What else can fans ask for out of the official start of our season? Daytona brought firsts in terms of victories for two young drivers; in the Camping World Truck Series for 19 year-old Tyler Reddick in the No. 19 Ford for Brad Keselowski, and in the XFINITY Series for 21 year-old Ryan Reed in the No. 16 Mustang for Jack Roush. But it was the Great American Race, the Daytona 500, that really brought the crowd to their feet. We saw actual competitive laps without “the big one,” packed in three-wide racing for the final 20 plus laps, and a driver emerge at the end with the kind of power that we saw at the conclusion of the Chase last season in Joey Logano.
It was Logano’s ninth Sprint Cup Series victory, and the first win for Ford in the Daytona 500 since Matt Kenseth brought the blue oval to victory lane back in 2012. It hasn’t been that long when you consider this was the 57th running of our sport’s largest race, but the Bow Tie has simply been dominant at Daytona thanks to the likes of Mr. Six-Time, Jimmie Johnson, and last year’s winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Joey Logano has really re-created his career since his days at Joe Gibbs Racing in the No. 20 Toyota, where a skinny kid from Connecticut went up against the giants of the sport and tried to make his mark, but only won twice, with his first career Sprint Cup win coming at a rain-shortened race at New Hampshire in ‘09, and his second in 2012 at Pocono. The Logano we see today as Daytona 500 Champion is more than the scrawny driver he used to be when he was at Gibbs, who somehow showed a much different persona when he got behind the wheel, and managed to ruffle the feathers of many veterans in the garage area for not racing clean. The Joey Logano of 2015 dominates on and off the track. He is no longer afraid of speaking his mind when he’s not happy on pit lane following the checkered flag, nor is he timid on the track. There’s no doubt that Logano has matured into a much better overall driver at the sport’s highest level, but what he’s showed us over his short time with Roger Penske, now capped-off with a Daytona 500 ring, is nothing more than simply amazing at age 24.
Joey Logano is good for our sport, and he’s great for Team Penske and his sponsors in Shell and Pennzoil.
Now on to this week’s mailbox questions…
Q: I know it’s been colder in the Atlanta area recently. How will the cold and the testing session early this week change how teams are prepping for this weekend’s race? Thanks! –Aaron, Ontario, CA
A: Hey Aaron, thanks for writing us! There is no doubt that Sprint Cup teams, and those in the Camping World Truck and XFINITY Series (also racing this weekend), will be preparing for cold temps heading up to Atlanta this weekend. The temps have been in the 30’s and 40’s, and the forecast for the weekend shows temps in the high 40’s and lows in the 20’s Thursday through Sunday. In fact, on Sunday right now they’re projecting freezing rain. That should be an interesting match for Air Titan 2.0… But things will be tight on these cars with the cold weather, and the aging racing surface at Atlanta.
As you mentioned, the major change in the schedule for teams getting ready for the race weekend is the lengthy testing session which will be held on Thursday at the track for the Sprint Cup Series. As we covered during Speedweeks at Daytona, this week will be the debut of many changes to the car and competition rules package for 2015- including specifically the in-car, driver-controlled track bar adjustment knob. Drivers will now have to work with crew chiefs even more closely as they’ll be responsible for dialing up the level of looseness or tightness of their cars.
Haulers will be leaving the Charlotte area a little earlier than usual this week because of the testing session. This week will be one to really test the teams, here early in the season, what they’re made of (both on and off the track), and showcase all the preparation they worked on all off-season.
Q: Who will replace Kyle and Kurt Busch for the season given that the pair won’t be back anytime soon? – Dillon, Dayton, OH
A: Right now the timetable for both the Busch brothers to return to racing is completely up in the air. For Kyle, his injuries, while serious, seem to be something that he can rehab from in a minimum of six to eight weeks. Meaning his bones could (that’s a big “could”) heal by May and he could be back for the All-Star Race or even the Coke 600. It’s possible. But with a compound fracture to his right leg, along with a break in his left foot, rehab time will be important to ensure everything heals and Rowdy is at 100% before he gets back into his Cup ride, as fellow competitor Tony Stewart can attest to. Right now, Joe Gibbs Racing announced that 9-year veteran driver, David Ragan will replace Busch in the No. 18 Toyota for Atlanta and the foreseeable future. JGR was able to work out a deal with Ragan’s team, Front Row Motorsports, that puts the two-time race winner behind the wheel of the 18 machine, and allows Front Row to use wins from the 18 with David Ragan towards the No. 34 Ford getting a slot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup at season’s end. That is IF Ragan can pull off an improbable victory in the No. 18 while filling-in for Kyle Busch. Regardless, getting a high-quality, skilled driver like David Ragan is a huge relief for owners Joe and JD Gibbs heading into this season- a season possibly without their star driver.
For Kyle’s older brother Kurt, things are much different with his indefinite suspension from NASCAR. The road back to the seat of the No. 41 Chevy SS for Busch may be a longer, and harder stretch of highway than his younger brother’s. Kurt will need to not only win NASCAR’s approval back into the sport after his legal issues with ex-girlfriend Patricia Driscoll and the alleged assault, but also win back the support of his sponsors, his team at Stewart-Haas Racing, and perhaps most importantly NASCAR fans everywhere.
Regan Smith will continue to fill-in for Kurt in the 41 machine this weekend at Atlanta, as he pulls double duty with running the No. 7 Chevy full-time for JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series- where he’s competing for a championship this season. Kurt could be back in a week, or he could be back and able to compete months from now. What happens to the 41 car and Kurt Busch’s comeback from this will undoubtedly be one of the biggest, most complicated stories to follow this season.
Have a question? Email me at [email protected], and make sure to check back next week when we’ll answer your questions on all things NASCAR. Until then, enjoy the racing this week from Atlanta!
Frontstretch.com is looking for a talented and motivated individual to fulfill the role of the site’s webmaster. See our job page for more information.