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February 21, 2003

by Bill Hogan


It ain't over 'till the fat lady sings. Or in Yogi's case, it ain't over 'till it's over. Either way, it seems to me that the Daytona 500 ain't over. No Yogi, no fat lady, no real winner to claim the 45th championship trophy at NASCAR's premier event.

I don't count myself among the millions of NASCAR fans nation wide, but the Daytona 500 is the Super Bowl of NASCAR, so naturally I was interested in the outcome. Too bad there was no legitimate outcome. And it's a good thing this race was broadcast on FOX and not on Pay-Per-View.


Michael Waltrip was "declared" the winner after 109 laps. For those of you who know less about NASCAR than I do, the 500 in Daytona 500 is the distance of the race in miles. 200 laps around a two-and-a-half mile track. Race officials decided that after 272 miles – and storm clouds on the horizon – they had seen enough to declare a winner.

When the race officially ended, 33 of the 43 cars on the track were on lap 109; so it would seem fair to say that 77 percent of the field was in striking distance of Waltrip. In other words, there's no way anyone will ever know for sure who the 2003 Daytona 500 Champion would have been.

I can't figure out a single reason why the race could not have been completed on Monday. After all, where else did these guys have to be that was more important than winning the Daytona 500? I don't think they would have had a problem filling the stands with spectators and I'm sure FOX Sports would have found a way to squeeze in the bonus coverage.

NASCAR is a billion dollar business and the drivers weren't racing for peanuts. Waltrip earned 1.3 million dollars – that's almost five grand per mile. Runner-up Kurt Busch earned a little over a million but lost out on the opportunity to put Daytona 500 Champion at the top of his resume.

Ninth place finisher Mike Wallace earned a mere $215,401 and he was only a flat tire or blown gasket out of the lead when the race was halted. Dale Earnhardt Jr. completed 108 laps, finished 36th and collected $215,976. NASCAR's distribution of prize money is harder to figure out than college football's BCS rankings. How does it come to be that Junior received $575 more than Wallace?

I guess if I could figure that out, I might be able to understand why they concluded this race just past the halfway point.

The Daytona 500 has been rain-shortened twice before, in 1965 and 1966, so you'd think by now – with all that's at stake – they would have come up with some sort of contingency plan to better determine the rightful winner.

I just can't imagine this happening in any other sport. Bud Selig caught hell for ending last year's all-star game in a tie – and that was just an exhibition. There'd be no place for him to hide in the free world if he ever called a World Series game after five innings.

Last year, the Angels were down 5-0 in the seventh inning of game six. The Giants were a thunder storm away from being the reigning World Champions.

Seven times the wrong team would have been dubbed Super Bowl Champion had – for whatever reason – football's biggest game been halted at halftime. The Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants twice came back from halftime deficits to claim the Lombardi Trophy. (Dallas, Washington and Baltimore were the other beneficiaries of playing the game until the final whistle blows).

Had The Bachelorette ended a couple of episodes early, Charlie would have been the odds on favorite to win the hand of the lovely Trista. Perhaps a couple of sappy, last-minute love poems helped Ryan pull out the finale upset.

But there would be no way for Jeff Gordon to make up a half lap over the last 228 miles? No chance Waltrip starts leaking oil in lap 498? Don't stock cars occasionally experience a fender-bender?

Waltrip says he would have won the race anyway. I say prove it. Go back down to Daytona and re-start your engines. And this time, keep going until the checker flag determines the 2003 Champion.

There's no way that race should have ended with the fat lady still sitting in her dressing room.


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