2009-02-12 / Sports

NASCAR Could Learn From Waffle House

By Gerald Hodges THE RACING REPORTER

Kevin Harvick Kevin Harvick Martin Truex Jr. is on the pole for Sunday's Daytona 500, while Kevin Harvick won Saturday night's Bud Shootout.

As we gear up for the 2009 racing season, I wish NASCAR could be as consistent as Waffle House.

Every Waffle House I have eaten at in the past year or so was open, and always ready to cook up a couple eggs, with grits, and an occasional pork chop. I've never had a bad meal. Everyone is friendly and service is good.

Senior citizens give high marks to those kind of things.

What NASCAR did to "The King," last week was a typical "NASCAR Deal."

Any team that finishes a season in the top-35 is guaranteed a starting spot in the first five races of the next year.

Richard Petty said his organization was told after the 2008 season that the No. 10 Gillett Evernham Motorsports car would be in the top-35 at the start of 2009 because there would be top-35 teams whose owner points would not be used in 2009.

After Petty merged with Gillett Evernham, the No. 10 car number was changed to No. 44. Petty and his organization went out and solicited Valvoline, a new sponsor, based on the promise by NASCAR that the car would not have to qualify for the Daytona 500.

But not so fast. The NASCAR powers-that-be changed their mind without telling Petty until it was all over.

A.J. Allmendinger, driver of the No. 44, will have to qualify for the Daytona 500.

There's more. Last week was a pretty busy one for NASCAR's inconsistency.

Originally, Brad Keselowski was to have a guaranteed starting spot, but prior to practice last Friday, Marcos Ambrose was told he would be in the Daytona 500.

If you guessed that Keselowski will have to race his way in, you're right.

Clint Bowyer is also among the ones who received a starting spot. Bowyer will be in his first season driving RCR's No. 33 car, a newly formed team. RCR acquired/ bought the owner points from Dale Earnhardt Inc.'s No. 01 car, which has shut down.

Penske Racing's Sam Hornish was also locked in after inheriting points from Bill Davis Racing.

Confused? If Richard Petty is, just imagine how us lesser beings should feel.

As Tony Stewart, once remarked, "It's their way or the highway."

Don't try to sort out the things of NASCAR.

Just drive down to the closest Waffle House. You can get a nice T-bone and cup of joe for about 10 bucks. It's not a big juicy cut you would get at a high class steak house, but it's a pretty good one. Mine has always been served just the way I like it, cooked enough, but still tender and juicy.

It comes with a salad, hash browns, and toast.

And most of them have jukeboxes with Hank, Willie and Merle songs.

History of the Daytona 500

The Daytona 500, often billed as "The Great American Race," is different from events in most sports. Rather than being the last race of the season, it is the first. The race was moved from the beach in 1958.

Looking to the future, and invigorated with the success of Darlington, Bill France Sr. built his new 2.5-mile, high-banked superspeedway four miles off the beach.

With its long back straightaway and sweeping high-banked turns of more than 30 degrees, the 2.5-mile tri-oval was one of the largest speedways in the world.

In the first race, fans were treated to something that each year still brings millions of fans to NASCAR races - close competition. The first Daytona 500 didn't end, technically, for three days. It took that long for NASCAR officials to study a photograph of the finish between Lee Petty and Johnny Beauchamp before declaring Petty the winner.

The race is also different in the way qualifying is held. The first two spots are determined by qualifying on Sunday, one week before the big race, and the remaining positions are set by two 150-mile qualifying races.

One of the most incredible Daytona 500 moments was 1963, when replacement driver Tiny Lund filled-in for an injured Marvin Panch and won the race on one set of tires for the Wood Brothers.

Panch had an accident while testing for the second Daytona Continental three-hour sports car race (this race later became the Rolex 24).

Lund was in Daytona looking for a ride and was friends with Panch. Having witnessed Panch's accident, Tiny ran to his friendin- trouble and helped pull him from the fiery crash.

Panch was taken to the hospital and was too injured to race. While recovering, a grateful Panch asked Tiny if he would take over his ride. Glen Wood agreed. When race day finally arrived, the teams and fans entered the track under heavy rain. Because of the wet conditions, the race began under caution.

After 10 caution laps, the green flag was waived. "Fireball" Roberts was on the pole and "Flying" Fred Lorenzen was on the outside pole. Tiny ran hard all day and eventually took the lead. Significantly, and little known, is the gamble taken by Glen and Leonard Wood to use only one set of tires for the entire race and complete the race with one less pit stop than everyone else.

With 10 laps to go, Lorenzen passed Tiny. Fortunately for Tiny, Lorenzen ran out of gas and out of contention. Ned Jarrett then passed Tiny for the top spot but with three laps to go, he also ran out of gas. Tiny made it to the final lap, then he, too, ran out of gas, but had enough momentum to cross the finish line first.

Glen and Leonard Wood's gamble had paid off. The Wood Brothers had won the 1963 Daytona 500 with a replacement driver on one set of tires.

Weekend racing

Thurs., February 12, Twin Gatorade Duels (for qualifying); Starting time: 2 p.m. (EST); TV: Speed.

Friday, February 13, Camping World Truck Series 250; Starting time: 7:30 p.m. (EST); Speed.

Saturday, February 14, Nationwide Series Camping World 300; Starting time: 1 pm. (EST); TV: ESPN2.

Sunday, February 15, Sprint Cup Daytona 500; Starting time: 2 p.m. (EST); TV: Fox.

Racing trivia question: How many times did Dale Jarrett win the Daytona 500?

Last week's question: Which driver has the most Daytona 500 wins? Answer. Richard Petty's seven wins tops all other drivers.

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