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Doing The Locomotion in Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The best way to describe Daytona, that is, without resorting to profanity, is as a ball of confusion.

Somehow, even though teams tested on Daytona International Speedway’s new pavement in both December and January, and even though NASCAR officials observed them, the Budweiser Shootout still caught everyone by surprise.

Entering the race, driver after driver assured us that with the new pavement, racing at Daytona would be “just like Talladega.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. They may as well have said “Imagine what would happen if stock cars raced on Mars.”

The ending was exciting. Kurt Busch won because Denny Hamlin, whose car crossed the finish line slightly behind his, drove below the yellow line at the bottom of the track. Driving below the double yellow line is fine at all tracks except Daytona and Talladega. But I digress; so let’s move on.

It’s easy to let a discussion of what has transpired at Speedweeks turn into an Abbott and Costello routine. Or a Marx Brothers movie. Let me come up with something more current, such as a Will Ferrell or Jim Carrey movie. The best play-by-play (oops, lap-by-lap) announcer for the Shootout would have been Conan O’Brien.

It just requires a sense of the absurd.

Everyone in motorsports loves saying, “This is a team sport.” Never before has this been so true. After watching the entire field at the Shootout divide into nose-to-tail groups of two, I asked a colleague if he had ever seen anything like it. “Not since they hooked up the race cars to trailers at Senoia about 10 years ago,” he said.

Those two-car groups looked as if they had been chained together. Even though Bristol Palin didn’t manage to secure a ride, the so-called Shootout could have just as easily been named “Dancing with the Stars.”

The NASCAR community began by talking about how pulsating the action was. But then, the drivers were told to slow down. Wait. One more time. NASCAR told the drivers to slow down. These are drivers competing in something known as a race. Asking a driver to slow down is akin to asking a snail to speed up.

By this time, the restrictor plates had already been changed. The next solution was to make the cars overheat. Again. Make the cars overheat. The grills were narrowed and pressure-relief valves placed on cooling systems to make them stop cooling as much. One more time. Make them stop cooling as much. These phrases require repeating, or else they would be suspected as typos.

This just defies belief. Now the drivers who managed to make their cars go 20 mph faster by bumping and pushing other cars, are going to have to stop it, or else, just like their mothers warned them when they were lighting bottle rockets in the back yard on New Year’s Eve, they’ll put somebody’s eye out.

If they do it for more than a few laps, their engines will explode, which would be similar to the heads of many fans watching the Budweiser Shootout.

I’ve seen three-day music festivals, the Talladega infield, and even participated in a donkey softball game, but nothing could match this.

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