Likely to the surprise of few, Jimmy Johnson won the Daytona 500, with Dale Earnhart Jr. finishing 2nd and old-timer Mark Martin rounding out the top 3. Reigning Cup champ Brad Keselowski was leading in the closing laps, despite his car having front end damage, but at the end he just didn't have enough to hold off JJ and a few other guys.
Though there was a crash on the last lap, it involved cars further back in the field, hence the "big one" that many have come to expect at Daytona, never really happened, at least as far as wiping out several "contenders". Basically, it was a fairly clean race.
Far be it from yours truly to question the wisdom of various crew chiefs, but it seemed odd that with 20-some laps to go, most of the cars had to come into the pits for gas, but it appeared very few took tires. This was not just a "splash and go". They needed a decent amount of gas to get to the end of the race. In the time that required, they could have easily at least changed right side tires, so their cars would handle just a tad better through the turns. Yet, as it turned out, it didn't appear to be a factor. Shows you what I know.
In a mini-surprise, a few of the Toyoya engines were blowing up. Well, good. They shouldn't be racing at Daytona anyway. It's called the Great American Race -- is it not? Let the Toyota folks build a racetrack outside of Tokyo somewhere and have their own Great Japanese Race, where they bar Fords and Chevies. Works for me.
After starting the race from the pole position, wunderkind and all-around media darling Super Girl Danica Patrick had a decent day. She even led a lap or two. No doubt that will be trumpeted for the next few days. Another first for a woman. Big deal. Throw in Ricky Stenhouse and she's probably also the first to date another driver. (On that note, one would imagine that if, say, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart were to shack up together -- now THAT would be big news). In the name of equality, Danica herself has said she wants to be known as just a "driver", not a "female driver", so what's it going to take for the media to stop beating the gender drum?
Indeed, toward the end, Danica was running 3rd, which is a very good position to be in at the Daytona 500. It's rare that the leading car in the last couple laps wins the race. Normally, a couple cars behind the leader will hook up in a draft and pass the car out front. But something strange, or maybe not, happened to Danica, who wound up finishing 8th. On the last half of the last lap, other guys were blowing by her.
Her post-race interview appeared to be telling. When asked what happened, Danica intimated that she had "help" from a few guys during most of the race, but got a faraway look in her eyes when evidently considering the very end of the race. It appeared she knew full well what had happened, but didn't want to say so.
When push came to shove at the very end, the other guys left her high and dry. It's no big secret that cars by themselves can't compete on superspeedways. They need drafting partners, and Danica suddenly found herself without one approaching the checkered flag. Coincidence? There will likely be differences of opinion on that in the days to come.
Nevertheless, congrats to Jimmy Johnson. The wily veteran and 5-time Cup champion drove a superb race. Now all he and his crew have to do is build another car. That's because, at the Daytona 500, the winner's car is basically confiscated after the race and displayed in their museum for a year in whatever condition it was in when it took the checkered flag. That's somewhere around a $300,000 cha-ching. Expensive business, that Daytona 500.
Only 35 more races, and a whole bunch of sheet metal, tires, engines, and racing fuel, until a champion is crowned.
On to Phoenix.