The 6 Biggest Surprises from the 2013 Daytona 500

Christopher Leone@ChristopherlionSenior Analyst IFebruary 26, 2013

The 6 Biggest Surprises from the 2013 Daytona 500

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    Were you surprised that Jimmie Johnson won his second Daytona 500 on Sunday?

    Perhaps you should have been. After all, since winning his first Harley J. Earl Trophy in 2006, Johnson has been pretty unlucky at Daytona. Aside from a 10th-place finish in July 2007 and a runner-up run in July 2009, he hasn't finished any better than 20th.

    In fact, Johnson's past three Daytona 500 finishes were 35th, 27th, and 42nd.

    Then again, perhaps it's not a great shock that a five-time champion won the sport's biggest race. But the following six things probably weren't on the minds of most folks before this year's Sprint Cup season opener. If you predicted more than two of these, consider yourself an expert, or at least incredibly lucky.

Danica Lives Up to the Hype

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    Let's be honest—casual observers expected Patrick to be little more than a media darling and human interest story heading into Daytona Speedweeks.

    Boy, did she make those folks look stupid.

    Patrick scored the pole, the first of her Sprint Cup career, to kick off her rookie season. Then she became the first woman to lead laps in Daytona 500 history, taking the point on lap 90. And after spending the majority of the race in the top 10, she came home eighth after running as high as third in the race's final laps. Consider that a success.

The Big Ones Weren't at the End

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    In superspeedway racing, there's always the chance for major accidents thanks to the pack-like nature of the racing. They usually come at or near the race's end, when drivers are jostling harder for position. Last-lap wrecks marred both the Camping World Truck race on Friday and Nationwide race on Saturday, with the latter tragically sending dozens to the hospital after Kyle Larson's car disintegrated.

    But on Sunday, the race's biggest wrecks weren't even close to race's end.

    A bunch-up on lap 33 pushed Kyle Busch into Kasey Kahne's rear bumper, triggering a nine-car accident that took out Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart, while a lap 138 wreck ended the days of both Carl Edwards and Trevor Bayne.

    Meanwhile, a six-lap shootout at the end of the race caused by a debris caution ended with an eventful but wreck-free finish.

Carl Edwards Can't Catch a Break

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    The first time that Edwards finished second in Cup standings, in 2008, he had a miserable 2009 and put it together to the tune of a fourth-place finish in 2010. He finished second again in 2011, then had the worst full season of his career in 2012, leading him to hope 2013 would be another turnaround year.

    So far, it hasn't been so.

    Edwards has wrecked five times already this year, counting both winter testing and all of Speedweeks. He started 36th on Sunday (thanks to a wreck in his Budweiser Duel) and finished 33rd (thanks to a wreck on lap 138).

    None of the wrecks have been his fault, but that can't be a great psychological boost for a driver who has to either win at Phoenix on Sunday or face the longest winless streak of his career.

Toyota Engines May Not Be Reliable

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    Sure, Mark Martin finished third on Sunday and Denny Hamlin led all the way into the race's final stages.

    But for Toyota Racing Development, makers of the engines used by both Joe Gibbs Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing, Daytona was more about the drivers that failed to finish than the ones who did.

    Martin Truex Jr. crossed the finish line, but fell to 24th thanks to losing a cylinder late in the race. Meanwhile, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch blew engines on lap 150 and 152, respectively, ending two strong runs. Kenseth, the defending race winner, led a race-high 86 laps before his day ended.

Aero? What Aero?

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    For the second year in a row, Brad Keselowski had to deal with the frustration of being involved in a big wreck at Daytona. This time, though, that wreck came in the first portion of the race instead of at the end, leaving the No. 2 car with front-end damage, which common sense dictates to be a major detriment at an aerodynamic-centric track.

    Not so. The Penske Racing crew repaired the front of the car with tape, and while Keselowski spent a good portion of the race in the back, a fortunately timed caution during the final set of pit stops gave him the lead with fewer than 20 laps to go.

    While Jimmie Johnson took the lead from him after an intense back-and-forth battle, Keselowski still salvaged a fourth-place finish out of the run.

They Finished Where, Exactly?

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    James Finch, Phil Parsons and Tommy Baldwin are three owners on the fringes of the Sprint Cup Series. They race as hard as they can, but a lack of funding means that they can't always run competitively, or even run full races in some cases. (Baldwin's team start-and-parked through much of its early stages, while Parsons' operation has maintained the practice through many iterations and ownership changes.)

    That's why it was so refreshing to see all of their names in the top 10 on Sunday. Regan Smith brought home a seventh-place finish for Finch's Phoenix Racing outfit, while Michael McDowell bestowed Parsons' team with its best-ever finish, ninth place.

    As for Yeley, he followed up Dave Blaney's near-victory after last year's jet dryer incident by placing Baldwin's No. 36 in 10th—thus guaranteeing that kids eat free at sponsor Golden Corral on Monday.

    For more from Christopher Leone, follow @christopherlion on Twitter.