Sunday, July 06, 2014

Daytona: Welcome Home, Richard

There are many reasons why the heart grows fonder. In racing the passage of time has that effect perhaps like no other sport.   Seeing Richard Petty's #43 return to victory at Daytona International Speedway, regardless of the rainy circumstances, showcases what he means to racing, because where Daytona has showcased the excellence of David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, Dale Jarrett, Sterling Marlin, and others and they have more than proven themselves as genuine competition heroes, Petty's absence from winning was still wrong.

Richard did what others have not done - made an entire sport his showcase and made it a positive one.   His rivals in Pearson, Cale, the Allisons, Buddy Baker, Isaac, Benny Parsons, AJ Foyt (his equal and then some in Indycar racing), Fred Lorenzen, and others all need no  justification as Hall Of Fame racers and people who made racing excellence for all involved; indeed together they grew the sport at least as much as the Frances and others involved in its gestation such as the Vogts, Joe Littlejohn, John Holman and Ralph Moody, the Wood Brothers, the Ranier family (Lorin still wields influence on Jamie McMurray's Chevrolet and that car runs strong as a result), Clay Earles, the Mattiolis, and more than can be remebered off-hand here. 

Yet Richard Petty was able to go an extra mile in integrating with all involved as well as going the extra mile to win.   He combined guile with aggressiveness and at his best he was amazing to watch wheeling that blue and red Dodge through traffic for the lead.  

For all of its faults, racing offers enormously in terms of competitive virtue, and the 2014 Firecracker 400 offered some excellent racing as the battle for the lead was a true battle.  The criticism that racefans want to see the wrecks got examples for certain, notably Kyle Busch's set-to with nineteen others near what was the race's end.   The battle between Kurt Busch and Petty's driver Aric Almirola was as good a bout of racing as the sport has seen in 2014; even more impressive has been Almirola's surge after a patch of poor results that was at times ugly.   He resurrected himself at Kentucky until a mid-race melee swept him up, and now he's taken the next step.

Of course there's the next step beyond that - winning again, and again.   Pocono has a Petty history as do Michigan, Atlanta, Martinsville, Charlotte, and Talladega.  Almirola now has to take that next step, but now we can see he has that ability.   And now we can say - for one week anyway - racing order has been restored.

Welcome home, Richard.

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