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And now the nation's TV viewers will offer their judgment on Daytona's Pothole 500

  Jamie McMurray: nice guys do finish first (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   A pothole?
   A lowly pothole?
   Maybe it was just part of a sophisticated marketing ploy to make stock car racing more relevant to New Yorkers and Chicagoans.
   Certainly today more of them may be paying attention to this sport than just a day or two ago.
   And, given all the snow and cold, this may well become National Pothole Month around the nation, as anyone driving the streets of America right now can easily see...and commiserate.
   Now more waiting, for the TV ratings to come in. How many snowed-in Americans reached for their remotes while the track crew tried to fill the rather small pothole with enough gunk to stick together in the 53-degree temperatures?
   Well, Fox just reported that nearly 30 million people watched some part of the six-plus-hour marathon.
   And it did have a spectacular finish, after all the pavement problems were fixed, with Jamie McMurray -- getting help from former teammate Greg Biffle to outfox dominant Kevin Harvick in the second 'green-white-checkered' overtime sprint – edging late-charging Dale Earnhardt Jr. by two lengths.
   Fox says that Nielsen reports some 29.8 million people watched the Daytona 500, and that's a 14 percent gain over last year's 26.2 million.
   Still, the 2-1/2 hours of asphalt repairs did hurt the ratings, Fox and Nielsen conceded: the racing action itself earned a 'fast national' rating (major markets) of only 7.7, (with a 16 share), translating to 13.3 million viewers. That compares to the 2009 rain-shortened 500 which pulled a 9.2 rating (and 19 share).
     Nevertheless Fox pointed to significant ratings gains in some traditionally key NASCAR markets:
   -- Winston-Salem/Greensboro/High Point, which is typically one of the hottest TV markets for NASCAR, led the pack with a 16.9 rating (28 share).
    -- Charlotte pulled a 16.8 (up from last year's 15.6).
   -- Atlanta, an 11.0 (up from last year's 9.9).
   -- Norfolk, a 12.2 (up from 11.4).
   -- Greenville, S.C., a 16.6.
   -- Indianapolis, a 16.0.
   -- Orlando, a 15.4.
   -- Louisville, a 13.3.
   -- Nashville, a 13.1
   -- Knoxville, a 13.0.
   -- Jacksonville, Fla., a 12.8.
   -- Dayton, Ohio, a 112.7.

   Typically NASCAR TV ratings go up when the smaller markets are included; those numbers should come out later this week.
   For comparison, the 2009 Daytona 500 (rain-shortened) pulled an 8.0 overnight and then a 9.2 final. In 2008 the Daytona 500 pulled a 9.4 overnight, and a 10.2 final.
   Historically the classic 1979 Daytona 500, when much of the country was snowed in, pulled a then-record 10.5 final national rating on CBS (live, wire to wire).
    Fox and NBC took over the Daytona 500, alternating, beginning in 2001, and the ratings (these are all national finals) picked up: Fox scored a 10.0 in 2001, NBC came back with a 10.9 the next year. Fox, suffering rain, pulled a 9.8 in 2003; NBC came back in 2004 with a 10.6. In 2005 Fox's Daytona 500 telecast scored a 10.9; NBC, able to use the Winter Olympics in 2006, set the record with an 11.3 rating. 
    Fox has now had the Daytona 500 four straight seasons: a 10.1 in 2007, a 10.2 in 2008, and a 9.2 in 2009.
    Those are the benchmarks for the final rating coming later this week.
     And ESPN already has something to boast about:  The early DANICAR ratings are just in, from ESPN: a 2.6 overnight for Saturday's Nationwide 300, featuring Danica Patrick, besting the previous best overnight for the event, a 1.9 in 2008. And ratings did not drop after Patrick crashed out, in fact jumped to 3.0 for the final 15 minutes.

   Meanwhile Daytona winner McMurray will continue a whirlwind cross-country sprint to promote the sport; Wednesday he'll be in San Francisco, at Willie Mays Plaza.
   And Harvick, who appeared to have the best car most of the race, can second-guess his final moves. "We just thought we had the car to beat... and just zigged when I should have zagged."
    Under the old single-try at a green-white-checkered finish, Harvick apparently would have won, when Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne crashed just after the field had taken the green to begin lap 199.
    But the new rules set up a second GWC attempt, Harvick and McMurray side by side. Biffle pushed McMurray quickly to the lead and Harvick got shuffled back to seventh, as Dale Jr. charged into the fray, coming up two lengths shy at the line.
    McMurray: "The three green white checkereds -- I was not a big fan of that Thursday when they made the announcement. But now I am, because I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for that."

   Kevin 'Bono' Manion, Jamie McMurray's new crew chief. And a Daytona 500 is a nice way to settle in (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    It all made it pretty thrilling for the well-chilled crowd (estimated by track officials at 175,000)....and for crew chief Kevin 'Bono' Manion, now working with McMurray at the Chip Ganassi-Felix Sabates operation, after several seasons working with Martin Truex Jr.
    "It was right in front of us on the last lap when we took the white, where Greg had a great run and dove under us," Manion said.  "I just closed my eyes and listened to the spotter. 
     "You're pretty much looking straight out, when you're on pit road (with very limited vision of the track itself).  We have some (TV) monitors.
   "But I felt more comfortable with my eyes closed.  I'm somewhat of a quiet person.  You know -- just gather your thoughts and listen to the spotter.
    "I heard 'the 88, big push.' (That's Earnhardt on the charge.)
    "That's what you hear (from McMurray's spotter): 'Big push...big push...clear...clear...the 16 (Biffle)....okay...out of four.'
    "And then it was 'You're coming to the checkered flag.'
     "So it was a minute or so by the time he passed us.
    "It was exciting, very emotional that one lap."

    One of the great stories here still to be told, still unfolding, is the new driver-crew chief chemistry between McMurray and Manion.
   "Kevin – I'm kind of uncomfortable calling him 'Bono' -- has been one of the best surprises for me, coming back," McMurray said.
   "I was parked next to him last year every single weekend.  He laughs and smiles all the time now, but I never saw him laugh or smile (last year). 
    "Everyone that knows me knows that I typically smile all the time, and there's typically a joke in everything I say. 
     "And I thought that it was really important, with a crew chief, that we had personalities that were similar.
     "Then I hung out with him for a little bit, and I remember going home and telling (wife) Christy 'Man, he is nothing like what I expected. I really like him.'
     "I think we're going to get along just fine."

    McMurray's initial post-race thoughts were a blur: "Everyone kept running into me...when you're going around slow. 
    "Man, I really don't remember.  I came to the frontstretch, I cut a couple of doughnuts -- I think the burnout is pretty cool but overrated.  Still I was like 'I'll do a little burnout.'
    "And I thought 'I'm going to get out, stand on my car, and listen to all these people scream.'
    "I got to tell you it was a great feeling, it was just unbelievable. 
     "I ran up (to the flagstand) and got the flag.  And when I came back running down the hill, I saw 'Daytona 500' painted in the grass. I kneeled down. I was like 'This is just unreal right now.'
    But the other half of the story is that pothole, down in the first turn somewhere.
    "The problem is it is right in the middle of the right-side tires," Harvick said. "So when you go through there and hit it wrong, the jackposts and everything hits."
   The  bumpiness of the corners here has long been described by drivers, and the continued pounding evidently took a toll. Track president Robin Bragg said he would have engineers study the situation before deciding whether or not to repave and when.
    However the court of public opinion may be speaking – and pointing toward laying new asphalt.
   Jimmie Johnson, one of the victims of the pothole, which cut tires: "My car is crashing the ground really hard down there, because the swells are so big. I think the truck-arm mount and the jack-stub on the right side of the car has smashed into the ground, just pulling that asphalt out."
      What eventually put Johnson out (35th)? "Something with the drive -- either the axle or the rocker broke in the rear end, or something with the hub on the left side. We only have drive in the right-rear tires, so something broke and I just had the one wheel driving."
     Safety? "They are doing their best to get the show in," Johnson says. "We were all dodging it. Now we know where it's at. Everybody is dodging it."
    After the first patch appeared to hold, Kyle Busch said "It stayed really good for about 15 to 18 laps. Then you could see a chunk flying off some of the leader cars, the guys running the bottom.  You would see just little pieces going....and then it was back to its same old hole again."
   More repairs. Then the final 39 laps, including eight overtime laps.
   Jeff Gordon, who had an uncharacteristic ragged afternoon, finally crashed: "The multiple green-white-checkereds worked for some and not for others. It was just a mess out there.
    "We were going for it, and unfortunately it was just a mess out there on the last lap, and someone got in our left-rear and cut the left-rear, and away we went. 
     "Those last laps were bumper-cars at 195 mph, there is no other way to describe it. It is crazy.
     " From about 10th on back, it was pretty ugly."
     And now comes the judgment of the TV ratings...and from the rest of the media.
     If NASCAR had hope to sway, cajole or strong-arm the sometimes savage media into putting more solidly positive spins on this sport, into quietly acquiescing in its own view of this sports world, well, Sunday afternoon things went rather badly awry for those 2-1/2 hours.
     No amount of PR spin could change these facts:
     -- Halfway through the sport's biggest race, a small pothole developed in the middle of the racing groove down in the 190 mph first and second turn, forcing 2-1/2 hours of repairs, while drivers sat or stood around their painfully silent race cars and waited;
     -- and this track was last repaved when the late and now legendary Dale Earnhardt was still an unknown racer with a Junior just barely turned four-years-old, back in 1978.
    Indeed the cacophony from some journalists was unmistakable. A sampling from around the country: "bizarre," "weird," "the 500 hours of Daytona," "inexcusable," "a Daytona 500 permanently scarred," "horribly unfortunate."
     And there was some sharp criticism of how Fox' TV broadcasters covered the situation, one billing them as "dedicated cheerleaders" with "blatant unprofessionalism."
    Well, you just can't please everyone all the time.
    To me, damned if it wasn't a hell of a finish.
    And isn't that what this is really about?


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   Jamie McMurray and Kevin 'Bono' Manion clowning it up in Daytona victory (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

Somehow, after all the

Somehow, after all the Daytona 500 buildup and hype, the race was actually and finally completed and a winner was declared. Oddly enough, the world did not end, and before long, another day began.

NASCAR, in the grand scheme of things, is simply a very small part of the lives of a few and its importance is lessened with each hour that passes.

The 2010 Daytona 500 has already been forgotten, and if it was NASCAR'S best shot, heaven help the sport of racing. Danica Patrick is not paying anyone's electric bills......

NASCAR: The Big Whatever !

I wonder if they counted me

I wonder if they counted me as watching, given that my local station cut to commercials for the last two laps. It came back to Jamie in the winner's circle and who is that? shown in second.

If I have to listen to

If I have to listen to Darrell Waltrip anymore I think I will throw up. No wonder ratings are down. On thirdturn.com, Mike Joy said to fans that Fox wanted their broadcasters to only field Toyotas to prevent a conflict with interest over vehicle makes they would call in cup racing.You have on Fox, Phil Parsons, Rusty Wallace, Brad Daughtery, Michael Waltrip, Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds who's son is testing a Toyotas for Sharp Raacing in the broadcast booth, they are all hooked up with Toyota. This just makes me sick and tired of all of NASCAR especialy on Fox. You have these guys doing the truck series to and its over run with Toyota. Jesse

No matter how you slice

No matter how you slice it..............it shouldn't have happened at this race................ NASCAR knew this track had not been repaved for some 30 odd years and should have made previsions for this before running the race and getting embarrassed like they did. It is a shame and it will be talked about for years.

Bottom lines to Speedweeks

Bottom lines to Speedweeks -

1 - This Daytona 500 was the most competitive top to bottom since the early 1980s. There were 52 lead changes among 21 drivers, the most leaders in the event's history and the most lead changes since 1983.

2 - The sport didn't see a new winner, but it got something almost better - a darkhorse winner whose career has been vindicated, with a team that is but a shell of the former lives of two teams - Ganassi/SABCO and Teresa Earnhardt Inc. were once separate entities fielding a combined six racecars and boasting some serious muscle, both reduced by the sport's absurd economics to a merger leaving them with just two cars and an engine program leased out to RCR.

3 - The 500 was striking in not just the muscle of teams like EGR, Petty-Gillett, Roush, Michael Waltrip, and RCR, but also by the mediocrity of traditional powers Hendrick and JGR.

4 - The Danica Tour may have gotten to a creditable start for ratings, but it did nothing to validate the career of a talentless soft-porn model who decided to jump into racecars and because of her gender gets equipment and opportunity afforded few others, and consistently does less with it.

5 - The pothole situation was bizarre and frustrating, but it ended with the most exciting 500 in years. Even so, the need to accelerate repaving the speedway should be obvious.

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