Monday, July 09, 2007

Firecracker Shocker And Postscript

The 2007 Firecracker 400 reversed the old cliche - here it was the more things stay the same, the more they change. This race turned out to be the most frustrating of the season and when it was over it was the most eye-popping showdown in years and a finish that may have been the greatest in the history of the speedway, which is saying something given how much history Daytona has seen.

Most railbirds had given up on Jamie McMurray. When he jumped into Kurt Busch's former ride there was expectation that he'd continue to post strong runs but after three seasons without a sniff of a win most had no sense of another win out of him. Indeed, the 2006 season and the inconsistency of 2007 through June strongly suggested McMurray was a terrible fit with the Roush fleet, as according to Athlon Sports he often refused to listen to his crew chief and would make setup calls himself. Larry Carter's arrival for 2007 was his fourth crew chief in one season, and before the Firecracker the results had been mixed to say the least.

The surprising aspect of McMurray's win was that, sidedrafting Kyle Busch on the highside, McMurray appeared beaten as Busch could take the trioval ahead and beat him to the line, but on that last lap Busch started to squeeze ahead then suddenly McMurray up high seemed to suck off enough air from Busch to stop Busch's momentum and ride the sidedraft ahead at the stripe.

It all added up to an eye-popping finish. After 153 laps that saw some terrific racing up front and then absurdly long stretches where the cars were unable to suck up to each other and of course numerous crashes, the final sprint to the flag turned into a gigantic fight for the lead that wound up topping the mayhemic photo-finish win by Kevin Harvick in the 500. Now restrictor plate racing has always been superior competition to anything else NASCAR or most other racing series offer, but with a surface totally worn out, the race turned into a frustrating exercise in running in place not unlike what all the other tracks offer. It hurt the Busch 250 even more than the 400, which had prolonged nightfall and slightly cooler temperatures to help with handling.

But late cautions set up the seven-lap shootout and wound up rescuing Brian France from himself, as despite himself - a point not lost on some other observors - his organization saw a breathtaking showdown for the win that personified NASCAR at its best.


The win was Ford's fifth in the Firecracker in the last eleven runnings, a curious contrast as Chevrolet has won nine 500s in that span.

No comments: