Daytona: The Land Of Opportunity for Several Underdogs

Charles AllenCorrespondent IJuly 4, 2010

FORT WORTH, TX - NOVEMBER 07:  Mike Bliss, driver of the #11 Ridemakerz Toyota, stands on pit road prior to the start of during the NASCAR Nationwide Series O'Reilly Challenge at Texas Motor Speedway on November 7, 2009 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)
John Harrelson/Getty Images

The unpredictability of NASCAR racing has always been there. Nobody ever knows beforehand how the event will play out. The fastest car doesn't always win, and sometimes luck plays the biggest role in the final results.

At the Coke Zero 400 on Saturday night, there were some twists and turns. Many top contenders were left frustrated, and in true Daytona fashion, there were some feel good stories as well.

Large packs of cars racing inches apart at 190 miles per hour for hours on end can lead to some intense action, especially if one driver messes up ever so slightly. A single car incident can take out literally dozens of innocent bystanders, and hundreds of hours of work can be wasted in the blink of an eye.

There has always been the debate over racing hard the entire event, or riding around in the back of the field to avoid such mishaps and luck into a good finish. Both methods of racing paid off in the race this week.

Cars driven by Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton, Kurt Busch, and others showed their power throughout the evening, running up front and staying ahead of the action. They had the cars capable of pacing the field, and got plenty of camera time for their multimillion dollar sponsors.

For others, riding around for most of the night and keeping their race vehicles in one piece was the plan. These are the drivers who have smaller budgets, and taking unnecessary risks could lead to disaster for their programs. They have to run their equipment to its ability and hope for some good fortune along the way.

Throughout the evening, drivers like Mike Bliss, Kevin Conway, and Steve Park drove with very little fanfare. The less eventful the event, the better in their cases. These are drivers who took different paths to get to where they are in their careers, and all three were able to take advantage of the opportunities given to them on this night.

In Conway, you have a rookie driver who was able to secure sponsorship, and was able to sign on with Front Row Motorsports in spite of his limited experience. His season has been more about learning than good finishes, and he has done a good job given his circumstances.

In Bliss, you have the veteran driver who has tasted NASCAR success, but never been able to break through on the grandest stage, the Sprint Cup Series. He was given a one race deal to pilot the TRG Motorsports car recently vacated by Bobby Labonte after several frustrating start and park races due to lack of funds.

Perhaps the most heartwarming story of the night goes to Steve Park. At one time one of the rising stars of the sport, he was dealt serious blows that had left him on the sidelines with seemingly no chance to get back in the game.

Park was on the fast track to success, driving for one of the most high profile teams in the sport and seemingly had nowhere to go but up. A series of terrible accidents left most experts thinking that he was damaged goods. While getting offers to race in lower-tier series, Steve Park still believed in his abilities. He just needed a chance.

When underdog team Tommy Baldwin Racing announced that Park would drive for them in Daytona, very few people even noticed. This would be one of the first cars out of the race, and Steve Park would again be forgotten. As they say, this is why we run the races.

While running well off the pace set by the leaders, but staying out of trouble, these drivers positioned themselves for something they all needed: a respectable finish in one of the sports most important races.

After a huge accident took out the majority of contenders, the underdogs were faced with the reality that they could make their presence felt, and all three took full advantage, with Bliss finishing ninth, Park 13th, and Conway with a career best 14th place finish. To these three drivers, this was as good as a win.

As we celebrate our freedom this Fourth of July weekend, we were given a reminder of what our country is all about. The land of opportunity, and knowing that with hard work, determination, and believing in ourselves, the little guy can still play a big role in our world.