Things Change

(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, February 19, 2018, 9:29 a.m.

When the Daytona 500 ends, the men and women there to describe it go into what can best be described as an assembly line. They process, decipher, and otherwise attempt to make sense of a steady flow of information. They listen to their recorders, now contained within the small universe of their phones. They monitor media conferences and crank out their assigned stories as information becomes available, and, finally, they leave the track hoping that somewhere in their copy exists some modest amount of insight.

By Monte Dutton

Not being there, I had the luxury of thinking about the events of the 60th Daytona 500. I had the luxury of going live on Facebook to entertain those who joined in with my thoughts and songs in one way, and entertain their questions in another.

Then I slept on the race. This morning the irony awakened me instead of the sunrise.

Exactly seventeen years earlier, Dale Earnhardt’s life ended at Daytona International Speedway. On the final lap of the 43rd Daytona 500, Earnhardt was keeping pursuers at bay while Michael Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were escaping to finish first and second, respectively. The blocking cost Earnhardt his life. A bump from behind sent Earnhardt’s Chevrolet careening into the fourth-turn wall.

On Sunday, another No. 3, driven by Austin Dillon, won NASCAR’s most prestigious race. On the final lap, the Ford driven by Aric Almirola was keeping Dillon at bay. Dillon had committed to a “run” when Almirola moved to blunt his momentum, and his Chevrolet hit Almirola’s Ford on the left side, turning it into the wall.

Dillon won the race. Almirola walked away. As Robert Frost noted, “that has made all the difference.”

In the years between Earnhardt’s fatal crash and Almirola walking away, NASCAR has gotten much safer. The incident was a measure of that progress.

Austin Dillon (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Opportunities to win the Daytona 500 don’t happen often, but Almirola will have others.

“It was the last lap, and we’re all trying to win the Daytona 500,” he said. “It’s the biggest race of the year, and it’s a career-changing race, so we were just racing really aggressively. I put every move I knew to try and stay in the lead and, unfortunately, I just wasn’t able to hold on. He got to my back bumper and was pushing and just hooked me. My heart is broken, but the beauty is we’ll go to Atlanta, and we’ve got an incredible race team here at Stewart-Haas Racing, and we’ll have another shot next week.”

Aric Almirola (file photo)

If a person could experience an earthquake while knowing he or she wouldn’t be injured, it would be the ultimate thrill ride.

One reason why modern restrictor-plate racing is breathtaking on the one hand and crazy on the other is the drivers are all confident, with justification, that they will not be seriously injured. Almirola was right. Earnhardt wasn’t. Dillon bears little remorse. He did what it took to put No. 3 back in victory lane at Daytona.

“The last lap of the Daytona 500, you just don’t lift, actually the last couple laps,” Dillon said.

Racing requires great courage. It doesn’t require great sense. The culture has changed. A man does what it takes. He throws caution to the aero flow.

It’s not as scary as it used to be. Nor is it as risky. Millions of dollars were spent to make the cars safe after NASCAR lost its preeminent figure. They were worth it. The cars were vastly different. Most of what they had in common was a number. Three.

Both went to glory in their way.

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Photographs and Memories

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, February 17, 2018, 1:44 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

From 1993 through 2012, my home away from home was the NASCAR circuit. As the Daytona 500 thunders up on the horizon, it occurred to me that you might enjoy a few funny tales from those two decades of modern gypsiness.

On the NASCAR Media Tour, which used to lend itself more to gypsiness because the gypsies rode to many shops in buses, a unique visit was to Dale Earnhardt Inc., where most of the presentations were usually planned in advance and there were few opportunities for access to the principals that were anywhere close to, uh, close and and personal.

One year, the message circulated that Teresa Earnhardt, the enigmatic and mysterious queen of the palatial manor, would circulate among us. Sure enough, the Intimidator’s widow walked from table to table. The photo above shows yours truly, Jim Pedley of the Kansas City Star, and David Poole of the Charlotte Observer, warily observing Mrs. Earnhardt’s approach.

She walked up and asked me how the food was. I said, “Fine.”

This was the entirety of our media access.

Another time, on the Media Day at Daytona International Speedway that was a bit redundant given that the Media Tour had already occurred, a P.R. rep of Mrs. Earnhardt approached me breathlessly.

“In a few moments,” she said, whispering like unto a golf announcer, “Teresa Earnhardt will be here to make a very, very special announcement.”

She came close to panting and seemed to anticipate that I would hyperventilate.

“Here’s my guess, ma’am,” I said. “Mrs. Earnhardt will not be entertaining questions.”

“Uh, no.”

“Just run along now,” I said.

David Poole and I, posing for a photograph with Robert Earl Keen performing at Texas Motor Speedway behind us.

Poole, whose loss I mourn more than Dale Earnhardt’s, was famously combustible, but he could lower his voice on occasion and do a fair imitation of a loving God. Once Tony Stewart, who from time to time became rankled at having to deal with the media, was ranting about how, when he came to NASCAR, “I didn’t sign up for this.”

Poole listened patiently and then said, “Now, Tony, you can go back to those dirt tracks you love and spend the rest of your life racing there, but with all this wealth and power comes a certain responsibility.”

As luck would have it, the last time to date I chatted with Tony Stewart, someone — Jerry Jordan, I think — took a picture of it.

Tony, whose company I nonetheless enjoyed, was fond of beginning the answer to a question by asking, “To be honest?”

“No,” I said, “I’d prefer that you lie out of your ass any time anybody asks any question.”

That got a double-take, and a flash of his brown eyes turning black as coal, and then a grudging recognition that I had a valid point.

In May of last year, I returned to a NASCAR track for the first time in more than five years. Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer, paid a visit to the Charlotte Motor Speedway press box. I saw him when I went to refill my coffee cup, and he said, “It’s great to see you.”

“Thanks,” I said, “but don’t lie.”

He couldn’t keep a straight face. His laughter served the purpose of conceding the point.

From time to time, I’ll devote one of these blogs to yarns that demonstrate how much fun it can be to write about NASCAR for a living. Stay tuned.

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Out and About

Chase Elliott leads the field to the finish line to win Duel 2 at Daytona International Speedway. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, February 16, 2018, 8:22 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

Last night I was pleasantly surprised by the Can-Am Duel(s) in Daytona Beach. They were in Daytona Beach because there is no city in Florida merely named Daytona, but they were at Daytona because there is a speedway and an international one at that.

Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott, second-generation racers full of vitality and hope, won them. They merely set the lineup for the Daytona 500. No one was banished to NASCAR oblivion. All 40 of the racers made the race, and I thought they’d all race with the politeness and etiquette normally associated with, oh, croquet.

“Would you mind if I passed you to the inside, old chap?”

“Why, by all means, old sport. Good show!”

Ryan Blaney takes the checkered flag in Duel 1. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

I was wrong. They were jolly good shows. The heart of Tim Richmond and the spirit of Davey Allison still waft about in the sea breeze, apparently. These bright young stars haven’t had it home-schooled out of them.

Meanwhile, even as I pined for the invigorating sea air, I sat at home, nursing a cold, sneezing with little advance warning, cranking out bios of county hall of famers, and preparing to watch balls bounce with alarming regularity in two far-flung locales later today. Girls will bounce them in the afternoon, boys at night, and I’ll be typing away furiously as I try in vain to keep up. I’ll probably file the last of the copy and ship a few photos from the official late-night filing home of locally based journalists, McDonald’s, where the coffee is hot and the wi-fi reliable.

The batteries are charged, if not for the soul, then the camera, and once this ordeal is complete, I’ll be able to watch the racing in peace for the weekend.

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What Are They Supposed to Say?

Martin Truex Jr. speaks with the media during the Daytona 500 Media Day. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, February 15, 2018, 8:25 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

This morning I’m perusing the transcripts streaming out of Daytona Beach, Florida, in advance of the Can-Am Duel (that are really duels because they’re dual), and I feel some sympathy for the drivers fielding every question over and over, and occasionally trying to answer one of them a different way.

It’s not easy being on the other side, either. The season is nearly here but not quite. It’s the time when the guy from the Orlando talk-radio station goes booth to booth asking each driver what he thinks of the latest KFC commercials. Not one can afford to tell the truth — “Those infernal spots are the reason I wouldn’t eat KFC if I hadn’t had a bite to eat since the Saved by the Bell marathon started” — because KFC “invests in the sport,” if not the advance of civilization.

Bojangles likes them, though.

Trevor Bayne (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

It was amid such fluff, I’m guessing — I’m reading it while Lieutenant Columbo closes in — that remarks like this occurred.

“I think we’re going to be better than some teams we weren’t better than last year,” Trevor Bayne opined.

Some drivers opted to focus on their weaknesses, while others chose to enhance their strengths. A few thought rules changes would be more different than they were, while others surmised that they were definitely different, being changes and all.

Ty Dillon (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Ty Dillon is writing a blog, but his brother is opting for a podcast.

What is the “new NASCAR” like? “You’re living it, brother. It’s happening right now,” Ty said.

I was afraid of that. They’re just iRacing their way back to iYou.

May the Lord let them race lest I lose my religion.

Bear with me. It’ll get better.

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Silliness in the Lull

Brad Keselowski takes the checkered flag in the Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona International Speedway. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Tuesday, February 13, 2018, 11:30 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

The Advance Auto Parts Clash won’t be remembered for long without a quick glance at racing-reference.info. The name will only be remembered until the next time its name changes.

Only for the winner will it be more than a footnote. It was Brad Keselowski’s first visit to a Speedweeks victory lane.

Keselowski’s Ford started last and finished first.

“It means a lot,” he said. “I have never won anything here during Speedweeks, and I feel like I have choked them away to be quite honest. You need one to break through. Hopefully, this is our breakthrough.

“The cars are a handful. They are supposed to be. This is professional racing, and they are supposed to be hard to drive. This was no exception today. This is probably the hardest I have ever had to drive a car at Daytona, but I am not complaining.”

Now there is no reason to duel in the Can-Am Duel, which, even though they are two duels, won’t involve much of it. Any driver who destroys his car without mechanical or tire failure is going to feel mighty stupid, because nothing is riding on the outcome except track position at the start of the 500, and as Keselowski has already demonstrated, even that isn’t much of an obstacle.

Alex Bowman hardly looks like a showman here. (Photo by Harold Hinson for Chevy Racing)

The lull is on. The next track activity is Thursday. Writers and commentators are busying themselves coming up with silly nicknames that have little to do with reality. Alex Bowman doesn’t seem to be much of a showman. William Byron isn’t a Red. The bevy of young drivers who have converged to fill the sudden void left by retiring stars haven’t had a chance to show much personality yet.

But if the office says, “We need a story,” then a story shall there be.

Oh, for the times of the Silver Fox, the Intimidator, Banjo, Fireball, Gentleman Ned, and Handsome Harry.

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They Work Hard for Their Undisclosed Amount of Money

(Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, February 12, 2018, 10:08 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

The Winter Olympics is a passive source of interest for me. Since the Games started in PyeongChang, South Korea — it’s a county, not a city — they have basically served as background. I type away at this laptop, occasionally looking up when calm announcers become agitated, and that seldom happens when figure skaters are involved.

NASCAR is another matter. I watched most of the Advance Auto Parts Clash with intense curiosity, trying to derive some insight from observations on matters such as what’s going to happen in the Daytona 500.

Okay, okay, I nodded off during the early going, but when Jamie McMurray crashed, Darrell Waltrip awakened me with all the fervor of Foghorn Leghorn, and I prepared myself a mug of coffee. Front-row qualifying preceded the Clash, and it may have led, along with advancing age, to the yellow-flagging of my attentiveness.

Pole winner Alex Bowman (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Watching individual cars zipping around the high banks ranks right up there with curling, in my estimation. For some reason, the pole winner seems to be something of a surprise each year, and this year’s Cinderella was Alex Bowman, who now drives the No. 88 vacated by the heretofore Most Popular Driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr.

The Clash was no surprise. Brad Keselowski is a fine driver anywhere and a superb one in the high-speed Tetris of the high banks of Daytona Beach, where horsepower is limited in the interest of safeness and soundness.

Brad Keselowski (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

Keselowski managed to fit his cascading blocks into spaces that would contain them, but the Daytona 500 next Sunday will be a longer, more complicated Tetris exercise. So far, so good. Keselowski has won a championship but not the 500 … yet.

“I feel like I’ve choked the 500 away a couple times,” Keselowski admitted to the interested parties in the media center. “I felt like I had a shot at it in 2014 and just didn’t make the right move on the restart. Felt like we had a shot at it last year and got caught up in a wreck, and it was 2013, I was leading it, and we ran over a piece of debris, and just different things happened.

“Some our fault, some not. That’s how racing goes sometimes. You put yourself in position, and some things you can control, some things you can’t.”

Keselowski started last, the result of a random draw, which was well worth it as it prevented the slumber of yet another ponderous qualifying process. The shorter race still afforded plenty of time to work his way to the front, and Keselowski used his canny Tetris skills to keep all the pursuers at bay.

“I think, with a lap and a half to go, there was a mini‑run but not a big run. I can’t say I was entirely surprised,” he said. “When the cars are tough to handle, it’s tough to build runs. It’s tough to do things, and … it’s interesting. You would think, with the ride heights dropped down, that conventional wisdom says the cars would drive better, but, basically, it’s allowed everyone to trim the cars out so much for speed that then the handling goes away.

(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

“The cars are running faster. I was looking down while I was leading the race, and I ran a 40.50 (seconds), which is a 199‑mile‑an‑hour lap, leading the pack. Usually, when you see laps like that, that’s when you’re running like fifth or sixth and you time a run just right, not when you’re leading. I think that speaks to how fast the pace was, and when the pace gets really fast, handling becomes even more and more important because you’re putting more loads on the tires and so forth, and it’s an inverse of what the car has for aerodynamic grip with this package and the way you can trim the cars out.”

Discerning onlookers can thus surmise that the 500 will be more of the same, but with more money on the line — how much is now redacted by NASCAR since it made such information classified — more desperation will ensue. The Clash was simple. The 500 will be complex.

“You would think, when the cars drive worse, that the guys would wreck more, but the exact opposite happens,” Keselowski said. “Everybody loses confidence, and they fall in line, and they don’t make as risky of moves, and then they don’t wreck, which is, it seems, completely backwards and counterintuitive, for sure, but I think that’s what you saw (Sunday). I think the cars got to a spot where they couldn’t handle, and the drivers kind of fall in line, and so you see a less aggressive race, not a more aggressive race. And then, of course, you get less wrecks because the proximity is further apart.”

The Can-Am Duel, actually dual duels, will be run on Thursday because the schedule and TV listings say they will, but everyone in both races is going to make the 500, and anyone who crashes without a glitch of air pressure or mechanics is either going to be a fool or a Monster Energy drink fiend who didn’t get his pre-race fix. Everything is going to be fine because no track activity is scheduled until Thursday, so everyone can sleep in and be good and rested.

Things will pick up, though. They always do. They’ll show everyone but us the money.

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After the Advance Auto Parts Clash, I went live on Facebook to talk about the race and other mostly NASCAR related topics. Here’s the link.

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‘Oh, the Race is On and Here Comes Pride Up the Backstretch’

(arcaracing.com photo)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, February 11, 2018, 8:48 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

It all worked out perfectly by complete mistake.

I went over to Presbyterian College to see the basketball games. I went because I wanted to spend more time with some people I met Friday night. I felt a sense of obligation, even though there really wasn’t any. Furman was playing a big basketball game against Wofford on TV. The Paladins aren’t on TV often. A young woman named Natalie Decker was on the pole for the ARCA race in Daytona Beach.

What was I doing at Templeton Center, I thought, while watching Longwood win the women’s game, the first of two. I had some popcorn and a Diet Dr. Pepper, handed out a couple business cards, and snuck out in time to catch the Paladins and the Terriers early on Channel 62 and the lead-up to the ARCA race on 219.

When I turned on the game, Wofford led, 11-2. Uh, oh. I watched until it was 11-10. I flipped over to the race. When I turned back, the Paladins were magically pulling away. I watched, rather ecstatically, though in the privacy of my home, until it was 36-17. From there on out, each time I checked, Furman was leading by somewhere in the neighborhood of thirty points.

(arcaracing.com photo)

As a result, I watched a lot of ARCA, which stands for Automobile Racing Club of America. Though its history is long and proud, as a practical matter, it’s a Midwest-based stock car series that is notably diverse in the types of tracks where it holds races. ARCA races on dirt. ARCA races on road courses. ARCA races at Daytona. Lots of drivers have come through ARCA on the way to NASCAR and, for that matter, oblivion.

Plate racing is not the ARCA bailiwick. A flat half mile is more the standard fare. The visits to Daytona Beach and Talladega, Alabama, are usually either full of crashes or empty of excitement. What I first noticed was that the quality of the racing seemed unusually good. I understand there have been some rules changes in regards to the engines, and the chassis are now enclosed in composite bodies.

Everyone behaved early.

Natalie Decker (nataliedeckerinc.com photo)

Decker is 20 years old. She began in the inside line and steadfastly remained there. It was cautious, and caution was appropriate, but it didn’t benefit her as others moved up and down tactically. When placed in the outside line in subsequent restarts, she remained there, too. Cautious conservatism worked out reasonably well for the fetching rookie from Eagle River, Wisconsin, who finished fifth in a race that evolved into a Survivor episode of crashes, delays, flags (red and yellow), fruitless attempts at overtime finishes, and, as a natural consequence, a looming paucity of fuel.

A race that should have ended shortly after the Paladins polished off the Terriors (76-52) lasted roughly until nearby cows came home. By the time Fox Sports1 got around to one of those no-holds-barred wrestling/boxing hybrids that I don’t understand, the announcers looked as if they had imbibed at least as much coffee as I had. They often seem quite caffeinated, I’ve gathered.

Michael Self (venturiniracing.com photo)

Michael Self survived the race best, meaning, of course, that he won. To thine own Self was the race true.

Owing to attrition normally associated with Yugos in the mountains, many who faltered early prospered late. Two women, Decker and Leilani Munter, finished in the top 10. A personal milestone was that Andrew Belmont, who once assisted his father Andy in making sure my car would get back home from Pennsylvania, finished ninth.

Thirty-nine started, fifteen crashed out, eighteen were alleged to be running at the end, and a new season of stock car racing is off and running.

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Let Them Race and See What Happens

Drivers including Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Danica Patrick, and Clint Bowyer are involved in an incident during the 2017 Daytona 500. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, February 10, 2018, 9:39 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

The Daytona 500 is never predictable. Every time anything changes, some of it is unexpected. The first opportunity for insight is Sunday’s Advance Auto Parts Clash.

Pay close attention.

The good news is that racing on restrictor-plate tracks is wildly unpredictable. The odds suggest that someone who is adept at this specialized form of stock car racing will win. It is entirely possible, however, that an opportunity will present itself at just the right time, and a long shot will have enough sense to make the right move.

The bad news is that, almost every year, someone will do very well and then fade into obscurity.

Danica Patrick. (HHP/Rusty Jarrett photo for Chevrolet)

In 2013, Danica Patrick won the 500 pole. In my judgment, it was the only Cup race she ever realistically could have won. Instead, she finished eighth. Late in the race, she led the line in the draft that contained the driver, Jimmie Johnson, who won. Had she maintained that place, ahead of Johnson, she might have won. She dropped down, leaving Johnson to roar into victory lane. Had she held that place, she might have held on.

We’ll never now. When the time came to win the race, Patrick made the wrong move. She was third entering the final lap. When the time came to determine the outcome, Patrick made the wrong moves.

Something similar will happen to someone on February 18.

First things first. The Clash is a short race. My advice is to study it. Watch for signs that conditions have changed.

Fords dominated the four plate races — two each at Daytona at Talladega — last year. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won two of them. Everywhere else, with few exceptions, it was a Toyota year.

Ryan Newman, driving the racing version of the Camaro, during testing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Chevrolet is now racing a variant of the Camaro. What difference will that make? Will the Camaro give the Chevys a competitive advantage? Will it level the, uh, racing track (as opposed to the playing field)? Will it hit the track running? Will it take a while to seize the advantage? Will there be an advantage?

Hell, I’m no engineer. I can’t analyze data and make conclusions. I’m not going to pretend I can. I’m just going to wait and see, and then I’m going to realize that Daytona won’t have much to do with what follows, and I’m going to wait and see when I watch the Atlanta race.
I’m not going to claim I’m someone I’m not. I’m also not going to succumb to hype and propaganda.

I’m going to let them race and see what happens. I developed some observational skills in two decades watching from close proximity. Now I’ll be sitting in my living room ad paying attention from afar.

Unlike many, I’ve got enough sense to realize my limitations.

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There’s a Race on Sunday, No Kidding, Honest to Gosh

(Getty Images for NASCAR)

Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, February 8, 2018, 12:09 p.m.

At least the Advance Auto Parts Clash has an appropriate title.

By Monte Dutton

It’s entirely possible that auto parts will indeed clash in the tumult of a Daytona International Speedway draft. Back when it was Busch, the clash was more likely to be in the grandstands. Fans probably tweeted angrily during the Sprint Unlimited years and will continue to do so, auto parts be damned.

Drivers and teams have worked extensively trying to get better during the offseason. Though the Clash is an unofficial race, it’s the first test of what has been achieved.
Everyone in Daytona Beach is rearin’ to go. (The term comes from a horse rearing on its hind legs, champing at the proverbial bit, anxious to take off. “Rarin’ to go” is a misnomer so widely used that explanation is in order.)

Here in the once NASCAR-mad hinterland, it isn’t really an afterthought. It’s a before-thought.

I was out and about on Tuesday. Folks around here know I used to circle the NASCAR orbit. They often ask me what I think about it. It’s kind of the standard greeting from people who don’t have anything else to say. Like “hiya doin’?”

It’s unusual for a contest of cars equipped with deafening engines to be greeted by the sound of silence.

About the best I could get was, “Isn’t it about time for racing to start?” I couldn’t even draw a “who do you think is going to win the Clash?” Not even an “is there still such a thing as the Clash?” or a “whatever happened to the Clash?”

Personally, I’m excited. I’m ready for a race, any race. I just realized this morning that it’s Sunday afternoon on Fox Sports 1, with coverage beginning at 3 p.m. Front-row qualifying is before it (noon) on Fox. They’re excited in Daytona Beach, but unscientific polling suggests that word has not yet spread far and wide. What many people seem to be discussing is a private space launch held a couple days ago south of Daytona Beach.

Denny Hamlin (left, with Jimmie Johnson) won both the Clash and the 500 in 2016. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

Twenty drivers are eligible, but only 17 will compete because Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth and Danica Patrick retired. The field is thus Ryan Blaney, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Erik Jones, Kasey Kahne, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and Martin Truex Jr.

Eligibility is limited to 2017 pole winners, former Clash winners, former Daytona 500 pole winners still competing full-time and drivers who made the playoffs last year.

A year ago, the race was run on Sunday for the first time since 2006, but that was because of rain on Saturday night. This year it’s scheduled for Sunday afternoon. Perhaps that’s wise. The Clash can only look exciting in comparison to qualifying.

After Joey Logano won the Clash last year, his season went downhill. (John Clark photo)

A look at DirecTV’s crystal ball lists the chance of rain at 30 percent. The next five days are all between 20 and 40 percent. Unless a hurricane is approaching, Florida is a fairly simple call.

Joey Logano won it last year. He won later in the spring at Richmond, but the win was “encumbered,” a term so absurd that I read the other day NASCAR has eliminated it from the official vocabulary. NASCAR officials plan to come up with another affront to the language the next time a winning car is not on the up-and-up.

“Bogus” and “tainted” are long shots on the tote board.

You might want to read a book during qualifying. There’s still time to download one of mine here.

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It’s the ‘Superest’ Night of the Year

Ain’t that America? (Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, February 5, 2018, 10:39 a.m.

The 52nd Super Bowl – LII if you’re as overly formal as the National Football League is – is over, and as, in a memory that makes me more inclined to think of him as Keith Jackson recently died, it was a dandy.

By Monte Dutton

The Philadelphia Eagles defeated the New England Patriots fairly and squarely, 41-33, and a journeyman quarterback named Nick Foles outplayed the man popularly considered the best ever to hurl a spiral, Tom Brady, just as fairly and just as squarely.

In the parlance of journalism, this is what is known as a “man bites dog story.”

Foles is a backup quarterback, which aligns him with heroes of the past such as Gary Cuozzo, Zeke Bratkowski, Don Strock, Earl Morrall, Jeff Hostetler and his own head coach, Doug Pederson.

The Patriots have lost Super Bowls before, in 1986, 1997, 2008 and 2012. Brady and head coach Bill Belichick were only involved in two of them (three now). This was the first time the two lost to a team other than the New York Giants, a quarterback other than Eli Manning and a coach other than Tom Coughlin.

Men have bitten dogs before. Patriots have faltered. Eagles have flown.

Americans can get back to hating one another for their political beliefs, completing their income taxes, and complaining incessantly about both.

Now NASCAR can begin. Pitchers and catchers can report. Basketball and hockey can complete their seasons, and fans can take notice. The Winter Olympics lie immediately ahead, reportedly in a place called Pyeongchang, which is in South Korea, and not Pyongyang, which is in North Korea.

The host city is not a city at all. It’s a county. In 2013, its population was 43,666. As a means of comparison, Laurens County (i.e., here) is larger and warmer. Pyeongchang has the Winter Olympics. Laurens has Squealin’ on the Square.

The National Bird beat the Founding Militia. What could be more American than that?

Join me on Facebook Wednesday night for a concert in which I will respond to any questions you have about such pressing issues as music, NASCAR, other sports, and how you can help me pay my bills. For more information, click here.

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