Surprising and Not Surprising: The Daytona 500

[media-credit name=”Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR” align=”alignright” width=”225″][/media-credit]Often called the Great American Race, this year’s 2012 Daytona 500 was most certainly one of the most memorable ones, including buckets of rain, a major conflagration, and even texting direct from the track.

Here is what was surprising and not surprising from the much-delayed, first ever prime time under the lights running of the 2012 Great American Race.

Surprising:  While the Daytona 500 has always been unpredictable, it was surprising just how many bizarre occurrences there were during this race, causing many to wonder if this superspeedway now possessed some of its own demons, similar to sister superspeedway Talladega.

The first in the string of strange happenings was the massive amounts of rain that descended on the track on Sunday. This led to the first ever postponement of the Great American Race, which was initially rescheduled until NOON on Monday.

When the rain continued to fall on Monday morning, the next unpredictable moment occurred as NASCAR then rescheduled the race until 7:00 PM on Monday evening. This ensured the 2012 Daytona 500 a place in history as the first ever Great American Race run not only under the lights, but also in a coveted prime-time slot.

The final bizarre event happened on Lap 160, when Juan Pablo Montoya lost control of his No. 42 Target Chevrolet and plowed into a safety jet drier, sending both up in flames. The burning of 200 gallons of jet fuel delayed the race for almost two hours as the track safety crews scrambled to not only to douse the flames but repair the track.

“I have hit a lot of things,” JPM said. “But a jet dryer? I mean, no.”

When all was said and done, this 2012 Daytona 500 will most likely go down in history for its surprising length, taking a day and half to run. This Great American race started on Monday evening and ran into the wee hours of Tuesday morning, capping off a 36 hour delay from its original start time.

Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet, summed it up best. “That had to be the craziest Daytona 500 I’ve ever seen.”

Not Surprising:  Since the Ford camp had been strong all Speedweeks long, it was no surprise to see one end up in Victory Lane. Matt Kenseth, in his No. 17 Best Buy Ford, took the checkered flag, giving Ford back to back Daytona 500 victories.

This was the 13th overall Daytona 500 win for the manufacturer, Kenseth’s second Daytona 500 victory in a Ford, and the second Daytona 500 win for team owner Jack Roush. Kenseth joined Bill Elliott and Dale Jarrett as the only three Ford drivers to win the Daytona 500 more than once.

“It’s nice to go the whole distance and survive a green, white, checkered because you just don’t know what’s going to happen in these race,” Kenseth said. “I wasn’t expecting to win when I woke up this morning, so it feels good to be sitting here.”

“It’s really hard to win these races,” Kenseth continued. “The older you get and the more you race, you realize how hard it is and you really try to enjoy all those moments.”

Surprising:  It was surprising to see just how hard hit the Hendrick Motorsports teams were during this running of the Daytona 500.  With the exception of Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who finished second in his No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew/National Guard Chevrolet, the rest of the HMS drivers all finished 29th or worse.

Five time champion Jimmie Johnson’s troubles started early when he crashed out on Lap 2. The driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet sustained a wicked hit to the driver’s door in the early race melee.

“That side hit was hard,” Johnson said. “I could feel help from behind that just turned me around.”

“When I was sitting in the middle of the race track, I knew at some point someone was going to come along,” Johnson continued. “David Ragan had nowhere to go and I unfortunately got drilled by him pretty hard.”

Four time champion Jeff Gordon also had difficulties, but of a different sort. His No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet blew an engine on lap 81 of the race.

“Boy, it’s a shame,” Gordon said. “This just came out of nowhere.”

“First it popped and then it sent up in a big ball of flames,” Gordon continued. “That is never good. So, I knew our night was done.”

This DNF marked the first time that Jeff Gordon failed to compete at least half of a NASCAR race since April 2008 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Not Surprising:  With Fords ruling and Matt Kenseth in the winner’s circle, it was no surprise that history was also made for Roush Fenway Racing, scoring the team’s 300th win. Rough Fenway Racing is the first team ever in NASCAR history to achieve such a milestone.

“This is a special night,” team owner Jack Roush said. “Matt is a real champion and he is really good at these restrictor tracks.”

“Our Fords, the guys did a nice job and Ford Motor Company gave us a lot of support over the winter,” Roush continued. “We certainly had several ways to win it tonight and there are always ample ways to lose as well.”

“Matt did a great job tonight,” Roush said. “It’s great to celebrate our 300th win here with the 54th Daytona 500.”

Surprising:  While many considered it ‘gimmicky’, it was surprising that the racers seemed to take the halfway bonus pretty seriously. Reminiscent of his lead at the halfway point last year in the Great American Race, Martin Truex, Jr. scored the $200,000 halfway leader bonus, with a little help from ‘friend’ Denny Hamlin.

“We led laps and led at halfway for the bonus,” the driver of the No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota said. “It was a good day all in all. We just didn’t lead at the end.”

Truex Jr. finished 12th, right behind Michael Waltrip Racing teammates Mark Martin, who finished tenth in his No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota, and Clint Bowyer, who scored the 11th spot in his No. 15 5-Hour Energy Toyota.

Not Surprising:   Given all the machinations NASCAR made in response to the fans’ and drivers’ concerns about tandem racing, it was no surprise that pack racing was back. And the drivers seemed to be please that it was.

“I like the rule changes,” Dale Earnhardt, Jr. said. “It definitely suits my style better and I can do things on my own.”

“In the old package you needed someone else the entire race and that’s not fun.”

Surprising:  While most of the NASCAR drivers, teams, and yes even the orange cone have gotten into the use of social media, it was surprising to see it taken to yet another level at this year’s Daytona 500.

Brad Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge apparently had his phone with him during the race and took the opportunity to not only tweet a few pictures when the race was red flagged, but also to check the weather at the request of some of his fellow competitors.

Demonstrating the power of social media, particularly Twitter, Keselowski actually gained more than 130,000 new followers as a result of his connectedness out on the race track and the media attention that garnered.

While Keselowski acknowledged the power of the social media, he would have traded it for one thing.

“I gained a lot of followers but I’ll take the win first,” Keselowski said.

Not Surprising:  With all the strange happenings on the race track, it was not surprising that the debut of the third female driver to compete in the Great American Race was somewhat eclipsed. Danica Patrick made her Cup debut in the No. 10 Chevrolet for Tommy Baldwin Racing in cooperation with Stewart Haas Racing.

Patrick ended up finishing 38th after getting collected in the multi-car crash involving Jimmie Johnson and others on lap 2 of the race. She will not race again in the Cup Series until May 12th at Darlington.

“I kind of feel like I almost need to put the whole week in perspective,” Patrick said. “It’s just been up and down, from running good in the Duels to crashing on the last lap, to qualifying on the pole, to running well in the Nationwide race to crashing.”

“A lot of this stuff is obviously out of your control at times,” Patrick continued. “But I learned a lot and I got a lot of great experience.”

Surprising:  With the Toyota of Kyle Busch looking strong after a win in the Bud Shootout, it was a bit surprising that teammate Denny Hamlin ended up being the highest Toyota finisher in the Daytona 500.

“We were right where we wanted to be,” Hamlin said of the end of his race, finishing fourth. “But we didn’t have any teammates up there and those two Roush cars up front had a good plan and executed it really well.”

“We had an awesome effort this weekend,” the driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota said. “We didn’t qualify well and we didn’t finish that well in the Duel, but we showed that we had one of the best cars today.”

As pleased as Hamlin was, Kyle Busch, who took his No. 88 M&M’s Brown Toyota Camry to a 17th place finish, was most disappointed.

“I thought we were in a good spot late in the race, but a couple of cars got together behind me and I got clipped,” Busch said. “We were in the back of the line and we couldn’t make anything happen.”

“It’s disappointing to be down here for two weeks and have nothing to show for it.”

Not Surprising:  Sadly, but not surprisingly, there was no Cinderella winner at this year’s Daytona 500.  Defending champ Trevor Bayne’s repeat fairy-tale performance was thwarted by the wreck that swept up Jimmie Johnson in the early laps of the race.

“I have no idea what happened,” the driver of the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion said. “I got low and slowed down and at the last second I think it was the 34 car that hit us in the right side door and put us into the grass.”

“Man, this is tough,” Bayne continued. “I hate this for my Ford Racing team but we’ll be back.”

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of


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