Things I learned Monday night from the Daytona 500:
— Danica Patrick proved nothing to me, through no fault of her own. Taken out in a Lap 2 crash that she (and many others) couldn’t avoid, Patrick spent a half-hour in the garage as her car was repaired, then drove in the back of the pack as she gained much-needed seasoning in her first Sprint Cup race.
— Rousch Racing was strong all month at Daytona, and Matt Kenseth was unbeatable in the final laps. Kenseth dominated the final two restarts and, with teammate Greg Biffle as his wingman to hold back Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the last lap, cruised to victory. Earnhardt did nose past Biffle to finish second, but he had no chance of catching Kenseth.
— NASCAR racers really shouldn’t Tweet and drive, but Brad Keselowski used a two-hour stoppage in the race to provide some interesting use of social media via Twitter.
— Next time I need to clean up a jet fuel fire, I’m going to the grocery store and getting a bunch of Tide laundry soap.
Aside from the crash that took out Danica, the jet fuel fire was the most bizarre incident of a strange race that didn’t begin until nearly 30 hours past its scheduled starting time because of rain in Daytona.
During a caution flag period with 40 laps remaining in the race, NASCAR sent its jet dryers onto the track to blow bits of rubber off the track in order to provide a clean surface. It’s standard procedure to have equipment on the track at such a time because the pace car is leading the cars around at 55mph.
However, Juan Pablo Montoya was speeding down the back straight in order to catch up with the slow-moving pack when something broke on his car. It spun directly into one of two jet dryers in Turn 3, and the collision split the dryer’s fuel tank and created a huge fireball.
Montoya and the dryer driver exited their damaged vehicles stunned but OK, but the raging fire took several minutes to extinguish in one of the most surreal scenes in racing history. The track surface was a scorched mess, but otherwise unharmed. It needed some serious cleaning, though, because it was wet and slippery from all the chemicals used to snuff out the fire.
The NASCAR folks are experts at cleaning oil, rubber and car parts off a race track, but watered-down jet fuel? How do you scrub a track clean of that?
Tide. That’s how.
As if they Googled, “how to clean up jet fuel from asphalt,” track officials unloaded several Costco-sized boxes of Tide laundry soap (unsure if it included bleach) and spread it over the huge span of scorched asphalt. Then they hosed it down (also unsure if anyone shouted, “Anybody got extra underwear to wash? We’re doing whites!”).
The Tide trick actually worked, although I haven’t heard if it smelled morning fresh on those first laps after the restart.
Driver Brad Keselowski became an on-the-scene photo journalist during the red-flag period. Keselowski, who for some reason kept his phone in the pocket of his racing suit, actually Tweeted photos as his car sat idle on the back straight during the stoppage, and he gained 100,000 followers in a two-hour period. Somewhere, Terrell Owens had to be doing a slow burn.
For all the predictions of pack racing and three-wide racing and massive accidents for all 200 laps, Daytona essentially was a one-lane racetrack in the 500. Oh, there was two-wide racing all night and a few who even dared to make it three wide, and even some big wrecks. But unless a driver was down on the inside lane, he wasn’t going to be beat.
That’s where Kenseth put himself after the last restarts, and he’s now a two-time Daytona 500 champion because of it.