It's Monday and that can only mean one thing; a Daytona 500 champion has been crowned. After four hours of drafting, bumping, and missing wrecks by inches, Matt Kenseth emerged on top after rain ended the race early.
For Kenseth, it was an emotional and long overdue win—after going winless in the 2008 season. Many drivers left upset, some uncertain about the future, and others happy to get to the next race.
As the haulers and teams get ready for the trek to California this week, it's time to take a look back at some of the outcomes from the Great American Race.
Come on, did anyone actually think that any Petty Motorsports driver would be a contender for any race this year? With a lineup of A.J. Allmendinger, Elliott Sadler, Reed Sorenson and Kasey Kahne, many critics had already written off the newly merged team (myself included). But if last night's race was any indication of the rest of the season, this team could be a dark horse. Three out of the four drivers finished in the top-10.
AJ Allmendinger finished third in his first 500, with a car that had to race its way into the 500 last Thursday. Not a bad debut. Elliott Sadler, who was nearly booted from his #19 ride in favor of Allmendinger during the off-season, surged to the front and led near the closing laps of the race, finishing fifth. Reed Sorenson made the right moves at the right times and helped his teammates stay up front, finishing ninth. Kasey Kahne was the only dark spot on Petty Motorsports' day, finishing 29th (this sounds too familiar for Kahne).
If Petty Motorsports' drivers can keep level heads throughout the season, we could have some surprise drivers in the hunt for the chase.
Scott Riggs' task was simple last Thursday at the Gatorade Duals: race his un-sponsored Toyota Camry into the 500. With an eighth place finish in the first dual race, Riggs secured his spot. Sunday's mission had the same implications; get a good finish in the 500 and keep the car in one piece.
After 200 laps Riggs had managed to get a respectable 25th place finish for the newly formed Tommy Baldwin Racing. With a team of volunteer mechanics, and an owner who doubles as crew chief, the team overcame the odds and helped continue this underdog story. The team can also boast over beating top-funded drivers such as Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, and Kyle Busch. The underdog journey will continue at California as Red Bank Outfitter's will once again sponsor the underfunded, scrappy Tommy Baldwin Racing.
For all those Junior fans out there, this is not the slide you want to read after yesterday's race. But after repeated reviews and analysis of the footage from last night's crash, this writer has come to one, simple conclusion: both Brian Vickers and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are at fault for the big one. Both driver's are claiming innocence, and saying the other caused the wreck, but the proof is in the pudding.
The mayhem all started at lap 100, when the race was made official. With impending weather looming, all driver's started making their moves to the front. Dale Jr. had troubles all day and was finally making his way back up front. Brian Vickers was a lap down, and staying near the leader so he could receive the lucky dog award.
While Vickers did in fact block Earnhardt Jr. on the backstretch from improving his position, Junior pushed the envelope and kept on the gas instead of letting off. There was no one behind Junior and letting off would have saved a lot of innocent victims. The NASCAR rule book even says, if a driver is forced below the yellow line, they must blend in back in line and not improve his position. Sure didn't look like that was blending in.
If Vickers had not blocked Junior, none of this would have happened, but we could see the beginning of a beautiful conflict that NASCAR needs so desperately.
Would you like some sliced bread with that mangled sheet metal? Joey Lagano is breathing a sigh of relief. Why? Because Speedweeks is over and the team is moving on to California. What was supposed to be the beginning of the next great thing, quickly turned into fans and supporters scratching their heads and wondering if Lagano's wrecked race car was a prelude to the rest of the 18-year-old's season.
True, Lagano has impressed in the lower series' that shadow the Sprint Cup Series, but this isn't a series to "hone" your skills in. A key example of this was another highly publicized driver named Casey Atwood. Dubbed "The Next Jeff Gordon" in 2001, Atwood was brought in to drive one of Ray Evernham's cars to compete in NASCAR. Unfortunately, Atwood fizzled quickly and was released from his ride in 2002.
Now, I know that comparing Joey Lagano to Casey Atwood is going way out into left field, but this rookie is not ready for the big time. Lagano was brought in a year before he was supposed to, after Tony Stewart left JGR for ownership. Another year in the Nationwide Series and Lagano would be fine for the 2010 season. I truly hope Joey Lagano proves many people wrong, including myself.
Before I begin, I do not want to take anything away from Matt Kenseth and his win last night. But what is the point of having lights at a track if you can't wait out a storm? By canceling the rest of the laps last night, NASCAR deflated eager fans' chances of seeing a great finish. I can promise you, everyone would have been happy had the race ended under green.
NASCAR needs to take a look at this situation. They have the equipment needed to dry the track in a timely fashion and the facilities to finish a race. It is a slap in the face to the fans when a race is shortened. The fans should be refunded in some way for NASCAR deciding to cut a race short. A partial refund or even tickets to a Truck Series or Nationwide Series race could be given as a peace maker. Whatever the case, shortened races gives NASCAR a bad name.