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And Another Thing

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A few thoughts on Daytona

And now, as Jimmie Johnson gets the ritual confetti dousing in Victory Lane, a few thoughts, brief or otherwise, on the Great American Race and its attendant satellites ...

* No, Danica Patrick didn't win. But can we stop now the nonsense that she's never been anything but a photo shoot with a driver's license -- aka, A Woman Who Can't Race?

Because, listen, I don't know about you, but what I saw Sunday was a race driver just like any of the other 42 race drivers out there. She wound up 8th, led twice and ran in the top 10 most of the day, which is saying something when you consider the volatile shuffling forward and back that attends most restricter plate races.

She was third going into the last lap, but made the wrong choice -- sticking with Greg Biffle in the high groove -- and got freight-trained by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his pals. It happens. At Daytona, you pick a strategy and hope it's the right one. That was especially true today, with the new Gen-6 car, because no one knew what was going to happen when they hooked up at the end to go for the win. Dale Jr. said pretty much exactly that on the in-car with 20 or so laps to go.

So, she went with Biffle, no doubt figuring he would eventually make a move on Jimmie Johnson and she'd go with him. It was the safe play on a day when the safe play was generally the smart way to go.

In retrospect, of course, it wasn't the way to go. If Patrick's spotters saw the freight train forming in the low groove behind her, they didn't tell her to drop down to get the push from it. If they had, she'd have likely finished second. But they played it safe and stuck with Biffle, and when he didn't make a move on Johnson -- probably because the new car is notoriously resistant to passing -- he and Patrick got caught out.

Still, she was right there at the end. So hail to her.

* Speaking of the Gen-6 ... if this is what we're in for the rest of the year, the Tournament of Roses parade will soon be suing NASCAR for copyright infringement.

You didn't see a lot of those 30-car packs we're used to seeing at plate races, but you did see a lot of nose-to-tail 'roundy-'rounding, and very little passing. And if you didn't see it at Daytona, what's it going to be like at Indianapolis, where even the old cars found it difficult to make a pass?

I'm guessing we'll see a lot of Danica waving from the Governor's Trophy float.

* Lastly, no discussion of Speedweeks could be complete without mentioning what happened in the Nationwide race Saturday, when rookie Kyle Larson's car got up in the catch fence at the end and sprayed the crowd with debris, including a tire that landed well up in the stands.

Twenty-eight people were injured, 14 of whom went to the hospital. And while that's certainly an occurrence no one ever wants to see, at least 28 people didn't go to the morgue.

That sort of carnage has happened before in racing -- in its earliest days, spectators were killed at motorsports events almost as routinely as drivers and riding mechanics -- but it didn't Saturday largely because the sport has learned from its tragedies and acted accordingly. And so while Larson's engine tore loose from its mount and breached the fence, it didn't get into the stands, landing instead in the concourse area constructed expressly to, well, keep engines and the like from getting into the stands.

Ditto this incident. I imagine NASCAR will take the tape, study it carefully, and come back with even stronger fencing and more protective buffer areas between the fans and the track. It's no guarantee debris won't get into the seats in the future -- if there's one inevitability in motorsports, it's the inevitability of chaos -- but if it does, far fewer than 28 people will likely be its victims.

And that's a good thing.

Ben Smith's blog.

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