Daytona Beach, FL (Sports Network) -
Don't blame track personnel at Daytona International Speedway, and don't fault NASCAR for the pothole-plagued Daytona 500 on Sunday.
Blame El Nino. Yeah, that screwy climatic phenomenon that has wreaked havoc throughout the United States this winter.
Central Florida has endured one of its worst winters ever, with unusually cold temperatures and its share of rain. Daytona Beach was deluged with rain last Friday, forcing cancellation of Daytona 500 practice and Nationwide Series qualifying, as well as postponement of the Camping World Truck Series race until the following day. It was sunny, but in the low 50's at the start of the Daytona 500, making it one of the chilliest ever in the 52-year history of the event.
The weather probably played a major factor in two sizeable potholes -- one of them measuring 9x15x2 inches -- that emerged on the asphalt between turns one and two shortly after the half-way point in the Daytona 500. NASCAR officials halted the race for the first time on Lap 123, as track officials feverishly worked for one hour, 41 minutes to repair the damage before the event could resume. The holes reappeared 40 minutes later, forcing another 45-minute delay.
DIS president Robin Braig said the track was inspected earlier in the day and there were no concerns.
DIS president Robin Braig said the track was inspected earlier in the day and there were no concerns. He also mentioned that officials were prepared for such an incident, and had the proper materials to rectify the problem. However, the unpleasant weather at Daytona over the weekend played a role in the pothole debacle.
"The delay in the repairs was caused by the unusually cold ambient temperatures," Braig said. "After this event, we will evaluate these effects from the weather and will make the necessary adjustments."
The 2.5-mile, high-banked superspeedway was erected in 1959, but has not bee paved since 1978. That's 32 years ago. Isn't that a bit long?
"It's not unusually long at all because we're in Florida, and we have the best temperatures here," Braig said.
Not this winter.
So what track surface changes can Daytona make, if any, before NASCAR returns to "The World Center of Racing" in July?
They might want to consider the advice from NASCAR's most popular driver and one of the track's toughest critics -- Dale Earnhardt Jr.
"They should have repaved it several years ago," Earnhardt Jr. said. "It's due, I would say."
Unfortunately, this was the wrong time for the so called "Great American Race" or the "Super Bowl of Stock Car Racing" to experience such an anomaly, as some race fans bailed from the track and television viewers switched channels, probably to watch coverage of the Winter Olympics from Vancouver. By the time the six-hour Daytona 500 marathon concluded, heck, it was time for the NBA to tip-off their All-Star Game in Dallas.
During the off-season, NASCAR said it was returning to its origins by relaxing some of the on-track rules for drivers, revising the two-lap overtime finish procedure, making adjustments to the cars and setting uniform start times for Sprint Cup races, in an effort to boost track attendance and help resurrect a declining television audience.
One thing that has worked for NASCAR so far this season is the rules package put in place for the Daytona 500. It worked perfectly, and this race was one for the ages, regardless of it taking six hours to complete.
For the first time, the event ended after a second attempt was made in NASCAR's revamped green-white-checkered finish. Last week, the sanctioning body changed the rules on its two-lap overtime format by allowing a maximum of three restarts to finish the event, if a late-race caution warrants it.
Jamie McMurray made a slingshot move past Kevin Harvick to take the lead on the second-to-last lap, and then held off a hard-charging Earnhardt Jr. to become a surprise winner of the Daytona 500...well, the Daytona 520 since it went eight laps in overtime.
Last year, McMurray didn't know who he would drive for in 2010 after his Roush Fenway Racing No.26 team folded tent at the end of the season. McMurray landed a ride with Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing in the No.1 car shortly after, and what a debut he made with the team.
McMurray said he went to McDonalds after his last win in October at Talladega, and after becoming the 34th different winner of the Daytona, he had a Big Mac on his mind.
I'll bet there weren't any bumpy roads on his way to the closest Mickey-D's, and I'm sure he enjoyed his 540-calorie two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles and onions on a sesame seed bun.