The haulers have packed up from Daytona and the pothole jokes on Twitter started to dry up, so it’s time to pick out some winners and losers from the weekend. There were certainly no shortage of stories over a race weekend that featured a demolition derby in every series except Cup, the much bally-hooed debut of Danica Patrick, another last-lap pass in the Bud Shootout and dramatic Gatorade Duel qualifying races.
Jamie McMurray and the #1 team
The race winner of the Daytona 500 is going to have to take the pole on this. The win combined a team who lost their driver (Martin Truex) and a driver who lost their team (McMurray let go from Roush Racing), and what was most impressive was both sides’ futures looked unsure as recently as a few months ago. McMurray made perhaps the best deal of the race when he agreed to push the ridiculously fast Kevin Harvick on the 2nd to last restart. After Harvick tore open a hole between the Martin Truex’s 56 and Greg Biffle’s 16, McMurray followed him through and ended up lining up on the outside of the 29 when the next caution came out. The rest was history.
The five cars powered by Earnhardt-Childress Racing Technology engines occupied five of the top 11 spots. Obviously, something is being done right under the hood. ECR engines led a combined 80 laps in the race and also won it, so it’s probably fair to say that these powerplants are likely to challenge Hendrick for plate-track dominance this year.
The driver of the 29 Chevy clearly had a top-3 (if not the best) car in the field. He led the most laps, which is no easy feat on a plate track, especially during a race that saw a record number of different leaders. On top of that, Harvick proved several times he could come from back in the pack to lead, something several other lead cars seemed unable to do (see, Martin, Mark and Busch, Kurt). It seems like ages since Harvick has led the most laps (2006, actually), and without NASCAR’s mid-week rule change, he would have put another Daytona 500 trophy on the mantle, as he was leading when the caution came out during the first green-white-checkered.
Michael Waltrip Racing
A fifth and sixth place effort was a stout showing by the team, especially given the restructuring they went through during the offseason and the new 56 team for Truex. Had to be a little bittersweet for him, though, to see his former team run away with the victory.
Max Papis and Michael McDowell
Racing into the Daytona 500 when you don’t have a guaranteed starting spot is probably one of the most nerve-wracking moments of the year for drivers. Although neither of these guys had very good days in the 500 itself, making the race is still a lot more momentum to carry to California than DNQing.
My fantasy team
McMurray, Harvick, Allmendinger and Stewart. Not too shabby.
Everyone in the Nationwide race not named “Danica”
Don’t get me wrong; I’m happy to see Danica Patrick coming to a real racing series. I’d like to see how she matches up, and I’m never going to say no to increased press for NASCAR. And obviously, she’s a lot hotter than any current Cup driver (sorry, ladies, but facts are facts). However, the coverage was simply preposterous. The mid-race “race recap” wasn’t even a race recap…it was a Danica recap. I understand that she deserves some press; arguably Indy Car’s most well-known driver, it’s pretty big news to have her trying NASCAR. However, there were 42 other drivers in the race, and the commentators on ESPN completely stomped on them. It was like FOX’s Junior Nation coverage but 10 times worse.
NASCAR and DIS
Considering that the Daytona 500 is the marquee event in NASCAR, you really need to be on the top of your game. NASCAR was not. You don’t spend an hour and a half screwing around with a pothole only to have it break again 30 minutes later. I don’t understand why NASCAR treats its fans as if we won’t abandon it for anything. Imagine if the Superbowl had to be halted for an hour while the stadium was re-sodded? No one would stand for that. NASCAR should have been better prepared…this isn’t the first time a track broke. Instead, they hemorrhaged viewers to the Olympics while trying “multiple solutions” to the problem.
After a 1-2-3 qualifying effort, big things were expected from Hendrick Motorsports (well, not from me, but from everyone else). Unfortunately for the team, nothing materialized on raceday. Hendrick cars led few laps, and eventually fell back into the clutches of the pack and hung there for the remainder of the day, until Johnson broke down and Gordon wrecked. The lone bright spot was Earnhardt Jr, who made a last lap banzai pass to capture second place after riding around in the back all day. Watch the 88 closely the next few weeks; it’ll show whether the team is actually firing on all cylinders or just lucked into a good finish.
Once again proving that an “aw shucks” grin does not grant superspeedway skills, Edwards continued his streak of restrictor plate ineptitude in both the Nationwide and Cup race. On Saturday, he misjudged an opening for what feels like the 900th time and cleaned out half the pack in a massive accident. He went on to finish second. Sunday night, he made a 3-wide move too early into the final green-white-checkered restart, and ended up bottling up the bottom and middle lines, easily giving McMurray a chance to escape to the lead untouched and dropping Edwards from third to ninth in a lap.
ARCA, Nationwide and Truck Series owners
Between those three races, I think the drivers tore up 60 cars. That’s a lot of sheet metal, folks.