Daytona 500 was wild and whacky start for NASCAR

Published 11:22 am Thursday, March 1, 2012

If you tried to watch Sunday’s Daytona 500 that was rained out for the first time in the event’s 54-year history, raise your hand.

If you managed to sit through most of the twice-delayed race on Monday evening, raise your hand.

If you made it to the part when the Sprint Cup’s showcase event morphed into a script that even the writers of the Will Ferrell vehicle “Talladega Nights” would reject as fantasy, give yourself an ovation.

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It was a huge opportunity for NASCAR to make a primetime impression. And what an impression it made.

This race might’ve been the most surreal sporting event of our lifetimes. And there was not a thing the NASCAR head honchos could do about it. But they did a good job as chaos reigned.

Juan Pablo Montoya, a driver mostly known for his Southern-like, three-part name, is now known for being something other than an open wheel champion. Under caution, no less, the Colombian struck the jet-drier truck and the track was awash in flaming kerosene that rolled down the high banking like lava from a volcano.

Neither Montoya or the driver of the jet-drier truck was harmed, but the damage was done.

All that would’ve been necessary to complete the scene would’ve been Ferrell, in the guise of driver Ricky Bobby, running around as he did in “Talladega Nights,” stripping off his racing suit while screaming that he was on fire. Spoiler alert: he wasn’t.

The race was red-flagged. Tide, not Nick Saban’s Crimson variety, but the laundry detergent, was used to clean up the mess. Today’s race is brought to you by Tide laundry detergent. No, really, it is.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. complained that he needed a bathroom break. Brad Kesolowski tweeted and tweeted some more from his phone, which he can now keep in his car. He posted pictures. Made some really bad jokes at Montoya’s expense. Doubled and trebled his Twitter followers and became a household name.

There were TV interviews galore from the parked cars as the NASCAR crews tried to clean up the fiery mess.

The good news is, according to the Associated Press, the race drew 36.5 million viewers, up 22 percent from last year. How many stuck it out to the end is unknown.

By the way, Matt Kenseth defeated teammate Greg Biffle in a two-lap overtime shootout for his second 500 victory in the early morning hours on Tuesday.

And fitting this whacky race, Biffle took to Twitter to defend himself from angry Jr. fans accusing him of blocking their driver’s ascent to the front in the late going.

“2nd is the 1st loser and so are the people who think I touched the brakes last 2 laps,” Biffle wrote on Twitter.

By the way, that’s a nice paraphrase of Ricky Bobby’s father in “Talladega Nights.” If you’re not first, you’re last.

When the entertainment value exceeds that of the racing, that usually is a bad sign. But when the racing isn’t half-bad and the strange occurrences are water-cooler talk all over the country, you’ve unleashed a phenomena that even non-NASCAR fans are still talking about.

Who would’ve thought a sport with roots in Appalachia’s moonshine that just embraced fuel injection this year would be the most social-media savvy of all?

It sounds like a strategy for success. One tweet and one weird occurrence at a time.

Steve Wilson is sports editor of The Vicksburg Post. You can follow him on Twitter at vpsportseditor. He can be reached at 601-636-4545, ext. 142 or at