If you had any doubts that winning the Daytona 500 means a great deal to a NASCAR driver, or if you believed that the only reason those guys drive cars within inches of each other at 190+ mph is for the money, all you had to do was watch Jamie McMurray drop to his knees on the huge Daytona 500 logo in the infield and his emotional, tearful interview in Victory Lane after he won the 2010 edition of the ?Great American Race?.
At the end of the 2009 season, McMurray was the odd man out at Roush-Fenway Racing. The NASCAR mandated cap of only four teams per owner took effect for 2010 and Jack Roush had to make the cut. Not sure where he would go, or if he would even be able to find any team to drive for, McMurray felt he was lucky to be picked up by Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing for 2010. And it wasn?t a mercy hiring as team co-owner Felix Sabates stated that McMurray was; ?. . . the best driver available.?
He rewarded that confidence on Valentines Day in Daytona by driving a solid race and not leading until the last two laps. Two laps that were the result of a second green-white-checkered overtime finish that pushed the race to 520 miles instead of the advertised 500. The only fear he had coming down to the checkered flag was a resurgent Dale Earnhardt, Jr. who roared up from tenth at the green to second in a lap and a half.
?I got a big run down the backstretch again,? McMurray said, ?and then I saw the 88, and to be honest, I was like, ?Crap!? I?m like, ?This guy has won a lot of races here and his family has an incredible history here.?
Earnhardt was just as amazed as McMurray; ?It was all a blur?, he said, ?I was just going wherever they weren?t, it was frustrating to come that close. But, hell, we were running 22nd at the first green-white-checkered.?
One of the most competitive (a record 21 different leaders), and exciting Daytona 500?s in a long time was marred only slightly by more than two hours of red flag periods to repair holes that appeared in the track surface. Holes that were due in part to the excessively wet Florida weather in the weeks leading up to the 500, and the cars bottoming out and hitting the pavement repeatedly.
Officials first tried an asphalt type patch but that didn?t hold up once the cars began pounding over it again. The second time they used some sort of epoxy and, with only 39 laps left, it held up through the finish.
Several of the drivers with dirt track experience felt like they shouldn?t have bothered as dirt tracks get holes in them all the time and they simply race around them. Carl Edwards stated that ?We all know where the hole is, we can just go around it?. And Dale Earnhardt?s crew even quipped over the radio that NASCAR was just going to place an orange traffic cone over it.
In any event, the two red flag periods stretched the total time of the race to well past six hours and it ended under the lights instead of in the late afternoon. But almost all of the fans stuck around and what they got for their patience was an exciting finish that saw NASCAR?s most popular driver seem to finally get the monkey off his back, a first Daytona 500 victory for both a team and a driver that earned it, and the return of excitement and drama to NASCAR?s biggest event.
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