Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Big Ones Open Opportunity for NASCAR’s Small Teams
If your Daytona 500 top-10 predictions were correct, after Sunday you may have a few new friends next time you go gambling in Las Vegas — or when you make a DraftKings team.
While veteran Kurt Busch grabbed an epic last-lap victory for the first time in 16 attempts, the rest of the field seemed to take a tumble after multiple Big Ones occurred in the 59th annual Daytona 500.
But he was not the only beneficiary.
Wood Brothers Racing and Ryan Blaney busted through into second place, giving NASCAR’s “traditional” fans a moment of excitement. Blaney was one well-timed bumpdraft away from giving the Woods their second Daytona 500 in the last seven years.
With JTG Daugherty Racing’s AJ Allmendinger posting up third, the final results took on a look of surprise. These two teams had only five top fives total in 2016; now, they’ll start the new Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in fine shape.
That duo seemed to be lifetime success stories, though compared to who ran right behind them. The rest of the top five were veterans, Aric Almirola and Paul Menard, who have only won twice in 580 combined starts and failed to finish inside the top five in all of 2016.
Then, there was Brendan Gaughan, who grabbed 11th in a one-off race with team owner Mark Beard. For Gaughan, it was his best run in Cup since the 2004 season finale at Homestead, a gap of over a dozen years.
So the Great American Race, in short turned into the Great American Miracle for so many. It was an impressive list of underdog stories, always a highlight of plate racing and a theme NASCAR hopes to carry beyond Daytona with their new rule changes. – Zach Catanzareti
Ryan Reed Tames a Wild Race
For the second time in his career, Ryan Reed won at Daytona, this time surviving the longest XFINITY Series race in history. For Reed, he’s now 2-for-3 in his past three February starts here but hopes this time it creates momentum over the course of a full season. The last time we saw him in Victory Lane, back in 2015 Reed went without a single top-10 finish the rest of the year.
Why such a marathon 300-miler? Saturday was an event filled with mistakes, causing multiple melees and unsung heroes towards the front of the field. But several crashes also created several opportunities for big surprises. Besides Reed, Scott Lagasse Jr., Joey Gase, Garrett Smithley and Harrison Rhodes all recorded top-10 finishes with underfunded race teams. Those organizations, in particular JD Motorsports, hope their performances attract sponsorship to help their small groups of employees get through the rest of the season.
The wild swings also found their way into the standings. Despite finishing 24th in the race, Elliott Sadler sits third in the points heading to Atlanta Motor Speedway, just 14 markers behind Reed. The No. 1 team swept the first two stages in XFINITY Series history, giving them an additional 20 season points. – Dustin Albino
Camping World Truck Series
Teenagers Take Center Stage
Think about where the Truck Series was a year ago, with Johnny Sauter entering Victory Lane at Daytona. If I would have told you the top 3 in that race the following year would be Kaz Grala, Austin Wayne Self and Chase Briscoe, what would you have said?
You would have probably laughed me out of the media. Or checked into mental help for me. Probably both.
But that’s how quickly the series can change, this unpredictable season opener a reminder of its parity. Grala, just 18, had never won a race in any major series before Friday night. Suddenly, he’s elevated to “young guns” status as a potential playoff and title contender.
Then there’s Self, who wasn’t even supposed to race this event until an injury forced him into the driver’s seat. He’s only running a limited schedule after a disappointing rookie season; this result gives that part of his career some hope. Both of AM Racing’s two teams (JJ Yeley was ninth) ran top 10 after earning just one such finish all of last year.
Last but not least, there’s Briscoe, who was a relative unknown this time last February until he burst onto the stage with six ARCA wins and the series championship. Despite an ugly mistake Friday, starting the first Truck Series wreck of the night the rookie recovered, took responsibility, and showcased why he’s a future talent ready to rise in NASCAR.
Together, the trio showed the future of the Truck Series is bright. And if these youngsters can mix it up with veterans like Sauter and Matt Crafton? The second year of their Chase may be a battle for the ages. – Tom Bowles
Unattached Montoya Has Some Fun in Sebring