Martin/Kevin Harvick finish.

What appeared a two man show, became a two man disaster.

What appeared a two man show, became a two man disaster.

The following season Stewart led the field to the white flag…only to watch Penske teammates Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch draft past him on the final lap.

The Trevor Bayne Cinderella story in 2011 almost wasn’t….. Stewart restarted second on the final green-white-checkered, but a poor restart cost Stewart and he wound up 13th.

But Stewart lady luck didn’t always wait until the final 20 laps to snatch victory from Stewart. In 2002, the first return to the 500 after the wild crash the previous year, Stewart only made it two laps before the engine failed in his Joe Gibbs Racing Pontiac.

So to say Stewart has had it with the Daytona 500 might be an understatement. Considering what Stewart has gone through over the past 18 months, between the broken leg, the poor on track performance, the Kevin Ward tragedy, and now dealing with the Kurt Busch saga, what could be sweeter for Smoke than to finally exorcise those Daytona demons? Waltrip did it in his 17th try, maybe that’s the trick for Stewart too.


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Reaction to Stewart Case Sad Commentary on Society

As the ruling from the grand jury was handed down yesterday and news spread through the country via social media, a very dark confirmation of what I already knew was hammered home. I pray to God that I, nor anyone I love, ever faces a jury of my “peers”.

The legal system is flawed. Everybody and their mother, white, black, brown, poor, rich, you name it, everybody knows that. Unfortunately these flaws extend well beyond the matter of police brutality, corrupt judges, and incompetent lawyers and prosecutors. These flaws lie directly in front of us. We, as citizens of this country, are the flaw.

We live in a world where people don’t care about facts. We live in a world where people think that because they have an opinion, and only because they have an opinion, their opinion is valid, and must be respected. We live in a world where people no longer use facts to form an opinion, rather they form an opinion and then filter through the facts, selecting only the ones that help validate their opinion.

Just last night I read someone say that Twitter is a place for, “Spouting s**t without having a clue but standing strongly behind your opinion.” Sadly that quote rings so ever true. People form completely ignorant, uninformed, uneducated opinions, and then, even in the face of cold hard fact refuting their opinion, stand “strongly behind” their views that have no actual footing. That’s beyond pathetic. I don’t think there’s a word to accurately articulate just how wrong, and irresponsible, and, again, I’m running out of words, how just plain sad and pitiful such an attitude is.

But unfortunately we live in a world where everybody gets a trophy, everybody gets a handout, and as such, we’re to treat these opinions with the same respect we treat those from individuals who have put a great deal of thought into theirs. Talk about a sad commentary on society.

But it goes beyond just that. Oh, it gets deeper, and uglier.

There are people who, to this day, think Tony Stewart should be charged with a crime. However, when asked what crime that should be, the varying answers reads like Michael Vick trying to explain Jon Gruden’s playbook.

There’s the fifteen year old girl crowd who is screaming, “Tony Stewart should be charged with something”. Only, when you ask them what you think he should be charged with, they respond with, “…….”, followed by a blank stare, followed by the chirping of crickets. When you ask again, this time they may find actual words to respond with, such as, “I don’t know, but, but, but, he needs to be charged with something”. You can almost see them stammering around stomping their feet in the ground with their hands on their hips.

You see people trying to find Stewart culpable, saying, he’s the cause of death. When you remind them that Kevin Ward walking down the track is the cause, they try to get cute and technical, and argue that the car Tony Stewart driving hitting Ward was the actual CAUSE of death. I even saw one person use the term “legally”. That’s funny, the official cause of death was “blunt force trauma to the head”. I’m sorry, I’m missing where Tony Stewart’s name is mentioned there. But yes, tell me more about how “legally” Stewart is the cause of death. Oh, I get it, we’re allowed to say Stewart’s car making contact with him is what caused the blunt trauma, but we can’t say Ward coming down the track is what caused Stewart’s car to him. Right. Don’t hold that man accountable for his actions.

Then there’s the crowd that thinks they’re a lawyer. They like to throw terms around like “involuntary manslaughter”, or “vehicular homicide”. You might even come across someone who tries to find a definition of involuntary manslaughter. They might even try to find one for involuntary vehicular manslaughter. Of course, we’ll just ignore the fact that they provide a generic definition, without actually paying attention to the laws of the particular state they want this charge to be handed down in.

Was Tony Stewart in a car? Did someone die? Was it involuntary? One could reasonably say yes to each of these things. Fortunately, most states require you to come with a wee bit more before convicting a man of such a crime. But don’t tell that to the 1.2 million Harvard Law graduates running around these streets.

Let’s also forget that in New York, it’s considered manslaughter in the second degree. But, hey, don’t tell all these lawyers that while they’re throwing around charges like, “involuntary vehicular homicide”. Yes, let’s charge Tony Stewart with a charge, that in the state of New York, doesn’t even exist. Brilliant.

But for the sake of argument, let’s pretend for a second that these future Johnny Cochrans actually knew what charge they were trying to suggest Stewart should have brought against him. So, they want to convict Tony Stewart of second degree vehicular manslaughter. Okay. Well prove it.

And no, “He was driving a car and even though it was involuntary, someone died”, doesn’t cut it. At least not in New York. Yeah, remember that tidbit, he state where this actually happened?

To be convicted of second degree vehicular manslaughter you must be found to have committed second degree manslaughter while operating a vehicle. Let’s concede he was operating a vehicle, we can all agree on that part of the story. So let’s shift our attention to what one must actually do to commit second degree manslaughter. Per the laws as they are written in the state of New York:

A person is guilty of manslaughter in the second degree when:
  1. He recklessly causes the death of another person; or
  2. He commits upon a female an abortional act which causes her death,
unless such abortional act is justifiable pursuant to subdivision three
of section 125.05; or
  3. He intentionally causes or aids another person to commit suicide.

I think it’s safe to rule out number two, and considering intent on Kevin Ward’s behalf would have to be proven to make number three applicable, we can rule that one out as well. So, we’ll focus on the first one, recklessly causing the death of another person.

This is where it gets messy. And this is where I start praying that nobody I care anything about ever faces a jury that includes these people on it.

Is one allowed to be of the opinion that Stewart acted recklessly, even if void of intent, and that’s what contributed to the death of Kevin Ward? Absolutely. Nobody is saying you can’t think that. Granted, the facts presented in this case (more on those later) make such an assumption an awful big leap, and requires a great deal of speculation, and an even more dangerous game of trying to assume the intentions of another person. But, at the end of the day, you’re allowed to have that opinion.

Of course, convictions aren’t supposed to be doled out on, “opinions”. Oh, right, that. That, “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” thing that gets in the way of people’s thirst for blood. Thinking Tony Stewart acted recklessly and proving it are two different things. This is where people’s inability to differentiate in fact and opinion comes back into play. Opinions are fine in discussions. Facts are necessary in court rooms.

There are no facts to state Stewart acted recklessly. In fact, there aren’t even facts to prove that he could have even done anything different to avoid what happened. But hey, don’t let facts get in the way of those opinions people. And for God’s sake, don’t you dare let those facts get in the way of you wanting a conviction for a man based on your assumptions and opinions, that, simply put, cannot, in any way, be proven.

Of course, in addition the 1.2 million lawyers now running around, there are an additional 1.2 million sprint car drivers as well.

“Of course he saw him”.

“He had plenty of time to react”.

“Why’d he hit the gas then, huh?”

“He didn’t know he was there, right, like his crew chief on the radio couldn’t tell him?”

I’ll admit, I was a part of this crowd at first too. I made these assumptions. I asked these questions. Then I waited for answers from people who had them.

The people who had them being experts at accident reconstruction, people who know as much about physics as Sheldon Cooper. The people who had the answers being people who have driven sprint cars. Better than that, people who were driving sprint cars that night, at that track, in those conditions. And even  better than that, people who were driving sprint cars that night, at that track, in those conditions, directly in front of, and directly behind Tony Stewart.

And yet there are people who the only time they’ve ever even seen a sprint car was the grainy video of the accident, that are saying such witnesses are unreliable. They’re questioning their testimony, while, being “strongly behind” their opinion that is based on………….. right, absolutely nothing.

And they want to convict a man over this. Again, please keep them off any jury anyone I know is ever tried by.

To prove Tony Stewart acted recklessly, you must first prove Tony Stewart even saw him there. That alone is next to impossible. Secondly, you must prove he saw him there in time to either a) avoid him, or b) choose to do something out of the ordinary that would be deemed reckless that resulted in the loss of a life.

A D.A. in New York couldn’t even convince a grand jury there was even a CHANCE such proof could be found. But don’t tell that to all the Harvardites. They have their opinion based solely on a grainy video that they saw, with no working knowledge of the conditions in the car, the visibility, or even how a sprint car operates. Like, did you know, for a sprint car to turn left, the direction Stewart needed to turn to avoid this kid running at him, you have to, wait for this part…… hit the gas. As I mentioned, I was a part of this crowd myself. The revving of the engine seemed damning to me. But I let people who know far more about these things than I explain things, and when they did, I listened. And my tune changed.

We’re going to just look over the whole issue of it being determined that Stewart never wrecked Ward in the first place, that Stewart basically had zero way of knowing Ward even had wrecked, or that, with that understanding, and the testimony of other drivers as to the visibility that night, Stewart had no more than 1.5 seconds from the time he saw Ward to the point of impact to make any decisions. Because at this point, that just seems like piling on a bit.

So, the, “Look at Tony Stewart’s past” crowd, they too have lost their leg to stand on. Does Tony Stewart have a history of showcasing a short temper? Absolutely. Except, if Stewart and Ward’s cars never even made contact, as Stewart was passing Kevin Ward, exactly what was Stewart even mad about? Again, carry on with the narrative you want to tell, and continue forth ignoring important bits of information that nullify your argument. You’re right though, Tony Stewart was mad because he passed a car. Because that’s all we can know he knew of Kevin Ward. That he passed him.

The only “facts” that anyone actually has are that Kevin Ward was impaired by marijuana. This alone, is a reprehensible act, and if anyone involved that night did anything recklessly, it’s the man who drove a racecar while impaired. He risked the lives of every safety worker and every other driver out there that night. The only other “fact” we have is that Kevin Ward came down the track to approach Tony Stewart’s moving racecar. An act so egregious that rules were put in place across the country, to the highest level of motorsports in this country, because of the recklessness of the actions of Kevin Ward. If Kevin Ward doesn’t get out of that car and walk down the track, none of this happens. And that, that you can prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

But it makes perfect sense that Ward’s parents are still suggesting attention should be focused on the actions of Stewart, though, we don’t know what “actions” they’re actually referring to, while nobody should be focusing on the actions of their son, whose actions were pretty cut and dry. With Ward’s parents, there’s still the grieving parent aspect to it, so maybe, just maybe, there’s some understanding there. That said, you’re still accountable for the words that come out of your mouth. All the time. But I guess with the way they don’t think Kevin Ward should be held accountable, they probably don’t think they should either. What’s disheartening though is the number of people without the grieving parent card at their disposal who are still making excuses for Ward, and casting blame on Stewart. Again, no accountability in this coddled, weak, society.

If you think Tony Stewart acted recklessly, or in the least, didn’t do enough to avoid this accident, that’s fine. You’re absolutely entitled to think that. But if you think, that in light of the evidence and testimony that was provided, that you can prove this beyond any reasonable doubt, then you are, and I have zero issue saying this, an idiot. It’s a shame that someone’s life may one day be placed in your hands, on the grounds that you one day learn the difference in opinions and facts.

It’s a messed up scary world indeed.


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Tony Stewart Wasn’t Disrespecting Kevin Ward, You “Experts” Are

Much as been made over Tony Stewart’s desire to race his car in Watkins Glen on Sunday afternoon, and understandably so. What’s not so easy to understand is why so much has been made by some regarding NASCAR’s decision to run the race as scheduled.

Regarding Stewart, I was very much in the corner of not allowing him on the racetrack on Sunday. Perhaps not for the foreseeable future. But that doesn’t mean I don’t fully understand why he wanted to be out there.

Tony Stewart’s desire to race the Sunday following the horrific incident in upstate New York did not stem from a lack of care or concern about Kevin Ward Jr and his family. It did not stem from an insensitivity to the matter at hand or the seriousness of what had just taken place. And while it played a factor, it did not even stem from the millions of dollars of sponsor money he’s made commitments to, the season long championship he and hundreds of his employees are striving to reach that would be completely undermined by his absence or even the fans who spent their hard earned money to come watch their favorite driver race.

No, it stemmed from the very same place Kevin Ward’s decision to confront Tony Stewart came from. He’s a racer. Period. That’s what they do. That’s all they do. That’s all they know. It’s what defines them. They get in the car, and they try to win. And nothing, and no one, can take that away from them.

Kevin Ward was angry with Tony Stewart because he felt wronged on the track. He felt something was taken from him, and he wanted to let the three time Sprint Cup Champion know how he felt. His competitive drive, the racer in him, is why he confronted Stewart.

It’s the racer in Stewart that propelled him to want to drive on Sunday.

Sure, the phrase, “Business as usual”, as uttered by Stewart-Haas competition director and long time Stewart friend Greg Zipadelli, may have come across as highly insensitive and inappropriate. And “Zippy”, as he’s known throughout the garage, probably regrets his word choice.

But if you could ask Kevin Ward if he was insulted by such a mind set, or comment, I would wager a lot of money he’d say no. It’s what racers do. Death is an unfortunate part of motorsports. It always has been, and despite monumental safety efforts to curtail the rate at which fatal injuries occur, it always will be.

It’s not to say racecar drivers ignore death, or become insensitive to it, but they learn they must know how to deal with it. It’s all around them. It awaits them at every corner.

There’s a line in Days of Thunder, “If you get a racecar driver to a funeral before he’s actually in one, you’ve made history”. While not technically accurate, it hits on the overall mindset of a racecar driver. As Harry Hogge says in the movie, “they don’t want to be reminded of what can happen to them in a racecar”.

When Dale Earnhardt died in 2001, the sport didn’t stop. His son didn’t stop. His team owner didn’t stop. They showed up the next week at the racetrack, “business as usual”. Of course, it wasn’t business as usual, we know that, and they knew that. But that’s the approach they had to take.

There have obviously been times where a team may take a week off following a death, such as Robert Yates in 1993 after Davey Allison was killed. But the following week, at Allison’s hometrack no less, there was a black no. 28 Havoline ford, piloted by someone else. Why? Because they’re racers, and that’s what they do.

What is the best way to honor a racer who has passed on? Get out there and race. Believe me, or believe any racer who’s ever lived instead, that’s indeed what they would want. To know that racing was put on hold on account of them would not sit well with any driver who’s ever sat foot in a racecar.

Beyond all of that, inside the racecar is home to a true racer. It’s the one place they can go to get away from everything else. It’s therapeutic, it’s their escape. So in a time of great turmoil, it only stands to reason Stewart would seek out the one place of refuge he’s known his whole life. The racecar.

As I mentioned earlier, I was fully against Stewart racing on Sunday, and am not sure how I feel about him racing going forward. But I knew he’d want to. And I wasn’t going to blame him for that.

At this point, this is where most likely NASCAR, and/or his sponsors stepped in and told Tony, in light of everything going on, getting in that racecar wasn’t the right thing to do. Were this still the 1970s and were NASCAR not under the unfortunate scrutiny of a national media that only pays attention when bad things happen, things would have likely been different. But that’s not the era we live in.

Instead we live in an era where CBS writes articles creating implications that Tony Stewart has threatened to do what he did on Saturday night in years past. Never mind the fact that they completely took the phrase “run him over” out of context, they have no use for educating themselves on the topic at hand. They just choose to talk. Personally, I find that as prime an example of slander and libel, or whatever you call it, as can exist.

But that doesn’t matter. To the non race fan, they read that Stewart once said of Matt Kenseth, “I’m going to run him over every chance I get”, and now the non racing reader sees Tony Stewart as a violent man who was just waiting to kill someone. As a man who’d already threatened to do so. It doesn’t matter how far from the truth that is.

It doesn’t matter how they completely failed to put those words in context, or even explain what is actually meant when a driver says that. It’s of course ridiculously irresponsible journalism, but it doesn’t matter. The damage is done. The black eye is created. The image of Tony Stewart and perception by those outside of the racing community is now etched in stone.

The image of what NASCAR is, what auto racing is, and who racers are, is being permanently marred by a reprehensible and sickening lack of professionalism.

And that’s the box NASCAR found themselves in. The eyes of a world who doesn’t get it was on them, the eyes of a world completely ignorant to the nuances and culture of the sport. The eyes of a world who, despite utter ignorance, couldn’t wait to open their mouth and offer their “expert” opinion. In such a box, NASCAR did what was right, it wouldn’t let Tony Stewart run that race.

But of course, not even that’s enough. People continue to bash Tony Stewart for wanting to race. Some go so far as to bash NASCAR for running their race.

I guess next time a kid gets shot over a playground basketball game, then the NBA is going to be held responsible and should be required to not play any games the following day, no? Or the next time a drunken brawl breaks out in a summer softball game, Major League Baseball should take responsibility.

What happened on Saturday night involved a driver who competes in NASCAR. That’s the extent of NASCAR’s involvement. If we cancelled sporting events every time an athlete who competed in a premier sport was involved in something like this, we’d never finish a season.

Should the Patriots have cancelled their season a year ago when it was discovered one of their players was being charged with murder? Should the Ravens have to….. never mind, it’s the Ravens, they embrace that culture. But the point is clear.

If Tony Stewart were involved in a highway accident that killed someone, would we be screaming at NASCAR to “get control of the situation”, as Jim Gray has done. Of course, it is Jim Gray, about one of the most disgusting pieces of journalistic filth on the planet. Even still, the point remains, NASCAR had nothing to do with the incident that took place.

Yet here we are, “expert” after “expert” coming on TV just to get their face on the television and hear themselves talk, blaming NASCAR for something that happened 100% outside of their jurisdiction.

These people wanted NASCAR to cancel their race on Sunday. Forget the millions of dollars already poured into the event. Forget the thousands of fans who’d spent their hard earned money, some on treks across the country, to be there. Forget the people of the Finger Lakes region who rely so heavily on the money brought in during a NASCAR race weekend. Forget all of that. Let’s punish all of these people, let’s cancel this race, because of something that happened that had nothing to do with NASCAR.

The ONLY connection to NASCAR was that of Tony Stewart. And NASCAR did the right thing and kept Tony Stewart out of the race. Yet, to some, that’s still not enough. And that’s just absolutely preposterous.

I’m not here right now to debate who was at fault and to what extent. I’m not here to talk about what criminal charges could be brought, what should be brought and what type of civil action could be forthcoming. I’m here to tell the people who don’t know anything about NASCAR, or racing in general, to just shut-up.

“‘Tis better to be thought a fool than open your mouth and prove it”.

You won’t see me go on lengthy diatribes about politics. Why? Because I’m ignorant when it comes to politics. I stay out of such discussions, and if I’m in one, it’s only to ask questions and listen to answers.

But that doesn’t stop everyone and their mother from suddenly becoming an expert on the sport of auto racing, and offering up their worthless opinions like they have some sort of merit.

The culture of racing differs from that than any other sport. That’s just the way it is. You don’t have to understand it. You don’t have to like it. But you need to respect it. And when you don’t know anything about it, you need to shut up about it.

So many of you want to sit up on your high horse, on your self created pedestal and talk about about how all this disrespect to Kevin Ward, and to the family, blah blah.

I know it’s tragic that Kevin Ward isn’t here to speak for himself right now. But if he could, I’d be willing to bet an arm and a leg that he would say all of you people who are going on about how Tony Stewart was disrespectful to the family by wanting to race, and how NASCAR shouldn’t have run the race, and all of these uninformed opinions being thrown about trashing NASCAR and auto racing are doing far more to disrespect him and the sport he loves than anything Tony Stewart, Greg Zipadelli, or NASCAR have done in recent days.

So when asking who the real insensitive jerks are, and asking what the real problem is, some of you should look in the mirror.

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Ranking the Daytona 500s of the Last Thirty 30 Years; 26-30

2000 Daytona 500

Dale Jarrett captures his third Daytona 500. Only Richard Petty and Cale Yarborough have more

Dale Jarrett captures his third Daytona 500. Only Richard Petty and Cale Yarborough have more

Rules had been changed prior to the 2000 season for NASCAR’s restrictor plate races, and the result was one of the most boring Daytona 500’s in the sports history. For a race that in years since has seen as many as 74 lead changes, a pass for the lead under green flag conditions simply was not going to happen on this particular Sunday. In fact, for the duration of Speed Weeks, the only passes made for the lead were made immediately after a restart.

None of this of course diminishes what Dale Jarrett and his Robert Yates team accomplished. The defending Winston Cup Champion and two time Daytona 500 winner had been the class of the field all week, so it was probably appropriate that he still won the Daytona 500. The only race that Jarrett did not win that week his Gatorade 125 mile qualifier, as he finished 2nd to Bill Elliott, who took the lead on the opening lap and never relinquished it. Jarrett though had already won the pole for the Daytona 500, and won the Bud Shootout as well.

The race was perhaps best known for the frustration and anger expressed afterwards by Mark Martin. With 14 laps to go, Martin was running second to surprise leader Johnny Benson when he made his move to the outside of Benson’s pontiac in turns one and two. Martin was under the impression that Jarrett, along with fellow Ford drivers Jeff Burton and Elliott, would go with him. Martin was wrong.

Jarrett bailed on Martin, and Burton and Elliott had no choice but to follow Jarrett through on the inside, moving Jarrett to the runner up spot in a position to challenge Benson himself. On a restart with just a handful of laps to go, Jarrett would get underneath Benson coming off of turn two and the Ford contingency, including Martin would follow.

The race only had nine lead changes, and just four over the duration of the final 165 laps in an event that would lead Dale Earnhardt to tell reporters that, “Bill France Sr. probably rolled over in his grave if he saw that”. Ironically, it would be this race that would prompt NASCAR to look into a new rules package for future plate events, and it would be those changes in the rules packages that helped contribute to the events of the 2001 Daytona 500.

29. 1992 Daytona 500

Only two of these cars would remain intact for the finish, robbing us of what could have been a thrilling Daytona 500

Only two of these cars would remain intact for the finish, robbing us of what could have been a thrilling Daytona 500

Personally, this probably ranks as my least favorite Daytona 500, ever. I wasn’t but 7 years old at the time, but I think this particular race was the first time I ever wished death upon another human being, or said so aloud anyway.

This year marked the first year that my parents hosted a Daytona 500 party as well, and I remember many of my parents friends and some of their children at the house. I remember being very excited for this particular Daytona 500 as well. My favorite driver, Bill Elliott, had qualified on the outside poll and had won his Gatorade 125 Mile Qualifier on Thursday in his first time out driving for Junior Johnson. It was the first time in his career that Elliott had driven for a team other than the family outfit in Dawsonville, and it was off to a smashing success. Throw in the fact that the last time the circuit had come to Daytona in July of 1991 Elliott had been victorious, and I was feeling awfully good about his chances on this Sunday.

This race also marked the final Daytona 500 for Richard Petty, the undisputed “King” of the sport. By the halfway point of the race, both feel good stories were over.

Elliott and teammate Sterling Marlin (the pole sitter) dominated the early portion of the race, leading a combined 56 of the first 91 laps, with Davey Allison leading 28 thanks to a two tire pit stop. In other words, the Junior Johnson cars were the class of the field, and the world knew it.

But on lap 92 everything changed. First Marlin made a move on Elliott, then Irvan made a move on Marlin at the exit of turn two putting the three three abreast across the track. Calamity ensued. Just about anyone who had any chance of winning this race, and certainly anyone who I cared about winning, was involved. Pick a name, Martin, Earnhardt, Petty, Jarrett, Waltrip, Wallace, any of them, they were involved. The only three cars of consequence not involved were Allison, Morgan Shepherd, and Michael Waltrip. Every other contender was eliminated.

I remember crawling up on to my mom’s lap in absolute tears, yelling, “I wanna kill him, I wanna kill him”. The “him” I was referring to was Ernie Irvan. Two years ago at Darlington, while multiple laps in arrears, Irvan had caused a massive crash that effectively ended the career of Neil Bonnet. A year later, Irvan once again caused a massive crash, this time at Talladega, resulting in Kyle Petty suffering a broken leg. Needless to say, Irvan’s nickname of “Swervin Irvan” was well deserved. Unfortunately, this would not be the final time his wreckless and aggressive driving style would cause a problem.

In any event, the accident left Davey Allison with virtually no competition. He easily led all but 10 of the remaining 109 laps on his way to a Daytona 500 victory. In a season where Elliott lost the championship by a mere 10 points, I think one can see why I’m still very bitter about this race.

28. 2009 Daytona 500

Matt Kenseth won the first of two career Daytona 500s in 2009, and it's almost like nobody knows he even has one

Matt Kenseth won the first of two career Daytona 500s in 2009, and it’s almost like nobody knows he even has one

The previously mentioned two Daytona 500s may not have been a very good show to watch, but for their own reasons, they were at least memorable, even if not for something positive. The same cannot be said of the 2009 Daytona 500.

For starters, this was the third Daytona 500 I’d been to in person, and it was the third time I’d been treated to poor weather. So things were already off to a bad start.

Secondly, Kyle Busch led 88 of the races first 120 laps, and if you know anything about my fandom in NASCAR, you know I harbor an extreme dislike of the Busch boys.

Third, the race itself ultimately wound up being affected by the weather. Rain cut it short after just under 400 miles.

Fourth, the winner, well, he’s about as interesting as a manilla folder. It’s not that I have anything against Matt Kenseth, but he’s not exactly the big name you’re looking to see win if your guy can’t.

As mentioned, Kyle Busch led 88 of the first 120 laps, so I suppose it could have been worse. I could have been forced to watch him win the thing, as it certainly appeared that was going to be the case. However, after a caution on lap 120, Busch found himself out of the lead after pit-stops. And soon after, he found himself out of the race.

Dale Earnhardt Jr had already been having a bad day, the issues ranged from picking the wrong lines in traffic, to errors on pit road, to driver mistakes getting on and off pit-road. Apparently the frustrations affected his driving, and on the restart Earnhardt triggered a massive wreck on the backstretch that took out Busch, ending his day early.

Eventually on the restart, Matt Kenseth would work his way around Elliott Sadler, and when the rain fell following a caution for Eric Almirola with Kenseth leading, his place in Daytona history was secure.

27. 2004 Daytona 500

Few Daytona 500 wins were as popular as Junior's in 2004

Few Daytona 500 wins were as popular as Junior’s in 2004

Did I mention I was three for three when it came to bad weather at the Daytona 500? Fortunately, the race itself wasn’t impacted by weather in 2004, and in fact, once the show got going, the day turned out to be quite nice. But it didn’t start that way. I distinctly remember having to use my shirt as a koozie so my hands wouldn’t freeze while holding my beer can before the race got going.

Once underway though, the race was anything but exciting. A big crash on the backstretch where Michael Waltrip first unveiled his new roof hatch exit was about it for the excitement of the day.

Tony Stewart used the 2004 Daytona 500 to put into full-gear his apparent quest to join Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip as multi-time NASCAR champions who could win any and everything at Daytona, but for years, be unable to claim a Daytona 500 trophy for themselves.

Dale Earnhardt Jr led the first 29 laps, and the last 20. In between though, Stewart led 98 of 151 laps, and during that stretch, the nine laps led by Jimmie Johnson from laps 44-52 were the most consecutive laps led by anyone not in an orange chevrolet.

The race itself saw the final caution flag fly on lap 72 with the previously mentioned massive pile-up on the back stretch being the final wreck of the day. That, coupled with a rules package that much major emphasis on tire wear, resulted in the field becoming exceptionally spread out.

In fact, for the first time in about ten years, there was no lead “pack” fighting it out for the win. It was just Earnhardt and Stewart. Earnhardt had followed Stewart for much of the mid to late portion of the race, but with twenty to go, and with Stewart’s tires fading, Earnhardt seized the lead and never let it go. In fact, Stewart hardly even was able to put up much of a fight, doing all he could just to keep Earnhardt’s Budweiser chevrolet within reach.

For Earnhardt, winning the Daytona 500 obviously carried special meaning, and perhaps due to that and the popularity of his  victory, this could be ranked a little higher. But those things don’t make up for the fact that the race itself really stunk.

26. 1995 Daytona 500

Sterling Marlin became just the third man to ever win back to back Daytona 500s, joining Cale Yarborough and Richard Petty.

Sterling Marlin became just the third man to ever win back to back Daytona 500s, joining Cale Yarborough and Richard Petty.

Not since the Elliotts in the 80s had anyone been as dominant at Talladega and Daytona as Sterling Marlin and his Kodak Chevrolet were during the mid 90s. If there was a restrictor plate race to be run, you could bet your bottom dollar that Marlin and his bunch were going to be among the favorites. The Runt Pittman built engines in Marlin’s cars even sounded different, in addition to clearly just being better than anything else on the track.

The year before, Marlin had won his first career race, in the 1994 Daytona 500, marking the 2nd time (Ernie Irvan, 1991) in four years that the Morgan-McClure Racing team had won the Daytona 500. Marlin didn’t visit victory lane again that season, and finished only 14th in the final points standings. He did however finish in the top ten of both Talladega races and also led six laps in the July race at Daytona.

In 1995 however Marlin and the team would take steps to becoming a more complete team, and a true championship contender. And it started with the Daytona 500.

Marlin’s victory in the 1995 Daytona 500 was the most thorough victory by anyone in the Daytona 500 since Bill Elliott’s wins in 1985 and 1987. A late caution and mini-charge after getting on four fresh tires by Dale Earnhardt were the only things keeping things interesting, and even then, you had to force yourself to believe Earnhardt had any real shot at getting by Marlin.

I remember running across Bill Elliott at an autograph signing a few days after the race, and I asked Elliott if he hadn’t had a flat tire that cost him a lap if he’d had anything for Earnhardt and Marlin. His reply, “We coulda beat Earnhardt, but I don’t know about Marlin”. In other words, the four car was in a whole ‘nother zip code.

Marlin though wasn’t entirely alone in that zip code however. A flat tire didn’t only claim Bill Elliott, it also eliminated the only car that looked like it could run with Marlin; Jeff Gordon. Gordon suffered a flat tire, and on the pit stop to change tires also had the car slightly roll off the jack curling back the left front fender behind the wheel. Those two things combined were enough to eliminate Gordon from contention as he, like Elliott, was never able to make up the lap he’d lost while dealing with his tire issues. Gordon was however, the only guy not named Marlin to lead more than 23 laps. In fact, Gordon led 61 of the races first 98 laps.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t Gordon chasing Marlin at the finish, and we were denied a battle between the two best cars on the track, as with Gordon and Marlin leading a combined 166 of 200 laps, we were also denied a show worthy of watching at all.

There were only two green flag passes made for the lead all race long, both of them coming when Dale Earnhardt was passed by Sterling Marlin. Marlin passed him on lap three, and then passed him for good on lap 181. In between, every lead change came during a caution period. Thrilling right?

Earnhardt’s continued quest to finally snare a Daytona 500 was at this point, reason alone to watch any Daytona 500, and the fact that he made something resembling a charge at Marlin late in the going is pretty much all that keeps this from ranking as perhaps the worst Daytona 500 of the last thirty years.

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Gumby’s Gibberish: Daytona 500 Edition

  • First things first, what a race. If you didn’t like that kind of racing, which puts more control in the hands of drivers, driver skill, and strategy as opposed to just being in the right line at the right time, you should probably find another form of motorsports to watch.
  • The Trevor Bayne story is truly a remarkable one. I will write more about this later, but this type of story is what separates the Daytona 500 from other sporting events.
  • Not enough was said about the performance and finish of three of the sports veterans. Bobby Labonte, Bill Elliott, and Terry Labonte have combined for 4 championships, all former champs, and all came home in the top 15. Bobby Labonte led the charge with a 4th, even contending for the win, while Elliott and the elder Labonte stayed out of trouble and brought their cars home with outstanding finishes giving their teams a leg up on getting into the top 35 after race 5. This is huge.
  • Speaking of Bill Elliott, the Wood Brothers may owe him a thank you, as does Trevor Bayne. This team was at rock bottom a couple of years ago. They hired the experienced 44 race winner and former champion Elliott to come help get them off the ground floor. Elliott’s experience helped the team improve almost weekly it seemed, getting them to a position to field competitive racecars. It was proven with Elliott’s qualifying performance and run at the season finale at Homestead last year. Clearly it transfered over this year with Bayne. I hope this is not forgotten.
  • We need to give a call to Mark Martin. To come back from three laps down and be in position to win the race late, even if he fell back to 10th, one heck of a rally for the 5 team.
  • Also lost in all the surrounded the stunning upset by Bayne was the run by David Gilliland. That team has struggled since entering the Cup series, and to post a third place finish and to be sitting second in points is absolutely a feel good story. If not for Bayne, it would be one of the bigger stories of the weekend.
  • Regan Smith had an outstanding rally to come back and finish in the top ten. The 78 Furniture Row Chevy was fast all week, and Smith wheeled that car like a proven veteran who belonged.
  • Yes, David Ragan is to blame for making that mistake that ultimately cost him the Daytona 500, but so is his team. Bayne was committed to push Ragan, the race was his to lose, and he lost it. However, for Ragan, in that situation, the pressure, and stress, is enormous. He’s got enough to think about it, it is understandable that the technicality of a rule slips his mind. However, it is NOT understandable that nobody on the spotter’s stand, or in the pit box came on the radio to remind Ragan of the rules. His team let him down big time.
  • The new points system is going to be tested immediately. The new system makes recovering from a bad race very difficult. A lot of title contenders had a bad race, we will see how long it takes for them to recover. However, one thing to consider is that when you look at the top 15 in points right now, particularly the top ten, how many guys do you really expect to stay there?
  • Those guys in the ECR engine shop probably shouldn’t worry too much. Their powerplants were the best in the field this week, they just couldn’t last Sunday. But you won’t be seeing 9500 RPM being turned for 500 straight miles anywhere else this year, so they shouldn’t fret. They should be happy with how strong their cars were.
  • Is it me, or is Kyle Busch just constantly out of control? It makes him fun to watch, but constantly out of control.
  • We never found out of Junior’s tire was actually flat. I say this because drivers can get weird sensation in cars, they can run over things or pick up dirt and get a false sensation of a flat tire. Now, if I’m Junior’s team, whether it’s flat or not, I tell him that it was. Because if it wasn’t, and he cost himself a shot at the Daytona 500, and put himself back in the pack to be in position to get in that wreck for no reason, his already shoddy confidence will take another huge hit.
  • Ryan Newman, with his torn up racecar, was way too aggressive at the end, and that’s what caused the wreck eliminating Junior. Newman wasn’t going to get to the front with that car, he should have taken what he could get, not made some bonzai move and taken out other cars who were competitive and actually competing for a top ten or better finish. A very selfish, unwise move by Newman.
  • Tony Stewart is approaching Dale Earnhardt territory in terms of the Daytona 500. He’s tied for second in wins at Daytona, and has won everything during Speed Weeks, more than once, but not the Daytona 500. Stewart is the kind of personality that this sort of frustration will begin to really, really eat at him. He’s been in position so many times.
  • Speaking of being in position so many times, Kurt Busch has finished 2nd in the Daytona 500 three times, and was the favorite coming into this year’s event, and found himself in position to win late. However, he couldn’t get Montoya to stay on him enough to get the momentum needed to make a move.
  • Montoya wrecked, it seemed, about four times. To still come out of there with a top six finish was pretty impressive. Forutnately for him, he was one of the few ECR engines that did not have problems.
  • The story of the day was the underdogs and the underfunded single car teams. Consider that Bobby Labonte, Terry Labonte, Regan Smith, Robby Gordon, Dave Blaney and Brad Kesolowski all led a lap. At one point during the race, Bobby Labonte, Blaney, Smith, and Gordon all seemed as if they might have something to say about the winner of the race. Unfortunately the late race carnage claimed a few of them, but many still managed top 20 finishes. Not to mention the 12th for Bill Elliott, 3rd for Gilliland, and an impressive 20th place finish for Steven Wallace. For a guy with a reputation of tearing up racecars, to get a top 20 and keep his nose clean, it was a huge success for the son of 1989 Winston Cup champion Rusty Wallace. Oh yeah, and that Bayne fella winning the thing.
  • All told, it was a great show, great drama, great storylines. NASCAR couldn’t have asked for anything more.

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