After an incredibly eventful Speedweeks, here is what was surprising and not surprising from NASCAR’s first and one of the biggest races of the season, the 57th annual Daytona 500.
Surprising: The various Daytona 500 race watching venues were definitely most surprising, from Kurt Busch watching from who knows where after his indefinite suspension due to domestic violence allegations to his brother Kyle watching from a hospital bed after breaking his leg and foot in an Xfinity race crash.
The other two unusual seats for the Daytona 500 were for Regan Smith and Matt Crafton, who substituted for the Busch brothers, in the No. 41 and No. 18 race cars respectively. Smith finished 16th for Stewart Haas Racing and Crafton finished 19th for Joe Gibbs Racing.
“Started off really tight with the race car and never got it turning,” Smith said from his race seat. “I don’t know, kind of frustrating. I actually anticipated a much better day and nothing much more to show for it. Those guys did a nice job all weekend but we just plowed through the corners.”
“It was a learning curve,” Crafton said from his unexpected race seat. “The first half we just rode around and tried to learn, learn, learn.”
“It was very, very tough, but that’s what we get paid to do – drive race cars and figure it out quick. I felt fine, just my back from being in that seat hurt. Under yellows I would loosen up the belts as much as I could and just try to bow myself up in the seat just because my back was just cramped so unbelievable bad.”
“I should have had a little better finish there at the end, but it is what it is.”
Not Surprising: There was a visual dichotomy, from Jeff Gordon greeting the fans with his two children at the start of the race to the 24 year old Joe Logano embracing his father in Victory Lane, truly signifying the passing of the torch in the sport.
This was Jeff Gordon’s last Daytona 500 and Joey Logano’s first ever win in the Great American race.
“Congratulations to Joey Logano,” Jeff Gordon said after finishing 33rd in a late race crash. “That moment you saw there with his dad that is what it’s all about. These types of moments, such a big race it means so much to all of us. You want to share that with the people that you are closest to that have been there along the way.”
“Congratulations to him and I don’t know what else to say other than I enjoyed it.”
Surprising: Even great plate racers can make a mistake and yet still manage finish in the third spot and that is just what the driver of the No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet did. Even with the miscue, Dale Earnhardt Jr. managed his 18th top-10 finish in 31 races at Daytona International Speedway.
“I made a really bad decision on that restart with 19 to go,” Junior said. “I made a poor choice and you can’t afford to do that. I got shuffled back and lost a ton of spots.”
“I had one of the best cars out there and that gave me a ton of confidence to keep digging. We were able to get back up to third place. It’s really disappointing because the Nationwide team gave me the best car and we should have won the race.”
“It was a fun day out there. Just came up short and a little disappointed about that.”
Not Surprising: With the exception of Kevin Harvick, who finished in the runner up position, Stewart Haas Racing continued its struggles of the previous year, with Kurt Busch suspended, Tony Stewart hitting the wall and finishing 42nd and Danica Patrick being a non-factor, finishing 21st.
Stewart wrecked his No. 14 Chevrolet on Lap 41 when his car turned right, slammed into the wall, and completely wrecked his steering. This extended Stewart’s losing streak to seventeen races.
“I take the blame for that one,” Smoke said. “One-hundred percent my fault.”
Surprising: After winning one of the Duel races and starting at the front of the pack alongside teammate Jeff Gordon, six-time champion Jimmie Johnson saw the race win slip through his fingers in the final restarts. Johnson finished fifth in his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet instead.
“With about 10 to go, I thought we were in position to win the Daytona 500,” Johnson said. “I wish we were in Victory Lane right now but with plate racing you honestly have no clue what’s going to happen.”
“Really the last two restarts just didn’t work for us. I was ahead of one lane and the guys behind us just weren’t bumper to bumper. Then on the last restart the same thing on the bottom. So it is just the way things happened.”
“A fun day here in Daytona, of course I wish I was in Victory Lane right now, but we had a very strong day nothing to be embarrassed about.”
Not Surprising: At restrictor plate tracks, where anything can happen and anyone can win, it was not surprising that two single-car race teams had great runs and emerged from Daytona with great optimism for the season ahead.
“It was a good run and has been a good 10 days down here,” Martin Truex, driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet said after finishing eighth. “I had a lot of fun today. We had to go to the back a few times but our car was strong enough to drive up through there.I thought we had a shot there until that last caution. I got in the wrong lane on the last restart and got held up a little bit. All in all, we came out of here last year with a 43rd and to come out of here today with an eighth-place and top-10 is a good start to the year for us.”
“It was a really solid day,” Casey Mears said after finishing sixth, his fourth top-10 in the past five restrictor-plate races. “We have run up front at a lot of these things now or towards the front. We are getting a little bit greedier. We definitely want to win one of these races. I think our standards are getting a lot higher. From going from possibly not being in the show to finishing sixth that is definitely a good spread and a good way to start the season for sure.”
Surprising: In spite of being dubbed a good pusher by race winner Logano, Clint Bowyer was surprisingly ticked after his seventh place finish in the Great American race.
“I don’t know what I could have done different,” the driver of the No. 15 5-Hour Energy Toyota said. “I have to go back and look at it. Just you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t there. I had them stacked up – some pretty good cars there behind me and I knew they were going to shuffle me out. I was kind of the lone wolf in the whole group other than the 22 (Joey Logano) and he happened to be leading.”
“Once they got me in the middle, three-wide, I just didn’t really have – I was stuck and screwed.”
Not Surprising: Denny Hamlin in his No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing was the highest finishing Toyota, scoring the 4th spot.
“You know, you’ve got a 50-50 shot of winning it when you’re on the green-white-checkered on the front row,” Hamlin said. “Our line didn’t form up and it’s typically whatever line gets organized the most usually goes forward on these green-white checkers and we just – inside line didn’t get going.”
“We came up a little short again.”
Surprising: In spite of feeling helpless, Greg Biffle still managed a top-10 finish for Roush Fenway Racing, a great accomplishment after a disappointing 2014 season.
“It’s a little disappointing because we want to win the Daytona 500,” the driver of the No. 16 Ortho Ford said. “It just seemed like our car didn’t quite have the speed it needed. I really struggled to try and stay in line and handling was a huge issue. My car was so tight. There was nothing I could do at the end because I was totally boxed in.”
Not Surprising: Forget girls that just want to have fun, boys wanted to have fun as well and Carl Edwards did just that, in spite of finishing 24th with his new Joe Gibbs Racing No. 19 ARRIS Toyota team.
“Actually I had a very strong car and I had a lot of fun,” Edwards said. “I just didn’t pick the right lines there at the end – it just didn’t work. We got far enough back that it made it kind of hard to get back to the front. I had fun – I really did.”
“Had a great car and we didn’t tear anything up – just had a good time.”