Who’s in the headline – The winningest duo in the Cup series last season was Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, and when the first checkered flag of the season flew at Daytona on Sunday it was Logano driving under it first for his first career victory at a restrictor-plate track. Logano brought the field to the green flag for a green-white-checkered finish and had himself in front of the field when the caution and checkered flags flew together after several cars got together coming out of turn 2.
What happened – The race started under beautiful blue Florida skies and the field stayed at least double file for most of the event. There were only a handful of incidents throughout the event but none of them that would be categorized as a Big One. A 20-plus-lap run as the race was winding down saw the field three-wide seven or eight rows deep with very little movement within the pack. Similarly, the race only saw 27 lead changes among 12 drivers. For most of the event, when someone was able to get out front they stayed there. Drivers got alongside and even nosed ahead at the line occasionally but it was extremely hard to overtake the leader without a serious push from behind. On the plus side, the warmer weather of the daytime race had the drivers slipping and sliding and actually dealing with handling at Daytona for the first time in many years. The result was a clean race with drivers affording their fellow competitors a lot of leeway that certainly helped with the lack of a Big One. In the end, the caution flew within sight of the finish and resulted in a green-white-checkered finish. That finish was ultimately cut half of a lap short due to a caution after the field had taken the white flag.
Why you should care – The new rules package for 2015 on the non-plate tracks is going to lead to less downforce on the cars. The resulting tire wear and overall lessened grip should make the cars tougher to handle and place a higher premium on driver ability. In the end that should make the overall racing in the series better and more exciting for the fans. The only concern at this point is that the side draft on these cars has a tremendous impact on trying to pass the leader. If that can be reduced so that the old fashioned slingshot pass for the lead can return to the sport, we will all be better for it.
What your friends are talking about – The big discussion around Daytona after Saturday was SAFER barriers. Kyle Busch had a very serious impact with the inside wall on the inside of the front straight/turn one. The resulting injuries included a compound fracture of the right leg and a fracture of his left ankle. Joie Chitwood, president of Daytona International Speedway, immediately committed to putting tire barriers in place for the 500 and SAFER barriers on any track facing walls by the July race. This will hopefully be the final impetus to put SAFER barriers on every wall facing every racing surface on the schedule.
Speaking of safety, the green-white-checkered finish ended with the pack on the backstretch when the caution flag flew for an incident off of turn 2 after the field had taken the white. Many fans were voicing their displeasure with the fact that the drivers were not allowed to race back to the checkered flag in the biggest race of the season. Many of those same fans were screaming bloody murder about the lack of SAFER barriers on Saturday. You can’t play both angles on safety, although it is necessary for NASCAR to be consistent. There have been times where they let them race back with cars in turns 1 and 2 that were stopped and other times where they threw the caution when a single car spun on the back straight and was back under power. Safety is paramount in the modern world of racing but consistently focusing on it is what will help the fans understand what they are watching.
Daytona was the first implementation of the automated officiating system that NASCAR has implemented for 2015. As such, several teams were caught jumping over the wall too soon while quite a few were flagged for speeding on pit lane. The speed timing system is no different so there really isn’t an excuse for violating that rule on the pit road. It will take a couple of races for teams to get used to the new enforcement system but, in the end, they will all learn to follow the rules a little bit closer.
For those fans who were in Daytona it was interesting seeing the fan area outside the track. While there were still some merchandise haulers present it did not appear as though there were as many as there have been in the past. The new plan to eliminate them and go with the large stores is already beginning to take place and good or bad it just makes for a different look to that area of the race track.
Kyle wasn’t the only Busch in the news this weekend. Kurt Busch was suspended indefinitely by NASCAR after the decision that came down from the Dover court this week. Busch appealed the decision to the NASCAR appeals board and it was denied. He then took it to the final appeal level of Bryan Moss, the NASCAR final appeals officer. That appeal was also denied and Busch is out of a ride for the foreseeable future. While the legal process is still unfolding for Busch, unless there is a significant reversal of fortune he is quite possibly out of the sport for good.
Who is mad – Anyone whose name is not Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Ty Dillon, Travis Kvapil, Austin Dillon and Justin Marks. Those six drivers started on the front row of their respective races thanks to the circus that is knockout qualifying at restrictor plate tracks. Many fans, team owners, fabricators, drivers and landscapers all think the process is a joke. How to make it better is anyone’s guess at this. One thing is for sure, it has not added the excitement for which NASCAR had hoped.
Another attempt at winning the 500 for Tony Stewart went south early again this year. The three-time champion bounced it off of the wall just past the 40-lap mark in the race. The impact damaged the front suspension of the car enough that he had to pull the car behind the wall and replace much of the front of the car. The end result is a 17-year run of frustration for the winningest active driver in the series at Daytona.
Landon Cassill made the Daytona 500 for the tiny Hillman Smith Motorsports team. While it is a great payday to just start the 500 it was a tremendous disappointment for them to have an engine failure just 18 laps into the race. Sometimes the builders who lease engines to the smaller teams will put experimental parts in to test them for future use in their general fleet of engines. Not saying that is what happened to Cassill, but it has to be a disappointment to go up in smoke less than 20 laps into the biggest race of the season. On the plus side, the team has 250,000 reasons to be happy about heading into the 2015 season.
Who is happy – Obviously Logano is thrilled but he isn’t the only one. Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin and Johnson all came home with undamaged racecars and top-five runs. Casey Mears scored a sixth-place finish for the single car operation that is Germain Racing. Mears has 11 career top 10s at plate tracks. He has more top 10s during the July race, which has to have the lizard crew pretty pumped up for this summer.
Fabricators, parts suppliers and sheet metal wholesalers, too. Over 100 cars were involved in incidents at Daytona during Speedweeks. The nature of restrictor plate racing results in torn-up race cars. When teams wad up that many cars it provides a large financial impact to the support industries and individuals associated with the sport.
Clint Bowyer‘s Speedweeks was a disaster by most standards. Totaled cars in the Sprint Unlimited and qualifying piled on top of the difficulties that have plagued him for the last year plus of competition. The karma gods have been hard on Bowyer since the whole debacle at Richmond. When the caution and checkered flags flew Bowyer was in seventh place and his car was in one piece. The gods might finally be smiling on Bowyer again.
When the checkered flag flew: Logano notched his ninth career victory in Cup series competition. He has run 221 races in the series, which gives him a winning percentage of 4%.
This is Logano’s first career win at Daytona International Speedway in the Cup Series.
The win is Logano’s third career top five at Daytona and fourth career top 10.
The triumph is Team Penske’s second career Daytona 500 win after Ryan Newman took the checkered flag first in 2008. Penske has never won the July race at Daytona.
While Logano has 221 career Cup starts he is the second youngest Daytona 500 champion at 24 years, eight months and 29 days. Only Trevor Bayne was younger when he won the Great American Race.
Logano earned $1,581,453 for the win.
Cassill grabbed $262,390 for coming home in the last position.
Logano leads the points by five over Kevin Harvick.
Harvick’s runner-up effort was his fourth career top-two finish at the World Center of Speed. Harvick has two wins at Daytona and a second in the 500 in 2009.
Harvick has 32 career second-place runs. That ranks him in a tie for 20th all-time with Dale Jarrett.
Earnhardt rounded out the podium with his 10th career top-three finish at DIS. He has finished third in the 500 twice. He has four second-place runs in the 500 to go with his two career wins.
Earnhardt has 80 top-three finishes in his career. That puts him 27th on he all-time list.
Logano is the first competitor to tally a win in the 2015 Sprint Cup season. The remaining drivers who are currently eligible for the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup and their point standings are:
- Kevin Harvick
- Dale Earnhardt Jr.
- Denny Hamlin
- Jimmie Johnson
- Casey Mears
- Clint Bowyer
- Martin Truex Jr.
- Kasey Kahne
- Greg Biffle
- David Gilliland
- Michael Annett
- Sam Hornish Jr.
- Austin Dillon
- Aric Almirola
- David Ragan
What is in the cooler – It is hard to say a race that saw three-wide racing eight rows deep for over 20 laps as the race was winding down a dud, but this 500 seemed to be lacking in excitement. The crowd didn’t spend much time on its feet compared to last year’s event when it seemed as though it rarely sat down once the race finally restarted late in the day. Plate races inherently have a high level of excitement and there was absolutely a lot of tight racing, but the action at the front of the pack seemed subdued as plate races go. The Daytona 500 was still a good race and as a result we’ll give it four cold Some Beach Brown Ales from the Daytona Beach Brewing Company.
Where do you point your DVR for next week – The next stop for the Cup Series is Atlanta Motor Speedway. The race has been moved from late in the season to this new slot in March. The temperature in Atlanta on Friday was a balmy 34 degrees. The track is also hosting a Truck and XFINITY race on the same day. The first time races have been scheduled back-to-back on the same day. The Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 rolls off at 1 p.m. ET on March 1. It can be seen on FOX and heard on PRN and NASCAR SiriusXM radio.