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The mayhem and madness of SpeedWeeks, and the Daytona 500 is still yet to be run

  Good, exciting racing is one thing NASCAR is known for...but the action in this Daytona SpeedWeeks has gone way too far. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


   It's been the most expensive SpeedWeeks in history, and it's not over yet. And team owners are already crying in their beers, even before we get to the first green of the big race.

   And if you perceive these drivers as a little nervous, you're right.
   Yes, it's been mayhem and madness, and more than a little chaos, here in the days leading up to the Demolition 500….er, Daytona 500.
   Much more so than usual here.
   Leaving wide open the question of whether all this crashing will continue unabated in the sport's season kickoff.
   And, as if these guys didn't need anything more to worry about, now the spectre has been raised of 'slow cautions' late in the race, which drivers worry could leave them sitting ducks to rivals still running full-bore, while race officials ponder just when to throw the yellow.
   Yes, the Shootout is usually wild, and this one was too. But a bit more than anticipated, really. When Jeff Gordon tries for more than a lap to spinout Kyle Busch, only to end up flipping down the frontstretch himself while Busch goes on to an amazing win, well, you get the idea.
   Then in Thursday's first 150 there was more of the same, leading Paul Menard to say aloud what others here have been saying quietly, that this return-to-pack-racing – because of a specific new rules package designed just for that objective – is as doggone dangerous as ever. Pack racing means big pack crashes.
   No wonder the second 150 was mild and meek. Heck, why race hard, when just about everyone is already locked into the 500 field anyway?
   Friday most Sprint Cup drivers laid around on the couch in their haulers, rather than go out and practice….though certainly a lot of these appear to need as much drafting practice as they can get. Then Friday night's Truck race provided another dose of wildness, and a surprise winner, little known John King, in a race that ended under yellow.


Joey Coulter flips in
the air while James Buescher spins on the final lap during Friday night's Truck 250 at Daytona (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   Ah, now Saturday, and the Nationwide 300. Surely this one will be just good old-school racing, with no surprises. After all the dozen or so Cup drivers taking the dive into Nationwide are some of the biggest names in the sport, some of the best drivers.
   No such luck.
   The 300 was the most crashed-filled race of SpeedWeeks, with 37 of the 43 drivers involved in one or more wrecks. And three multi-car wrecks came in just the last 17 laps of the 120-lapper.
   The carnage was the worst yet of SpeedWeeks.
   The last lap incident was the most dramatic: the lead 10 cars all crashed, and James Buescher, running 11th at the white, wound up the winner of the green-white-checkered.
   The final disaster occurred with the leaders in a three-wide group of two-man drafts down the backstretch into turn three. Kurt Busch and Kyle Busch on the inside, Joey Logano and Trevor Bayne in the middle of the track, and Tony Stewart and Elliott Sadler coming up fast on the outside.
   This is how it all unfolded:  http://bit.ly/zt7fQr
   And here's the view from inside Stewart's car: http://bit.ly/Ayn5Oy


Denny Hamlin, after one of Saturday's wild crashes (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   Stewart: "We got a big, big, big run down the backstretch. We got on the outside, we had that lane. All of a sudden someone turned right -- right in front of us.
    "I don't know how they got there or why they got there, but it was a pretty abrupt right-hand turn in front of us. The door got slammed.
    "It wasn't a very good time to either try blocking or moving."
   Kurt Busch got quick blame for moving up to block. But he says he was only trying to block Logano and Bayne, that he didn't realize Stewart and Sadler were closing so fast to make it three wide at the point of blocking.
   "I went to crowd the outside lane, and didn't know there were two cars up there," Kurt Busch said. "I thought it was just a single line."
   The incident left mangled cars strewn across the track. "They all piled up in front of me, and we made it through," an amazed Buescher said.
   Kyle Busch took the hardest hit, head-first into the outside wall, perhaps even more vicious than the hit that killed Dale Earnhardt.


Kyle Busch checks out the remains of his Nationwide car after a savage crash Saturday (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   "I don't know what happened," Kyle Busch said. "I thought we had the race won."
   Indeed Busch was virtually clear of the crashing when he dived low in the fourth turn….only to get tagged.
   "When they all crashed up high, I was clear, so I shot as low as I could," Busch said. "Then somebody tagged me in the back and hooked me dead-right.
    "It was a really, really hard hit. And there were a few more after that. It seemed like they kept coming."

   The crashing had been going on for several seconds before NASCAR threw the yellow, officially ending the race before the leader took the checkered flag.
   And there was some brief confusion about the finish, since Buescher went below the out-of-bounds yellow line while weaving through the mess. NASCAR ruled that Buescher was okay, because he was trying to dodge debris. The yellow-line rule is frequently controversial here, for one reason because it isn't specifically written down in the rule book.
   Too, NASCAR, in such last lap incidents, usually hesitates to throw the yellow if the race itself is still in doubt, in order to give drivers a chance to battle it out. That hesitation, however, and even just the possibility of such hesitation, can be dangerous for drivers, who can't afford to lift until the yellow actually comes out.
   Brad Keselowski, who wound up second in the 300, calls these late-race yellows "the most dangerous aspect of our sport.
   "If you're running 25th and five or six seconds behind the pack when the wreck happens…and the yellow didn't come out for about six seconds from what I can estimate….
    "Obviously there's a lot of tension about that.
    "It eventually will happen where someone will hit a very slow car at a very high rate of speed… and it will not be good."
    Indeed the 'slow caution' finish to the 2007 Daytona 500 comes to mind, when NASCAR officials were clearly slow to throw the caution, while cars were flipping and flying down the frontstretch.
     So Keselowski says he's most nervous about the last lap of the 500: "being at the front pack…being wrecked and stopped….and some guy 35th, knowing  the yellow is not going to come out for another six seconds, waling me going 180, while I'm going 5 or 10 or maybe stopped."


      You didn't like that last crash? Just wait a few minutes and we'll serve up another one for you. It's been that kind of SpeedWeeks (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


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