Sunday, February 14, 2010

Daytona Race Recap

There was a lot of great racing leading up to the 2010 Daytona 500. Exciting finishes in both Duel races, the Nationwide race, as well as the Truck race left everyone with high hopes of having one of the best Daytona 500’s in history. Unfortunately, the pothole from hell deflated everyone’s anticipation just after midway through the race.

For AJ Allmendinger it was a week of ups and downs. AJ had a great run in his Duel 150 race on Thursday. He was running as high as second place when an error in the pits put him back in the pack. He rebounded for a solid finish which lined him up in 15th place for the Daytona 500. Then came the low when an overheating issue at the end of Saturday’s practice led them to make the decision to change engines and start at the back of the field.

When the race went green Sunday afternoon, AJ hung out in the back for a little bit, but couldn’t hold those Yates horses back for long. He pitted for tires after flat spotting them trying to avoid a multi-car wreck early in the race and then he sliced and diced right through the field. After starting clear in the back, the #43 Best Buy Ford Fusion passed Kurt Busch for the lead around lap 45.

Kurt Busch would eventually pass him back and then green flag pit stops followed. AJ was still running in 2nd place when the caution came out. After the restart, AJ took the lead again and was in front of the field when the yellow flag flew once more. This time the pit stop didn’t go as smoothly, and a dropped lug nut left AJ stuck mid-pack with a car that wouldn’t handle in dirty air.

When the caution came out the next time, the Daytona track officials were faced with an unusual problem. A large pothole had formed right in the lower racing groove and an hour and forty minute red flag came out while repairs to the track were made. Then the cars were eventually set loose again and AJ worked his way through that pack of cars towards the front again.

That’s when AJ’s luck ran out. While running near the top five, Jeff Gordon came down to get a side draft off of the #43 car, which made the back tires lose grip and the car jump sideways. AJ did a fabulous job of not hitting anyone and keeping it off the inside wall as he slid across the pavement. Unfortunately, the slide caused the tires to go flat and also sent him just past the end of the pavement and into the grass where he couldn’t get it re-fired.

It seemed to take the track crew FOREVER to get the car out of the grass and back to the garage. The field came around nine times before it was finally to where the crew could work on it, and all they had to do was throw four new tires on it and send AJ back to the track. Being now twelve laps down put AJ in the 35th spot with not much chance of moving up unless more cars had problems.

The pothole once again caused problems and required patching, this time putting the field under the red flag for half an hour. I’m sure that was a long thirty minutes for AJ to replay that spin in his head. But when the field got going again, he kept some distance between himself and the pack to be prepared for more trouble, which of course there was. He managed to get a few lucky dogs and pass three more cars that had problems. After two attempts at a Green-White-Checker finish, AJ brought the Best Buy Ford home in 32nd place.

While it certainly wasn’t the finish that the team was looking for, there were definitely some positives that came out of the day. For one thing, AJ led eleven laps in the Great American Race, and had a car that was capable of leading even more if it wasn’t for the spin. That’s a big improvement after having to hear about how he was the only top 35 driver that didn’t lead a lap in 2009. And I can guarantee that those laps won’t be the last that he’ll lead as we get further into the 2010 season.

Another positive from the day was that three of the four RPM drivers ran up front at some point in the race. And all of them were impressed by the Yates engines that they were running. In my opinion, the confidence in the motor package will be a big morale boost for the entire team. The cooperation with the Roush competitors also showed on the track, and will hopefully carry over in the future.

For the #43 Best Buy team, it seemed like there was a lot more familiarity than was there last year. AJ only had a few starts with RPM when he went to Daytona in February of 2009, and he wasn’t sure of his future with the team. This time AJ and crew chief Mike Shiplett really seemed comfortable with each other and it sounded to me like they trusted in each other’s abilities.

In fact, when AJ came on the radio late in the race to apologize for spinning out a car that was capable of winning the race, Mike wouldn’t accept the apology. In essence, he said that it is a team effort. They win as a team and they lose as a team. That was a really good thing to hear, and doesn’t surprise me in the least. One of AJ’s strengths is that he brings cohesiveness to the group. He makes an effort to make his team into a part of his family. The Allmendingers even hosted a team barbecue earlier in the week for the #43 crew guys as a positive way to kick off the season.

So while I’m disappointed in the results, I am not the least bit disappointed with the effort that was put forth. The Best Buy team ran great today and was a legitimate contender for a win. That’s all any fan can ask for. And while AJ is no doubt kicking himself for what happened, I would rather have my driver spin his car trying to keep off another competitor than take out half the field.

The Daytona 500 is over. At times it seemed like it was going to be another 24 hour event, but it finally ended with an exciting race to the finish line. For the winner Jamie McMurray, this will probably live in his memory as the greatest race ever. But for everyone else, it is just one of 36 races in a very long season. The #43 RPM team needs to shake it off and look forward to Fontana, where the real racing will begin. I for one can’t wait to see what they have in store. I see great things coming.

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