Posted by: Mike Cornelius | February 15, 2010

Crashes On Both Coasts

NASCAR begins every season with its premiere race, the Daytona 500.  The Great American Race is the culmination of two weeks of racing activities at the Florida superspeedway.  This year of course featured Danica Patrick’s stock car coming-out party, with a very good performance in a minor-league ARCA race at the beginning of Speedweeks, and a somewhat disappointing performance in her first Nationwide Series race on Saturday.  Still, Patrick seemed to enjoy herself and was self-effacing in acknowledging that she has much to learn.  That is a story that will take some time to unfold.

On Sunday, we were promised real, contact-sport racing (relentlessly, on FOX network promos), thanks to NASCAR relaxing the rules that have limited bump-drafting and some changes to the cars that make them easier to handle.  And when they were actually racing it was pretty good, and at the end it was great.  I feel obligated to say that, because I’ve written about how NASCAR has gotten more than a little dull.

The problem is that there was a great deal of time on Sunday; no, make that a GREAT deal of time on Sunday, when they weren’t racing at all.  Stock car racing’s premiere track was last repaved thirty-two years ago, and anyone with HD TV could see that the track is anything but smooth.  But with forty-three cars driving over the asphalt at speeds just south of 200 MPH, disaster struck.  Shortly after the halfway point of the race, your basic New England pothole began to develop on the low side of the track between turns one and two.  Within a few laps NASCAR was forced to stop the race while attempts were made to patch the hole in the track.  Those attempts were hindered by the fact that they’ve recently had buckets of rain in Florida and it was an unusually cool day.  So the asphalt they attempted to patch was damp and the epoxy patch material was slow to set.  The result: for an hour and forty-six minutes television showed aerial views of parked stock cars.  On a one hundred point excitement scale, that would be a zero.

To make matters worse, once racing resumed the patch came undone thirty-nine laps later.  Another forty-six minutes of watching parked cars.  Followed by a curious decision to send the cars back out before the second patch had set, so several laps of cars driving in single file behind the pace car at 55 MPH.  Okay, I’ll agree, that’s more exciting than watching parked cars, but on the previously mentioned excitement scale, that would be a one.

So the Great American Race was interrupted twice, for a total of two and one-half hours.  Any potential new NASCAR fans, perhaps drawn to the sport by Danica’s entrance, most likely were long gone before a riveting finish that featured vagabond Jamie McMurray winning, and Dale Jr. rushing like a hellion through the final lap, moving from tenth to second.  But I have to think that a lot of viewers were not around to see it, because the France family hasn’t repaved stock car racing’s most famous track since 1978.  And yes, they own both the racing circuit and the race track.  I don’t think they’re hurting.  So shame on them.

Meanwhile on the West Coast, the PGA was playing its annual event on the Monterey Peninsula.  Journeyman Paul Goydos was paired with young gun Dustin Johnson in the final pairing, both starting the day four shots clear of the rest of the field.  But they both struggled, and so came to the thirteenth hole still tied, but now just one stroke clear of their pursuers.  Goydos is a short hitter and Johnson is a bomber, so we had the repeated spectacle of Goydos walking to the fairway and finding his ball forty to fifty yards short of Johnson’s drive.  That was true on thirteen, but Goydos struck a 6-iron to five feet, while Johnson hit his sand wedge to about ten feet.  Goydos made, Johnson missed and the short-hitting Everyman took the lead. 

The fourteenth at Pebble Beach is a par five, potentially reachable for Johnson (earlier in the day Phil Mickelson was over the green in two), but a three shot hole for Goydos.  After hitting his second to nine iron distance, he stood in the fairway with Johnson, who was waiting for the green to clear so he could have a go at it.  They watched as one of the players in the group ahead made hash of the hole, a direct result of hitting his approach shot short of the sharply elevated green.  The CBS microphone caught Goydos commenting to Johnson how that was exactly the kind of error that would lead to a big score. Moments later, he left his approach shot short.  In the time it takes to turn a couple of laps at a superspeedway, Goydos went over the green with his fourth, failed to get back on the green with his fifth, put his sixth shot on the green but far from the hole, and three-putted for a nine.

Nine.  I know that score.  I’m going to assume that Paul Goydos is less familiar with it.  But there it was, bringing a brutal end to his chances for a third PGA title.

Sprint Cup cars can race at close to 200 MPH.  Golf is played at a walking pace, and constantly fighting to keep the bane of slow play at bay.  But on Sunday the wires got crossed.  At Daytona we were treated to parking lot television.  At Pebble in the blink of an eye Everyman crashed and burned.  It was all so, so wrong.

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