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NASCAR Cup Series

Daytona, The “Land of Opportunity,” Lives Up To Its Epithet Again

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Daytona International Speedway has always been called the “land of opportunity” for NASCAR’s underdogs, and the 59th annual Daytona 500 was not any different.

A.J. Allmendinger finished third, Aric Almirola finished fourth, and Paul Menard finished fifth. What do all three drivers have in common? They’re all Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series veterans with one career win.

Also in the top 10 was Michael Waltrip, who announced that Sunday’s race would be his final career start, and 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne, who finished eighth and 10th, respectively.

“Typically a car that’s beat up isn’t going to do that,” Bayne told POPULAR SPEED about finishing 10th. “It’s cool to get a top 10 out of a wrecked racecar.

“We didn’t get many of the results we thought we would this week. We thought we had a car that can qualify on the front row and we thought he had a shot win the Duel. We weren’t bad, but the goal was to win.”

Menard said the event was one the wildest races he’s ever been in and noted how his Richard Childress Racing No. 27 team overcame the obstacle of going to a backup car to finish in the top five.

“On Friday during practice, I actually thought it was a little better than our primary car,” Menard said. “There’s a lot of new faces on my team, and Matt Borland is a new crew chief, and we came out of the gates swinging.”

Almirola led two laps as he and TriStar Motorsports’ Cole Whitt led the field to green with less than 50 laps remaining. Both their leads were short-lived, but captured the attention many fans, particularly those who would have wanted to see the No. 43 return to the winner’s circle for the first time since July 2014.

“We had a solid car all day,” Almirola said. “It wasn’t the car we needed to contend for the win. I’m just so proud of everyone at Richard Petty Motorsports. I’m so proud of Ford Motor Company for going to Victory Lane.”

Whitt ran out of fuel as the race concluded and wound up 18th, but he led three laps as well.

“We had a little bit of damage, but mostly, we stayed out of trouble,” Whitt told POPULAR SPEED. “It was a good day. We were running in front of the 15 [Waltrip] when we ran out of fuel coming to the white flag off of Turn 4, but all in all, we had fun.”

With this being Waltrip’s final 500, he felt “fortunate” to end his career on a high note.

“I had so many times I was in the middle of a crash and just missed it,” he said. “I’m thankful that I survived and I’m thankful for being able to run up front, and I’m happy about the finish.

“I’m ready for it to be my last [start] so it’s going to be a good one to remember it by.”

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By John Haverlin

John Haverlin is currently studying Communication at Arizona State University. He has been a reporter at Phoenix International Raceway for three years and has written news stories for the track's official site. Born and raised in Long Island, N.Y., Haverlin has lived in Arizona the past three years.