DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Sunday's 52nd Daytona 500 was a bizarre race with a weird conclusion but for the most part, multiple attempts at a green-white-checkered finish met with competitors' approval -- regardless of the way their races ended.
Since the finish was a thriller -- and a popular one at that with second-time Daytona winner Jamie McMurray adding the Great American Race to his 2007 July victory -- you can't imagine the fans would complain.
Former Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr., who hasn't won a Cup race since the summer of 2008, used the late multiple restarts to jump from 22nd to second. The typically unsatisfied racer, Earnhardt expressed some frustration on not winning, but he was mostly upbeat.
"The rules are the rules [and] we all sort of have to race by 'em, whatever they are," Earnhardt said. "At the end, you got to go. People are doing some things they typically won't do [but] I never once felt like I had NASCAR looking over my shoulder while I was doing it. That made it a lot easier for me to just form my game plan and hope it worked."
Earnhardt described the final laps of the race as a blur.
"I was just going wherever they weren't. I really don't enjoy being that aggressive, but if there was enough room for the radiator to fit, you just kind of held the gas down and prayed for the best. It was a lot of fun -- it was frustrating to come that close [to winning] but hell -- we were running 22nd at the first green-white-checkered."
As it is with any other situation in racing, how it affected you had some effect on how you reacted to it. But most competitors -- who at their core are fans themselves -- sided with the paying customers.
Greg Biffle, who finished third, obviously lost the most because he was leading, literally in sight of the white flag that would have ended the race when Bill Elliott and Joey Logano crashed between Turns 3 and 4 behind him.
"I was thinking, 'Why do I have to be the first casualty of the rule change -- to be the guy that didn't get the win?'" Biffle said. " It's just the way it is. Like Junior said, we got to race by the rules. That's what they've determined that we're going to do. I wish I was out there spraying some champagne right now.
"I think maybe two attempts at the green-white-checkered -- three might be a little excessive. We kind of got caught because the one attempt wasn't considered a green-white-checkered because it was under the normal amount of laps and the restart was under the normal. That kind of made it extraordinary."
The second attempt ended when Elliott Sadler got loose coming through Turn 2, Kasey Kahne spun on the backstretch and was hit by Robert Richardson Jr.'s car. The final restart resulted in McMurray's win that was pure drama.
"I don't [think it was too much]," Earnhardt said. "I feel like the fans deserve probably more of a show, so that's what they got. The green-white-checkered was put into play to give us an opportunity to finish the race under green. Finishing under yellow is quite a melodramatic moment.
"This gives us the opportunity to get it done if we don't the first time. When we go to tracks like Bristol or Martinsville, maybe it will be more appealing to you, or some other race track -- maybe it wasn't [Sunday]. I'd like to get it done and go home. But it worked out in my favor [Sunday]. I kind of realized through the offseason, just getting some information myself, that we need to do whatever we can to get these fans excited -- get 'em pumped up about these races. I don't think you can ever go over the top really in that regard, because it's everybody in this [media center's] livelihood that's at stake."
Even two of the men whose teams ended with wrecked race cars favored the multiple late restarts, though Jeff Gordon was one who repeated his desire to stick with a single attempt.
Gordon credited the fans for sticking it out through two lengthy red flags to fix the track surface, "and to almost see Dale Jr. win," Gordon said, laughing. But for the second time in a couple days he got serious about multiple green-white-checkers, particularly since his car suffered damage in the late scrambles while finishing 26th.
"I've never been a fan of multiple green-white-checkers," Gordon said. "I believe in doing things for the fans but I also think they have their limits. It wasn't going to give us a winning day by not having multiple green-white-checkers but it would have saved us a race car."
Daytona track president Robin Braig, who had to apologize for a hole developing in the speedway's second turn, said the multiple attempts were what the fans deserved.
"That was a fabulous finish, our fans waited it out -- they deserved a green-white-checkered," Braig said. "To see Dale [Earnhardt] Jr. come through like that, we're proud of Jamie McMurray; so, yeah, we definitely dodged a bullet with a nice, exciting finish."
Defending 500 winner Matt Kenseth had a mediocre day that was salvaged by the raggedy finishing restarts.
"I'm happy with the result, but wasn't very happy with our weekend overall," Kenseth said. "We ran about 25th or 30th all day, so all of those green-white-checkers helped us and gave us an opportunity to make some moves there at the end and kind of go crazy.
"I just got a run down the back and was able to get three- or four-wide up against the wall, and I got some help. I got my momentum up there and got lucky to get a few spots. We didn't race our way to eighth and didn't really deserve eighth -- I just got lucky."
And the fans were probably excited. Crew chiefs Kenny Francis, whose driver Kahne was a pre-race favorite but ended up 30th, and Tony Gibson, whose driver Ryan Newman won the 2008 Daytona 500, were upbeat despite loading battered race cars into their haulers.
"You're just going to tear stuff up," Gibson said. "But it's what [NASCAR] wants and the fans want it and they need to get what they deserve -- that's what they paid for. After sitting through all that [delay] they deserved it. So some days you're on the good side of those and some days you're on the bad."
"I didn't have any problem with 'em," Francis said after supervising the load-up of Kahne's wrinkled car. "We got in a wreck, but it didn't have anything to do with that. The first green-white-checkered we just got to beating and banging, spun around and one of the guys in the very back come along and smashed us.
"It didn't have anything to do with the green-white-checkered. I think they need to have it because you need to do everything you can to finish under green. Unfortunately we got run over by somebody that wasn't paying attention."
NASCAR certainly was, and as he walked down from the control tower, vice president for competition Robin Pemberton said the result confirmed what the sanctioning body hoped to achieve with its decision, one of several it's made to loosen-up the action.
"I've seen great [Daytona 500s] that were a half-dozen cars duking it out," Pemberton said. "And this race right here, with the potential of the top 15 or 20 guys up there, in the last 25 miles, was incredible. A great race in my opinion though I've only watched 33 of 'em."
And there were the three G-W-C's, though as Pemberton stressed, only two of them "counted."
"We're about getting fans to be able to see a green-flag finish," Pemberton said. "And we had one [G-W-C] to go -- we didn't use all of our credits up [Sunday] -- and we don't ever really want to do that unless we have to, but really it was exciting. Small mistakes were made and cars spun out but it didn't end the race for us. The guys got back after it and were able to race.
"It did what it was supposed to. You hate it that anybody else got wrecked, during those last couple runs, but the races were great and exciting in my opinion and I hope the fans got their money's worth."
But McMurray offered the ultimate compliment.
"The three green-white-checkereds, I was not a big fan of that on Thursday when they made the announcement, and obviously now I am because I wouldn't be [in the winners' news conference] if it wasn't for that," McMurray said. "NASCAR has gone out of their way with the rules package and everything they've done to make the fans happy.
"That's what it's all about. That's kind of what built this sport."
Sunoco Pit Moves: Daytona 500
|2.||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||Chevrolet|
|6.||Martin Truex Jr.||Toyota|
|2.||--||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||175||-15|
|7.||--||Martin Truex Jr.||155||-35|