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End Of 500 Resulted In A Prolonged Holding Of Breath

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, February 21 2020

Wrecks, especially wrecks at Daytona, don’t always turn out well. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Jim Fluharty)

Some Thoughts on Speedweeks and the Daytona 500:

The scariest sight in racing is not a car hitting a wall at 200 mph. Or, a car rolling down the track at 200 mph. Or a car lifting off the track and careening into the catch fence. No, the scariest sight in racing is a piece of tarp being placed over a wrecked car.

Most in racing know what that can mean. It can mean the very worst has happened.

In the hour or so after Ryan Newman’s dramatic wreck on the final lap of the 500, I began texting RacinToday.com‘s Deb Williams, who was working the event at Daytona International Speedway.

Information on driver conditions on occasions like that comes out slowly. Much more slowly than to rumors – especially in these days of social media in which the term expert has been watered down to clear broth.

I remember the day in 2001 when  Dale Earnhardt wrecked on the final lap of the 500. Up in the Houston Lawing press box at DIS, phones were clicking and ringing and reporters were speculating to the people sitting and standing around them.

As the hours rolled by, things began looking darker and darker until finally NASCAR president Mike Helton arrived at the press box and gave everybody the bad news.

On Monday, Deb’s texts revealed very little about Newman’s condition so fingers remained crossed. Then a text came in that forced a hard swallow: rescue workers had reportedly placed a tarp over what was left of Newman’s car.

It was the sight through binoculars of that tarp laid atop Earnhardt’s car 19 years before that had served as a first signal that horrible history had been made at Daytona.On Monday, word of the tarp prompted me to start work on an obit.

Word later came that the tarp had been removed as the pile of metal that an hour earlier was a Cup Series race car was placed on a flatbed.

The news got better and better as the night wore on until finally a statement was released that contained the phrase “non-life threatening injuries”.

But those damn tarps. Hope I never see another.

And I hope I see lots of videos like the one of Newman leaving the hospital with his daughters holding his hands just two days after what appeared to have been a fatal crash.

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The beneficiary of all the bizarro late-race craziness was Denny Hamlin. He had the lead, he lost the lead, he had the lead, he lost the lead, he won the 500

The victory was his third in NASCAR’s most important event. Perhaps NASCAR’s only important event.

So, some questions:

– Where does Hamlin sit in terms of history and career resume this week?

  Were he to retire tomorrow, would he be viewed as a good driver, a great driver, an all-timer?

– A Hall of Famer?

– A first-ballot Hall of Famer?

He would certainly be viewed as a Daytona 500 all-timer. Only five others have won it three or more times: Richard Petty (seven wins), Cale Yarborough (5), and Bobby Allison, Dale Jarrett and Jeff Gordon (3 each).

All of those folks are in the Hall of Fame. But all have also won at least one Cup championship.

Monday’s was Hamlin’s 38th race win in Cup. He sits at No. 23 all-time in that category. There are several members of the Hall of Game who have won fewer.

Hamlin will turn 40 this season. He appears to be in good enough equipment and in good enough shape to win more races. Maybe many more. Maybe he will get his championship and maybe that could come this year.

He is not a iron-clad first-ballot HOFer, especially with NASCAR announcing that only three driver per year will be admitted. But would he make it with his current accomplishments?

This former voter says he needs to do a bit more.

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As I listened to television and read printed reports that Sunday’s 500 marked the first time that a sitting U.S. president gave the command to start engines at Daytona, I thought to myself that another “first” was playing out but not being mentioned.

This was the first 500 that was attended by a U.S. president who was impeached.

And I couldn’t help but think that had a couple of more Republican members of the Senate honored their oath of office and the oath which they signed with Chief Justice John Roberts looking over their should at the beginning of impeachment proceedings to “uphold impartial justice”, an ex-president would have been in that limo at DIS on Sunday.

Mixing sportswriting and politics makes me uneasy. But in the absence of media counterpoint to the politicizing of the 2020 Daytona 500, it must be noted that not all race fans approve of Donald Trump.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, February 21 2020
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