It was Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s night and everyone else was just driving for second—or in many cases just to finish the race.
With the pivotal win, Earnhardt not only came away with the elation of victory in NASCAR's equivalent of the Super Bowl, but also made it known that he will be a force to be reckoned with throughout the season.
That includes the Chase for the Sprint Cup because he's essentially already solidified a spot in NASCAR's playoff as he told Jeff Gluck of USA Today (via USA Today's Twitter account):
But on a wild night of racing, then raining, then more racing, Earnhardt's second Daytona 500 victory was hardly the only storyline to emerge.
Before the rest of the season gets underway, here's a look at the finishing order of the Great American Race and storylines to watch the rest of the season.
|1||Dale Earnhardt Jr.|
|6||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.|
|43||Martin Truex Jr.|
How Will Junior Respond?
Winning the Daytona 500 means that this season is already a successful one for Earnhardt, but it hardly meets the bar that he has set for himself this season.
As previously mentioned, Junior is looking for a points championship in his crew chief Steve Letarte's final year. Earnhardt spoke about his success last year and how Letarte leaving changed his outlook on this season, per Nate Ryan of USA Today:
At the end of last year, we felt like we were right on the cusp of winning races. We're turning the corner right at the right time. I got one last year with (Letarte), and we're going to make it something special.
With an entire season ahead of him and a sense of relief after already punching his ticket to the Chase, Junior could be eyeing a special season that his fans will remember for years to come.
As the most popular driver for 11 years running, Junior has a chance to draw in more fans to the sport after his showing at Daytona. And with his success early in the season, he certainly has a chance to debunk any ideas of him being an average driver in 2014.
Jimmie Johnson Looking to Make History
It's no secret that over the past eight years, every NASCAR driver has been attempting to mimic the success of Jimmie Johnson.
The man has won six championships during that time, eclipsing teammate Jeff Gordon and sitting just one win short of tying both Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. for the most in the sport with seven.
While some have come close to reaching the sport's highest honor along with Petty and Earnhardt, Johnson is on the cusp of brilliance, yet won't think about it this season. Jim Utter of the Charlotte Observer summed up Johnson's season and approach perfectly before the season started:
Jimmie Johnson is standing at the edge of NASCAR immortality.
There are those who hope he never takes the next step, leaving the sacred ground to Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt. There are those who think this is a mere resting point for Johnson, that he is embarked on a Sprint Cup Series journey to define success for decades.
And then there is Johnson’s approach to the 2014 season, beginning with Sunday’s Daytona 500 and the chance to join Petty and Earnhardt as the only drivers to win seven Cup titles.
Repeatedly in recent seasons, Johnson has said he is not interested in chasing history.
With his eyes set on getting through a tough season and simply making the Chase before thinking about winning back-to-back championships, Johnson appears to be taking the right approach.
With a top-five finish that came after running at the head of the pack for nearly the entire end of the race, Johnson is already on track for another great season. And with his teammates at the top of their game as well, he could wind up with three others helping him reach his goal during the Chase.
Search for Second Place
No, this isn't in reference to a second-place driver, but rather the No. 2 team in NASCAR in 2014.
If there was any question whether or not Hendrick Motorsports would maintain its successful run this season, it was quickly answered with three of its four drivers finishing inside the top five at Daytona.
But with a plethora of teams like Stewart-Haas Racing, Richard Childress Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing that want to take over the top spot in the points standings, it will be another tough year for the Hendrick team.
Kurt Busch, who's now with Stewart-Haas along with new teammate Kevin Harvick, admitted that his team has an interesting mesh of personalities, but believes they can contend with the other top teams throughout the season, according to a story fellow B/R writer Jerry Bonkowski wrote for NBC Sports:
It reminds me of when Kyle and I got together to run his car in the Nationwide Series. There was all the speculation that things were going to blow up and go haywire.
This season has so much potential to bring everything that we want to ourselves individually and to a team together. That’s what’s going to make this year special.
Who is the best team in NASCAR?
Stewart-Haas will also have to contend with Joe Gibbs for the top of the rankings. With a crew that includes Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth along with Busch's brother Kyle, Gibbs' team could very well have all three drivers in the Chase at the end.
The stage is set for any of these teams to overtake Hendrick throughout the season, but the battle will more than likely be for second place. Thanks to a loaded field of drivers and teams in the hunt, the battle for second could be just as intriguing as seeing if someone will supplant Hendrick at the top.
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