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Wow! Now that's a heck of a race: and Jamie McMurray beats Dale Earnhardt Jr. to win the Daytona 500

  Jamie McMurrary, in victory at Daytona (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)   

   By Mike Mulhern

   Jamie McMurray, with a breakaway push by former teammate Greg Biffle, held off a late-charging Dale Earnhardt Jr. to win a stunning Daytona 500 Sunday, in overtime, a weird but tense and thrilling event that was marred by a huge pothole that turned the NASCAR season opener into a six-hour marathon and threatened to overshadow the great racing on the track.
   McMurray was openly emotional in victory lane, after the biggest win of his career, in the second round of a green-white-checkered finish that took advantage of NASCAR's newest rule.
   "I can't explain it, it's unbelievable, it's a dream, it really is," McMurray said, unabashedly crying.
    "It means so much for these guys to let me come back. It's just very emotional."
   McMurray, who is one of the sport's top restrictor plate racers, though not a big winner over his career, had won the Talladega 500 last fall, but for rival car owner Jack Roush. When Roush, under NASCAR rules, had to cut back from five teams to four teams, McMurray found himself looking for a new ride. And Felix Sabates, who gave McMurray his first big NASCAR break back in 2002, got business partner Chip Ganassi to sign McMurray back, to fill the void left by the departure of Martin Truex Jr.
    Then it was the two 2009 teammates teaming up to upset Kevin Harvick, who showed the best car most of the six-hour-plus event.
    Harvick had the lead for the restart, but Biffle helped push McMurray to the lead on the break.
   "I was half a corner away from winning the Daytona 500," Biffle said, second-guessing a lot of things that happened in those final frantic moments.   "I was able to push Jamie on the restart....and I pushed him around the corner to keep him straight.
   "So I feel good about helping Jamie get clear. I was trying to get us both out front, so I'd have a shot at winning. I just made my move too soon.
   "I had a run but I couldn't get by him. And then I gave Dale Jr. and those guys a lot of opportunities.
   "I'm just glad I had an opportunity to win the Daytona 500."


   Jamie McMurray beats Dale Earnhardt Jr. by two lengths (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

Harvick got hung up in the final mess, and then Earnhardt charged from 10th on the final restart to nearly winning in just two laps.
   "I really don't remember much about it," Earnhardt conceded. "It was just all a blur, and I was just going wherever they weren't. I don't enjoy being that aggressive. But if your radiator fits, you just hold the gas down and pray for the best.
    "This is awesome but it kind of stinks too. But then we were running 22nd at the first green-white-checkered....."
    "This validates the changes they made over the winter to make things better.
    "This was a handling race...now you can say it was a plate race but really it wasn't, it was a handling race. 
    "They (NASCAR) made a lot of good choices on what to to do to put the racing back in the drivers' hands. There was a ton of bumping out there, but never once did I feel like NASCAR was looking over my shoulder. So that made it easier for me for form my gameplan.
   "I was looking up at the end and only saw one car ahead of me, and I said 'Jamie's going to win this thing!' I'm happy for Jamie; he's been through a lot."
   "I'd rather have Jamie win this thing than most of those other guys up there...being my old teammate," Biffle said. "Maybe now I can get him to take me out to dinner."
   Yes, it was certainly a memorable 500, but not quite following the expected script.
   The final 35 laps of the overtime 208-lapper were brilliant.
   Great, classic Daytona action down the stretch, and a doozy of a finish...and McMurray somehow outfoxing Harvick the final two laps.  
    Harvick showed the strongest car most of the race and held the lead for the last restart – the second attempt at a green-white-checkered finish, under NASCAR's new three-tries rule.
    But McMurray, with Biffle's help, took advantage of Harvick on the last restart and led the final two laps but had to hold off a sudden charge by Earnhardt.
   " Biffle helped me out because I spun the tires on the restart....But then when I saw Dale Jr. behind me I said 'Oh, no,'" McMurray said.
    "It was great the fans stuck it out."


   Kevin Harvick had the best car in the field at Daytona (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    So NASCAR CEO Brian France did get the thrilling season opener he'd been hoping for, and promoting so heavily the past month.
   But it wasn't easy, and in some respects not that pretty.
   Rarely does the sports stadium itself prove the headliner for the big game, but that was precisely the case here Sunday at Daytona International Speedway.
   This place was last repaved back in October 1978, when  Earnhardt Jr. was barely four years old and Dale Earnhardt Sr. was still just a little known journeyman racer.
   And that lengthy delay in laying some new asphalt may have come back to haunt this sport Sunday when the long-anticipated Daytona 500 was marred by a big pothole and loose rocks that twice led to long delays for repairs which overshadowed some good, solid racing.
   Potholes in race tracks are nothing new, though certainly embarrassing. However usually repairs can be made more swiftly than was the case here Sunday.
   After enormous build-up and hype and hoopla over the past month, and some great action, with photo-finishes, the sport's biggest race turned bizarre just past the halfway point when a pothole developed rather suddenly in the middle of the first and second turns, creating an embarrassing situation when track crews found repairing the broken asphalt more difficult than expected.
   "I never saw the hole until they said there was a hole and threw the caution," Earnhardt said.
   "Eventually we started hitting everything they put in it. It sounded like it was tearing the jackstubs off. Some of the guys were hitting the trailing arms.
   "But it wasn't like a big issue at the end. But then when you get to a green-white-checkered there is so much going on."
    The race, which had a two-hour earlier start than the 2009 season opener, in part to avoid the prospect of another rain-shortened 500, was twice halted by lengthy red-flags for repairs.
    The first red came at 3:22 p.m., on lap 122 of the 200-lapper. More than an hour and a half later, the race was restarted. NASCAR CEO said the chilly weather (53 degrees trackside at that time) hampered the repairs. Finally crews began using torches to heat the asphalt in the repairs.
    The action resumed on lap 126, a little after 5 p.m., and there was good action for the next 35 laps, until drivers began complaining vigorously about more loose rocks rattling around the track and the reappearance of the pothole.
   After another 40 minutes of track repairs, on a larger scale, NASCAR had drivers restart their cars, around 6:30 p.m., with the lights turned.
   By that point the race appeared Harvick's to win...or lose.
   Over the final 35 laps – 90 miles – it was downright great racing....which turned into a five-car breakaway single-file with eight laps to go.
   Then came another a big crash, involving Ryan Newman and Elliott Sadler and others, with seven to go to bring out the yellow.
   On the restart the game appeared down to Clint Bowyer, Biffle, Martin Truex Jr., Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and McMurray.
   NASCAR was ready to restart with three laps to go, but more debris on the track set up a two-lap shootout. NASCAR has just added a new end-of-race rule, allowing three restart attempts until the leader can finally take the white (last lap) flag under the green.
    Then Kasey Kahne crashed, bringing out the yellow and setting the stage for the final overtime sprint.

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   Cars and drivers were idled for some two hours Sunday, while track crews repaired broken asphalt (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

From what I understand

From what I understand Daytona is supposed to be repaved after 2011 - they'd better try to speed up that timetable. This is absurd that the surface as so little grip that it needs nightfall to be truly raceable.

McMurray continues to make fools out of people like myself who labled him a drafting bust. And talk about turnarounds - Ganassi and Teresa Earnhardt were basically in survival mode when they merged their teams; now they're going to have to get more ambitious.

Sticking with the theme of pro sports so far in 2010, McMurray was The Aints and Hendrick Motorsports was Peyton Manning.

But as great a finish as this was, how much better if the #43 had won it. As it was, AJ and Petty (pun intended) look like they can win some races in 2010.

And speaking of upsets, was that Scott Speed or Lake Speed leading the 500? I haven't seen a Speed run that well since Lake was running good in the late '80s and early '90s.

Brian France's NASCAR Redemption Tour has gotten off to a promising start.

Junior had a great finish but

Junior had a great finish but why does everyone give him all the credit as if he didn't have help getting to the front? He got one heck of a push from the 00. I like Junior and he wheeled hard to get there. But like everyone else he needed help so lets can all the talk like he did it on his own!

Best race I've watched at

Best race I've watched at Daytona in a long time. Whatever tire Goodyear brought, please stick with it for next year's 500. Before dusk and the track cooled off, the racing was the best there it's been in sometime, and they weren't driving around bunched up like a swarm of hornets. The racing wasn't bad after the repairs, but it became a crashfest again at the end because they could not separate. Glad to see Jamie get a big win. Don't know him personally, but he seems like a really nice guy and someone I've rooted for since he subbed for Sterling back in '02.

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