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Thursday, February 14, 2008

NASCAR: Gatorade Duel

The Gatorade Duel's are easily the most interesting play in format in sports. Basically it is two 50 lap heats(pre-races). The top two drivers, in each of the two duels, that weren't already in the Daytona 500 based on their finish last season, get a spot in the big race on Sunday. For those of you that don't follow NASCAR. Think of it as being given the football on the 40 with four downs to score. Except instead of winning the game, you win a spot in the Superbowl. It is about that intense and surely that important to the drivers.

In the first Duel Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the race in what was relatively clean, wreck free racing. By virtue of the win he will start off the Daytona 500 in the second row. He'll be behind his teammate Jimmie Johnson, as well as Michael Waltrip. Those two earned their spots by posting the two fastest times in the qualifying sessions earlier this week.

Waltrip didn't end up winning the second Duel which he started from the pole position. He did however play a fairly large role. As it became clear throughout the course of the race that his teammate Dale Jarrett, who was racing to get into his final Daytona 500, was not getting any help from back in the pack. Waltrip and third team David Reutimann both dropped back to get Jarrett into one of the top two transfer spots. A position that would move him into the race on Sunday. With the qualifying times of Waltrip and Reutimann, along with Jarrett's finish in the Race. That puts all 3 into the fray for Sunday.

After the race as I watched film of Earnhardt jr, passing former teammate Martin Truex. i can't help by wonder what Theresa Earnhardt thinks of Jr. Now that he has left her and the company his father started. He is enjoying the fruits of Hendrick equipment, having won the Budweiser Shootout last weekend and winning the first Duel this week. While Theresa has never been very public, and even less so since trouble started flaring between Jr and herself. I can't wait to hear some reaction from her the next time someone pins her down for an interview.

This will be the first full season for the new Car of Tomorrow. After using it occasionally last season it is the standard all this year and for the forseable future. As he stood in the winners circle, Jr. was asked what he thought of the new car. While he tried to toe the NASCAR line, by saying "it must have looked good on TV" You could see him trying to fight it back before he let out "It's a handfull, it's like racing one of the older cars". From a guy who definately tries to say the right things. NASCAR has to feel like that was quite a criticism. Not that they care. But I would just love to hear what the Intimidator would have had to say about a car the took handling back 15-20 years.

The Second Duel was won by Denny Hamlin. He was pushed to the front by teammate Tony Stewart, who he had just left to get in front of Jeff Gordon. While it initially looked like Hamlin had hung Stewart out to dry by going with Gordon, when I looked back it seemed like if he didn't Gordon and the inside group would have blown by them. Apparently Stewart agreed based on the Valentines day lovey radio talk between Stewart and Hamlin moments after crossing the finish.

One of the interesting notes was that Brian Vickers who spun through the dirt and grass early on was able to recover and make it into one of the transfer spots in the first duel. I think even more than the driving talent, which was certainly on display. I was impressed by the growth of how he handled himself. He is a guy who previously would have let that early miscue ruin the race for him. Instead he has apparently gained the experience required to keep his composure, and focus on the task at hand enough to overcome a minor setback.

Quote of the Day has to go to Vickers teammate, AJ Allmendinger. When he was asked about the fact he missed out on qualifying for the race, he responded with "It's just one of thirty-six races" Yeah and the Superbowl is just one of nineteen games. I really think that everydriver who doesn't qualify for Daytona should be forced to say that just see if any of them can make it sound convincing. Allmendinger sure didn't.

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