Ups and downs are what it's all about. All the different emotions we went through so quickly during the Daytona 500 produced the kind of rush we hungered for during the short but oh-so-long NASCAR off season. When you're full of elation because your favorite driver is leading the race with fifty laps to go and sure to win, you feel like you are on top of the world, only to have that bubble burst when your driver has to let up on the throttle because his car slides, and gets run into from behind and wrecks. Wow!
Tony Stewart was definitely the driver to beat, with the best car in the field, having proven it by moving from the tail end of the field after problems in the pit, back to the front. It took him sixty one laps, or roughly one hundred fifty one miles to get there, because the traffic was bad, but he did it. It was almost certain that he would win his first Daytona 500.
But it's racing, and anything could happen, and it did. Kurt Busch was following close behind, in Stewart's draft, and when Smoke's #20 car slid, Busch couldn't react quickly enough to avoid the wreck. Both cars were out of the race, and there really wasn't anybody we could blame for it.
Now, one could think that the race was over for Tony Stewart or Kurt Busch fans as well, but that's not the case for this race fan nor for any other fan I know. We might be disappointed, angry, frustrated, and even saddened to the point of tears, no, actually cryijng, but such is the nature of the diehard race fan that we just have to stick around to see what happens next. And we were treated to one heck of a race.
For the most part, the Daytona 500 was a clean race, and even when there were mishaps, responsibility was admitted to, and the victim of such mishaps walked away with the sportsmanlike attitude of "well, that's racin'."
When it got down to the end, with a restart and just three laps to go, we were on our feet, cheering and yelling for Mark "The Kid" Martin, who had taken the lead and seemed about to win his first Daytona 500 in his twenty-five year NASCAR Cup Career. Martin "retired" two seasons ago, but he just couldn't quit. When his choices for 2007 amounted to either a full time Cup Ride with Roush Racing (now Roush-Fenway Racing), or a full time Truck Series ride, with very limited Cup racing, he made a third choice--to quit the team with which he had spent his entire career and take a 22 race contract with Bobby Ginn Racing (formerly MB2, which will confuse me for the rest of the season). Now he was driving a Chevy, not the Ford he had driven his entire time in Cup racing, to victory.
Several things happened next, as happens in racing in such a very short time. Behind the leaders, coming out of the last turn of the final lap, one or more cars got sideways in their drivers' attempts to improver their position at the last second, and cars were spinning, flying, and spinning everywhere. Horrible thoughts of that tragic day in 2001, when the Daytona 500 ended with the loss of one of NASCAR's greatest drivers, briefly crossed our minds, and we were relieved to see all of the drivers involved walk away without injury. While all that was happening, the race was won by a mere .02 second, by a first time Daytona 500 winner, not Mark Martin, but Kevin Harvick. We were disappointed that Martin didn't win, but, knowing how much this one race means to the drivers and the fans, we were happy for "Happy" Harvick. We were happy for Mark Martin for being able to give it such a great try. We were happy for Richard Childress, the owner of the car Kevin Harvick won in, which is figuratively the same car that the late Dale Earnhardt, Childress' best friend, drove to so many victories. Mostly, we were happy that racing was back for another season, and that the season opener had been a doozey.