February 14, 2010
Daytona International Speedway is 2 1/2 miles long, but a hole smaller than a sheet of paper has brought the entire race grinding to a halt.
A small pothole in Turn 2 caused NASCAR to halt the race at about 3:22 p.m. with 122 laps run and Clint Bowyer in the lead, and like Monday-morning rush hour, everybody sat still and watched maintenance crews at work for an hour and 40 minutes. Whether the pothole was caused by freeze-and-thaw -- track temperatures have been below freezing in recent days -- or whether it's a natural degradation of a track that hasn't been resurfaced since 1978 didn't much matter.
The race was red-flagged, which means that the drivers initially couldn't get out of their cars and pit crews couldn't do any work on them. With nothing to do, the drivers chatted on their radios with their crew chiefs, and boredom led to some funny moments. Tony Stewart asked for a cough drop. David Ragan blocked out Fox's camera lens because a glare was reflecting in his face. Kyle Busch actually dozed off in his car, his head restraint serving as a perfect pillow.
But by far the funniest driver conversation belonged to the #88 car, as Dale Earnhardt Jr. and crew chief Lance McGrew jabbed back and forth with everything from baseball trivia ("Who's the all-time stolen base leader?") to comedy routines like this one:
McGrew: "I think they're going to put a cone over that patch down there. You just have to dodge it. Can you do that?"
Junior: "I can do that."
On Fox, which scrambled to fill time during the lengthy delay, NASCAR CEO Brian France tried to explain why a simple repair job was taking so long, terming the pothole a result of a "combination of moisture and the cold temperatures." "The normal solutions you normally use to patch the track are not working," France said. "We're on the third different solution. Normally we would have had it resolved a lot quicker."
After about 45 minutes, NASCAR allowed the drivers to get out of their cars and "stretch their legs," so to speak. The timing was beyond unfortunate, as the Daytona was already highly competitive -- 19 different drivers took a turn in the lead. And after last year's rain-shortened debacle, the last thing NASCAR needed was a long, momentum-killing delay like this.
The cars began rolling shortly after 5 p.m., facing a cooler track and uncertain handling. Whatever advantage that cars like Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick enjoyed may well have vanished with the cooling temperatures.
Alas, it didn't hold. About 40 minutes after the race restarted, NASCAR halted the race again when the pothole began falling apart. And suddenly, the Daytona went from the Great American Race to the Great American Epic Fail.
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