The 10 Biggest Takeaways from the 2013 Daytona 500
Sunday's 55th running of the Daytona 500 was among the more unique editions of the Great American Race that we've seen in quite a few years.
Starting with Danica Patrick, the first woman to ever win a Sprint Cup pole—let alone take the starting green flag in Sunday's race—to a minimal number of wrecks and cautions, and ultimately, Jimmie Johnson's win, Sunday's race was a must-see event that didn't disappoint.
To her credit, Patrick drove nothing short of an outstanding race, which is more than we can say for several others, including Kevin Harvick and Patrick's teammate and team owner, Tony Stewart, who both made early exits due to being caught up in a wreck not of their making.
While there were a number of storylines that played out during the race, here are 10 of the biggest that we took away from Sunday:
10. TV Coverage and Commercials
Props go to Fox Sports TV for a great telecast. Job well-done. And while we would have liked to see more picture-in-picture commercials so we could keep an eye on on-track action, the overall broadcast earned a high grade.
Some of the commercials that aired were Super Bowl ad-like quality, including the Coca-Cola "Road Trip" with Tony Stewart, Danica Patrick and others, the Budweiser Clydesdales and the Mutt-and-Jeff ads that featured Michael Waltrip and Mark Martin. Very entertaining and touching.
Lastly, but definitely not least, we can't wait to see the overnight TV ratings of Sunday's race. With Patrick on the pole being such a curiosity factor to casual and non-NASCAR fans, we won't be surprised if the ratings of the 500 are the highest in at least the last five years.
I made a bet for a steak dinner with a friend that it would be a TV ratings bonanza—and am already licking my chops.
9. Matt Kenseth's Day Goes from Good to Bad, but Shows Promise Nonetheless
Switching manufacturers from Ford to Toyota didn't seem to hamper defending Daytona 500 champ Matt Kenseth, who was vying for his third 500 triumph heading into Sunday's race.
Kenseth took the lead one-fourth of the way through, led the most laps and looked very, very strong before mechanical issues unfortunately knocked him out of the event with less than 50 laps to go.
Still, do you wonder if Jack Roush may be second-guessing himself after letting Kenseth go after last season?
8. Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer: Back to Being Buddies?
Even though Sunday marked the first race of the new season, there were still thoughts of a carry-over effect from the 2012 season-long feud between Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer.
Who can forget the culmination of the rivalry in last fall's Chase race at Phoenix, when Gordon intentionally wrecked Bowyer, ending any remaining mathematical chances Bowyer had to win the championship.
The pair played nice in the season finale at Homestead, even finishing first (Gordon) and second (Bowyer). But how many of their respective fans spent the offseason wondering if the feud would rekindle at Daytona?
To their credit, Gordon and Bowyer were all business Sunday, without even a hint of animosity visible.
7. Big Contrast to Saturday's Race
Sunday's race was a marked contrast to Saturday's Nationwide Series race.
Cup drivers seemed to be a bit more cautious and methodical in the way they ran Sunday's race, not showing the usual aggressiveness we're accustomed to seeing, particularly in the early stages (the eight-car wreck on Lap 33 notwithstanding).
Saturday's accident seemed to strike uneasiness for the drivers in Sunday's race, as well as compassion for the more than two dozen fans who were injured by debris that shot up into the stands.
6. Where Were Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Kurt Busch?
Through the first quarter of the race, we hardly heard a peep from Ricky Stenhouse Jr., driving in his second Daytona 500, but his first as a full-time Sprint Cup driver.
But Stenhouse ran a very smart race, staying out of trouble and running in mid-pack for much of the event, finishing a very respectable and impressive 12th, better than his 20th-place showing in last year's race.
As for Kurt Busch, was his name even mentioned once during the Fox Sports telecast? Not a good way to start his first full season with Furniture Row Racing at all.
Of course, it didn't happen that he got caught up in the early wreck on Lap 33 and quickly fell two laps off the pace as his team made repairs, including his radiator.
After being one of the most successful and consistent finishers in the Daytona 500 from 2002 through 2011's edition, he's struggled in the last two editions, including a 39th-place finish in last year's race. A 28th-place finish to start the 2013 season was not the way he and FRR likely saw Sunday playing out.
5. Cousin Carl's Nightmare Continues
Carl Edwards couldn't have had much more of a bad season in 2012. Not only did he fail to win a race (he's now at 70 without a win), he didn't make the Chase for the Sprint Cup after losing the 2011 championship by one point (via a tiebreaker).
Edwards was sky-high optimistic coming into 2013, hoping to put the dismal 2012 season behind him. But as much as we hate to say it, he appears to have picked up where he left off in 2012.
Edwards was involved in a big wreck that knocked him out of the race with a little more than 60 laps remaining.
But as bad as that crash was, it extended a terrible run of luck for Edwards, as it was the fifth wreck he was involved in at Daytona since January testing and continuing through Speedweeks.
That's five wrecked race cars in just over 30 days. If the costly misfortune continues, team owner Jack Roush may need to start taking out some loans to cover the damage.
4. Bad Start for Some of the Biggest Stars
Defending Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski, Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne, Kevin Harvick, Jamie McMurray, Juan Pablo Montoya and several others were involved in the first wreck of the race on Lap 33.
It appeared Kyle Busch ran into the back of Kahne's Chevy, triggering the crash, but it seemed to be inadvertent on Busch's part.
The three cars in front of Kahne got on the brakes. He and Busch tried to follow suit, but weren't fast enough to react.
It also appeared that Greg Biffle may have ran into the rear of Busch's car, possibly adding to the accordion effect.
While Keselowski was able to get back in the race, even leading late before the final pit stop, Stewart may have had the biggest disappointment of all, as he has now gone 15 tries without a win in the Daytona 500.
Of course, that's nothing compared to Mark Martin's 29 starts in the 500 without a win. But at least Martin came through Sunday's race with an outstanding third-place finish.
Busch, who survived the early wreck, wasn't so fortunate in the latter part of the race.
Just a few laps after teammate Matt Kenseth had to give up the lead and ultimately was sent to the garage with either a transmission or engine problem, the younger Busch brother's day also came to a premature end with engine failure, leaving only Denny Hamlin to carry the torch the rest of the way for Joe Gibbs Racing, ultimately finishing 14th.
Ironically, the JGR cars were running one-two-three at the time of Kenseth's departure, followed closely by Busch's ouster.
3. Strong Run by Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished second for the third time in the last four Daytona 500s.
Earnhardt complained that he was having a problem with his steering during the first quarter of the race, but after his second pit stop, things started coming around, and he finally climbed into the top 10 on Lap 78.
Earnhardt wisely paced himself through the remainder of the race, finally making a move to the front with three laps to go.
Although he couldn't earn his second win in the Daytona 500, Earnhardt took comfort in the fact he helped push Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson to the win.
"It was a great finish for us, and we're going to be strong this year," Earnhardt said in a post-race interview with Fox Sports. "We're real excited about getting the season kicked off with such a good finish."
2. Danica Patrick More Than Held Her Own
For all of those who thought winning the pole for Sunday's race was a fluke, Danica Patrick proved otherwise. She smartly dropped back behind Jeff Gordon and in front of Kyle Busch through the first 20-plus laps.
In addition to being the first woman to win a Daytona 500 pole, Patrick also became the first female to lead a lap under green-flag conditions in the 500, moving ahead on Lap 90.
Patrick did everything that she needed to do in her second Daytona 500. Instead of being an afterthought, like she was in last year's face, she was front and center on the minds of fans, media and fellow drivers.
While she fell out of the draft coming to the finish line, dropping from third to eighth, she has nothing to be ashamed of.
"At the end of the day, it was a solid day for the GoDaddy car and the GoDaddy crew,'' Patrick told Fox Sports. "They did a nice job in the pits. We stayed basically in the top 10 all day long, so you can't really complain about that. It was nice. It was calm most of the time, but it was fun when it got a little exciting."
Great job and the promise of even better things to come this season?
So, Danica critics, do you want a little salt or pepper with that crow you're eating?
1. Jimmie Johnson Wins His Second Daytona 500
After coming so close last season—ultimately finishing third in the final standings—Jimmie Johnson showed, without a doubt, that he's serious about winning a sixth Sprint Cup championship in 2013.
Johnson won his second career Daytona 500 by driving his typically smart race, leading the last 10 laps and just 17 laps overall. He stayed close throughout the race, paced himself, picked his spots when it came time to pass and then managed to build such a lead at the end that his closest challengers knew it was Jimmie's race to win.
In so doing, Johnson became the 10th driver to win multiple 500s and gave Rick Hendrick his seventh Daytona 500 win as a team owner.
It was also the first Daytona 500 win for crew chief Chad Knaus, who missed Johnson's first win in 2006 because he was suspended for a rules violation that had occurred during Speedweeks.
Johnson won the 500 in his 400th career Sprint Cup start, joining an exclusive club of drivers who also won a race in their 400th career start: Hall of Famers Lee Petty, Richard Petty, David Pearson and Dale Earnhardt, as well as Dave Marcis.
"I had me a fast car and could stay up front all day long," Johnson told Fox Sports. "I had a lot of confidence in the last two laps, leading the train, so I knew how fast this car was.
"I'm very happy to win the first Gen 6 car for Chevrolet with the SS. It was an awesome day."
(Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski)