Craig Murto: Mixed reviews for Daytona 500

The 59th annual Daytona 500 now is in the history books, which will show that Kurt Busch took the win with a last-lap pass, only the 11th time the final lap determined the race.

Overall I loved the race, and thought it was exciting. The final four laps saw four different leaders. But a quick perusal of social media indicates that at best the race got mixed reviews.

Or is it simply that we live in an era in which people love to complain? Amazing how many people who claimed they were “finished” with NASCAR racing are posting opinions of the 500. It doesn’t appear they are finished at all. But “fans” don’t seem to like the stage format, and don’t like the new crash rules, which only give a driver five minutes on pit road to repair crash damage and disqualify a car if crash damage sends it behind the wall.

I like the stages. They promote hard racing throughout the event and reward drivers who run up front. For example, Johnny Sauter was crashed out of the Camping World Track Series race on the last lap. But because he “won” the previous two stages, he is second in points at the end of the day.

However, I agree with critics that the stages should not extend the time it takes to run a race. One can’t help but believe that the 16-minute red flag prior to the end of Stage 2 during the 500 was to keep the stage from ending during a caution. NASCAR needs to rethink this policy. If a stage is going to end under caution, so be it; cautions are part of racing.

The idea was supposed to be to speed up the show, not bore spectators with breaks in the action. If the track takes 10 laps of caution to clean up, let it take 10 laps of caution to clean up. If a stage happens to end during the caution, let it happen that way. Part of racing is supposed to be chance, and too much manipulation takes away from the event. There were two red flags during the Xfinity race, and the race took far too long to complete.

The crash rules are supposed to be a safety issue, but they don’t work. In the Truck race, competitors trying to beat the five-minute clock actually shed more parts onto the track than if they were allowed to make repairs properly. The Xfinity Series race was lucky to see anybody finish. And the clock cost Dale Earnhardt Jr. the chance to finish the 500. If he could have made a few more pit stops he would have easily been able to continue, but once the clock gave him less than a minute to make repairs, he had no choice but to park the car.

And how many cars are going to reenter a race with bent components, make minimum speed, and actually be more of a danger than if allowed to make proper repairs behind the wall? It’s going to happen more than you think.

The answer is simple: If NASCAR doesn’t want parts falling off cars that have been repaired, then make a rule stating that if you reenter an event after repairing crash damage and parts from your car cause a caution after your repair, you’re parked for the day and awarded last-place points. I assure you, teams will make proper repairs.

NASCAR’s new rules have some rough edges to be smoothed, but the stage system works to promote hard racing. Driver inexperience caused the demolition derbies in the Truck and Xfinity Series, and the Cup Series saw the usual accidents you see in pack racing. But in none of the series did drivers simply ride around until the end. It’ll be interesting to see what happens in Atlanta this weekend.

Kaz Grala won the Truck race, and Ryan Reed won the Xfinity race. In two-wheeled action in Atlanta, Zach Osborne won the Supercross 250 East race on his Husqvarna, his first win in Supercross. Ryan Dungey rode his KTM to the 450 main event win, followed by Eli Tomac and Blake Baggett.

Racing in the region is underway. Danny Dietrich won the Sprint Car opener at Pennsylvania’s Lincoln Speedway. And Saturday at North Carolina’s Southern National Motorsports Park the Pro All Stars Series Super Late Models and the Late Model Stock Cars each run 150-lap features in the Dogwood 300. It’ll be well worth the road trip. And no crash rules or stages!

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.

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