The Daytona 500 opened up NASCAR's Spring Cup Series in an exciting race on Sunday. Jimmie Johnson's victory highlighted the highly anticipated and entertaining race.
The race was an excellent opener and provided a great foundation for what should be an entertaining season of racing. Many top drivers were prevented from finishing as multiple wrecks stole the day. For those that were able to finish, some lived up to expectations while others either exceeded or fell below them.
Here are some of the drivers that definitely exceeded their pre-race expectations.
Danica Patrick became the first woman to lead a lap at the Daytona 500 and had the best ever finish by a woman. Finishing eighth is quite the accomplishment for Patrick, who is continuing to break down barriers in the sport. She was expected to do well, but she drove with the leaders throughout the race and could have finish even higher than eighth.
Patrick's success is a great sign going forward. She proved she is a force to be reckoned and is only going to get better with more races. Patrick will look to continue her momentum throughout the rest of the NASCAR season.
The reigning king of NASCAR is always expected to have success, but his recent performances at Daytona made this victory somewhat surprising. Since winning the race in 2006, his best performances came in 2008 and 2011 when he finished 27th.
For Johnson, it's a great start to the season. His incredible run of dominate racing seems likely to continue in 2013 and beyond. He's got a hold on the sport and the surprising victory at Daytona is just further proof.
Martin came close, but couldn't get his first win since 2009. The 54-year-old finished third in the race, but wasn't able to take down Jimmie Johnson. Martin's top-three finish came as a nice surprising for the aging vet. He will surely be disappointed to get so close to finally winning the Daytona 500, but his performance surely exceed expectations.
Always the class act, Martin had this so say about the race and his career (h/t NASCAR.com): "I've told you guys over and over again. I'm not bitter about the things I haven't accomplished. I'm pretty damn proud of the things I have. That's how I feel about it."
It would have been great to see Martin get the victory, but it's still nice to see him competing down the stretch. Hopefully he gets another shot to win the race next season.
Full Daytona 500 Results (NASCAR.com)
1. Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 - Chevrolet
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 - Chevrolet
3. Mark Martin, No. 55 - Toyota
4. Brad Keselowski, No. 2 - Ford
5. Ryan Newman, No. 39 - Chevrolet
6. Greg Biffle, No. 16 - Ford
7. Regan Smith, No. 51 - Chevrolet
8. Danica Patrick, No. 10 - Chevrolet
9. Michael McDowell, No. 98 - Ford
10. J.J. Yeley, No. 36 - Chevrolet
11. Clint Bowyer, No. 15 - Toyota
12. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., No. 17 - Ford
13. Aric Almirola, No. 43 – Ford
14. Denny Hamlin, No. 11 - Toyota
15. Bobby Labonte, No. 47 - Toyota
16. David Reutimann, No. 83 - Toyota
17. Dave Blaney, No. 7 - Chevrolet
18. Marcos Ambrose, No. 9 - Ford
19. Joey Logano, No. 22 - Ford
20. Jeff Gordon, No. 24 - Chevrolet
21. Paul Menard, No. 27 - Chevrolet
22. Michael Waltrip, No. 26 - Toyota
23. Scott Speed, No. 95 - Ford
24. Martin Truex Jr., No. 56 - Toyota
25. Travis Kvapil, No. 93 - Toyota
26. Terry Labonte, No. 32 - Ford
27. Trevor Bayne, No. 21 - Ford
28. Kurt Busch, No. 78 - Chevrolet
29. Casey Mears, No. 13 - Ford
30. Jeff Burton, No. 31 - Chevrolet
31. Austin Dillon, No. 33 - Chevrolet
32. Jamie McMurray, No. 1 - Chevrolet
33. Carl Edwards, No. 99 - Ford
34. Kyle Busch, No. 18 - Toyota
35. David Ragan, No. 34 - Ford
36. Kasey Kahne, No. 5 - Chevrolet
37. Matt Kenseth, No. 20 - Toyota
38. David Gilliland, No. 38 - Ford
39. Juan Pablo Montoya, No. 42 - Chevrolet
40. Josh Wise, No. 35 - Ford
41. Tony Stewart, No. 14 - Chevrolet
42. Kevin Harvick, No. 29 - Chevrolet
43. Joe Nemechek, No. 87 - Toyota