Daytona 500 started, ended in controversy |

Daytona 500 started, ended in controversy

Roger Diez Appeal Motorsports writer

The 2007 Daytona 500 started in controversy and ended in controversy. Starting with Dave Despain’s Wind Tunnel TV show Sunday night, the airwaves and the Internet have been full of fan reaction to the week’s events and NASCAR’s handling of them.

One big topic was the fuel doping of Michael Waltrip’s car, with many fans opining that had it not been a Toyota the entire team would have been banned from the track. Likewise, a lot of fans felt that Jeff Gordon got off more easily than another driver might have when his car came up an inch too low in post-race inspection after the Duel 150s.

True, NASCAR said the mechanical failure appeared to be unintentional, but sent Gordon to the back for the start of the 500 anyway. Sort of like an NFL defensive back saying, “Ref, I didn’t mean to grab his face mask!” And the referee replying, “I believe you. 15 yard penalty, first down!”

The other topic that brought NASCAR’s consistency into question was whether they should have thrown the caution when pandemonium broke loose behind the leaders on the last lap of the 500. If they had thrown the caution, Kevin Harvick still might have been declared the winner, as he and Mark Martin traded the lead at least once between the crash and the checkered flag. Martin, arguably the classiest guy in NASCAR, or racing in general, was his usual philosophical self about the situation. Martin is not, nor ever has been, a whiner. He usually accepts his fate with a wry grin and a self-deprecating remark, then goes about getting ready for the next race. In any case, NASCAR has some credibility to regain according to a large and vocal contingent of their fan base.

Juan Pablo Montoya had a rough beginning to his NASCAR career last weekend, suffering mechanical problems in the Busch race and the Duel 150s, and battling an ill-handling car in the 500. However, if rumors are true, he may soon be joined by another Indy 500 winner and Formula 1 ace in NASCAR. Jacques Villeneuve actually has a Formula 1 championship on his resume’, and is reportedly looking to add a NASCAR title as well. Villeneuve’s agent Craig Pollock says that his client is very close to lining up a title sponsor for a NASCAR ride. The tentative plan is for the Canadian star to get his feet wet in ARCA, Craftsman Trucks, and Busch (which will race in Montreal in August) before moving up to Nextel Cup, probably in 2008. Will the last open-wheel driver to move to NASCAR please turn out the lights in the garage?

Today begins the Nextel Cup’s “regular season” at California Speedway. Daytona winner Kevin Harvick is doing a triple this weekend (Trucks, Busch, and Cup), and will try to duplicate the Busch-Cup double he accomplished last weekend. He came up short in Friday night’s Truck race, which was won by Susanville’s Mike Skinner after Ron Hornaday punted leader Mark Martin into the infield on the last restart.

If I were Hornaday, I wouldn’t be expecting a Christmas card from Martin this year. Harvick and the entire Richard Childress organization seem to be headed back toward the top of the sport after a few years in the wilderness. Another resurgent team (if Daytona is any indication) is the Robert Yates organization.

If you’re in a NASCAR fantasy league, I hope you have a couple of drivers from those two teams on your roster.

If you have been curious about NASCAR’s “Car of Tomorrow”, check out SPEED at 4 p.m. this coming Wednesday and Thursday. The racing-oriented cable channel will air a 30-minute special on the new car each day. The telecast will take place at test sessions at Bristol Speedway with a count of up to 50 cars expected to take part. With 16 races this season mandating the use of the new car, it will be critical for teams to make it work well right out of the box. The Bristol test will be the first time a large number of the cars will be on the track together. It should be a very interesting exercise.