Unpredictable. That one word sums up the entire Daytona weekend, from the photo finishes in the Camping World Truck and Nationwide Series races to Trevor Bayne scoring his first NASCAR victory—in any of NASCAR’s top three series—to win the Daytona 500 at just 20 years old, the youngest 500 winner in the race’s 53-year history.
But while Bayne will most definitely be taking the spotlight this week—and he should!—other drivers had runs worth mentioning (or worrying about) that you may not have noticed in all the excitement. So, without further ado … here’s this week’s edition of Who’s Hot and Who’s Not around the NASCAR circuit.
Regan Smith – Aside from Trevor Bayne, Smith probably had one of the most impressive underdog performances throughout Daytona Speedweeks. Smith led seven laps in the 500, and while that doesn’t necessarily sound impressive, he was up front more often than not. Because of the tandem racing, finding the right dancing partner was crucial, and Smith seemed like the go-to guy for anyone in need of some extra help. Kurt Busch probably received more assistance from Smith after the two worked so well together in the Gatorade Duel, but at one point an ill-timed bumpdraft threw Busch’s Dodge into Smith, sending the No. 78 spinning and almost ruining what could have been a career day. The fact that the team was able to rally back to seventh after that speaks volumes about their ability to step it up a notch in 2011.
Jennifer Jo Cobb – After finishing sixth in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race on Friday night, Cobb became the highest-finishing female driver in series history. In 2010, the owner/driver Cobb also had the highest driver points standings finish of any other female driver in series history when she wound up 17th. Admittedly, one of the reasons in this race she was able to run so well is because of all the trucks that got sent to the garage due to wrecks by the end of the night. However, it was Cobb’s ability (and her spotter’s careful guidance) that kept her out of trouble at Daytona, something that drivers with larger resumes than hers haven’t always been able to do.
Cobb showed some “feistiness” during the race, too. After a multi-truck accident that started with contact with Kyle Busch, Cobb drove up beside Busch, tapped his truck ever so slightly, and sharply pointed towards him in his truck to voice her feelings about the crash. To be honest, I can’t say I wouldn’t have done the same, so you GO girl!
Honorable Mention: Trevor Bayne (of course!)
Danica Patrick – The only reason I didn’t put her up there with the “Hot” drivers is because she didn’t finish on the lead lap. Nevertheless, female drivers definitely came to show their stuff (racing ability, GUYS!). During Nationwide Series qualifying, Patrick sat on the pole for a while before Clint Bowyer, Landon Cassill, and team owner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. all beat her time. However, fourth place isn’t a bad starting spot for a driver who hasn’t even run a full schedule of racing yet.
Patrick also led a lap during the race after Bowyer pushed her towards the front. She had her moments after that (especially with Bowyer) but coming home 14th, one lap down, her best career Nationwide Series finish is nothing to sneeze at.
Landon Cassill – Due to the new Nationwide Series rules, Cassill is the points leader of the series after finishing third to Sprint Cup Series regulars Tony Stewart and Clint Bowyer. While you would expect Cassill to be on top of the world, the former Hendrick Motorsports development driver is in front of the unemployment line: he doesn’t even have a ride for next week in Phoenix. In the post-race press conference, Cassill was even asking Bowyer for help! Someone get this guy a ride!
Honorable Mention: Reed Sorenson (fifth in 2011 Nationwide debut)
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – OK, yeah I know I had him listed as a “hot” driver just last week, but after looking over a review of his Speedweeks I began to rethink that. Aside from the Daytona 500 pole, Earnhardt didn’t have many bright spots over the past couple of weeks. Heck, and even that was spoiled after a wreck in practice sent him to the back of the field!
That string of bad luck continued on Sunday when Earnhardt failed to finish the race after getting caught up in a wreck not of his own doing on the first green-white-checkered attempt of the race. He finished 24th. But this is all fixed anyway, right?
Brad Keselowski – I never thought I’d see the day when Keselowski ended up getting overshadowed by older brother, Brian, but that’s exactly what happened this week. After Brad pushed Brian in the Gatorade Duel to secure him a spot in the Daytona 500, it was Brian who became the talk of the NASCAR garage!
Meanwhile, Brad … well … sucked both Saturday and Sunday. Keselowski nearly made it to the end of the race in Nationwide, but contact with Cassill on lap 106 sent him spinning through the grass and promptly ended his day. He finished 30th.
In the Cup Series race, contact with Robby Gordon sent him spinning into the outside wall. Keselowski wouldn’t finish that race, either, eventually being scored 29th in the final running order.
In Brad’s defense, Brian had some misfortunes of his own; he finished 41st after he got caught up in a 14-car crash in turns 3 and 4 on the 30th lap of the race. At least people other than Brad’s fans seemed to actually care…
Honorable Mention: Jimmie Johnson (27th after being involved in an early wreck)
Kevin Harvick – Harvick fell out of the race so early, he was able to fly back to Charlotte and start tweeting about the race while he was watching on TV at home. Just 22 laps in, the engine on the No. 29 went kaput and knocked him out of the race (42nd). He wouldn’t be the only Richard Childress Racing driver to lose an engine, either. Teammate Jeff Burton’s motor let go just 92 laps into the race, the first time RCR has experienced two mechanical failures like that since Michigan back in the summer of 2006. To add insult to injury, RCR’s one contender left, Clint Bowyer was involved in a wreck on lap 198 after he had been running up front for most of the day. Expensive weekend, Mr. Childress?
Greg Biffle – There weren’t many people happier to get out of Daytona than Biffle. On lap 30, a 14-car pileup ensued and Biffle found himself right in the middle of it. Biffle spent 17 laps in the garage area to repair the damage, then returned to the track to gain some extra points and help his teammates.
Except the teammate part didn’t go so well. Biffle was drafting with Roush Fenway Racing friend Matt Kenseth and suddenly, it went very wrong. Biffle attempted to bump draft Kenseth heading into the tri-oval, but hooked his right rear bumper instead and sent him into the outside wall on the frontstretch. Kenseth was OK, but his day was done.
Biffle’s day ended, too when an accident involving him and Juan Pablo Montoya left Biffle’s car too damaged to continue. He would finish 35th.
Honorable Mention: Johanna Long (running fine in the Truck race … until being turned into a bowling pin by Donnie Neuenberger)
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