Ryan Newman, David Ragan & 10 Unheralded Driver Who Impressed in the Daytona 500
The Daytona 500 has come and gone, and what a race it was. History was made with on many fronts. Trevor Bayne became the youngest Daytona 500 champion of all time, and the record book was rewritten in terms of cautions, leaders, and lead changes.
There were also numerous drivers who had solid runs that get a little overlooked, based on all the other events of the day. In no particular order, I am going to take a look at 10 drivers that had a good showing in the Great American Race.
1. Ryan Newman
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Ryan Newman unofficially sits 22nd in the final running order, but he certainly had a day that should have ended in a top 10. Newman led 37 laps, which was the most of anyone in the event. He was the leader with less than 10 laps to go while being pushed by Denny Hamlin, reminiscent of the end of the Bud Shootout.
After getting shuffled back, Newman was then collected in the races final caution. When Robby Gordon lost control of his car and then saved it, drivers were jockeying for position to get around him. As a result, Newman got into the wall and basically ended his day.
Other than his win in the Daytona 500 in 2008, Daytona, and restrictor plate racing as a whole, has not been kind to Newman. But his run today showed that he is quite capable of running at the front.
2. David Ragan
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David Ragan was seemingly within a heartbeat of winning the Daytona 500. When the caution came out on lap 197, Ragan and Trevor Bayne had just taken the lead and were quite content to work with each other.
On the ensuing restart, Ragan changed lanes prior to crossing the start finish line in an attempt to link back up with Bayne. The move is a violation, and thus forced NASCAR to black flag Ragan.
He recovered for a 14th finish, but was left wondering what could have been. On the day, he led twice for seven laps and was predominantly a driver that pushed other cars toward the front.
Restrictor plate racing has always been Ragan's strength, and he proved that one more time with a solid run at Daytona that ended in heartbreak.
3. David Gilliland
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David Gilliland had a day that could best be described as "where did he come from?" Gilliland started the day way out back in the 39th position and never put himself into contention until the final laps of the race.
In a race that was marred by a record breaking 16 caution flags, Gilliland was able to avoid all the trouble and put himself in position for an amazing fight to the finish. On the final lap, Gilliland was able to push Carl Edwards right to the back bumper of leader Trevor Bayne.
After Edwards' attempt to get underneath Bayne failed, Gilliland tried to get to the outside of both. His efforts came up just a little bit short, as he missed passing Edwards for the runner up spot by a bumper.
Regardless, Gilliland was able to score just his third career top five finish, and he gave Front Row Motorsports one of its better runs in team history. Gilliland proved that sometimes at Daytona, just keeping your car in one piece is all it takes to have a shot at winning.
4. Regan Smith
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If there was one driver who deserved to win the Daytona 500 as much as Trevor Bayne, it was certainly Regan Smith. All week, Smith had one of the fastest cars and was able to push any driver that he got behind, to the lead.
Smith and Kurt Busch worked together for most of the day and were one of the premier two car tandems for the entire event. On lap 197, while running in the top five, Smith got turned around when Busch got in the bumper from behind by Tony Stewart.
Fortunately for the young Furniture Row driver, he sustained minimal damage and was able to continue on, on the lead lap.
He wound up finishing in the seventh spot, which was not only a career best finish, but also his first ever top 10 finish, in his fifth season in the series.
For the day, Smith led twice for a total of seven laps but was even more impressive in his role as wing man for Kurt Busch. Busch led 10 different times for 19 laps, and most of those came as a result of Smith pushing him to the front.
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What a great sight it was to see Bobby Labonte running near the front of the pack again. The former 2000 Sprint Cup Series champion finished fourth in his first race, driving the No. 47 Toyota. It was his first top five finish since the third race of the 2009 season and his best finish since late in the 2006 season.
Labonte led two laps in the day very early in the event. After that, he was another that just sort of hung around and was able to avoid all the trouble that was going on around him. Then at the end of the day, there he was, right in contention.
As the field made what would be its last restart, Labonte gave eventual winner Trevor Bayne a great push to be able to break away from the pack for about half a lap.
Labonte ended up being forced to make his attempt at passing Bayne a little sooner than he would have liked. But with the speed that Carl Edwards and David Gilliland were approaching at, he had no choice but to pull out of line and try and make something happen.
In the end, the move didn't work, and Labonte had to settle for a fourth place finish, but I think that with the struggles he has had over the last few seasons, he is more than happy with the result.
6. Paul Menard
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Paul Menard was making his first start for Richard Childress Racing, and you have to believe that the boss came away impressed with what he saw. Menard was a strong car all day long.
He led on four different occasions for a total of 11 laps and was also instrumental in getting both his teammate Clint Bowyer, as well as Tony Stewart up to the front of the pack.
Menard's ninth place run was his first Daytona 500 top 10 and was his best career finish at the track in eight starts. For much of the race, Menard seemed to be one of the stronger cars on track, as he was having no problems regardless of whether he was first or second in line in the two car tandems.
In the end, a ninth place effort was a solid way to open up his Richard Childress Racing career.
7. Mark Martin
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Mark Martin may be the driver that had to fight the hardest to earn the finish that he got. Martin ended the day in the 10th position, but it could have been a lot worse.
The 52-year-old Martin showed strength right from the drop of the green flag. He immediately hooked up with AJ Allmendinger, and the two of them had fought from their 15th and 17th place starting spots all the way to the lead by lap nine.
Then after a round of pit stops put him back in the middle of the pack, he got caught up in the big one at lap 29. It appeared that he sustained minor damages, but it was enough to keep him off track for three laps.
Then Martin was fortunate enough to be the only car down any laps, so when cautions flew, he was the beneficiary of the lucky dog. Eventually, he got in position to get all three of his laps when the caution flew yet again on lap 134.
Back on the lead lap, Martin again showed strength by pushing Kurt Busch all the way into the lead. He got as high up as fourth when the green flag waved for the final restart at lap 206. However, Tony Stewart had trouble getting up to speed in the outside line, which sent Martin backwards.
While Martin remains winless in 27 Daytona 500 starts, after the lap 29 incident, I think if you would have told him he could still get a top 10 finish, he would have gladly taken it.
8. Robby Gordon
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While some would argue that Robby Gordon was responsible for the accident that claimed both Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Ryan Newman, there is no denying that from the midway point of the race on, Gordon was a contender for the win.
Gordon started back in the 30th position and was able to avoid all of the early incidents. Then by halfway, he found himself right in the thick of the lead pack. With a push from who else, Trevor Bayne, Gordon was able to take the lead on lap 96.
He stayed at the front most of the rest of the afternoon. Overall, he led twice for seven laps. He and Bobby Labonte teamed up late in the race and were able to catch the lead group as their were inside 10 laps to go.
The final caution came out when Gordon got loose and attempted to save it. When cars tried to avoid him as he came back on track, a pileup ensued, and Earnhardt and Newman were both victims. Gordon's car also had to make repairs, and he was able to come home in 17th place, but for quite a while, he was a real threat to win it all.
9. Terry Labonte
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Terry Labonte, making what is supposed to be his only start for Frank Stoddard's start up No. 32 team, was able to come home with a very respectable 15th place finish for a team that only formed a few weeks earlier.
The 1984 and 1996 Sprint Cup champion started last on the field, having to use his champions provisional just to get in to the race. Once the race started, Labonte was another driver that was just able to stay out of trouble and make his way to the front.
Labonte led one time for two laps. It was the first time he had led a lap in the Daytona 500 since 2004. Though he led just the one time, there were numerous other times where he came close, bringing his car into the top 10.
In the end, he had to settle for 15th, but for a team that hadn't even formed a month ago, that is a pretty solid way to start things off.
10. Dave Blaney
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In a day that was filled with feel good stories, for much of the race, Dave Blaney was in position to be another one of them. Ultimately, the driver of Tommy Baldwin's No. 36 finished 26th after being involved in the lap 197 incident that involved Regan Smith, Denny Hamlin and Clint Bowyer.
Prior to that, Blaney had found himself inside the top 10 numerous times. He was able to lead the race one time for a total of three laps. He also earned himself quite a bit of exposure when he and Dale Earnhardt Jr. linked up and began making their way to the front.
Blaney was actually the slowest car to make it into the race on speed. Having not been able to race his way in, Blaney was forced to fall back on his qualifying time, which was fifth fastest of all the go or go homers.
Once in the race, though, Blaney proved to be just as strong as anyone else. While the day ended 10 laps before they would have liked, Blaney and the team can at least take confidence in knowing that they had a strong showing and are a group that's capable of turning in some good runs.