Sure, Matt Kenseth won NASCAR's season-opening Daytona 500 Sunday. And NASCAR's "Silent Assassin" is as worthy as any other candidate, but winning the race after 152 laps - 48 short of the scheduled distance - was a woeful error on the part on NASCAR's sanctioning suits.
Being in attendance, I can tell you that it didn't have to be that way. NASCAR could have prevented the premature end to their crown jewel event. How? By starting the race at 2:00 p.m. like they stated they would. That is, until they changed it. The weather threatened from the get-go and there was no reason to make fans wait for Keith Urban to perform and certainly not for "Country Karakaoke."
For only the fourth time in the 51 year history of NASCAR, the Daytona 500 would come to end prematurely. Sunday's event on FOX drew a preliminary national rating of 9.2 and a 19 share, the network said on Tuesday. The last rain-shortened Daytona 500 earned a 9.8/21 in 2003. Last year's full race drew a 10.2/20.
Clearly Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart would have been factors in the race's outcome.
Harvick, who won the season's first event -- the Budweiser Shootout on the opening weekend at Daytona International Speedway -- finish second behind Kenseth when rain ended the race after 152 laps.
"Another lap, you never know what would have happened if that doesn't shake out like it did," Harvick said. Indeed. Kenseth was lucky because Harvick was clearly on the move.
Another driver on the move for much of the day, even leading the race at one point for 15 laps, was Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet Impala SS for Stewart-Haas Racing .
In his first point-paying race as a driver/owner in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Stewart started the 51st Daytona 500 in fifth and was running eighth when the rains came.
"Obviously, I would've have liked to have seen the race get back to green," said Stewart, who also finished third in the non-point Budweiser Shootout Feb. 7, second in his Gatorade Duel qualifying race on Thursday and first in the season-opening NASCAR Nationwide Series race on Saturday. "I felt like we were a lot better than an eighth-place car, but there were guys ahead of us that were eighth-place cars that got wrecked. To leave here with a third, second and an eighth in my own cars and a win in the Nationwide Series with Rick Hendrick, I can't say it's really that disappointing."
Maybe he can't say it, but I can. NASCAR really blew it with this one. It was shaping up to be a great finish. And all they needed to do was eliminate one of the three pre-race hours to make it happen for their fans.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Feb. 22 Auto Club 500 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. The race begins at 6 p.m. EST with live coverage provided by FOX beginning with its pre-race show at 5 p.m.
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