Parks Race Reactions: Daytona Speedweeks, Week One

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Parks Race Reactions: Daytona Speedweeks, Week One
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It has been an eventful and exciting first week at Daytona. The entire racing world has been focused on the "World's Center of Speed" and the Sprint Cup Series has not disappointed.

How can you just focus on one race when the entire week had so many exciting moments? I certainly can't, so the first edition of "Parks Race Reactions" will be looking at the entire first week down in Daytona.

From practice to qualifying, a little bit of ARCA, and the Bud Shootout, I'm going at all aspects of the action at Speedweeks.

I knew the moment practice started on Thursday that it was going to be an exciting time this season. Take away the rules about bump drafting and letting the drivers have at it, yes it would be exciting, but you also see the aftermath.

Mark Martin and Denny Hamlin certainly found that out as just 25 minutes into the first practice session, they get together and collect many others.

The same thing happened in the second practice session, when Kurt Busch got into the outside wall in the tri-oval.

Five different drivers forced to go to backup cars, and the race was still a day away. At that point I was ready to get the season under way and see these guys do battle for victory.

But before they could battle on the track, the teams had to qualify for the big show, as the unique format for the Daytona 500 began Saturday afternoon.

You could not have asked for a more dominant performance from teams using Hendrick power. The front row has the old shoe, Mark Martin, sitting on the pole for a race he has never won. On his outside, a driver who had hard luck last year but is starting out with a bang, Dale Earnhardt Jr.

But look at the rest of the top-10, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, and Ryan Newman all qualified strong.

Last year Hendrick was shut out of Daytona for the first time in years, and they wanted to make sure the rest of the garage knew they were not hiding. I would expect nothing less from this organization, and they definitely are the one's to beat come next Sunday.

Before the Bud Shootout could commence, the ARCA Series had to take to the track, with everyone focusing on a young lady named Danica Patrick. Her first time inside a stock car, at Daytona, it was a lot of pressure.

However, she had a veteran crew chief in Tony Eury Sr. on the pit box and a boss in Earnhardt Jr. teaching her how to race at this track.

Girls, you should be very excited and very proud of what she did in the No. 7 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet. And guys, this woman is for real. She can definitely race a stock car.

Patrick did exactly what she wanted during the race, sticking to the yellow line and learning how the draft worked. She even cracked the top-five on a few occasions.

However, she got her first taste of trouble at Daytona when she got together with Nelson Piquet Jr, sending her spinning down the front stretch. But she kept the car off the wall, got calmed down, some new tires, and got back on the track.

She worked her way back from 24th position on the restart to finish a very impressive sixth. It was obvious she impressed her immediate boss at JR Motorsports, but an important figured also keyed the radio to give her praise as she came to pit road after the cool down lap.

"You drove the wheels off that thing, girl. We're so proud of you," said Rick Hendrick, the boss of Earnhardt Jr.

When you have an owner giving that kind of praise for a first-time driver, it shows that Patrick is for real. She wants to race in NASCAR, she can race in NASCAR, and believe me, she will be successful in NASCAR.

How can you top an exciting afternoon of racing?

How about an exciting night of 24 NASCAR greats in the Budweiser Shootout. This race was exactly what it was billed out to be. The drivers you expect to be out front were there, action taking place the whole way through the field, and a few rattled cages.

When NASCAR said they would let the drivers themselves police the bump-drafting at Daytona and Talladega, they took it to heart real quick. There was bumping and pushing for the entire 75 laps.

It was only appropriate that the race would come down to a green-white-checkered finish to end the night. Who wouldn't expect some drivers to go all out in a two-lap dash, because $200,000 was on the line. There wasn't a single driver holding back when the final green flag flew.

When the field entered turn three, Gordon got into Greg Biffle, he spins sideways and the freight train wreck happens. The race ends under yellow, but in exciting fashion.

And who was the guy taking the checkered flag? A driver who didn't even see the race car until the day before the race. Kevin Harvick was battling the flu all week, and didn't participate in the practice sessions on Thursday.

Teammates Clint Bowyer and Jeff Burton practiced the car, and it was Bowyer at the wheel when the first wreck in practice happened, forcing the team to roll out the backup car.

But, after getting in the car on Saturday, he took off like a rocket, and went on to win his second straight Bud Shootout. After the turmoil of last season for the entire RCR organization, this was a huge boost of confidence for everyone.

To think that there's still an entire week of activities at Daytona to go means it will just get better. Up next, the Gatorade Duels to set the field for the "Great American Race.

Coverage of both qualifying races will begin at 2 PM on SPEED.

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