I love this time of year. After catching a little bit of Cup/Shootout practice this afternoon, I started thinking about some of my favorite Daytona moments. Oddly, the first that came to mind was one that escapes the memories of most. Perhaps it’s because it’s difficult to remember a lot of races, especially a qualifying race. Or perhaps it’s because you would have to be a John Andretti fan (such as myself) to remember it. Regardless, this was an exciting moment, the proof of which is evident in Darrell Waltrip’s voice (Larry MacReynolds always seemed to give props to John, but that was pretty rare for Waltrip).
For those less familiar than others, the few seasons prior to 2008 had not been kind to John Andretti. After many years driving the famous #43 for Petty Enterprises (and many years in Indycar prior to that), he was released and found himself floating around as a free agent. He drove a few races for Dale Earnhardt Inc and a few other teams before landing a Busch Series (now Nationwide Series) ride with PPC Racing in 2006, where he finished 12th in points. Early in 2007, after only one race, his deal fell apart and John was without a ride once again. He managed to keep himself busy driving selected Cup races for Front Row Motorsports, Petty Enterprises and BAM Racing. The highlight of the year was when John landed a ride replacing Jay Howard for Roth Racing, making his first Indianapolis 500 start in 13 years.
Coming into 2008, John Andretti had agreed to drive for Bob Jenkins at Front Row Motorsports in an effort to help take the struggling team to the next level. The team operated on a comparatively tiny budget for the series and expectations were not high that they would even make the race at Daytona, let alone perform competitively. Though mechanical problems would relegate the team to a 40th place finish that Sunday, they were otherwise competitive. The highlight of the week though, was the last lap of the second Gatorade Duel qualifying race, when John Andretti passed four cars on the last lap to race his way into the field.