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Commentary: Daytona: Rain, Jr. and Danica

When NASCAR founder and Daytona International Speedway’s godfather, Big Bill France, was running stock car’s world, he ruled with an iron fist.
Perhaps his most important acclaim was that he placed himself in charge of the weather for the Daytona 500. Big Bill had an impeccable record of producing rain-free races for racing’s Super Bowl.
My, how they missed Big Bill Sunday.
Fans, who spent big bucks to bring their families joined drivers who had worked toward this race since last year and their crews and owners as they were forced to wait out a six hour, 22-minute weather delay as the 2.5 mile tri-oval was pounded by rain and lightning strikes nearby.
When they finally resumed the race under the lights, a racin' they did go. I don’t know if fatigue played a part. It could be there were still wet spots on the track. It likely was when you put that many cars side-by-side, front ends to bumpers and amp them up to over 200 miles per hour—well, stuff happens.
There were more wrecks than during rush hour traffic in Atlanta. 
They produced two story lines that this version of the Daytona 500 will be remembered for.
Obviously, the headlines belonged to Dale Earnhardt Jr., who earned his second Daytona 500 race. He won his first the year after his father died when crashing into a wall.
With a handful of runner-up finishes, Junior was wondering if he would ever get to claim another checkered flag at racing’s mecca.
He arguably had one of, if not the strongest car with the best setup for negotiating the 31-degree banked tri-oval. 
You could see the excitement spread from ear to ear as Junior drove slowly down the front stretch, holding the checkered flag and waving to his fans. 
It was easy to see why he has been voted NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver so many times. On the tracks, Earnhardt bears a heavy burden on his name alone. His father left him big shoes to fill and although Junior has not filled the void, he has come close.
He celebrated by opening a Twitter account. Pity the person who has to oversee the account.
The runner-up headline belonged to Danica Patrick. It could easily have been a tragic one.
On lap 145 of the 200-lap race, Patrick was involved in the middle of a nine-car wreck. She was looking at a top 15 or 20 finish when her world closed in on her.
The 31-year-old Patrick’s GoDaddy car was pushed all over the track. It appeared her steering column went out, sending her car careening full speed straight into a concrete wall that had no protective barrier.
Her eyes were wide open, her fear visible. When the car slammed into the wall and the chaotic mangling of cars subsided, Danica grabbed her radio, frantically asking, "Oh, man. What the hell happened?"
What happened was Patrick hit the wall with more speed and force than the wreck that killed Dale Earnhardt.
What happened was very likely that the Hans device saved her from possible death. It was deemed mandatory to wear after Earnhardt’s death. The Hans device supports your neck and prevents it from snapping in two in a collision.
In death, Dale Earnhardt saved untold lives and prevented severe injuries.
"It’s the excitement of (super) speedway racing that anything can happen and it was unfortunate that I was on the short end of the accident," Patrick said.
The day of the race Patrick passed one million Twitter followers. She would gladly have swapped places with Junior. 

Posted on: 2/27/2014


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