by Matt Lincoln
Throughout the day today, I'm going to be jumping in to this space to let you know what I'm thinkin' about the Daytona 500.
I'll start with my choice for victory. There have been 7 or 8 cars that have looked strong all week. But the guy I think will be there when it's all said and done, is Jeff Burton. First, he's had the fastest times in multiple practices. Second, he all ready has been in victory lane. Third, he's going to need pushers, and teammates Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer have been strong this week too, and fourth, along with Mark Martin, he's the best active driver who hasn't won either a championship or a 500. I think he gets it done, and brings the 500 trophy to Richard Childress on the ten year anniversary of Dale Earnhardt's death.
Whoa, what a wild first quarter of the race. First, the race favorite, Kevin Harvick, goes down just 22 laps in. He said afterward, "We just about never blow an engine, and we had to do it here at Daytona." Then seven laps later, a huge crash taking out Marcos Ambrose, Brian Vickers, David Reutimann, and others, plus effectively ending the chances of Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin, and Jeff Gordon. Also involved was Michael Waltrip, who just said that it's a mentally draining race, because there's so much to have to pay attention to (where the other guys are, where you're going to move next, your temperature gauges, etc.)
The strongest cars so far have been the other RCR guys - Clint Bowyer, Paul Menard and, my pick, Jeff Burton. Plus Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart, and the Earnhardt-Ganassi duo of Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray. It's a wide open race, and should continue to be for the next 100 plus laps.
It is like the apocalypse here in Daytona... Regan Smith, Paul Menard, AJ Allmendinger, Robbie Gordon, what do all these guys have in common? They've been leading this race. Meanwhile, Denny Hamlin has been quiet - staying in the mid-20's for most of this race. Is it because his car doesn't have what it takes, or because he's laying low during the early laps? We shall see.
Wow, so sorry I was away from here for a few hours, and a good amount has happened. The youngest and one of the most improbable winners of the Daytona 500 just took the checkered flag. 20 year old Trevor Bayne won the 53rd running, after a caution filled, stressful ride through two green-white-checkereds and 520 miles. Denny Hamlin led a total of 7 laps, all of them late, but he got caught up in a wreck with Ryan Newman and Regan Smith with just a few laps remaining, that pushed him back to a 21st place finish. Many of the race contenders had engine or accident issues - the 48, 24, 16, 31, 29, 17, 4, 20, 39, 1, 56, 15, and others all got caught up in problems. That led to an odd top ten that didn't just include Bayne, but also David Gilliland, Bobby Labonte, Regan Smith and Paul Menard.
But the story here is Bayne. He just turned 20. He's running full time Nationwide this year, and only has sponsorship for 17 Sprint Cup races. That's bound to change after a week like this.