- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 17, 2004

None of the favored story lines played out in this year’s Daytona 200-mile motorcycle race.

Brothers Ben and Eric Bostrom did not contest the main event down to the wire on different brands of bike, nor did Miguel Duhamel win his fifth 200 to rival Scott Russell as unofficial Mr. Daytona.

Even World Superbike champ Ducati did not break from its pole position to finally win the big one at the Mecca of motorcycling. The big story, the news-topper the experts anticipated, simply didn’t happen.

Yet one of these scenarios simply had to work, if one believed the prerace hype (and even the color commentary once well underway).

What happened instead was pretty mundane, for the most mundane of reasons.

Last year’s winner, Mat Mladin, won again going away, much to the displeasure of the know-it-alls in the booth and in the paddocks; and he did it by not pushing it and managing his tires and pit stops better than anyone else.

Neither that nor the taciturn Mr. Mladin may be hot front-page stuff but they once again had the stuff of victory at Daytona, a very long race that demands unequaled endurance from man and machine.

Mr. Mladin told enthusiasts at AMAsuperbike.com that the pre-Daytona skinny had him under the radar all week, with TV color man Dave Sadowski saying that it was impossible to win with three pit stops — precisely what Mr. Mladin’s crack Suzuki team said they planned to do. Their brain trust had calculated well in advance of the race that an extra 20-second pit stop for a late set of fresh tires would allow Mr. Mladin to gain 30 ticks over 10 well-raced closing laps, leaving his two-stop rivals finishing the race on slippery rubber. As it happened that is exactly what happened to Mr. Duhamel and the rest, with the exception that Mr. Mladin’s crew managed even faster pit stops than he had hoped for.

With virgin tires and only one more stop to go Mr. Mladin found himself being seriously challenged only by Eric Bostrom on the Ducati pole-sitter — the only other leader to plan for three stops. Soon however, a fabled Daytona curse held true as the Ducati punctured an oil cooler, proving to Mr. Mladin’s mind that it takes more than a fast rider to win Daytona. After the final tire change in a torrid 10 seconds, the Suzuki rider won by a whopping seven seconds.

In the end, the traveling media experts were trumped by the fans up in the Keech section where every nuance peculiar to racing at Daytona is known and debated during the 57-lap race. The wily locals liked Mr. Mladin’s chances and duly noted afterward that this had been the quickest Daytona ever, even with three pit stops and no best lap times going to Mr. Mladin.

After the race the winner took offense at the media implying that he may have “gotten lucky,” noting that only the fans had given the two-time Daytona winner much of a chance. He bristled further at suggestions that he was not being emotional enough about winning Daytona, saying he simply wanted to keep his focus, knowing this was just the first of 18 AMA Superbike races.

Perhaps next time Mr. Mladin will spend the post-race cool-down with the savvy souls up in Keech.

The experts didn’t fare much better in the other prime-time races, but the racing was equally compelling. In the year’s first Supersport (600 cc) series race, Jason DiSalvo edged brothers Roger Lee Hayden and Tommy Hayden by the narrowest of margins (.033 seconds).

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