News & Media

Daytona 500 the capper to a crazy Speedweeks

February 26, 2012, David Caraviello,

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- A 10-vehicle pileup at the conclusion of the Camping World Truck Series event on Friday night. Accidents involving 19, 14, and 11 cars in Saturday afternoon's Nationwide Series race. Hard crashes into the wall, and one vehicle flipping upside down. Two surprising winners in as many days in NASCAR's national divisions.

It's been a wild, crazy, and sometimes scary few days at Daytona International Speedway, and all indications are the Daytona 500 will follow suit.

"I feel like the lottery winner to bring home the [second]-place finishes. ... I don't know how to explain the racing any different than that. I don't know how anyone can and not be lying to you."


"I think it's going to be the same," said Elliott Sadler, who finished third Saturday and will start 10th in the 500. "The way the engines are not cooling as well with the radiator, stuff is different, there's going to be a lot more change, a lot more pack racing. I think you're going to see a lot of the same thing. It's the Daytona 500. It's a once in a lifetime race to be involved in and try to win. I think guys are going to go for it when it's show time. I think guys will be patient the first part of the race, test their cars. Just like you saw [Saturday], when it gets time to go, crazy things happen. I think you'll see a little bit of the same thing."

Then pull those seatbelts tight, drivers. A Speedweeks that started with Jeff Gordon flipping onto his roof in the Budweiser Shootout exhibition, and continued with Danica Patrick's thunderous crash into the backstretch in a Daytona 500 qualifying race Thursday, took a turn toward the crazy when the national-series points races kicked off. Friday night's Truck Series debut featured nine cautions, the penultimate one a 10-truck pileup that took out many of the primary contenders, the last a three-vehicle accident that sent Joey Coulter airborne and tumbling into the catchfence.

Coulter thankfully emerged unhurt, and little-known John King claimed his first victory in the series. But that was all just a table-setter for Saturday, when the real madness began in the form of a Nationwide event that produced so much twisted sheet metal, James Buescher was able to vault from 11th off the final turn to first at the finish line. There was another hard hit, this one weathered by Kyle Busch, who slammed into the frontstretch wall and was pounded by a few other vehicles in the 11-car melee that brought out the day's final caution.

"It was a really, really hard hit, and then there [were] a few more after that," Busch said. "It seemed like they just kept coming."

That's how the racing has been for much of this weekend at Daytona, and the longest and most important event hasn't even taken place yet. The Sprint Cup opener carries with it perhaps the most potential for wildness and drama, given that drivers are dealing with a testy restrictor-plate draft that can make the cars in the middle of the pack feel unstable. And as everyone saw last year with Trevor Bayne's unlikely Daytona 500 title, anything can happen.

"That's what's racing is here. I don't know if that's good or bad. I feel like I won the lottery just to finish [second]," Brad Keselowski said, referring to his finishing position in the Nationwide event. "We'll see how the Cup race goes [Sunday]. Like I say, I feel like the lottery winner to bring home the [second] place finishes. Still took the effort of Penske Racing. I'm appreciative of that. I don't know how to explain the racing any different than that. I don't know how anyone can and not be lying to you."

The winners the past two days bear that out. King's victory Friday came in just his eighth Truck Series start, and his previous best on the circuit had been 15th at Bristol in 2010. Buescher's win Saturday was only his second top-five finish on the Nationwide tour, and his first victory in a major racing series since an ARCA triumph in Kentucky in 2009. Needless to say, a lot of drivers will have a lot of high hopes in the Daytona 500, regardless of their experience levels or resumes.


The return of pack racing also brought back the Big One -- and there were a few of them in the Budweiser Shootout. Take a look at all the crashes from Saturday night.

"There's no guarantee of success here," Keselowski said. "No matter how good your pit crew is, how good your car is, nothing guarantees you success. I think sometimes for us drivers, that can be hard to stomach. It's obviously frustrating. But it also leads to a lot of parity within the field and a lot of first time winners. Heck, I won my first race at Talladega under similar circumstances. It could be debated 'til the cows come home whether that's good or bad. I think we're all glad that there's only four or five of these races a year for that reason. But they're certainly different than what you're going to see the rest of the season."

A few of the crashes in recent days, most notably Coulter's flip into the catchfence on Friday night, have been harrowing. But Sadler, who has been through his share of airborne crashes on restrictor-plate tracks, says he feels safe in the car. NASCAR's safety initiatives in recent years have included bolstering safety systems within the vehicle, in addition to softer walls and mandated head-and-neck devices.

"We feel safe in our cars," he said. "As race car drivers, you accept the fact that we have a dangerous sport. ... Sometimes the most uncomfortable [thing is] if you're in the lead pack, you do get wrecked, you never know what's coming behind you. That's the most uncomfortable feeling I've ever had in the car."

To Keselowski, it's all a balance. "I feel like we walk a line in this sport between daredevils and chess players. When we come to Daytona, tracks like this, where maybe we're more on the daredevil side, then we go some other places where I'd say we're more on the chess player side of the line. I think it's important to have tracks like this that maybe average it back out a little bit," he said.

"Ideally we'd like to walk straight on the line all the time. But, you know, from a standpoint of the sport, the health of it, I think not a lot of people watch chess matches. I've never seen one televised. Maybe I turned the channel and never watched it. Not very exciting. I think it takes that right balance. Certainly being a daredevil is something completely different, as well. I think it takes that fine line. I think we have to walk it all the time. We're probably a little bit to the left of the line when we come to these places. But you know what, I'm okay with that. I feel as it averages out, we walk it pretty well."

They'll all have to walk it in the Daytona 500. "It's normal Daytona," Sadler said. "You don't never know till you see the checkered flag what's really going to happen."

"I think the end will look very similar to what you saw [Saturday]," Keselowski added. "We'll see who wins the lottery."