Who’s in the headline
The clash on Sunday last week had the world abuzz with how uneventful the racing would be at Daytona for the 500. Apparently, someone forgot to tell the drivers. 24 lead changes, seven caution flags for on-track incidents, 14 leaders and the three winningest car numbers in the sport on the podium was far from uneventful. When it was all said and done, Austin Dillon made a last lap pass of Aric Almirola which involved the No. 10 wrecking, and the No. 3 pulled away to score the win on the 20th anniversary of Dale Earnhardt‘s win and the 17th anniversary of his death.
Ryan Blaney dominated the race, leading 118 laps and winning the second stage, but saw his chances dashed as he bounced off of the wall during the final caution of the race. Kurt Busch won the first stage and was poised to have a run at the victory only to lose it as he was involved in the wreck that took Blaney out of contention as well. Kyle Busch blew a tire early that ultimately led to his long day. The first Big One of the day took out William Byron, Erik Jones, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Larson to end stage one.
The final “Big One” ended great runs for underdogs Matt DiBenedetto, and Brendan Gaughan, along with Kurt Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ryan Newman and Joey Logano.
Why you should care
Chevrolet managed to wrest a plate victory away from Ford, thanks in part to so many of the strong Fords being damaged in wrecks throughout the race. The youth movement in NASCAR continues to be served as Blaney, Darrell Wallace Jr., and Elliott all had strong showings during Speedweeks. The introduction of the low-downforce package to superspeedways seemed to be a success as the cars were a handful to drive but made for some exciting racing throughout much of the Daytona events.
What your friends are talking about
Wallace Jr. is a good race car driver. The fact that he is black shouldn’t be part of the narrative of his career or the introduction every time he’s in the media center. The Drive for Diversity is about acceptance of everyone in the sport but NASCAR seems determined to point out the differences of some individuals every single time they succeed. When the day comes that we stop qualifying Wallace’s accomplishments by the color of his skin, we’ll begin to start making strides.
Ron Devine is determined to have the No. 23 on the race track for all 36 races in 2018. His race team filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, and the future of the team and its charter, are in doubt thanks to the action. NASCAR has not pulled a charter from a team yet but the filing very well could be grounds for them to make the unprecedented move for the first time.
An executive for Monster Energy was non-committal on sponsorship for the Cup Series continuing on beyond 2018. While multiple people associated with the company made casual reference to their commitment to the sport when speaking with Frontstretch during the weekend at Daytona, there has been no formal agreement put in place and any statements about the participation of the title sponsor in the future would be premature.
Roger Penske let slip during media availability this week that Ford will have a new car/body for 2019. There was extensive whining from Ford drivers last season about the handicap their Fusion provided when competing with the Toyotas and Chevrolets. While no formal announcement has occurred, it is a safe bet the Captain is not going to make statements like that without some sort of insider knowledge.
Hamlin joked during an interview this week that 70 percent of NASCAR drivers were on Adderall. Needless to say the brass at NASCAR was far from thrilled at this revelation. Hamlin was called to the hauler and eventually made a statement that his comments were in jest. Whether there is truth to the statement or not, it did not paint the sport in a very good light and the Jeremy Mayfield references will be flying for weeks to come.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. retired and Truex won the title but it was Danica Patrick who garnered the most offseason coverage from media outlets. There’s no question that her absence from the sport is going to be more significant than most will admit.
Tyler Reddick beat Elliott Sadler in the XFINITY race on Saturday, even though the timing and scoring system showed the margin of victory was 0.000 seconds. The photo finish picture made it look apparent that Reddick did beat Sadler to the line, but it wasn’t until Sunday morning that NASCAR released the fourth decimal to give a more accurate margin of victory. Reddick edged Sadler by 0.0004 seconds, the closest in the sport’s history.
Who is mad
Kurt Busch was poised to be a back-to-back 500 champion with two laps to go. Unfortunately, he ran into the back of Hamlin when the leader pulled up to block his run and ended up in a steaming heap in the infield. Busch is in a one year contract, and the rumors are rampant that he’ll be replaced next year by Cole Custer in the No. 41. It would have been a very fantastic way to start the year if it is indeed his last season.
Blaney had the strongest car for much of the race. As the final laps were unfolding he found himself in the middle lane and falling back. He did a great job avoiding a precipitous fall all the way to the rear of the field, but that momentary misfortune ultimately led to his demise in the race. The young driver has garnered a huge fan following and will absolutely be a force in the sport for years to come.
Who is happy
DiBenedetto may have ended up on the hook in 27th, but he made a strong run that found him in third late in the event. When you have Go Fas Racing in a spot where it may garner a podium finish in the biggest race of the season, you have to feel pretty happy.
Similarly to DiBenedetto, Gaughan was in the mix for the win with the race nearly complete before he got caught up in the melee at the end. Gaughan was his usual effervescent self at the infield care center when he met with the media and praised his little team and RCR/ECR for making a great car that had him in position to win the Daytona 500. He said they only have four races to run this year, but they will be a force to reckon with in all of them at this pace. He also praised the new aero package due to the difficulty in driving the race car.
When the checkered flag flew
Austin Dillon was the victor in the 60th running of the Daytona 500. It’s his first career victory at Daytona International Speedway and his second overall.
Dillon is now tied for 102nd on the all-time wins list with 25 other drivers.
The win comes on the 20th anniversary of Dale Earnhardt’s only 500 win and the 17th anniversary of the Intimidator’s untimely death.
Darrell Wallace Jr.’s second-place run is his best career finish. Wallace is now one of 241 drivers to score a second-place finish in a Cup race.
Denny Hamlin rounded out the podium with his third-place finish. He now has five top-three results at Daytona.
This is Hamlin’s 91st career top three which ties him for 27th with Junior Johnson.
The Rookie of the Race award goes to Wallace as the highest finishing rookie.
After one race, Austin Dillon will qualify for the Playoffs provided no more than 16 drivers win a race before the end of the regular season at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The remaining drivers who would qualify for the playoffs based on current points and their playoff points are:
1) Ryan Blaney – 1
2) Joey Logano – 0
4) Darrell Wallace Jr. – 0
5) Paul Menard – 0
6) Michael McDowell – 0
7) Denny Hamlin – 0
8) Ryan Newman – 0
9) Aric Almirola – 0
10) Chris Buescher – 0
11) Trevor Bayne – 0
12) Martin Truex Jr. – 0
13) Alex Bowman – 0
14) Clint Bowyer – 0
15) AJ Allmendinger – 0
What is in the cooler (one to six beers where one is a stinker and six is an instant classic)
A quite competitive race with a last lap pass for the win, over 20 lead changes and iconic cars in first and second left everyone talking after the race. The amount of buzz around the 500 is as high as it has been in years, just a week after everyone was completely down on the sport. We’ll give this one five ice cold Daytona Blonds from Daytona Beach Brewing Company.
Where do you point your DVR for next week
Next up for the series is Atlanta with the Folds of Honor 500. Coverage begins at 2 p.m. ET on FOX. You can also see the race on the FOX Sports Go app. The race can be heard on your local PRN affiliate, goprn.com and SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.
About the author
What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.