Who's really to blame for the big wreck at Daytona?
Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Even though Matt Kenseth won the rain-shortened Daytona 500, perhaps the biggest storyline in this year's "Great American Race" was the major wreck started by Brian Vickers and NASCAR's most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., on lap 124.
Earnhardt, Jr. and Vickers, both a lap behind, were battling for position on the backstretch, with Vickers blocking Earnhardt, Jr. and forcing him below the yellow - you can't pass under here - line at Daytona.
Earnhardt, Jr. came back onto the track and hit the back of Vickers' car in the process, putting him into a spin, which then triggered the 10-car pileup.
"Vickers drove me below the line," Earnhardt, Jr. said. "He ran into me and sent me below the line. I was just trying not to run into him, drive into the grass, get my car under control and try and get above the line so I wouldn't get penalized for being down there. I ran into his quarter panel and spun him out."
While Earnhardt, Jr. suffered no damage to his Chevrolet and continued on, Vickers' day was done after his Toyota was battered beyond repair. He later blamed Earnhardt, Jr. for wrecking him.
Kyle Busch led a race-high 88 laps before wrecking.
"To wreck somebody intentionally like that in front of the entire field is really kind of dangerous," Vickers said. "That's my biggest problem with it, but apparently he wanted a caution pretty bad."
Vickers finished 39th.
The accident took out several drivers contending for the win, particularly Kyle Busch who had already led a race-high 88 laps. Busch, with a 41st-place finish, was quick to point out Earnhardt, Jr.'s pit-road mishaps earlier in the race that led to the crash.
"It's unfortunate that a guy that's messed up his whole day on pit road and screwed up, that he has to make our day worse," Busch said. "It wasn't our problem that he was a lap down and fighting with another lapped car. I don't know even what they were fighting for because the outside lane was coming. Those cars just should have sat there and waited and got back in line when they could."
Earnhardt, Jr. was hit with a one-lap penalty after his crew serviced the car while it was outside of the assigned pit box. He also overshot his pit stall earlier in the race.
Although Vickers' block-maneuver created the melee, Earnhardt, Jr. bumping Vickers was about as aggressive of a move as Jason Leffler made on Steve Wallace during Saturday's Nationwide Series race at Daytona. Leffler was assessed a five-lap penalty by NASCAR for aggressive driving.
Should NASCAR have penalized Earnhardt, Jr.?
"He shouldn't have started that, it would have never happened," Earnhardt, Jr. said. "If he had held his ground, who knows? He would have probably got the position back eventually, but at that point in the race, that was pretty reckless.
"Penalize me? For what? I got ran in to and sent below the line. What the hell? I don't want to go down there, I didn't aim to go down there, and I got sent down there. What the hell am I supposed to do? Then what am I supposed to do? Stay down there? No. I got to get back up on the race track."
NASCAR did not take any action.
With inclement weather on the way, the pressure was on Earnhardt, Jr. and Vickers to get back on the lead lap. However, it was bad racing on their parts, with the two banging each other at speeds close to 200 m.p.h.
Kenseth happened to be in the right place at the right time after the skies had opened up at Daytona on lap 152. The 2003 Cup champion not only won the Daytona 500 for the first time, but gave team owner Jack Roush his first victory in NASCAR's biggest race of the season as well.
Meanwhile, Earnhardt, Jr. managed to get back on the lead lap just before the race concluded, as he ended up finishing 27th.
It's only fitting that after the first race of the season, controversy has already sparked in the garage, and the sport's biggest star is in the middle of it.