Round and round they’ll go at Daytona until the big one(s)

The drivers got together at the big track down in Florida last week.

Again and again and again.

It was the precursor for today’s season-opener for NASCAR’s season, the much-anticipated Daytona 500. The Super Bowl of Sprint Cup racing starts the season for the top stock car racers on the biggest teams in the richest series in the most famous association of the sport in the United States of America.

Denny Hamlin wins third Challenge. (Photo from Getty Images)

Denny Hamlin wins third Sprint Unlimited. (Photo from Getty Images)

Yes, in this curious-to-the-outsider sport, it must be explained that the most legendary race comes first, not last, like the Super Bowl in football or World Series in baseball or Stanley Cup in hockey. Not even the Chase for the Cup, still sort of new playoff ladder for the championship, can can change that.

Still, to give the drivers a warm-up of sorts and the fans a chance to watch a week ahead of time, NASCAR stages a non-points race at the big Daytona track the Saturday night prior, FOX gladly puts it on the network, and the cars go around looking for real trying to win the prize money.

Daytona is a superspeedway with long straightaways. To keep the cars from going too dangerously fast, the engines are throttled with restrictor plates. This is done by NASCAR officials in the name of safety. And yet it leads to drafting-style racing, with the drivers filing behind each other two-by-two at the critical junctures in an attempt to cut wind resistance and built better speed. And that leads to closer quarters, sudden sideways moves, and a lot of accidents.

They call it the big one.

There were several big ones at the end of the Sprint Unlimited, behind eventual winner Denny Hamlin.

Nobody got seriously hurt.

The cars, unbelievably to me sometimes as I watch them hit each other and spin and slam into the walls, are safer than ever thanks to technology and rules changes.

The walls are safer because of new materials and rules changes.

These all came after arguably the most popular driver ever, Dale Earnhardt, did after his car slammed into the wall during the Daytona 500.

There are more accidents but the sport is safer.

So odd, this sport. But intriguing, still. Go to a race live and feel the rumble from the engines when they flip that switch the first time. That’s what got me when my dear wife Karen talked me into going to Pocono Speedway a dozen or so years ago.

At one race we attended at Dover, we saw Joey Logano’s car tumble end to end over and over and over. When he walked out of it, I stood and cheered so hard.

Hamlin is one of my favorite drivers, along with Greg Biffle, Joey Logano and Brad Kesolowski. But I can substitute last year’s champ, Kyle Busch, or his brother, Kurt, into my picks in our weekly family pool at a whim. Karen usually pulls for Johnson, Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth. Her fourth guy, Jeff Gordon, retired after last season. I’ll find out early today who she’ll substitute in our four-racer slate, five bucks a week, winner takes the whole pot after the champion is crowned in November.

Here’s the link for the photo of Denny Hamlin in Victory Lane.

Would you rather watch auto racing on TV or drive your own car fast, and why? If you have a favorite driver, who is it, and why? What’s the scariest moment you’ve ever had on the road?

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29 thoughts on “Round and round they’ll go at Daytona until the big one(s)

  1. HmmmI don’t watch racing much although it is fun. I’d rather drive fast than watch racing. i’ve had many scary moments on the road over the years, the worst was when a car crossed the center line and hit my truck head on.Here’s one that was too surreal to be scared when it happened but it scared the heck out of me after the fact. I was travelling east on the Trans-Canada Highway near Antigonish Nova Scotia in a freezing rain storm. The road was a glare of ice and I was just creeping along about 10 MPH. I was running with another trucker who was ahead of me about 1/4 mile going the same speed. It was storming and about 2 am on a Saturday night. We were chatting on the CB and there was very little traffic, any we met just creeping along like we were. We knew that the bad road conditions were just local as we had spoken to other truckers going the other way on the CB – so we were hoping to drive out of it. As we drove there came a car load of teens towards us who were playing by gunning their engine to make the rear of their car lose traction and fishtail. As they passed the truck ahead of me, they tried to fishtail again and the flow of air around the truck grabbed them and swung their car in slow motion sideways in the road right in front of me. I tried stopping but it was too slippery and the car was 90 degrees to my headlights and directly in front of me. My headlights were shining directly into the passengers side of the car and I could see the surprised faces. I was bracing for the crash when the car continued spinning and went back to its own side of the road sideways so that when we passed, his tail lights were facing my drivers side and his headlights were facing the opposite ditch. To my amazement, the car kept spinning and turned once more behind me before going nose first into the ditch. It was unsafe to stop and he had hit a snowbank so it likely only injured his pride – we just carried on.

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  2. I used to drive fast. Now I try not to do anything fast. I agree with you about that sound of all of those engines starting in unison;thrilling. I think I lean more toward open wheel than NASCAR, but a good race is hard to beat. So are the drags,come to think of it.

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  3. With it almost in my yard-NAPCAR (as we locals call it) is exhilarating and it will be on the Big Screen TV for sure. We were there in 2001 when we lost Dale, SR. a somber fell upon the infield like nothing I wish to experience again. As a freshman home from College with my boyfriend (now hubs) being there on that day, last lap, is forever etched in both of our minds. As my parents personally know Mike Helton, who made the announcement was by far absolutely devastated by the loss! Genuinely…Being there is definitely different than seeing the race on TV less than 30 miles away! Over and Out Terp! The Gatorette.

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  4. i’ve only been to one race, at the michigan international speedway, and it was quite fun watching all that speed, though i prefer watching it from the stands rather than being in the car )

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  5. Hi Mark!! How have you been?

    I’m going to give the test for my permanent licence next month, and I’m just learning to drive! And the only problem I have is in the reverse gear. It’s too confusing. 😛

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  6. When I was growing up, I wanted to be a race car driver. But they said little girls couldn’t be race car drivers. So I just pretend to be one when I go to work every morning. I think the scariest driving experience was in Tokyo. Couldn’t read the signs, driving on the wrong side of the road, people whizzing by. Very scary.

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  7. So thrilled to have racin back! I was ill over the winter and missed the last few races, so I’m glad to have the season started. I like Brad, Truex, Kurt and Kyle, and AJ Allmendinger. A little of the Hendricks cars goes a long way, but I admire their professionalism.

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