The front page of USAToday is a picture of Jimmie Johnson after winning his second Daytona 500. Splashed in the headlines of major racing websites are articles about Danica Patrick making history again in Daytona. While both of those feats are huge and deserve the coverage, there are other drivers who need it more.
Out of the Top-10 drivers in the Daytona 500 final results, three are virtual unknowns on race day. Regan Smith, Michael McDowell and J.J. Yeley all finished in the top-10 yesterday. Each of these incredible drivers is behind the wheel of an underfunded car and part of an underfunded team. The fact that they survived NASCARs Super Bowl and emerged on top is a great testament to their skills and teams.
Regan Smith had some interesting moments to close out his season in 2012. After going from the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing last season to the No. 51 for Phoenix Racing at the end of the season, Smith, basically switching rides with Kurt Busch, basically started over. He also had big shoes to fill in Charlotte and Kansas last season when he filled in for an injured Dale Earnhardt Jr. Taking on Daytona for the first time in the No. 51, Smith’s name was hardly mentioned during the broadcast. Even after starting 40th in the Great American Race, Smith made his way into the Top-10 and ultimately finished seventh, one spot ahead of Pole Sitter Danica Patrick.
Another driver who deserves praise after yesterday’s performance is Michael McDowell. Driving the No. 98 for Phil Parsons Racing, McDowell started the Daytona 500 in 38th position. He fought his way up through the field, made it past multiple wrecks, and raced around the big names for a 9th place finish. With sponsorship from Curb Records and the Christian Radio Station KLOVE, McDowell was able to run the entire race. Unfortunately, they may not be the case this season. With sponsorship hard to come by, McDowell and his team are only planning to run the first five races in their entirety. Its reasons like this that NASCAR needs to focus their attention on the underfunded teams. If a driver is good enough to battle through the Daytona 500 and come out with a top-10, then he must be good enough to sponsor. Michael McDowell and the rest of the No. 98 Phil Parson’s Racing team deserve a little more recognition for their accomplishment in the Daytona 500.
One more driver who cracked into the top-10 yesterday was J.J. Yeley. After starting 41st or of a 43 car field, J.J. Yeley fought his way to a 10th place finish yesterday. Yeley has been a part of many start-and-park races and often doesn’t get to see the checkered flag. For him to not only finish a race but to garnish a top-10 on top of that is huge for him and the organization he drives for.
It’s understandable why NASCAR focuses more on drivers like Jimmie Johnson, Danica Patrick and Brad Keselowski. Those are the names that everyone recognizes and tunes in each weekend to see but with NASCAR being a sponsor-driven sport, its drivers like Yeley, McDowell and Smith who need to be mentioned as well, especially when they earn it. In order to get rid of the start-and-park teams, which many fans and even drivers agree needs to go, the funding has to be there for those teams. Giving recognition for a great accomplishment is well deserved so with that, congratulations Regan Smith, Michael McDowell and J.J.Yeley on finishing in the top-10 at the Daytona 500.