Surprising and Not Surprising: Daytona 500By Mary Jo Buchanan
In the double nickel running of the Great American Race, with the first female ever to start from the pole, here is what else was surprising and not surprising from the 2013 Daytona 500.
Surprising: While drivers, crew chiefs, and teams scrambled through Speedweeks into the Daytona 500, surprisingly, the busiest people in Daytona were once again the track workers.
Just as in previous years, from the infamous pot hole in 2010 to the jet dryer flame out last year, the track crew was again called upon to work their miracles.
This time, however, their skills were put to the test the day before the big race after a horrific crash at the finish of the Nationwide race, shearing young driver Kyle Larson’s car in thirds and sending his engine, tire and other car parts into the crowd.
The track workers not only had to tend to the injured fans but also had to make major repairs to the catch fence itself, working tirelessly into the early morning to ensure that the Great American Race would go on without a hitch the next day.
“You try to prepare for as much as you can,” Kerry Tharp, NASCAR spokesperson, said. “You also take away and learn from every incident.”
Not Surprising: With the ‘one team, one shop’ philosophy prevalent throughout the Hendrick Motorsports organization, it was not surprising to see the 48/88 team finish 1/2 at the Daytona 500.
“I was waiting for the run,” two-time Daytona 500 winner and five-time champ Jimmie Johnson said. “The 88 got a big shove and was coming up the inside.”
“I moved down to defend that and we were able to get a one-two for Hendrick Motorsports,” Johnson continued. “For the 48/88 shop so very happy. There are a lot of people put a lot of effort into these cars and I want to thank them all.”
Surprising: While she may have been forging a new path as the first woman on the pole and the first to lead a green flag lap at Daytona, rookie Danica Patrick surprisingly seemed to have more in common with veteran four-time champion Jeff Gordon.
Both the rookie and the veteran had no friends in the final laps of the race, both getting freight-trained to finish 8th and 20th respectively.
“I kept asking what was working,” Patrick said. “You needed a hole and you needed people to help you out.”
“I had a little bit of help here today here and there,” Patrick continued. “I had a feeling I was going to get freight-trained.”
“It’s a really tough race,” Jeff Gordon said. “We lost track position and it didn’t seem like we were ever going to get it back.”
“Then we finally did and those last two restarts just didn’t go very well.”
Not Surprising: With a driver rating of 96.5, second best at Daytona, and a good Speedweeks, finishing fourth in the Sprint Unlimited and fifth-fastest in time trials, the driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet had high expectations for the big race.
So it was no surprise that Tony Stewart was absolutely smoked after being taken out early in the race, finishing 41st.
“The hell with the season, I wanted to win the Daytona 500,” Stewart said. “I was happy with our car, just waiting for it to all get sorted out again.”
“I don’t know what started it, but we just got caught up in another wreck.”
Surprising: At a track known for white knuckle racing and passes galore on every lap, it was surprising just how difficult the drivers found it to pass, especially on the bottom of the track. In fact, a portion of the race was surprisingly run in the single file formation.
Veteran driver Mark Martin summed it up best.
“One of the things that made it hard to pass was nobody would get organized on the bottom,” Martin said. “The top groove was the preferred groove.”
“The problem was that the car on the inside of the frontline wasn’t the fastest car,” Martin continued. “If you would have had the fastest car in the field on the inside, you would have had a whale of a race there at the end.”
Not Surprising: For two years in a row, team owner Chip Ganassi has been lamenting the performance of his race team. Unfortunately, the bad run continued at the 2013 Daytona 500 with drivers Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya, finishing 32nd and 39th respectively.
Both were in a significant wreck early in the running of the Great American Race.
“You could see it coming,” Montoya said. “They were all checked up and I thought, ‘Somebody isn’t going to check and screw up.”
“And then they did.”
Surprising: Things also went surprisingly awry for two out of the three Joe Gibbs racers. The defending Daytona 500 winner and newest member of the JGR team Matt Kenseth looking incredibly strong, leading many laps during the race until mechanical problems did him in.
And then almost immediately afterwards, teammate Kyle Busch also had mechanical failure, leaving teammate Denny Hamlin to be the lone top 15 finisher.
“It’s really unfortunate,” Busch said. “We were running 1-2-3 and it felt like we were dropping like flies.”
“Something inside the motor broke that’s not supposed to break,” Busch continued. “It’s a little devastating.”
Not Surprising: Since the Daytona 500 can make dreams come true (just ask Trevor Bayne), it was not surprising that there was a Cinderella story and his name was Michael McDowell.
With an underfunded team but a sponsor filled with faith, the driver of the No. 98 K-LOVE Ford finished ninth in the Great American Race.
“We had a fast car,” McDowell said. “This was a great run and a great effort. For us, an under-funded team to come here to Daytona and get a top-10 finish is pretty cool.”
While it may have been no surprise that blooming onions would be on tap for Monday at Outback due to Ryan Newman’s top five finish, it was surprising that kids got to eat at Golden Corral thanks to J.J. Yeley’s top-ten finish in the Daytona 500.
“After a long, hard-fought day at day at Daytona, we were able to log a top-ten finish for our first outing with our new team and Golden Corral on board,” Yeley said. “The best part of it all is making lots of kids happy when they eat for free as part of J.J.’s Monday.”
Not Surprising: Brad Keselowski, champion and NASCAR Ironman, proved he was both yet again, muscling his damaged No. 2 Miller Lite Ford around the track to finish fourth.
“You want to make excuses for not being successful you could do that or you can go out there and put it all on the line and try to win,” Keselowski said. “You just drive it.”