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By PETE YOUNG, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 23, 2003


We sat through warm rain, then blustery rain, then chilled rain at Daytona International Speedway.

We waited through one delay, then another as darkened skies encroached last Sunday on The Great American Race.

Our reward: The best Daytona 272 1/2 in history.

Of course, it was the only 272 1/2 in history, the third time the race failed to go the distance. It was stopped because of rain (understandable), and a winner was declared (not understandable).

Bad, bad call. This isn't the Mom and Pop 200 at Humpty Dumpty Speedway, this is the Freakin' Daytona 500.

Sure, it's a logistical nightmare to bring everyone back the next day, but why not try? Credibility is undermined when a championship contest is deemed complete without actually having been completed.

For NASCAR races that never take the green flag because of bad weather, they come back the next day for another go. That same contingency should have been enacted to properly finish the Daytona 500.

Monday would have been ideal: A snowstorm blanketed the East Coast, providing a captive audience, and it was President's Day, so many fans could have stuck around.

Only one of our foursome could have returned Monday, but that's not the point. The issue is the integrity of the event, and it absorbed a blow.


True story: In the stands at the Final Four in the Georgia Dome last year, between games, a couple of Kentucky fans struck up a conversation.

Their beloved Wildcats were in the doldrums, they agreed. They needed a new coach, they agreed.

Never mind that coach Tubby Smith's record at Kentucky, compiled against a perennially brutal schedule, was 132-43, better than 75 percent. Never mind that UK's NCAA Tournament loss had come against soon-to-be national champion Maryland.

Never mind Smith's national title in 1998, his sensational 26-7 record in March and three SEC tournament titles in five seasons. The dummy duo was resolute -- he wasn't getting it done.

The pathetic part is, they were far from alone. There were rumblings across the Bluegrass State that Smith, the storied program's first African-American coach, should be replaced.

We should all hope to be so bad. This season Smith's No. 2-ranked Wildcats are 21-3 and have won 15 straight games -- all without a superstar.

They are succeeding because they have bought into Smith's system completely. Which is no surprise, since he won more than 70 percent of his games at Georgia after making consecutive Sweet 16s at Tulsa.

Smith again is proving to be one of the nation's best coaches, whether or not some fans realize it.

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