Port-A-Loo

The Great American Race

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With the Rolex 24 down, the focus of the U.S. racing scene shifts to another glorious event on the high banks of Daytona (so steep a crane had to support the steamroller during the repaving process this winter; makes you appreciate the setup that goes into oval racing cars more): Speedweeks, a spectacle of such magnitude that I feel it warrants a thread separate from the U.S. Racing one I've tried to contain my talking to myself in.

Featuring the Budweiser Shootout exhibition race, ARCA Racing Series season-opener, Gatorade Duels qualifying races, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series 250-mile event, and the NASCAR Nationwide Series 300-mile spectacular leading up to the crown jewel of American autosport, the Daytona 500, Speedweeks promises to be what it always is.

In an effort to maybe possibly convince at least one of you to join me in viewing the Great American Race on February 20th, 2011 (admittedly, this will be the first 500 I cannot watch live, so I may be watching it the 21st instead), or to just raise my post count to add credibility to my grievances about commentary, disgust with Lewis Hamilton's ear piercing, and image-enhancing reminders that I only watch 2.5 races per year (on fast forward, of course). Probably both.

So, to keep myself occupied and away from studying for midyear exams, expect some of the important stories and information to come in this beautiful thread about North America's most-loved offering to the motor racing world and its many support races over the next two weeks (hey, it's not too early to start pre-race; the Super Bowl pre-game show started right when the last one ended).

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Not everything set in stone for the ARCA-opening Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200, but a preliminary entry list is out to kick Speedweeks off.

Bobby Gerhart headlines the list, having won the race five times in his career, including last year's event. Even at 52, Gerhart and his brother Billy, who serves as his crew chief, have been able to find tremendous speed at Daytona. The second-generation racer's day job? Bobby Gerhart's Truck World, a used truck dealership in his native Pennsylvania.

Ricky Carmichael, regarded as the greatest motocross rider of all-time, will also participate in the race. A full-time Camping World Truck Series competitor, Carmichael has adapted solidly to stock cars, though still has room to grow, hence his entrance into the ARCA race, which will help him learn the newly resurfaced 2.5-mile speedway. Scott Turner, his Truck owner, owns the Chevrolet Carmichael will compete in, with long-time partner Monster Energy on the hood.

Fellow CWTS drivers Joey Coulter, Miguel Paludo, and Chad McCumbee will also try to qualify for the 200-mile race.

Two female drivers are entered in the race: Maryeve Dufault and Milka Duno. Both are former open-wheel competitors looking to transition to stock cars. The French-Canadian Dufault was previously part of FAZZT Race Team's driver development program prior to dabbling in the Le Série NASCAR Canadian Tire last season. Duno, winning numerous sports car races as a co-driver before a tumultuous time in INDYCAR, joins Patrick Sheltra's team for the race and looked quick in testing. Off the track, Duno has achieved many high-level academic degrees, and is a published author.

Brian Rose adds another story to the race, driving his own Toyota backed by Harris Trucking and ASE. Previously a promising competitor on the NASCAR Truck Series tour, Rose became involved with drugs, and was suspended indefinitely from the sport. Rose has since cleaned up, and returned to racing last season.

The full entry list for what promises to be an eventful race can be found here. The race will be live on SPEED and doubtlessly streamed online; a link to that will be provided at race time.

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The Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200 shares next weekend's bill with the Sprint Cup's Budweiser Shootout, an event for past champions, past Daytona winners, and past rookie of the year award recipients. Today, Derrike Cope confirmed his participation in the Shootout, partnering with Larry Gunselman's under-funded Max Q Motorsports team. Though Cope, a former Major League Baseball prospect prior to a knee injury, mainly starts and parks at this stage in his career, he'll always leave a legacy at Daytona, having pulled off one of the greatest upsets in motor racing history with his 1990 triumph, an ESPN Classic favorite.

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49 cars entered for the Daytona 500. They'll go for the 43 starting spots, determined through the unique qualifying process. They do two-lap, single-car qualifying to set the lineups for the Gatorade Duels, the two qualifying races run on the Thursday before the race. Those races (each with half the field) determine the starting spots, though the top 35 in owners' points are guaranteed in and the most recent past champion to fail to qualify gets the 43rd spot, if a past champion fails to qualify.

Cars breaking 203 mph in practice. That's fast.

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Any history of American autosport must include Mario Andretti, a man who won his first NASCAR race in the Daytona 500. There, too, should be a place for the Wood Brothers, a team that developed the modern pit stop and had been to the Daytona and Indy winners' circles before current team-owning icon Roger Penske had even turned thirty. Today, those two accomplishments aligned, as the Wood Brothers fielded Trevor Bayne, who, emulating Andretti, won the Great American Race in his first attempt (and in only his second Sprint Cup start).

Just one day past 20, Bayne becomes the youngest winner in the 500's history, and unlike many young kids thrust into success, the Tennessee-born driver remains humble and races like a veteran. In a display of great intelligence, Bayne was one of the few front-runners who knew that, in an endurance race like Daytona, there was a time and a place to run hard and a time and a place to back out of the brawl. Selfless, Bayne spent most of the race pushing other drivers to the front, and throughout Speedweeks earned the respect of his competitors, including his childhood hero Jeff Gordon. On the final restart, with Bobby Labonte (over twice his age and with an extra 617 starts under his belt) behind him, Trevor Bayne held station at the front, proving patience the best approach to Daytona, and chalking up another 500 win for the nice guys. Young, articulate, energetic, and above all an incredible racer, Bayne solidifies his spot as a future champion and ambassador for the sport of stock car racing.

Equally special is seeing Leonard Wood and company return to Daytona glory, their first 500 win since 1976 and first Sprint Cup triumph since 2001. The Wood Brothers take their 98th victory in 1362 tries, despite not having the funding to run a full season in 2011 (or any year since 2007). A hard-working organization and a staple in stock car racing, no one roots against the Woods, and anyone with a grasp of NASCAR history understands the significance of their resurgence. In a sport where the status quo teams can sweep the season in front of a fan-base tired of the same-old, same-old, the surprise breakthroughs of the underdogs, whether they seek glory for the first time or the days of old like the Woods, keeps the sport fresh and justifies all those Sundays spent watching the Fords, Chevrolets, Dodges, and Toyotas battle.

While Bayne takes his first Sprint Cup win today, it was nearly sixteen years ago that Bobby Labonte accomplished the same, winning the 1995 Coca-Cola 600 for Joe Gibbs. Five years later, Labonte would go on to win the Cup title, becoming the first driver to claim both Cup and Nationwide (1991) crowns. Another five years, however, and Labonte's career began a down-swing. Years of being recycled among back-of-the-pack teams, and hope seemed small for a once-dominant driver, and one of the nicest men in auto racing. For 2011, Labonte joinedJTG-Daugherty squad, and started the season with a fantastic result: fourth, nearly second, for his first top five since March of 2009. Showing pace early, Labonte drove a smart race, using his experience to know when to hold back and when to make the moves, pushing through the field and dodging a number of close-by incidents with Robby Gordon tucked under his rear bumper. As Bayne launches his career, Labonte looks to rejuvenate his. At 46, Labonte can still run with the best, and with a proper piece underneath him, it could be time for the family-oriented past champion to find his place at the north end of the grid once more.

Small teams had a large presence in today's race, including Regan Smith and Furniture Row Racing. Based in Denver, Colorado, Barney Visser's team is 1600 miles from the capital of stock car racing and all its wind tunnels, seven-post shaker rigs, sponsor connections, and talent. On a low budget, Furniture Row showed up with a car painted in primer, piloted by the newly-engaged Smith. With help from Richard Childress Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing, the team represented the community spirit of the sport, and a surprise second in the Gatorade Duel qualifying race gave hope to the small team. In the big show, Smith did not disappoint, running with Kurt Busch for most of the day and demonstrating the strength of the 78. Even after getting caught in a late-race accident, Smith and company were able to rebound and take the team's first ever top ten finish (P7). Against the big money and doing it the hard way in the Mountain Time Zone, Furniture Row and Regan Smith took one for the little guys, the gritty heroes who make the sport very much enjoyable and very much Americana.

David Gilliland is no stranger to those small teams; he took his unsponsored Clay Andrews Racing Chevrolet to a shocking victory in 2006 during a Nationwide race at Kentucky. Today, Gilliland drove for Front Row Motorsports in one of their new Fords. Teammates Robert Richardson and Travis Kvapil were both victims of wrecks (Kvapil, in fact, was involved in four), leaving David the last FRM car to fight for a solid finish. What they got was more than solid; Gilliland pushed Carl Edwards in a late-race burst to take the third sport, Front Row's first-ever top five finish as a team.

Not all stories from Daytona are as pleasant, though, as the ones above. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s 93-race winless streak turned to 94, despite having one of the strongest cars all day. The pole winner had to start from the back after changing cars due to a practice crash (triggered by his teammate, no less), and an early wreck left him the only Hendrick Motorsports car at the top of the field. Junior worked with his usual partner, Tony Stewart, and displayed a lot of muscle overtaking without any drafting help and leading the race at various junctures. A late-race wreck ruined his chances, however, and despite a new team and a new attitude, the struggles continue for NASCAR's most popular driver.

Earlier in the week, of course, Junior donated one of his team's backup cars to Nationwide team Jimmy Means Racing, who lost their only vehicle in a horrific practice crash caused by a steering failure. The team and driver Bobby Santos had no chance of racing until long-time Means supporter Earnhardt donated the vehicle, which allowed them to qualify a solid 23rd. While Dale could have easily asked the team to park (as they had planned to) and give the car back in one piece, he ordered they go out there and actually race it, and gave them a pit crew to run the distance. A driver who doesn't forget where he came from even at the forefront of America's favorite auto racing brand certainly deserves respect, and it's hard to not sympathize with a generous man and a true racer finding it so hard to get a few breaks to go his way.

Highlighted by a new star, a return of the old guard, triumph, heartbreak, drama, and thrilling duels, the 53rd Daytona 500 encompassed all the elements of an event that can be described as nothing other than the Great American Race.

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For those not big on long-winded posts...

Final laps of the race

Bayne's post-win interview

Great day of racing, really. Great race, great result. For his age, Bayne really has a lot of maturity and a lot of class. What Ford will have in Bayne will be what Chevrolet has in Jimmie Johnson. He's an absolute star in all aspects of the sport and it's so great to see two of the good guys win back-to-back (McMurray last year), and the Wood Brothers win again, too.

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And then I read your second post.....after reading the first the whole way through of course :P

So.....who's going to win the season then, mate? Whats up with Jnr? Is he pushing it to hard to win one again? Should he care? I mean to say, he's got a seat, a team, and money - does he have to win to keep his place in NASCAR?

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:lol: Just be glad I don't do F1 race reports. :P

With thirty-five races left, it's anyone's game really, except for guys like Trevor Bayne and Travis Kvapil who are ineligible for points. It's hard to make any guesses with a new points system and the Chase, but I just have a gut feeling Jimmie Johnson's winning streak ends at five. They're bound to get it wrong one of these times.

Earnhardt doesn't need to win; he's won the Most Popular Driver Award every year since 2002, so he'll always be attractive to sponsors and teams, and his current team aren't going to give up on him. As a racer, of course, he feels he needs to, and it shows how badly he wants to win. I think his problem is being his father's son; the fans and media put so much pressure on him to be his father, but he's obviously an entirely different driver and person. He's really reserved, and all the media attention he gets makes him uncomfortable. He just wants to race, but he's obligated to be a full-on superstar, and he never saw himself as one, even growing up as Dale Earnhardt's son. With all that pressure and attention, his failures have a much bigger impact than any other driver's; his 94-race winless streak is no where close to the longest one out there, but it's the most talked-about for sure. On top of that, he's had some struggles with his family, particularly his step-mother who inherited his father's team (the one he drove for up through 2007). The direction she took his father's team in, and her sole goal being to make a profit off of Dale Earnhardt's name and legacy (which further adds pressure to Junior to be his father, as they never just let what happened ten years ago drift away), really bothered Dale. Off-the-track, there are plenty of rumors, but the only credible and insightful one suggested he's just really quiet, lives alone, and sometimes just disappears for a long while sitting on a couch in his garage and doing nothing. I'm sure the truth is somewhere in the middle of the "everything is perfect" and "he's an alcoholic" reports we see from time-to-time, but I don't think he's really enjoying things right now.

If his name were anything but Earnhardt, he'd still be winning races like he used to years ago.

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