Mike Mulhern is the best writer in the NASCAR world right now, and provides a solid postscript to the 2008 Daytona 500. To add to what the sport has learned from this race -
*** Dodge is deeper competitively than they get credit for, or than Stuttgart has generally realized. We talk about Kyle Busch's brilliant drives; Bobby Labonte, despite never having much drafting help, made some superb moves as well and finished 11th. The bitterly disappointing quality of his finish is illustrated by how hard he raced and yet finished dead last among the Dodges. George Gillett's teams were quiet all week and superb at the end. Reed Sorenson had no help from his Ganassi teammates yet had a terrific week. That Dodge got all its teams into the top-11 at Daytona is a circumstance Stuttgart managed to screw up when they took away Lou Patane's authority in 2001 and let their teams devolve away from the One Team concept into little fiefdoms not working together as they should have been from Jump Street. Stuttgart needs to get its teams working together because they have an opportunity from this Daytona finish.
*** For all the attention paid to Toyota, their effort was almost a one-team show. Bill Davis Racing had some good effort from Dave Blaney but that disintegrated at the end. Dieter Mateschitz got just one of his cars into the 500 and Brian Vickers overcame a lot to finish 12th. Michael Waltrip is clueless and it showed with another mediocre effort by his cars. Only Joe Gibbs among Toyota cars (as opposed to Trucks where Toyota had no real competition all week) did anything all week.
*** The high number of lead changes (42 among 16 drivers), due mostly to a flurry of late yellows, helped mask that the COT did poorly in competition, with suspension failures, tire failures, mediocre drafting ability, and a total lack of enthusiasm among drivers or anyone else. Now the grossly worn quality of Daytona's pavement has something to do with it as well, but that the Sportsman Series, running the "old" bodystyle with roof wicker and big rear spoiler, had virtually the same quality of racing with a bolt-on aero package as the Winston Cup cars shows the folly of the whole COT concept.
*** Hendrick Motorsports' poor 500 effort was not a good sign for their experiment with Dale Earnhardt Jr. Junior's performance level and that of the Hendrick fleet fell off dramatically after the 150s and the plate tracks remain Junior's best tracks. One has to wonder if Junior truly will be as good a fit in the Hendrick fleet as advertised.
*** His former team, DEI, gave plenty of ammo to critics of Teresa Earnhardt's commitment to winning and/or basic competence as a team owner with their mediocre week.
*** Ford looks doomed to a poor season in 2008.
So the grind of the season begins for real at Fontana, and it will be interesting to see how NASCAR spins the expected mediocre fan turnout as well as how the COT performs here, with no confidence to be had in the machine's abilities for the racing.