by Ryan Isley
When the checkered flag was finally dropped on the 54th running of the Daytona 500 almost 36 hours after it was originally supposed to go green, it was Matt Kenseth standing in victory lane with the Harley J. Earl trophy as the champion. While Kenseth was officially the winner, there was a driver who didn’t get a post-race interview who also should walk away feeling like he won something this weekend – Dave Blaney.
Blaney is a 49-year-old from Hartford Township, Ohio in Trumbull County, where he also owns Sharon Speedway. Blaney had run in 398 races over 15 seasons in the NASCAR Sprint Cup before the 2012 Daytona 500. In 2011, Blaney ran in 35 races and finished 32nd in points, which would guarantee him a spot in the first five races of 2012.
Or it should have, anyway.
When Tommy Baldwin Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing formed a partnership to allow Danica Patrick to run 10 races in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2012, they did so at the expense of Blaney. They took Blaney’s points from 2011 that locked the No.36 car into the Daytona 500 and transferred them to the No.10 of Patrick so that she would get into the Daytona 500 no matter what happened during pole qualifying or the Gatorade Duels.
By giving those points to Patrick – who had never competed in a Sprint Cup race before – it meant Blaney would have to earn his way into the Daytona 500. Had Tommy Baldwin Racing given the points to Blaney for this year’s Daytona 500, Danica Patrick would have been watching the Daytona 500 on television. She would not have been one of the top three cars on speed in qualifying and then she crashed in Gatorade Duel No.1.
Blaney being a winner at Daytona had nothing to do with the fact that he had a chance to win the race when he led with 40 laps remaining and the race under a red flag after Juan Pablo Montoya caused a huge fire in turn 3. Had they not gotten the race restarted, Blaney would have won the Daytona 500. As it was, he finished 15th.
He was a winner because he reacted like very few of us would have when given the news that he would now have to race his way into the Daytona 500. When most would have been upset with their team owner for pulling the rug out from under them, Blaney did the exact opposite and took the high road.
Instead of complaining about what happened to him, Blaney said that he understood why they would bring Patrick into the fold this season at Tommy Baldwin Racing:
“I think having her on the team is a good thing for Tommy Baldwin. He’s trying to put together everything this year to help us in the long run, the big picture, and I think he has.”
How many people would have been that forgiving and understanding? I assume the answer to that would be ‘not many’ and I would be one that would have had a different reaction. This is a driver who has raced in the series for 15 seasons and earned his spot in the Daytona 500 through the effort he put in last season and now the fruits of that labor were being stripped from him. He had every right to be upset.
Instead, Blaney did what he has been doing his entire life – he raced.
When he couldn’t guarantee his spot in the Daytona 500 by being one of the top three cars of the cars who weren’t already locked in during pole qualifying, Blaney set his sights on his Gatorade Duel the Thursday before the Daytona 500. He knew he would have to finish in the top two of his race among the drivers who were not already locked into the Great American Race.
Blaney finished 12th in Gatorade Duel No.2, which locked him into his 12th Daytona 500. Putting everything behind him and earning his way into a field that he should have already been in to begin with shows a lot about Blaney and his character.
So Dave Blaney did win in Daytona, he just didn’t win the race. What he won was my respect – and he should have won yours as well.