Parks Race Reactions: 52nd Annual Daytona 500

Dustin ParksAnalyst IFebruary 15, 2010

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 14:  Jamie McMurray, driver of the #1 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 14, 2010 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images

Usually Valentine's Day is all about the chocolate, the flowers, the jewelry, and the love a man has for his girlfriend, wife, or fiance.

But in between showing all that love, the guys got their joy watching the Daytona 500 either on their couches or in the grandstands. What they got in return was an emotional ride that some just don't want to end. This race had everything you can imagine for a season-opening race in emotion and action.

Somehow, I'm going to try and keep all my emotions in check, but here goes the first official "Parks Race Reactions" for 2010.

I'm first going to start off with the way NASCAR handled the entire day, before, during, and after the race.

The move to start the race at its original time of 1 p.m. is the best move anyone could ask for. We knew that going in, but when you combine the sunny skies and a sold-out crowd, it just felt so right for the race.

And what a great pre-race show, with Tim McGraw giving the entertainment and even Sarah Palin making an appearance, which still baffles me, but that's another story for another day.

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You had Junior Johnson give the command to start engines and Richard Petty leading the field to the green. It all just felt right.

But, how can you not talk about the debacle of the track coming apart. That had to wreak havoc on every driver going through turn two. You have to give NASCAR credit, they were already prepared to attempt to fill in the hole, but you can't anticipate the weather and temperatures. They did the best they could the first time around.

When it happened the second time, alright, let's be honest, it was a problem. Usually you have to fix these things the first time, but when the drivers can see and feel that type of issue, there's a bigger problem.

Once again, NASCAR came back and fixed the issue. CEO Brian France refused to call the race because of the track problem. He knew the fans paid good money to see 500 miles of racing, and he was going to give it to them.

In doing so, we found out a lot about the teams and drivers that could play a factor this year. Most notably, the guys driving a Ford.

Elliott Sadler, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, and Kasey Kahne ran strong all afternoon and evening. This tells me that the Ford crew really did their homework over the off-season and came out with a purpose.

I'd have to say they did their job well, as these guys ran up front the entire race. Sure, some fell back and Kahne wrecked late, but they had a lot of power at Daytona. I wouldn't be the least surprised if the Ford guys ran strong next week as they go to California.

One other guy I am personally happy for is Dale Earnhardt Jr. After going for a tumble yesterday in his own Nationwide car, he came back and ran well in the No. 88 car.

He fell back during a few parts of the race, but he came on strong late in the going. What a job coming from tenth to second in just one lap to nearly get the victory. Of course he'd be disappointed that he didn't win, but look at the bigger picture.

This race last year was a disaster for Earnhardt Jr. and it set forth a horrible season. He came out strong, ran well, and finished as the runner-up in the opening race of the season.

I do believe that is a good definition of a successful race.

But, without question, how can you not feel good for Jamie McMurray? What a way to return to his old car owner.

We didn't even know if McMurray would have a ride coming into this year, much less one that was owned by Chip Ganassi. But, he came over and stepped into a high-profile ride.

First race of the year, he goes out and gets in the right position to take the lead. He stays out front on the last two laps to get the biggest win of not only his career, but his entire life.

After taking the checkered flag, only three words summed up what McMurray was feeling at that moment.

"OH MY GOD!" he shouted on the radio.

In victory lane, there was no way he could hold back all the emotion. McMurray even said "I'm gonna cry", and I think a lot of people did as well for him.

Think about this as well, that No. 1 Chevrolet was the first car that Dale Earnhardt had when he built DEI. It wasn't Earnhardt Jr.'s No. 8, but it was the No. 1.

To see that car in victory lane, especially with Earnhardt Jr. right behind, it was an incredible sight. I'm sure Teresa had to be smiling back at home when she saw that car take the checkered flag. Just like McMurray, a lot of fans had to be crying when he got out of that car.

What an incredible way to start out the season, and this is just the first race. What can we expect next Sunday?

It's going to be hard to follow up that performance. We'll have to see when NASCAR heads to California for the Auto Club 500 next Sunday.