Think NASCAR hated the Daytona ending? Think again

2/21/2007 - NASCAR

The NASCAR suits must be slamming high-fives in their Daytona Beach offices. Agree or disagree, almost everyone has an opinion on the finish of the Daytona 500.

You can't buy this kind of pub, folks. It's the talk of the sports world and a perfect way to garner attention for the start of the Nextel Cup season.

By the way, Mark Martin made $1.1 million for finishing second. He gladly would trade it for the victory, but not a bad consolation prize. …

The biggest shock of the Daytona 500 wasn't the controversial finish. It was the fact that Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch didn't call each other idiots after they crashed late in the race.

Both of them were calm, cool and collected. What gives? Who are those guys, the Stepford wives? And what did they do with Stewart and Busch? …

Thanks for that mental image
Legendary NHRA drag racer John Force was so entertaining in his appearance at Daytona last week that he received a rare round of applause from about 200 journalists in the media center. In an era when most race car drivers censor themselves to keep sponsors happy, Force was his usual freewheeling self. When asked about NASCAR cheating, Force explained how he had to drop his firesuit once on national TV to prove he wasn't carrying an illegal racing device.

"For a guy with Budweiser abs like me, it ain't a pretty sight," Force said. "Sitting there in my dirty old underwear and my skinny legs -- my wife cried. She couldn't go to church for months." …

No. 6 was quick
All the commotion over the Daytona 500 finish caused people to overlook the fact that Martin's old ride finished almost as well as his new one. Rookie David Ragan was an impressive fifth in the No. 6 Ford that Martin drove for 19 years. Ragan's position improved at the end of the last lap when he made it through the carnage of cars wrecking in front of him. …

Ginn running
New team owner Bobby Ginn came close to winning his first Daytona 500. All three Ginn Racing drivers finished in the top 20 -- Martin in second, Joe Nemechek in ninth and Sterling Marlin, 17th. Ginn bought controlling interest in MB2 Motorsports but wisely left Jay Frye in control of the racing decisions.

The difference is Frye now has the financial backing to build the operation into a championship-contending group. …

Cash and carry
Here's another reason teams cheat in qualifying at Daytona. If you make the field, you're guaranteed almost a quarter of a million dollars.

Kyle Petty finished 42nd and took home a check for $248,050. Tony Stewart finished last and made $334,931. Yes, that's confusing to many fans. The money you make doesn't jibe completely with finishing position. Contingency bonuses factor into it. …

Outside chance
What do Cup stars Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. have in common? All four rank outside the top-12 Chase cutoff -- way outside -- after one race.

Mike Wallace, David Stremme, David Gilliland and J.J. Yeley all rank inside the Chase 12 after one race.

I'll take a wild guess here and say this situation reverses itself by the 26th race. …

Toy story
We now can say Kevin Harvick made the best decision in racing last year.

Harvick could have signed with Toyota, no doubt for more than Richard Childress was offering. Harvick elected to stay at RCR. He made the Chase, and now he's a Daytona 500 winner, as well as a serious contender for the Nextel Cup title.

Had he gone to Toyota, he might have run 20th Sunday, assuming he made the field. …

Psst, wanna drive an open-wheel car?
At the moment, the IndyCar Series has 19 cars. Champ Car has 17 cars.

Yet these leagues are no closer to a merger than they were a year ago. Actually, they're further from merging than they were a year ago.

United we stand, divided we fall. After more than a decade apart, no one in either league seems to believe it or care. …

Jacques and roll
Juan Pablo Montoya won't be the only former F1 driver in NASCAR much longer. Former F1 champ Jacques Villeneuve is trying to finalize a deal to run some Busch and Craftsman Truck races this season.

Villeneuve has a home in Switzerland, but he's moving back home to Canada and taking up residence in Montreal. Why? It's clear he wants to compete in the inaugural Montreal Busch race in July on the road course -- Circuit Gilles Villeneuve -- named after his late father.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.