It is going to be cold. The winds are coming down the eastern seaboard of America straight from the Arctic and the Twin Duels start at 7:00pm going through till midnight. It will not be pleasant.
We fill the day with a mid-morning all you can eat breakfast with lashings of everything imaginable, promenade passed the Lego Nessie at Downtown Disney, a drive by the Blue Spring State Park and the wintering Manatees, and a walk around the historic town of Deland. The parking routine is well rehearsed particularly when considering the how to get out of the area quickly at the end of the race. At 7:00pm the temperature is now in the low 40s and drops to almost freezing by 10.
It is clear from some distance that the Speedway is very different. The vast and oddly functional steel framed stands are gone to be replaced by pleasant multi-floored concourses serviced many escalators. The congregating areas look to be water proof which the old construction was not. No matter where you stood out of the rain or a passing typhoon the water would come through the construction and tens of thousands would be held in sodden misery. Now it will be different though tonight it will be cold.
Race One is headed by Jeff Gordon who won pole for this race and the 500 last sunday in a controversial new qualifying system. During the race Dale Earnhardt Jnr, comes through the field from last place at the start to lead before the end protected by Gordon. This gives the Hendricks team a 1, 2 and 3 on the starting grid for the 500. The Daytona 500 is the 'Cup Final', the premier event of the year, yet it is the first out of the seasons bag. So, to make sure that everyone has completed testing to a level where the teams arrive at the 500 in a fully sorted position we have 'Speedweeks', a fortnights worth of qualifying and racing. Front row qualifying happened last sunday when Gordon and Johnson were fastest. The Twin Duels have two functions, the first to fill the grid, for there are more competitors than there are places, and the second to place them in order. In some respects theses races are better than the 500 because there are drivers racing for a place in the Great American Race.
One of those racing for a place in race 2 was Danica Patrick. She was in the back up car because she had been punted off by Denny Hamlin the day before in practice. He was behind her again with three laps to go when he apparently punted her off into the wall from 8th place and comfortable for a place in the 500. Patrick was able to limp back to the pits for patching repairs (note it was so cold that the gaffer tape would not stick). Starting from the back of the field from the restart she climbed back up into the 500 places with the help of a team mate pushing her. Now Nascar is noted for heated post race confrontation between victims and perpetrators so a meeting of minds between these two would not have been unexpected. The reality was that Patrick, a small slight woman, grabbed Hamlin, a large man, by the lapels. Her eyes ablaze and the veins standing proud in her neck she ranted at the helpless Hamlin. 'You did the same thing' she accused. He said 'I didn't touch you honey'. She said 'you spun me out just like in practice'. He said' Guess what, I didn't hit you either Time'. When Hamlin gently put his hands on her shoulders in a vain effort to bring calm all the scene needed was Michael Winner to step in and say 'Calm down dear, calm down.
Actually Hamlin didn't touch her either time. It is just that if the pressure wave generated in front of a car is not applied equally across the rear of the immediately car in front an imbalance is caused lightening one side of the rear of the lead car and 'loosens it up'. This tactic is often used by chasing drivers and is not illegal. In this case both drivers were in comfortable positions for the 500. It is likely that Hamlin accidentally discovered a weakness in Patricks set up.
All good fun even at 2 degrees above freezing.
Author: Peter Morris