Follow me on

Twitter Feed Facebook Feed RSS Feed Linked In Youtube

Daytona looks like a Ford and Chevy show, with Ford still holding an edge, but Chevy guys showing smarts

  A beautiful day in the neighborhood....(Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


   Tony Stewart kicked off 2012 just as he wound up 2011 – winning.
   And Matt Kenseth play his Daytona poker hand just perfectly, if right on the edge of disaster.
   Those two, Chevy's Stewart and Ford's Kenseth, won Thursday's twin 150-milers, which sets the final pieces of the grid for Sunday's season-opening Daytona 500.

   But thank God for softwalls. Danica Patrick surely is, after one of SpeedWeeks' most savage crashes, on the final lap of the day's first 150-miler.
   Kenseth and Greg Biffle are teammates but it didn't look that way in the final miles.
   Biffle was leading but Kenseth had a big run on the outside in the trioval. Biffle moved up to block, Kenseth dived to the inside to the lead, and Kenseth led the rest of the way.
   However the moves by Biffle and Kenseth were quite dicey.
   "Jimmie Johnson gave me a huge push," Kenseth said of his late run. "Without that push it would have never gotten done.
   "Greg lost his drafting partner (Regan Smith). And we had such a huge run that Greg was a sitting duck. I was going so fast with Jimmie's push that we were able to make it past. I certainly wasn't going to back off on the final lap."
   And Johnson, as the pusher in the two-man run, was essentially driving blind, relying on Kenseth to make the moves.

Tony Stewart: the 'people's champion' (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   Biffle's take?
   "It got a little dicey there at the end," Biffle said.
    "I could have probably blocked a little bit more than I did. But that's not the time to block.
    "(Now) if that's the 500, I'm either going to get pushed or wrecked."
    In Thursday final moments Biffle said "I was thinking they (Kenseth and Johnson) might get stalled out. 
    "I wasn't sure I was going to stay committed to the bottom….at the last minute I decided to jump up there and try it (blocking).
    "But Matt is pretty smart.  I had to move three lanes to get in front of him."

   "We were going so much faster that we were going to go by him regardless," Kenseth said, "and I think that was his only hope -- to try to get up the track and try to line my (front) bumper up (with Biffle's rear bumper) so I had to push him.
    "I was going too fast, and even if I wanted to slow down -- which I didn't on the last lap -- I couldn't have. Jimmie was pushing me so hard, and we were locked together, and I know Jimmie can't see what is going on. So I had no other choice.
    "Wherever he (Biffle) went, I was going to go the opposite way.
    "I was just thankful that when he did do that block that Jimmie was able to be clear (too), because when I turned down to the bottom if Jimmie couldn't squeeze up there in the middle I would have lost the (aerodynamic) 'seal' and we would have been history."
    And there could easily have been a huge crash.

      A lot of hard action in the first 150, but not so much in the second. These hits must hurt (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    Johnson, in a Chevy, pushing Kenseth, in a Ford?
    Smith, in a Chevy, pushing Biffle, in a Ford?
    Well, Fords are fast here, and they all seem to have this engine temperature thing figured out better than their rivals.
    Johnson was a bit miffed at one of his rivals down the stretch, though, apparently Kurt Busch, long time nemesis but now a Chevy teammate.
    "We really had a shot to win that one…It was unfortunate there were some lapped cars mixed in with the leaders. It would have been nice if they would have let us race, at least from the white flag on. I wish they would have gotten out of there and I would have had a shot at winning that thing."
   Johnson didn't name any drivers; however Busch was a lapped car at that point, but right in the lead pack.


Matt Kenseth, in victory. Do these guys all practice this stuff in the mirror? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   Smith also had a shot at the win, and until the last lap shuffling appeared to have Biffle set up just right.
   "We don't have a torn up race car, and that is probably the most important part," Smith said.
    Smith was being pushed by Toyota's Clint Bowyer, in another curious team-up.
   "I didn't feel I made the right move at the end," Smith said. "Clint gave me more of a shove than I thought I was going to get.  I wasn't anticipating that, and I got a little squirrely on the backstretch and lost the run."
   After the bad crashes in the afternoon's first 150, the second 150 went much more smoothly, with drivers settling in for a long run of single-file follow-the-leader.
   "I'm glad I wasn't in the first one," Smith said. "The second one was calm. 
    "I think everybody is starting to figure out where we can push and where we can't push. You can't push in the corners if you are not already on them in the corners."
    However engine temperatures continue to be a worrisome issue, drivers said. Joe Nemechek said his engine ran 260 to 280 degrees, much higher than comfortable, and even at times up to 320, when it would start spitting water.
    "We were running 250 to 260 degrees in the pack, and that is a tough situation to be in," Smith said. 
    It was 80 degrees Thursday, a warm, sunny day, and it's supposed to only about 70 degrees Sunday. That could help engines.
    However several drivers said NASCAR should open the front grills to allow the engines to cool more.
    Ford team owner Jack Roush, though, wasn't interested in any more rules changes.
   "I think that 270 degrees was probably a real number, and that some people are able to hold their water at 270 and some aren't," Roush said.
   "The reason they went to the lower pressure cap and a smaller (grill) opening is they said they didn't want the cars to stay together (in two-car drafts).
    "And as anxious as I am to be on NASCAR's good side, I don't want to be the guy to raise my hand and say 'We're going to stick these cars back together by increasing the pressure cap or opening the radiator up or shortening the tail.'
   "But whatever they do is fine; it'll be the same for everybody. 
     "I hope it's not a lot different than what we had today. I would hope we don't have a huge change in rules."


    Matt Kenseth out front, with Jimmie Johnson tight on his tail and Greg Biffle coming up the inside (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.

© 2010-2011 www.mikemulhern.net All rights reserved.
Web site by www.webdesigncarolinas.com