Amy Henderson · Monday July 8, 2013
Looking for the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How behind Sunday’s race? Amy Henderson has you covered with each week with the answers to six race day questions, covering all five W’s and even the H…the Big Six.
Who…gets my shoutout of the race?
He might not be among the most talented drivers in the sport, but Michael Waltrip has Daytona pretty well figured out. He wasn’t a factor through the whole race, but he was when it counted; Waltrip’s fifth-place finish was his 15th top 10 at Daytona, the track where the 50-year-old has three of his four career Spring Cup wins (the other came at Talladega).
The top-5 run was also the second-best finish for the No. 55 among three drivers in 2013 and the best since Mark Martin brought the Aaron’s Dream Machine home third in the Daytona 500. Waltrip has proven in the last couple of years that he excels as a car owner more than he did as a driver; Clint Bowyer is currently second in driver points and Martin Truex, Jr. has a win this year and sits 11th in points, currently in Chase contention with a wild-card spot. It’s been a good year for Waltrip, in an out of the car.
What… was THAT?
If you don’t remember the last Daytona season sweep, you’re not alone. Before Jimmie Johnson made it two for two at Daytona on Saturday night, no driver had won the Daytona 500 and the midsummer race in the same year since Bobby Allison did it in 1982. To put that in a little perspective, Johnson was just shy of his seventh birthday when Allison grabbed his Daytona double. Eleven drivers in the field this weekend hadn’t even been born.
So is Johnson’s sweep a big deal? Yes and no. It puts Johnson in some pretty special company, a fact which was not lost on the driver, and the win was certainly important to Johnson as he works toward the Chase with an eye on a sixth Sprint Cup title. But in the end, it won’t define Johnson other than to put a little more perspective on his career. Johnson certainly appreciates his place in history, and the win meant a lot to him because of that, but in the end, it was an interesting footnote but not a career night.
Where…did the defending race winner wind up?
Tony Stewart was a smart choice for this week if you have a NASCAR fantasy team—he’s won this race four times, including last year’s event. And if you picked him this week, he grabbed you some points with his second-place run.
2013 has been an interesting year for the three-time Cup champion; Stewart languished in the mid-20’s in points for much of the first half of the year before turning things around with a win at Dover. He’s currently tenth in points and, while not a Chase lock, is stating his case for a shot at a title run in recent weeks. Is he a title favorite? Not yet; he’ll have to find the consistency of Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson before you can really put him on that list, but at the same time, it has to be in the back of the competition’s mind that Stewart didn’t make a lot of noise in 2011 before systematically marching through the Chase, winning five times en route to the title. Can that kind of lightning strike twice? Stewart is bent on making the world find out, one way or the other.
When…will I be loved?
It wasn’t the best restrictor plate race ever (is that an oxymoron?) and it wasn’t the worst, either. It was just another restrictor plate race, and it’s hard to pick a villain in those races unless someone does something really ridiculous. The crashes this time around were all run-of-the-mill plate race crashes with nobody really to blame. The things we saw this time were the nature of the beast, nothing more, nothing less.
A few drivers might name their own¬¬ cars and equipment as the villain, though. Paul Menard’s engine detonated in a burst of flames just a handful of laps into the race. Joey Logano’s tire went down at an inopportune time, sending him into the Turn 2 wall and relegating him to a 40th-place finish, dropping him from tenth to 15th in points. Denny Hamlin’s car got away from him, leading to a hard hit for Hamlin as well damage as for Martin Truex, Jr., Juan Pablo Montoya, and Kyle Busch.
The Chase picture has been changing almost every week lately, and it’s pretty hard to call anything at this point-a driver can climb into a top ten or wild card spot one week and slip right back out a week later. This week, Joey Logano took the biggest slide from the top as he fell five positions to 15th, and without a win, he’s out of the picture for the moment. An already struggling Jeff Gordon fell a pair of places to 14th and is also in danger of missing the boat in September unless he can find a little luck. Martin Truex, Jr. dropped three places to 11th, but is still safe for this week thanks to his Sonoma win.
Paul Menard took what may have been a fatal blow to his shot thanks to a blown engine; he dropped from 15th to 20th and at this point, even a win might not right his ship, though he floated happily in the top 10 for several weeks early. Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch were the beneficiaries of others’ bad luck as both move into the top ten. In Busch’s case, it’s the first time his team has been in the top ten in its existence. Defending Cup champ Brad Keselowski didn’t lose any more places this week, but he didn’t gain any either and without a win is in danger of not being eligible to defend his title this year. Unlike some years, this one is looking like the dust will be cleared at Richmond before we have a clear picture.
How…did the little guys do?
Germain Racing; Casey Mears (No. 13 GEICO Ford): Mears was the best qualifier among the small teams, starting 19th, and he was also the best finisher in ninth, getting his first top 10 of the year, his first for Germain Racing and the team’s second top 10 ever and first since 2009, when Max Papis finished eighth at Watkins Glen. Mears is an excellent restrictor plate driver and thought he had a chance to win before getting shuffled back late on Saturday. “It was OK, but we should have been better,” Mears said afterward. He almost made it to the end without getting caught in a crash this time, too, but got tagged coming to the checkers, still sliding over the line for that top 10. That he wasn’t happy with that shows how very far this team has come.
Tommy Baldwin Racing; Dave Blaney & J.J. Yeley(No 7 Florida Lottery Chevy & No. 36 Golden Corral Chevy): Blaney, who has been an excellent plate racer for TBR, was collected in Hamlin’s lap 150 wreck, leaving Yeley as the team’s only hope for a top finish. And Yeley delivered, leading twice and bringing the No. 36 home in 13th spot for a much needed six-figure payday. This team has struggled to find footing, but has shown the ability to pull out some good finishes. Yeley also finished 10th in the Daytona 500 this year, showing some chops when the cars are able to compete.
Front Row Motorsports; David Ragan & Josh Wise & David Gilliland (No. 34 Peanut Patch Boiled Peanuts Ford & No. 35 MDS Transport Ford & No. 38 Jong John Silver’s Ford): This time around on the plate tracks, it was Gilliland who led the way for FRM, though he wasn’t able to grab a win like Ragan did at Talladega. Gilliland says he felt his team could have finished better than their 15th place with a little more help. “We were there,” he said after the race. “We were definitely in contention there at the end and had a good run on the last lap coming off turn two, so I felt like we were in contention to win right there, for sure. Kurt and I had a good run on the outside and came up a little short because we ran out of help. But I’m proud of my guys and proud of our effort. I’m happy and overall it was a good day for us.” Meanwhile, Ragan did lead a lap en route to his 22nd-place finish, but was unable to sneak through the field for a second shot at a win. Wise came home 25th, his best since Dover last month.
BK Racing; David Reutimann & Travis Kvapil (No. 83 & 93 Burger King/Dr. Pepper Toyotas): Reutimann was collected in the lap 150 Denny Hamlin wreck, leacing Kvapil to carry the torch for BK, and Kvapil delivered a top 20 run that the team badly needed for the second time in three races. This team has looked like they could be turning a corner in the past, only to fall behind the curve again…could this time be different?
FAS Lane Racing; Terry Labonte (No. 32 C&J Energy Ford): This team also grabbed its second top 20 in three races amid a dismal season, and Labonte’s 19th-place finish solidifies the theory that the driver could be the problem here; Labonte and Boris Said, specialists on the type of track where the team has its best finishes this year, have taken the equipment farther then Timmy Hill, who is in the seat the majority of the time. Hill has some talent, but lacks the experience Labonte brings. Perhaps Frank Stoddard should try to lure Labonte out of his semi-retirement, at least for the rest of this year, in an effort to salvage the team’s performance.
Wood Brothers Racing; Trevor Bayne (No. 21 Motorctaft/Quick Lane Ford): Bayne thought he had a shot at a win; he threaded his way through the lap 150 crash somehow and was in the lead pack in a car that’s a contender in the plate races, but his sometimes-teammate at Roush Fenway Racing ended any hope of a second Cup win for Bayne. “Up to the white flag I thought we had shot at that thing with the 2 car pushing us,” Bayne said. “We had the top with open track ahead of us and the 17 got in there somehow to our left-rear and got us completely sideways. I thought we were crashed, so luckily we didn’t tear it up and finish that one early, but it wasn’t the finish we were looking for with that strong of a car.” Bayne came home a respectable 20th after his scary moment.
JTG-Daugherty Racing; Bobby Labonte (No. 47 Scott Products Toyota): With Bobby Labonte fighting for his job and the team searching for answers, the No. 47 bunch put in a thoroughly average performance at Daytona, finishing a few spots ahead of their 26.6 average. They didn’t set the world on fire and they weren’t terrible. A change is needed somewhere in this team, but it’s still ahrd to pinpoint the driver’s seat as the reason, even afrer four weeks of experimenting.
Circle Sport Racing; Landon Cassill (No. 33 Little Joe’s Autos Chevy): Cassill’s postrace Tweet sums up the driver’s night: “Ride ride ride ride ride ride pit ride ride ride ride ride ride pit ride ride ride ride crash” Cassill posted after avoiding trouble all night. He wasn’t caught in a crash, but they did slow his momentum couple of times. Still, he finished a soild 24th—in a car that isn’t even a real superspeedway car. The team can’t afford that, so Cassill raced his Charlotte car this weekend. Given that, his performance was admirable. He’s the kind of driver you’d like to see in top-flight cars, because you get the feeling that he could turn some heads.
NEMCO Motorsports; Joe Nemechek (No. 87 Royal Teak Toyota):Nemechek finished 27th on Saturday night. The good news? It’s his best finish of 2013. The bad news? It’s his best finish of 2013. Nemechek, once a formidable plate racer, was solid and safe on Saturday, but little else. Nemechek is a bit more competitive in the Nationwide Series, where the gap between the haves and have nots is slightly narrower, but he’s been passed by in Cup. *Leavine Family Racing; Scott Speed * (No. 95 Ford): Speed’s 28th place run wasn’t spectacular, but it was the teams best since a ninth at Talladega. This team runs a limited schedule, and they’d like to make the most of their races. Speed came home in one piece after a solid race, and that in itself is important for a part-time team on a limited budget, but it had to sting a little after the promise they saw in Talladega.
Phoenix Racing; AJ Allmendinger (No. 51 Phoenix Construction Services Chevy): Allmendinger survived one wreck at lap 128, had a save that shoule be in the highlight reels…and got crunched in the lap 150 crash. Allmendinger appeared to have had the wind knocked out of him after the lap 150 incident, which ultimately ended in an ambulance ride for Allmendinger and a tow-truck ride for the No. 51 all the way to a 35th-place finish. With a possible sale of the team on the horizon, the future of the driver’s seat is a bit cloudy. Allmendinger has performed admirably, and his save was spectacular…but will it be enough for a full time nod?
Swan Racing; David Stremme (No. 30 Lean 1 Toyota): Stremme has had some decent runs recently, but he’d probably like to forget this one, as he was tangled in a lap 128 incident and headed to the showers early. This team is one that has shown some promise. Being a new tam in te Cup environment isn’t easy, especially when they didn’t test the waters in Nationwide or trucks first. But they seem to be doing it right so far for the most part. They had some bad luck this time out.
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