Categories
Editorial

Instant Reactions: Daytona 500

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The Daytona 500 was not the race many of us expected.

It was better.

Following a week of carnage and mayhem peppered throughout Speedweeks, it felt as if the tone had been set and the Great American Race was going to be a battle royale.

Instead, the 40 best stock car racers in the world put on a clinic of speed and discipline — executing three-wide close proximity maneuvering that surely made even the USAF Thunderbirds squeamish.

At its most imtense, the 500 actually resembled the racing at Talladega, remarkable given the space constraints at Daytona compared to its sister track In North Alabama.

While parity remains a theme of restrictor plate racing, it’s hard to make a case that the best team didn’t win.

While others led more laps, Joey Logano clearly had one of the five best cars, remaining near the lead all afternoon. And once his rivals shoved him to the front, there was no looking back, even as both of his teammates, Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney, dropped out with similar oil pan issues.

The Daytona 500 is the most important race on the schedule but it isn’t always the most exciting. That distinction is typically reserved for short tracks and road courses.

But with this particular package, NASCAR has found the perfect blend of competition and legitimacy in that this format doesn’t feel like a crapshooot or random number generator.

On Sunday, teams and drivers were forced to get creative in order to earn track position, be it on pit road or by forcing risky three-wide situations at a track that has seldomly welcomed it.

Once in the lead, a driver could control his own destiny, weaving left and right to stall oncoming pursuers and protect his hard-earned track position.

That’s racing — and truthfully it was the best non rain-enhanced event at the Speedway in quite some time. Fingers crossed that the status quo remains in place for July when the temperatures and conditions should be quite similar.

Sliced Bread Rises to the Occasion

Meanwhile, Sunday represented the completion of Logano’s Gibbs to Penske rebirth. By winning the Great American Race, Logano transcended his tenure as “Sliced Bread,” the outmatched top prospect who never really fit in at Joe Gibbs Racing and has become “elite” at his new home according to former teammate and long-time rival Denny Hamlin.

It’s remarkable just how much a change of pace and comfort can do for an athlete. At Gibbs, he was given every resource afforded to Tony Stewart but just didn’t mesh with Hamlin or Kyle Busch. In Roger Penske and Brad Keselowski, he’s found a family and he’s gifted them the Harley J. Earl.

While plate racing is definitely an outlier, expect another championship level performance from the No. 22 team, especially provided that they can now look ahead 25 weeks and completely prepare for the Chase for the Championship.

Proactive not Reactive

Much ink has been spilled over the incident in the XFINITY Series race on Saturday that sent Kyle Busch into a portion of the inside retaining wall at Daytona that was not covered by SAFER Barrier.

A decade after the soft wall was developed, there is no excuse for what happened.

NASCAR and CEO Brian France continually prides itself as an innovator with a overwhelming ambition to be ahead of the curve in all aspects of stock car racing business.

It’s track record towards safety is spotty at best as the sport continues to react instead of pre-emptively adhering to the demands of its participants as they continue to call for additional SAFER Barriers.

As a statement, NASCAR itself should rise up and aid its partner facilities in funding the development of a universal soft wall system rather than put the onus solely on track presidents.

For what it’s worth, NASCAR and Daytona president Joie Chitwood III reacted quickly on Saturday promising to cover the track in the protective padding.

But again, it’s time to get proactive and not reactive when it comes to the matter of driver safety.

EMAIL MATT AT matt.weaver@popularspeed.com
FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattWeaverSBN

Categories
Editorial

Observations: The 57th Running of the Great American Race

Thoughts, observations and a few questions following the 57th running of the Great American Race, the Daytona 500:

  • I’m still trying to figure out if a Joey Logano Daytona 500 win is a) a wildly popular one that gives “The Captain” Roger Penske another Daytona 500 win; b) a disappointment for most fans who would have rather seen the race won by either Kevin Harvick or Dale Earnhardt Jr; or c) none of the above because their favorite driver is one of the Busch brothers.
  • The final laps before the caution…three wide, full throttle and just inches apart. I found myself holding my breath, squirming in my seat and feeling just a bit giddy from the anxiety. How about you?
  • The first 30 laps were fun to watch. The following 140—an episode in ho-hum. The real racing didn’t start until there were 30 laps to go. As Daytona 500s go, this one ranks at about an 8 in a scale of 1 to 10.
  • It must be disheartening for Mark Kent, Pat Suhy and Alba Colon – the braintrust behind Chevrolet’s highly successful NASCAR effort – that their driver (Jeff Gordon) led the most laps, that they had the most cars to finish in the top 10 (six) – yet lost the race to one of Penske’s Fords. After watching the Fords from both the Roush Fenway and Penske camps dominate the speed charts during practice, there had to be an uneasy feeling in the Bowtie camp going into the race that one of the Fords could actually win, despite having two Chevrolets start on the front row.
  • For much of the race, the top spots were filled with the regular roster of Cup drivers I like to call the “Cool Kids” – race winner Logano, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer among them. Although she’s part of this clique, Danica Patrick had a miserable Speedweeks and was MIA during the race. She finished 21st.
  • Speaking of Patrick, perhaps the single worst decision made by any team in the past year has been the swapping of crew chiefs at Stewart-Haas Racing between the 41 and 10 car teams. Maybe now that Kurt Busch has turned himself into a footnote for the time being, Patrick will get Tony Gibson back and Greg Zipadelli can right this wrong and let Daniel Knost practice on someone else. Someone who isn’t in what could be their final season with the team and who’s sponsor wants results this season, or else.
  • Much was made of the fact that this was the first Daytona 500 without a Busch brother in the field since 2000 and the first Cup race without Kurt or Kyle since 2001. Too much, I think.
  • An anticipated “Busch Brothers vs. the Dillon Brothers” match-up never got to materialize, stealing a weak idea, at best, from the note pad of many a would-be member of the NASCAR press pool.
  • Kyle Busch’s horrific nearly head-on crash on Saturday during the Xfinity Series race was one of those watershed moments for NASCAR that unfortunately happens after a driver or team member gets seriously hurt. Kudos to Daytona International Speedway President Joe Chitwood for falling on the sword shortly after the accident, taking full responsibility for the lack of a SAFER barrier on the inside wall and promising to fix the problem immediately. His response and the repair to the problem was effective, smart, well-done and definitely not cheap. So, let’s not hear any “ISC doesn’t spend money” comments for awhile, shall we?
  • After watching the video of Patrick and Denny Hamlin following the kerfuffle during practice that wrecked Patrick’s car (again), I wondered: If Patrick were a male driver banging a hand on Hamlin’s chest in anger, would Hamlin have reacted so calmly, putting his arm on Patrick’s shoulder, in an attempt to calm her down? I think not. I think we’d have been talking about a serious fine for Hamlin for actions “detrimental to the sport” instead.
  • Although “O Fortuna” is one of the most-played pieces of classical music and it represents the embodiment of good luck, it’s time to retire it from being played during driver introductions for the Daytona 500. I think the Speedway should “borrow” the idea from Bristol Motor Speedway that has each driver choose his or her own music to be played during their introduction. Or something similar to that. And please, playing an extended version of “Welcome to the Jungle” is not an option, either.
  • Denny Hamlin blocked everyone he could during the final laps of the race, except race winner Logano, Harvick and Junior. It was a good strategy but unfortunately, it left few takers to give the Joe Gibbs Racing driver the essential push forward he would need to win. He finished fourth.
  • Weren’t those final laps before the caution…three wide, full throttle and inches apart just unbelievable to watch? And yes, I know I’ve written that already. But, it deserved to be written again.
  • It was difficult to watch two former champions, both members of the over-40 crowd, Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth, finish 42nd and 35th, respectively.
  • It was just as odd to watch Brad Keselowski have a miserable day at Daytona International Speedway. He finished 41st. I expect all three drivers to be in the Chase discussion this year.
  • If the final wreck had not of happened and both Harvick and Junior had a shot at race winner Logano, don’t you agree that the outcome of the race would have been different? Come on…sure you do.
  • Speaking of Harvick, he did an excellent job as the analyst for the Xfinity television broadcast on Saturday. His comments were insightful, educational and revealing. I look forward to him doing more of it. Jeff Gordon will also be doing Xfinity booth work. I expect his work will be of similar usefulness. Having Danica Patrick play the role of analyst in the booth however, is a cheap stunt to gain viewers. She should be racing, not talking about it.
  • Usually FOX’s pre-race show features one or more silly stunt(s) that fall flat. This time, it was the thankfully short Vince Vaughn – Jeff Gordon encounter with the Harley J. Earl trophy. It was an embarrassment for Gordon and a cheap opportunity for Vaughn to plug his new movie, which looks from the trailers and television ads like a weak “Interview” retread.
  • Unfortunately, much of the pre-race press was devoted to the difficult and ongoing Kurt Busch situation. NASCAR was swift in handing down its opinion, as was Chevrolet. For most fans, it was easy to accept and understand what had occurred, given Busch’s history of verbal abuse to members of the NASCAR press pool. I’m not of the belief, however, that Busch’s racing career is over, as others have suggested.
  • Get well soon, Kyle!

Postscript

The Daytona 500 is an oddity in sports. It is at the same time, NASCAR’s most important and it’s least important race of the season. Tradition places it at the start of a 36-race season, yet it’s outcome rarely offers us a preview into how a team will perform during the rest of the year. Drivers like Matt Kenseth, Kyle Larson, Jamie McMurray and Austin Dillon had mediocre outings. Yet, all four are expected to be serious contenders come Chase time.

It’s easy to call NASCAR’s Sprint Cup races made-for-television events. Action, drama and crashing cars, plus three-wide hold-your-breath racing are what make NASCAR’s main event, the Daytona 500, a preamble for a year-long chronicle of weekly short stories whose final entry is yet to be written some 250 miles south on Interstate 95.

I am of the belief that the 2015 NASCAR season actually starts next Sunday in Atlanta.

Thanks for stopping by.

EMAIL BOB AT bob.margolis@popularspeed.com
FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @BobMargolis

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Crafton and Smith: Relief Drivers to Count On

@Matt_Crafton and @ReganSmith came into Daytona expecting to compete in their respective series and fly back home.

After NASCAR indefinitely suspended @KurtBusch on Friday evening, Smith found himself preparing to drive for Stewart-Haas Racing in the Daytona 500. He would get little practice and preparation, but it was a task he was ready to take on.

Crafton finished eighth in his race on Friday night in the Truck Series and headed back home. After @KyleBusch was involved in an accident in the closing laps of the XFINITY Series race, his phone began to go off with messages and phone calls. He was to get fitted for a seat and head back to Daytona; he was getting to make his Cup Series debut in the Daytona 500.

While the circumstances were unfortunate, both drivers made the most out of their opportunities. Smith brought the No. 41 car home 16th with very limited practice on Saturday. Crafton would finish 18th after getting caught up in the last lap accident, although he was headed for a possible top-10 finish.

It’s easy for Smith to be frustrated after the weekend he’s had which included flipping while leading in the XFINITY race. He fought an ill-handling race car, leaving him disappointed after he felt the car had much more potential.

“Started off really tight with the race car and never got it turning,” he said. “I don’t know, kind of frustrating. I actually anticipated a much better day and nothing much more to show for it. Those guys did a nice job all weekend but we just plowed through the corners.”

Even though Crafton’s debut didn’t end the way dreamed it would, all he could do during the race was learn.

“It was a learning curve. The first half we just rode around and tried to learn, learn, learn. I made a mistake – I had a pretty good surge up top and I tried the bottom and shuffled myself all the way to the back.

“I fought tight and just kept freeing it up and freeing it…Trying to learn it all at the same time – it’s a pretty gnarly learning curve.”

Crafton found it difficult to drive the car with no practice in it at all. He was also rather uncomfortable during the race because of his seat which caused his back to cramp.

Crew chief Adam Stevens believe the day went rather well given the circumstances.

“Matt (Crafton) did a good job,” he said. “It’s a lot to ask of a guy to not practice a car and come and race it. We kind of took the strategy of just letting him ride around the first part of the race and letting him work up to it. Everything was going fine, but you know how these speedway races end and sure enough it ended like we thought it would.”

While nothing has been announced regarding future plans for either car, both teams have some positives to take away from the weekend.

For Kyle Busch, the foreseeable future is going to be about getting healthy to get back to the track as quick as possible.

“Whatever the doctors tell him, he’s probably going to shave about three or four weeks off of that and be beating on our door,” Stevens said. “I’m sure he’ll be in my office sometime next week talking about how we’re going to make this happen.”

EMAIL JOEY AT joey.chapman@popularspeed.com
FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @Joey_Chapman

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Underdogs Shine at Daytona

After an afternoon of problem free racing, many cars were left to compete for the win in the closing laps of the Daytona 500.

Even after a last lap crash triggered by @AustinDillon3 tapping @JeffGordonWeb, cars attempted to race back to the yellow flag unscathed. Several drivers held their own and grabbed solid finishes amongst some of the sport’s biggest names.

@CJMearsGang notched a sixth place finish after starting rather close to the back of the pack. Although it may seem like a surprise result from Mears, he proved to be strong at Daytona last year. He finished 10th in last year’s Daytona 500 and grabbed his best finish of the season by finishing fourth in the July race. Mears’ Speedweeks got off to a disappointing start after he lost his engine in the first Budweiser Duel, but his team’s perseverance paid off in Sunday’s race.

A middle-of-the-road finish for @DavidGilliland in the second Budweiser Duel put his No. 38 Ford in the middle of the pack for Sunday. The 38-year-old driver avoided calamity and drove his car home to a solid 11th place finish after restarting 15th on the green-white-checkered finish. The top-15 finish is a big rebound from his disappointing 36th place in last year’s Daytona 500. He only managed to finish in the top-30 at a superspeedway once last year when he finished 29th at the Talladega fall race.

It wasn’t a very flattering start to Speedweeks for @MichaelAnnett. After a crash in practice between himself, @DanicaPatrick and @JebBurtonRacing, his team was left scrambling to repair his car for the Duels. The Des Moines, IA native raced his way into the Daytona 500 and managed to leave with his career best finish of 13th. It was no easy task, but his first race with HScott Motorsports could help set the tone for the rest of his season.

Other Notables

Under unfortunate circumstances, @ReganSmith and @Matt_Crafton had very little time to get ready to race the Daytona 500. Smith brought the No. 41 Chevy home 16th while Crafton grabbed 19th with no practice in the No. 18 Camry.

In his first race back in the Sprint Cup Series fulltime since 2010, @SamHornish Jr. finished 12th in his No. 9 Ford after starting deep in the field.

It was a solid day for @Johnny_Sauter, who finished 18th in the No. 83 Toyota after barely making the show. It was his best finish in the Daytona 500 since he last competed in the event in 2007 when he finished 16th.

EMAIL JOEY AT joey.chapman@popularspeed.com
FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @Joey_Chapman

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Dale Jr., Greg Ives Set The Tone at Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH Fla. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. came up just short in his attempt to win for the third time in the Daytona 500, finishing third, and establishing early synergy and momentum with new crew chief Greg Ives.

Earnhardt battled with the leaders throughout the second half of the race, leading 32 laps, while looking to win back-to-back Harley J. Earl trophies.

Ultimately, a self-described mistake on a restart with 20 laps to go shuffled Earnhardt to the middle lane, leaving him outside the top-5 and without the track position needed to make a serious run at the win.

When the contenders fanned out at the end of the race, Earnhardt was able to pick his way back to third. However, the caution that ended the race while they were in Turn 3 negated any remaining chance that Earnhardt had of winning The Great American Race.

“I didn’t do wat I needed to do,” Earnhardt said. “I got shuffled to the middle there. We had a fast car and was able to get some spots back and get a good finish. I’m pretty happy about that.

“You don’t get cars that good too often. You like to try to capitalize so I’m a little disappointed.”

On the bright side, the sum of Speedweeks was positive for the still novel tandem of Earnhardt and crew chief Greg Ives. The third-generation veteran came away with a victory in the Duel at Daytona on Thursday and still earned a podium in the Daytona 500.
Ives was proud of his new team’s effort in their first official appearance.

“It was a great race all day long,” Ives said. “We put together 200 laps and we just came up short. This is a great team. We fought through adversity and now we’ll go to Atlanta with positive momentum…”

While winning means virtually everything in the new NASCAR and its Chase Grid format, Earnhardt is also satisfied with a podium given that it provides an early advantage in the point standings.

Despite winning four times in 2014, Earnhardt likely remembers very clearly the recent seasons in which he even struggled to win a single event, meaning that he wants to place an early value on points and victories heading into Atlanta.

“You can’t imagine that 16 guys are going to win a race,” Earnhardt said. “You want to put points together in case you need to lean on that, fall back on that to make the Chase but there are no guarantees.”

In order to maintain the momentum Ives said he has to build strong race cars and strengthen their lines of communication, something he wasn’t able to do as a result of the restrictor plate environment of racing at Daytona.

“Speedway racing is an anomoly because the spotter is on the radio so much so I can’t talk much,” Ives said. “So those are areas that I need to improve on — areas going into Atlanta — but like I said, there was so much chatter that it was tough to get myself adjusted.”

EMAIL MATT AT matt.weaver@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattWeaverSBN

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Jeff Gordon: I’m a Little Bit Sad This is My Final Daytona 500

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — It wasn’t pretty but Jeff Gordon completed his final start in the Daytona 500 under his own power, limping across the start-finish line in a battered race car, destroyed by the last lap incident that ultimately ended the event under caution.

The crash began off the exit of Turn 4 when Gordon found himself directly in front of a four-wide group that included Kyle Larson, Austin Dillon, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Paul Menard. Dillon connected with the left rear quarter panel on the iconic No. 24 Chevrolet, hooking it hard left into Larson.

This deflected Gordon sideways into Stenhouse and the field had nowhere to go, collecting Menard, Matt Crafton, AJ Allmendinger and JJ Yeley.

Even though the race ended under caution, Gordon symbolically drove his car across the line before making the hard left turn to travel back down pit road. Despite the results, Gordon climbed out of his car with a smile, saying that he enjoyed every moment of his final Daytona 500 — one in which he led the most laps, 87, and was a contender from the moment he led the field to green.

“For some reason I’m still smiling and enjoying every moment of it,” Gordon said. “Obviously, I enjoyed the first half a lot more than the second half.  What an amazing car we had  out there in the front with our Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet just controlling the race.

“I had one restart where I started on the outside and just couldn’t get our line going.  We got shuffled back and kind of played catch up from that point on.”

Now with the race behind him, Gordon admitted that the feelings were starting to overwhelm him.

“This was an amazing week and an amazing day,” Gordon said. “I am just in a different place that is so foreign to me, but so incredible.  I am just taking it all in and enjoying every moment. Yeah, right now I’m a little bit sad this is my final Daytona 500, but I’m more upset we didn’t have a shot at winning there at the end.”

Gordon looked like he had the car to beat from the drop of the green flag, able to control the pace of the race while blocking both the top and bottom lanes. But he lost the lead on a restart shortly after halfway and never was able to get the help he needed to regain the lost track position.

He restarted eighth and on the bottom for the final restart and simply said his line wasn’t as organized as it needed to be before the incident ended his shot at a fourth victory in the Great American Race.

“Believe it or not I actually got a good run with Kasey Kahne up the middle,” Gordon said. “It was hairy. I knew there was high potential of a wreck. I was just following him through that hole and was just holding on tight to get through the corner. I saw where I had a pretty good amount of momentum coming.

“I think we maybe could have gotten a top-five out of it but then they started wrecking, or somebody hit me — I don’t know.”

Gordon will retire from the Daytona 500 with three victories and eight top-10s. While his hopes for one last Harley J. Earl were dashed, his Drive for Five will continue on to the second week of the season at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

EMAIL MATT AT matt.weaver@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattWeaverSBN

Categories
News

Logano Caps Spectacular Race with Daytona 500 Victory

By Reid Spencer (NASCAR Wire Service) DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.—The record will reflect that Joey Logano won Sunday’s 57th Daytona 500 under caution, when a multicar wreck on the backstretch forced NASCAR to wave the yellow flag as Logano led the field into the final corner on the second lap of a green-white-checkered-flag finish.

But the notation of that final caution does no justice to the memory of a race that produced some of the most scintillating restrictor-plate racing in the history of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

From a restart on Lap 182 of a scheduled 200, fans standing—not sitting—in a packed front grandstand were treated to 16 straight laps of close-quarters, three-wide racing that saw the lead change from one lap to the next, as one line or another would inch ahead. Indeed, NASCAR’s loop data statistics said Sunday’s race set a Daytona record for green flag passes (12,677 in all).

The final two-lap sprint, on the other hand, was no contest. Logano picked the outside lane for the restart on Lap 202 and surged ahead of second-place Jimmie Johnson when the bottom lane didn’t move as quickly as expected.

Kevin Harvick was second when NASCAR threw the final caution and froze the field. Defending race winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. charged from eighth to third before the yellow. Denny Hamlin ran fourth, followed by Johnson and Casey Mears.

But it was Logano who earned the trip Victory Lane, continuing unabated from a breakout 2014 season that saw him win five times in the Sprint Cup Series and qualify for the final round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup before finishing fourth in the final standings.

If Logano streaked away on the final restart, it was Clint Bowyer who helped move him into position to win the race during the 16-lap green-flag run that preceded the sixth caution on Lap 198.

Logano could barely contain himself when recalling the action of the closing laps. With a shove from Bowyer, Logano took the lead from Jimmie Johnson on Lap 191 and held it until NASCAR called the caution for Justin Allgaier’s spin seven laps later.

“I keep looking at this trophy, and it’s amazing,” Logano said after climbing from his No. 22 Team Penske Ford. “What a beauty. … Now I lost my train of thought. I’m sorry. I’m so distracted right now.

“We got the push that got us out front and that was just Clint pushing hard. He wasn’t lifting before he got to my bumper, he was slamming into the back bumper and that is what we needed to get this Ford out front and here in Victory Lane.”

Logano’s ninth win in the Cup series in all likelihood will mean a return trip to the Chase. It’s also the second victory for team owner Roger Penske in the Great American Race, the first coming in the 50th edition of the event in 2008, with driver Ryan Newman.

Logano’s victory also extended a remarkable four-race streak for Ford, which won the Rolex 24 Hours in January and swept the NASCAR weekend with triumphs in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series on Friday (Tyler Reddick) and NASCAR XFINITY Series on Saturday (Ryan Reed).

Earnhardt felt he had the strongest car in the field, but a mistake on the Lap 182 restart shuffled him from third all the way out of the top 15. For the balance of the race, the driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet fought his way back toward the front but wasn’t in position to make a play for the win at the end.

Earnhardt had planned to tuck in behind Johnson, his teammate, after the restart, but didn’t have room to make the move.

“Jimmie was on the quarter panel … he was in a great spot on the guy in front of me,” Earnhardt said. “And I thought if I could get in behind him, he was going to shoot past to the lead, I could tuck on the quarter panel a little bit as soon as I got on that right rear quarter panel.

“I didn’t think they were that close on the outside line. I thought we had a couple car-lengths on the outside line, but they were right there. Just one of them moves. You make some good ones, you make some bad ones. I made a bad one too late.”

Harvick, the defending series champion, was philosophical about the runner-up finish.

“Yeah, definitely, for us it was a good, solid day to start the season,” Harvick said. “Obviously, you want to try to win the race. But sometimes you’re just happy to keep rolling and going out of here and head to Atlanta (next Sunday) with a solid day.

“I thought we were going to have at least a chance, back up to the 88 there, come up to the 22 coming off of Turn 4. But in the end, that didn’t all pan out with the caution. Still, a good weekend for us.”

Polesitter Jeff Gordon, racing in the Daytona 500 for the last time, was a victim of the wreck that brought out the final caution. Gordon dominated early, leading a race-high 87 laps, but the late wreck dropped him to 33rd at the finish.

“This was an amazing week and an amazing day,” Gordon said. “I’m just in a different place that is so foreign to me, but so incredible–to just be taking it all in and enjoying every moment.

“Yeah, right now I’m a little bit sad this is my final Daytona 500, but I’m more upset we didn’t have a shot at winning there at the end.”

Notes: Regan Smith finished 16th in the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet in relief of suspended driver Kurt Busch. … Matt Crafton finished 18th as an 11th-hour substitute in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, after driver Kyle Busch was sidelined with a broken leg in Saturday’s XFINITY Series race. … A blown engine relegated 2012 series champion Brad Keselowski to a 41st-place finish. … Danica Patrick ran 21st in her fourth Daytona 500 start.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race – Daytona 500

  1. (5) Joey Logano, Ford, 203, $1581453.
  2. (11) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 203, $1157470.
  3. (3) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 203, $857245.
  4. (42) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 203, $680758.
  5. (2) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 203, $616232.
  6. (41) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 203, $470640.
  7. (9) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 203, $437870.
  8. (10) Martin Truex Jr., Chevrolet, 203, $405297.
  9. (13) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 203, $375045.
  10. (8) Greg Biffle, Ford, 203, $389308.
  11. (26) David Gilliland, Ford, 203, $348458.
  12. (38) Sam Hornish Jr., Ford, 203, $361953.
  13. (27) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 203, $330945.
  14. (30) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 203, $365219.
  15. (33) Aric Almirola, Ford, 203, $363381.
  16. (24) Regan Smith(i), Chevrolet, 203, $340558.
  17. (28) David Ragan, Ford, 203, $324908.
  18. (4) Matt Crafton(i), Toyota, 203, $383124.
  19. (36) Johnny Sauter(i), Toyota, 203, $318970.
  20. (40) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 203, $337420.
  21. (20) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 203, $331628.
  22. (19) Cole Whitt, Ford, 203, $318065.
  23. (6) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 203, $335603.
  24. (43) Bobby Labonte, Ford, 203, $326103.
  25. (21) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 203, $327840.
  26. (34) Michael Waltrip, Toyota, 203, $347217.
  27. (15) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 203, $349398.
  28. (31) Ty Dillon(i), Chevrolet, 203, $317190.
  29. (32) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 203, $325778.
  30. (37) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 203, $313240.
  31. (23) Michael McDowell, Ford, 203, $313590.
  32. (14) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 203, $314228.
  33. (1) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 203, $594801.
  34. (29) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, Accident, 202, $344381.
  35. (35) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 202, $350826.
  36. (16) Mike Wallace, Toyota, 199, $313883.
  37. (18) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, Accident, 197, $319158.
  38. (22) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 184, $317261.
  39. (12) Ryan Blaney(i), Ford, Engine, 175, $281003.
  40. (25) JJ Yeley(i), Toyota, 161, $273790.
  41. (39) Brad Keselowski, Ford, Engine, 160, $318331.
  42. (7) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, Accident, 72, $300598.
  43. (17) Landon Cassill, Chevrolet, Engine, 18, $262390.
Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth Suffer Damage in Lap 41 Incident

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. –Tony Stewart will have to wait at least one more year for his date with the Harley J. Earl trophy.

Stewart triggered the first incident of the 2015 Daytona 500 on lap 41 when he drifted up from the bottom line in Turn 4, making contact with Rta Blaney and sending himself and Matt Kenseth into the outside retaining wall. The three-time Sprint Cup Series champion conceded fault but over his radio but wasn’t sure why he inexplicably got tight in the middle of the corner.

“That was 100 percent my fault,” Stewart told his team. “I can’t say anything. It just got tight and there wasn’t a problem that I was aware of.”

Stewart drifted high into Blaney, who only received minor cosmetic damage, but the chain reaction mostly affected Kenseth who was forced into the wall after slamming hard on his brakes.

The incident sent Stewart behind the wall to address major suspension damage while Kenseth lost two laps on pit road while his Joe Gibbs Racing team replace his right front fender. Stewart returned to the track but was unhappy with the handling of his Chevrolet and retired for good by lap 120. Stewart declined interview and walked immediately from his car to the team hauler.

Stewart finished 41st while Kenseth finished 35th.

This was the 17th time that Stewart has participated in the Great American Race without a single victory to show for it. Kenseth entered the race as one of the favorites having won the Sprint Unlimited and had dominated his Daytona Duel before sliding back late to protect his Toyota Camry.

Kenseth could not be reached following the conclusion of the event.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Sprint Cup Drivers Criticize Daytona Qualifying, NASCAR Responds

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results.”

No one quite seems to know who said this first but it’s certainly being said by drivers inside the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage following the first attempt at group qualifying for the Daytona 500.

The format was previously used at Talladega in October and produced controversial results when full-time drivers Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Justin Allgaier failed to qualify for the event. That session also drew ire over the fact that drivers nearly crashed on pit road while trying to avoid being the first to go out on track in order to post the fastest time.

Sunday featured a repeat performance of the shenanigans from Talladega but also included a costly multi-car incident that involved Clint Bowyer, Reed Sorenson, Bobby Labonte and Greg Biffle.

It looked silly from the outside looking in and the results felt more random than competitive. Defending championship runner-up Ryan Newman says the format simply doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

“The frustrating part is dealing with this whole system which makes no sense whatsoever,” Newman said. “It’s hard to stand behind NASCAR when everyone I talk to up and down pit road doesn’t understand why we’re doing this.

“Maybe I need to be sat down and educated a little bit.”

Jimmie Johnson, a two-time Daytona 500 winner, offered that television ratings and fan reaction will ultimately decide whether or not such a format should continue to be used. Johnson admits that in order to grow the sport, NASCAR has to make decisions that will upset some portion of the industry.

“At some point in time, in order to grow the sport, somebody has to be unhappy,” Johnson said. “I don’t know where that falls. Hopefully we can look at facts and stats and say, yes, this is better and it’s worth the five cars that we tore up.

“But if it didn’t move the needle, then we should try to rethink things at the five cars we lost, wouldn’t be worth it.”

Bowyer — one of the drivers who lost a car in Sunday’s melee — does not think it is worth it and says the blame lies solely on NASCAR for sending teams out in groups, especially when qualifying races will set the remainder of the field on Thursday night.

Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson are the only two drivers who have their positions set after qualifying on the front row during the session on Sunday.

“It’s NASCAR’s fault for putting us out in the middle of this crap for nothing,” Bowyer said. “We used to come down here and worry about who would sit on the front row in the biggest race of the year. Now all we do is come down here and worry how a start-and-park team like this, out of desperation, is going to knock us out of the Daytona 500.”

BOWYER: “I’m Disappointed in NASCAR.”

Several other drivers took to Twitter to voice their displeasure, including Tony Stewart who called the format “a complete embarrassment for our series.” His teammate, defending Sprint Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick, added that it “sucks that 56 years of tradition where fast cars ruled had ended.”

The first 56 years of racing at Daytona International Speedway used single car qualifying to set the field for The Great American Race. This year was the first that group qualifying was used to set up the Thursday qualifying races.

Kurt Busch said that with the amount of intelligent people within the front office and inside the garage, NASCAR should be able to come up with something better than the status quo, especially given all the work that goes into preparing cars for the Daytona 500.

“We have a lot of smart people here,” Busch said. “There are owners, drivers, NASCAR. We got to find a better system. So much hard work goes into these cars, then you have a roulette wheel for qualifying. It doesn’t seem to be the proper system.”

For what it’s worth, NASCAR is paying attention. Steve O’Donnell is the Senior Vice President of Racing at NASCAR and admitted that the leaguw has to engage its teams and drivers to solve the issue. As a result, no drivers or team members will be fined for what could have been interpreted as disparaging remarks against NASCAR.

“I think what Brian (France) has said is that you can take us on,” O’Donnell said. “We’re NASCAR, that’s part of our job.  When I look at the comments that Clint or Tony made, those are based on wanting to see the best racing out there.

“So that’s certainly tough to hear.  But those are things we have to have conversations with them on and work with those guys to figure out if there is a better way to do it.  We will do it.”

O’Donnell congratulated Jeff Gordon but would not offer what changes may be made to the restrictor plate qualifying format in the future.

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Editorial

Instant Reactions: Sprint Unlimited at Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The 2015 Sprint Cup season picked up where the previous one left off — with a dramatic finish on the track and confrontations off it with Matt Kenseth winning the Sprint Unlimited with several others left fuming.

The Unlimited was everything we thought it would be — a battle royale, survival of the fittest and several big horsepower teams dueling for the chance to go to Victory Lane at Daytona International Speedway. Unlike the 200-lap Daytona 500 next week, the Sprint Unlimited was only 75 laps, providing a brief snapshot of the Great American Race. On that note, here at the things the former Daytona Shootout taught us in advance of NASCAR’s version of the Super Bowl.

Carl Edwards Setting an Aggressive Tone for Speedweeks

In his first race with Joe Gibbs Racing, Carl Edwards appeared visibly more aggressive in a restrictor plate race than ever before. While he never put himself in a precarious position, he often muscled his way around the track or into three-wide situations.

Was this purely a byproduct of the exhibition nature of the Sprint Unlimited or was Edwards trying to set the tone for the next stage of his career — one in which he hopes to win his first career championship with the Toyota powerhouse?

The Sprint Unlimited was certainly a small sample size but Edwards appears to have made subtle changes to his game in advance of the 2015 season.

NASCAR Fight Night Is Back

In the closing stages of the Sprint Unlimited, Joey Logano tapped Kevin Harvick from behind, sending the defending champion lightly into the Turn 3 wall. While the No. 4 Chevrolet was undamaged, it negated Harvick’s track position and left him upset with Logano during the cool down lap.

Logano walked over to Harvick on pit road, trying to explain his perspective, but Harvick never took off his helmet. Harvick appeared to say something that did not sit well with the young Penske driver and the conversation suddenly morphed into a shouting match. This is when a crew member on the No. 22 team grabbed Logano and deflected him from the scene, diffusing the situation before it could escalate.

While it never turned into the type of situation from Charlotte or Texas from last season, the altercation was a sign that tension remains high in the Sprint Cup Series garage when big cash and championships are on the line — especially between former rivals like Logano and Harvick.

The Daytona 500 is certainly a high stakes game and it wouldn’t be surprising to see tempers flare following the Great American Race as well.

Joe Gibbs Racing Remains the Team to Beat at Daytona

While they haven’t won the Daytona 500 since 1993, Joe Gibbs Racing appears to be the favorite to win the Harley J. Earl Memorial trophy.

Kenseth won the Unlimited on Saturday night with Edwards finishing third. It was the second-consecutive victory in the Daytona Shootout for JGR following the Denny Hamlin victory back in 2014. Kenseth and Hamlin swept the Daytona 500 qualifying races last year while Hamlin won at Talladega in the spring. Winning plate races takes both mechanical engineering and luck, JGR seems to have both in abundance, making them the obvious choice for Daytona 500 favorites.

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