Danica was out before it started
It wasn’t exactly the Blizzard of ‘79, but when the Daytona 500 was delayed by rain a second time and re-set for 7 p.m. (ET) Monday evening, there were plenty of those looking for a silver lining in the rain clouds hanging over the Speedway.
In 1979 an East Coast blizzard on the Sunday of the Daytona 500 kept people at home with nothing to do except watch the race. The race featured a last lap bumping incident and crash between leaders Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough, a victory by Richard Petty and subsequent fight between Allison and Yarborough. The race is generally credited with setting off a boom of fan interest in NASCAR.
With the 500 moved to prime time Monday TV night because of the weather, there was hope that perhaps the race could have a similar impact. Think Monday Night Football. And with Danica Patrick getting the brunt of pre-race coverage, more than a few men were hoping their wives and girlfriends would join them to watch the race. Hey honey, didn’t I watch the Oscars with you last night?
First came the embarrassing start. After only one lap, five-time champion Jimmy Johnson was spinning into the wall and out of the race. Worse yet, the cars of Patrick and defending champion Trevor Bayne also were badly damaged and sent to the garage area. Men all over America were relegated to viewing room B as the big screens were switched over the The Bachelor and The Voice.
After the wreck the race settled down to a pretty boring, mostly follow the leader affair.
Until Juan Pablo Montoya hit the jet dryer.
It was a freak accident. Montoya knew something was wrong with the car and had been in and out of the pits. When the car did break, he had no control and slid into the jet dryer. Hard
Montoya pulled himself from his demolished race car and staggered away, small fires burning at both ends of the car. The driver of the jet dryer truck was helped away.
So far so good. Nobody’s fault.
What happened next – or what didn’t happen – was unacceptable.
The jet fuel caught fire. And the fire grew in intensity for nearly two minutes before safety crews equipped to fight it arrived on the scene. Ok, there was plenty of confusion. The safety crews were expected a re-start, not to be called out to a fire. But it still shouldn’t have happened.
The rest of the race was anti-climatic. More wrecks in the final 40 laps than lead changes. Matt Kenseth wins, but was Greg Biffle even trying?
A delay of more than two hours to repair and cleanup the track pushed the finish of the race, carefully timed to happen well before 11 p.m., to 12:55 in the morning on the East Coast.
Goodnight fans. Goodbye prime time.