If Friday night's NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and Saturday's Busch Series races at Daytona are any indication, we can expect...well...the unexpected for Sunday's 500.
The truck race was called by the announcers as the field came off turn four for the last time. Travis Kvapil had a couple of lengths on the field coming into the tri-oval and the checkers.
Kvapil finished third. Third. Not first, not second... third. That's not even "first loser". Jack Sprague went high and Johnny Benson went low, making Kvapil the meat in an uh-oh sandwich. Sprague's Toyota Tundra would win by half a length, and Benson would motor to second by a hair. If you didn't see it, find the highlight clip on the web or on Sportscenter. It was unbelievable.
Saturday saw the Busch series take to the track for their season-opening 300-mile race. Trouble started early as five cars got together coming off of turn two on lap three. One of those involved was Dave Blaney. He drove away with minimal damage to his car.
It wouldn't take long before a 12-car pileup took out a number of cars in the front stretch. Kasey Kahne was an unfortunate victim, having a meeting with the wall and destroying his Dodge.
I was cheering as Juan Pablo Montoya ran the 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge from 14th into the top-five, and was looking strong, until a failure in the engine ended his day early. Watch for him Sunday. If the car holds together and he doesn't get caught up in the "Big One" he's looking at a top-10 and possibly top-five finish.
Kyle Busch was the class of the field early, until a fuel pump failure sidlined "Shrub" for the day. Hopefully this isn't a precursor to Sunday, since the Hendrick team cars are running a similar design. The new pump will be standard on the Car of Tomorrow, and they're trying to get as much lead time on it as possible.
There were 17 lead changes until defending series-champ Kevin Harvick took over with 42 laps to go. Happy Harvick would cruise on to with his first big race at Daytona. The big surprise was that Dave Blaney recovered from the early spin to finish second in his Bill Davis Racing Toyota Camry.
This bodes well for Team Toyota, as they haven't had much to smile about to this point at Speedweeks. But a first in trucks and second in Busch should bring some smiles to the teams. In the draft at Daytona, anything is possible.
As a side note, this was ABC/ESPN's first race to cover under the new contract. They will have all the Busch races, and the second half of the Cup season. It wasn't a bad start - but there's too many people on the bloody air. Brent Musburger has to go... You don't need a pre-show host, then a three-man sub-host team in the infield musing over things (though Boris Said isn't a regular, he was really good), on top of the three-man booth crew. Brad Daugherty is part of the hosting team, and most associate him with basketball. What they don't know is he is a former winning NASCAR race-team owner. He seems out of place, though. Chris Fowler showed room for improvement, being his strength is college football, but he'll get there.
Dr. Jerry Punch was best on pit road for ESPN but leads the booth. He made a couple of glaring errors in not plainly seeing how many cars were involved in the first two wrecks (five in the first, but he said 3 several times; and 12 in the second, though he saw six...). Rusty talks too much, and it's hard to understand Andy Petree at times.
Their pit road crew is Dave Burns (who's ok) and Allen Bestwick (who I like) from NBC's crew join hottie Jamie Little (for babe factor) and Mike Massaro (who does a good job).
I like the FOX booth team much better, but they're seasoned and polished. Mike Joy is the best, Larry Mac is brilliant, and DW is... well he's DW. The shame is Benny Parsons was better in the driver role, God rest his soul.
As for the coverage itself ABC/ESPN did pretty good, missing a debris caution, but they had good whiz-bang stuff with the draft info, but the guy working their cutaway car didn't explain what he was talking about near as well as Jeff Hammond does on the FOX team. I understood him, but I think he's got to simplify things more for those who aren't gearheads. They showed all the restarts (big plus over NBC "Nothing But Commercials") and the interaction with Carl Edwards in his car and his crew chief gave good insight that I appreciated.
So Toyota's looking up, Kvapil is feeling down, and the jury is still out on ABC/ESPN's broadcast team... I miss the 1990s when they were just brilliant.
Tomorrow's race looks to be interesting. The tire fall-off is allowing the field to string out, and perhaps will prevent the "Big One". But today's race showed that drivers will try to make their moves early in runs while the tires still grip. And that's when the cars are still bunched up... So it's going to be hold-your-breath time for about 15 laps after re-starts in the 500.