COLUMN: A good partner is hard to find
Politics is fascinating at Daytona
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – One of the distinguishing characteristics of Sunday’s Daytona 500 will be the politics of the draft. This isn’t exactly “breaking news” (not that much of what is labeled that way on television these days really is) since it’s always been a significant factor, whether the racing is in tag teams or moving parking lots.
Maybe it’s all about politics, but at least the politics is interesting.
The contraction of NASCAR is going to complicate the cooperation. This year Roush Fenway Racing has three teams instead of four. Not only does it take two to tango, but more than two won’t work. Stewart Haas Racing has two season-long entries, but the addition of Danica Patrick means it will have three Chevys in this race.
All day long on Feb. 26, the term “odd man out” will be pertinent. In the case of Patrick, there may be the occasional “odd woman out.”
The principal reason Tony Stewart has never won the Daytona 500 is just happenstance. Stewart is a superb restrictor-plate racer, but he has more commonly finished second at Daytona and Talladega than first. One reason, though, is that he has seldom had a partner in whom he can fully depend.
It was controversial last spring when Dale Earnhardt Jr. dutifully pushed Jimmie Johnson to victory lane at Talladega. The ultra-disciplined Hendrick Motorsports team is NASCAR’s most cohesive organization. Every team pays lip service to “one for all and all for one,” but Hendrick actually achieves it, and the examples of cohesiveness date back more than a decade.
In Saturday night’s Budweiser Shootout, Kyle Busch and Tony Stewart bump-drafted to the front of the pack basically because Busch picked up Stewart when a partner was needed. When the final overtime, green-white-checkered scenario unfolded, Stewart was first and Busch was second. They timed their spectacular rise perfectly, but Stewart had a problem when he took the white flag. He was first and Busch was second, but he knew the likelihood, when the checkered flag waved, was that the roles would be reversed.
Stewart didn’t take it hard. He’s won the Shootout three times. If it happens in the 500, which Stewart has never won, it will be harder to take. After finishing second, Stewart was more grateful for Busch’s help than frustrated. Stewart didn’t have a tiger by the tail. He had a tiger on his tail, and it bit him.
Monte Dutton; 704-869-1841; twitter.com/montedutton