Daytona 500 2011: 10 Lessons We Learned in the Great American Race
What a finish, huh?
Trevor Bayne became the surprise winner of yesterday's Daytona 500, adding to a proud tradition of part-time drivers to win the Great American Race. At the same time, he also became just the second driver in the Modern Era to win in his second career start. The other? Last year's winner, Jamie McMurray.
So, what have we learned from yesterday's race, and how will it apply to the rest of the season? Read on:
1. We Still Don't Know How Good Some Teams Are
A lap 29 incident, triggered by teammates Michael Waltrip and David Reutimann, claimed a lot of quality teams, including those of Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biffle and others. In fact, most drivers in the Chase were snakebitten in some sense; between wrecks and engine failures, the only one to contend for the victory was Carl Edwards, and he came up short. Daytona isn't traditionally a strong predictor of the rest of the season, but it's still the big prize where everybody wants to show off, and some folks didn't get a fair shot.
2. Spotting Is the Hardest Job in NASCAR
Apparently nobody—neither drivers nor spotters—could see the caution lights come on early in the race. Apparently the word that a caution had come out was not properly disseminated to the teams, and it nearly led to Martin Truex Jr. spinning Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the tri-oval when the caution had already been out. Then again, as drivers and spotters were basically having to maintain two cars at once with the two-car drafts, it's not as if their job was any easier than it used to be in pack racing.
3. Perseverance Is a Virtue: Just Ask Kyle Busch and Mark Martin
Busch got spun by Michael Waltrip on lap five, but that was nothing a little tape on his rear bumper couldn't fix up—good as new. Martin was involved in the lap 29 "big one," where he took on a small amount of damage and came back out three laps down. But because he was the first lapped car on the track, he got one back through a Lucky Dog pass, and the others came shortly after in the caution-happy early stages of the race. When all was said and done, Busch wound up eighth, Martin 10th.
4. If It Doesn't Work Once, It's Not Going to Work Again
Poor Michael Waltrip. This was supposed to be a special weekend for him, after he won on the 10th anniversary of his first Daytona 500 win in 2001. Driving a black car in honor of former car owner Dale Earnhardt, he was the pusher of two different cars that spun in the turns, as the angle of the two cars changed. It doesn't matter whose fault each wreck was—and Waltrip defended himself on TV, saying he did nothing wrong—the point is, drivers need to learn to back off from pushing in the turns, because it just doesn't work. (Oh, and to add insult to injury, Trevor Bayne was Waltrip's Nationwide driver last year, released because he couldn't guarantee the young hotshot a ride for this season.)
5. Not Every Cinderella Story Has a Happy Ending
Caught up in the second Waltrip-pushed wreck was Brian Keselowski, who had been the feel-good story of the weekend, even above Trevor Bayne. Keselowski raced a 1996 chassis—yes, you heard me— into the 500 with the help of his brother Brad, and suddenly picked up a sponsor and engine (although it couldn't be fit to the old car) from his brother's team, Penske Racing. But Keselowski was in the wrong place at the wrong time for the big wreck, and he finished 41st. A shame for a guy who didn't know if he was going to Phoenix anyway... Now, without more help from Penske, it's highly unlikely.
6. NASCAR Is Like a High School Dance
And Carl Edwards is that nerdy kid that keeps getting turned down. If the FOX broadcast is to be believed, he kept asking for "dancing partners" (drink!) and getting turned down, including by eventual race winner Trevor Bayne. Kyle Busch had the same problem with Jamie McMurray, who was asked by his Earnhardt Ganassi team to back up at one point in the race and pick up teammate, Juan Montoya. A lot of crazy partners hooked up as the field pared down, ignoring car makes and previous relationships all for the sake of going for a win.
7. A Great Pusher Is Your Best Friend
Kudos to Regan Smith, who was perhaps the best pusher at Daytona during Speedweeks. He was certainly Kurt Busch's best friend much of the time, and he didn't deserve what he got in the end—a wreck in the final laps of the race that ended his chances at victory (although he did finish seventh). But Bayne, who worked well with other drivers all weekend—David Ragan toward the end of the race, but also Jeff Gordon in the Gatorade Duels—got what he deserved with an upset win.
8. We'll Never Finish a Superspeedway Race without Overtime Again
Racers race; it's what they do. And as long as they can race, they will race. This not only applies to their careers, but to the individual races in which they compete; and with only two laps to make a move for the win, people will get daring no matter what happens. That's when things like the above happen.
9. NASCAR's New Points System Does Not Work
None of the winning drivers this weekend are leading the points in their respective series. Limit drivers' participation in multiple series, don't take away their points. Way to cheapen things, NASCAR. Good job.
10. Sometimes, Nice Guys Do Finish First
But let's end this on a positive note. The Wood Brothers are one of the greatest teams in NASCAR history. They haven't run a full schedule for a few years now on account of limited Motorcraft sponsorship, but have been reasonably competitive every time out by running with an experienced driver (Bill Elliott) and not biting off more than they could chew. They bring in Bayne, a young talent with no wins in any of NASCAR's top three series and one previous Sprint Cup start, and the ultimate Cinderella story, perhaps in the history of NASCAR, occurs. You can't come up with anything better than that.
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