The Gen-6 cars made their debut at DIS in the 55th running of the Daytona 500 and the word of the day was “track position.” Yes…track position was key at a restrictor plate race. These cars were tailored towards better racing at 1.5 mile tracks which make up a majority of the schedule but an unseen side effect that became apparent earlier in Speedweeks was that drivers will have trouble passing each other at restrictor plate tracks. The race lasted for 3 hours and 8 minutes and had some big wow moments. Lets take a look at all the highlights from the event and what unfolded during the 200 lap slug fest from the high banks of Daytona.
The Early Laps & the Big One
Jeff Gordon took the lead from pole-sitter Danica Patrick and led the first lap of the race. He continued to lead comfortably while the field spread out 3-wide behind him. Around lap 20, Gordon radioed in that his car was over heating and the camera caught what looked like to be some paper debris on his grille. Jeff caught a lucky break when the caution flew at lap 26 and he used the pace car to clear his grille of the obstruction. When they went back green, Jimmie Johnson took the lead from his teammate before chaos erupted behind him.
Matt Kenseth stacked up the outside line slightly but it was just enough to send Kasey Kahne spinning out of control off the nose of Kyle Busch. He was slammed in the drivers door by Juan Pablo Montoya who was also run into from behind by defending NSCS champion, Brad Keselowski. Kevin Harvick lost control of his car attempting to avoid the carnage sending his Chevy into the wall and sailing back across the track into JPM. Harvick came back up the track after the second impact which put him directly in the path of race favorite, Tony Stewart ending his day and also collecting Casey Mears. During the chaos, Jamie McMurray went tearing through the grass damaging the front end of his machine as did Kurt Busch when he hit the car ahead of him. There was a total of eight cars damaged in the crash that took out many favorites for the 500.
Danica Patrick Makes History & Edwards’ Bad Luck Continues
After that melee, the field settled down and ran single file for a good bit of time with most of the field running nose-to-tail up against the wall. After a caution for debris, Michael Waltrip put his Newtown tribute car out front leading four laps before he was overtaken by Danica Patrick. On lap 90, she became the first woman in history to lead a lap in the Daytona 500 and the second ever to do so at any track. Joe Gibbs Racing made it’s presence known early putting all three cars up front with Matt Kenseth leading the most laps at 86.
After a cycle of green flag pit stops, Kenseth continued to lead while the second big wreck of the race broke out behind him. Brad Keselowski checked up after the cars ahead of him slowed causing an accordion-effect. 2011 Daytona 500 winner, Trevor Bayne spun sideways in turn 2 right in front of Carl Edwards who had nowhere to go but into the right rear of Bayne’s Ford. That was the 5th wreck Carl has had with the Gen-6 cars and this one would end his day. Nine cars were involved in the second big one including all three Front-Row Motorsports cars and RCR driver, Austin Dillon.
TRD Engine Troubles
On lap 149, JGR ran 1-2-3 and just two laps later, Denny Hamlin was the only Gibbs driver left on track. Matt Kenseth looked like he had the strongest car in the field and would be a serious threat to win his 3rd Daytona 500 before he had to bring his car down pit road with an engine related issue. The very next lap, his teammate Kyle Busch went to the garage with another engine problem that oddly seemed unrelated to Kenseth’s but was just as terminal. A few laps later, 2nd place runner Martin Truex Jr. began to report issues with his engine as well. While the other two scored DNF’s, Truex was able to limp home 24th.
The Fight to the Finish & Aftermath
During green flag pit stops on lap 178, Jeff Burton pounded the wall in the tri-oval due to what appeared to be a blown tire. When they went back green, the battle was on between the wounded car of Brad Keselowski and ironically, his 2012 championship rival Jimmie Johnson. Brad worked the high line while Johnson side-drafted him with Denny Hamlin behind. The final caution of the race flew with 14 to go because of some fairly large pieces of metal debris that was hit by both Jimmie and Brad. JJ led the field to the green and the inside line was having trouble getting organized falling back. It all came down to the final lap of the race. Greg Biffle had his sights set on his first 500 win while 5-time looked to capture his second victory at the historic speedway. In turn 1, Travis Kvapil got wrecked into the wall collecting about five cars but NASCAR made the great call to let the field race back to the line. As Biffle got ready to make his move with Danica Patrick at his bumper, Dale Earnhardt Jr came out of no where blowing by the 16 and pulling up to the back of the 48. Mark Martin followed Jr pulling into 3rd position but the two ran out of steam a little too soon. Johnson guarded the bottom as Jr desperately tried to get enough momentum to get alongside him but he ran out of time.
5-time NSCS champion Jimmie Johnson was able to win his 2nd Daytona 500 and the first points paying race with the new Gen-6 cars. Dale Jr. finished in the runner-up spot for the 3rd time in the last four 500′s with Mark Martin taking 3rd. It was another great Daytona 500 that ended with a very worthy winner. After the race, Jimmie tore up the front of his Chevy SS when he went celebrating through the infield. In the six races between his two Daytona 500 victories, his best finish was 27th! Danica Patrick fell back to 8th on the last lap which is still her career best and the highest ever for a woman in the 500. Michael McDowell also posted a career best finish of 9th in his K-Love sponsored Ford Fusion. JJ Yeley was another feel good story posting a 10th place finish for Tommy Baldwin Racing. After the race, Denny Hamlin was not happy at all with Joey Logano tweeting Brad Keselowski about how his “genius teammate” was screwing up the inside line. Overall, I thought it was a good race and that we can’t start judging these new cars until we see them on tracks like Phoenix and Las Vegas. Lastly, I’d like to say congratulations to the now 2-time winner of the Daytona 500, Jimmie Johnson!