Ken de la Bastide
Aside from the final 10 laps, this year’s Daytona 500 will not go down as a memorable event in the record books.
For the majority of the race the cars were lined up single file in the high groove with no driver venturing to the low side in the hopes of gaining positions.
The only time there was side by side racing came following a restart and once when Jimmie Johnson attempted to pass Brad Keselowski on the low side, a pass he wasn’t able to complete.
Had it not been for the final caution it’s hard to imagine that there would have been any side by side racing to the checkered flag. It appeared that once a driver got to the point, they were not going to be passed.
At this point in time there is no way of knowing what racing will be like with the new “Gen 6” car that NASCAR unveiled at Daytona. That might not be known until the series gets to the 1.5 mile tracks that dominate the middle stages of the season where downforce is more of a factor.
Danica Patrick showed that she can be competitive in a restrictor plate race as she stayed in the lead pack throughout the day and made history by becoming the first women to lead competitive laps in a Sprint Cup race.
A year ago I predicted that Patrick’s best chance of winning a race would be at either Daytona or Talladega where drafting is so crucial. On the final restart Patrick was running third, but lacked the drafting help to compete with Johnson for the victory; she eventually finished eighth.
Another pleasant surprise at Daytona, one in which I was proved wrong, was that there were no start and park cars in the Daytona 500. Reagan Smith started 40th and finished seventh, Michael McDowell came home ninth after starting 38th and J.J. Yeley recorded a top 10 finish after beginning the day in the 41st spot.
Several drivers that have to be considered championship contenders had a dismal start to the season, Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards all finished outside the top 30 at Daytona.
The scariest situation of the whole weekend took place on the final lap of the Nationwide Series race when Kyle Larson’s car got airborne in the tri-oval and knocked out a large section of the catch fence, spraying car parts into the grandstand.
I don’t ever think that I’ve seen the front third of a car peeled off like Larson’s Chevrolet did when he got into the fence.
The fortunate thing is that the catch fence performed as expected, it kept the car from landing in the grandstand. Granted, parts injured a number of fans, but none with life threatening injuries.
There will be a lot of discussions about how to improve fan safety in the future.
The only way to insure that safety is to not sell seats that close to any track. But it won’t stop fans from standing along the edge of the track to watch the cars streak past.