Daytona 500: A Look At The Winners And Losers
The rain has stopped, the improbable jet fuel fire in Turn 3 has been extinguished and, after a one-day postponement, the 54th running of the Daytona 500 is finally in the record books.
Here are the winners and losers not only from the "Great American Race," but throughout the odyssey known as the 2012 version of Speedweeks:
On a night when chaos reigned, it only made sense that a calculating and patient approach behind the wheel would prove to be the recipe to winning. This is why it wasn't a surprise that it was Kenseth – one of NASCAR's more unheralded and underrated drivers – who showed why he is one of the best in the business in winning his second Daytona 500.
Although there are no guarantees, one would think a win in NASCAR's marquee event would go a long way in attracting the needed funding for a team still in search of fulltime sponsorship. Even if it doesn't, the cool $1.5 million Kenseth brought home to his Roush Fenway Racing team should help keep the 17 team in the black a little while longer.
Roush Fenway Racing
A complete no-brainer, considering Jack Roush-owned cars swept the front row for the Daytona 500, won a Gatorade Duel qualifying race along with the top two spots in the 500 itself and had two of its other drivers come away with top-10 finishes.
For a team which houses multiple drivers with serious championship aspirations, it was an absolutely perfect way to start the 36-race Sprint Cup Series campaign.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
It wasn't a win, but a strong second-place showing is a fantastic way to start the 2012 season for NASCAR's most popular driver.
Collectively, Earnhardt Jr. had a very solid Speedweeks. He was competitive in every race he ran, and with the exception of the Budweiser Shootout, he kept his car unscathed for the most part kept (unlike his Hendrick Motorsports teammates). Perhaps most important, he appears to have found his confidence – which has been in short supply these last few years.
Joe Gibbs Racing
By its own lofty standards, Joe Gibbs Racing across the board had a disappointing and trying 2011 season. After an offseason where the three-car team shuffled personnel and recommitted itself to once again becoming a dominant force in NASCAR, it started the 2012 exactly the way it needed to.
Things started off right by Kyle Busch pulling off a dazzling win in the non-points Budweiser Shootout, and this was followed up in the 500, by both Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano running and finishing in the top 10, with Hamlin leading a race-high 57 laps.
One race isn't going to erase the memories of last year, but it sure does offer some much-needed promise to an organization in transition.
Last year, it took 32 races before Jeff Burton posted a top-five finish. This year, however, his season started much differently – and in far better fashion.
The veteran driver was a fixture up front in his Thursday qualifying race and carried that speed over to the 500, where he paced the field for 24 laps and left with a fifth-place finish.
As a followup to the above point, give a nod to Burton's Richard Childress Racing team for also putting together a very respectable Daytona 500, as Paul Menard (sixth) and Kevin Harvick (seventh) each came away with top-10 finishes.
Michael Waltrip Racing
Every year, there is talk that this is going to be the year Michael Waltrip Racing turns the corner and is going to be a consistent contender and regularly challenge for wins and spots in the Chase. Yet, every year like clockwork, the organization falls short of meeting those expectations.
While a respectable Daytona offers no assurances that this is going to be MWR's year, with all three of its drivers finishing 11th or better – not to mention the $200,000 bonus Martin Truex Jr. received for leading at halfway – it does offer hope that just maybe, Truex, Clint Bowyer and Mark Martin are poised to lead the three-car team to its best season ever.
Dave Blaney and Tommy Baldwin Racing
Winning races is often about putting yourself in position to capitalize on other's mistakes and seizing on opportunities when they come your way.
That's exactly what Dave Blaney and his Tommy Baldwin Racing team attempted to do Monday, when they elected to stay out under yellow with 40 laps left in the race. As luck would have it, Juan Pablo Montoya inconceivably crashed into a jet dryer carrying 200 gallons of jet fuel and setting off an explosion which severely damaged the upper groove of Turn 3.
With questions on whether the race would be resumed as repairs were made, it looked as if Blaney would add his name alongside Trevor Bayne, Derrike Cope, Tiny Lund and other out-of-nowhere winners of the Daytona 500.
But after two hours of repairs, the clock struck midnight (literally), the race went back to green, and Dave Blaney's role as this year's Cinderella officially came to a close.
However, a 15th-place finish – and the $300,000 that went with it – is nothing to sneeze at for a single-car team operating on a shoestring budget.
He may have crashed out of the Daytona 500, but the evening wasn't a total loss for Brad Keselowski. The new king of social media picked up roughly 140,000 new followers on Twitter thanks to his live tweeting of the jet drier explosion along with other pics from inside his racecar.
Juan Pablo Montoya
When you're able to walk away from a fiery wreck in one piece, you deserve a mention on the winner's side of the ledger. It also doesn't hurt that his harrowing wreck brought numerous amounts of exposure for his sponsor Target, as video of the incident was replayed countless times on television stations around the world.
Outside of Dale Earnhardt's runnerup finish, it was a very unremarkable, expensive and disappointing Speedweeks for NASCAR's preeminent organization.
Things got off to an ugly start when the No. 48 car failed Daytona 500 qualifying inspection and all four of the Hendrick Chevys suffered heavy damage in various accidents during the Bud Shootout – including Jeff Gordon taking his first end-over-end tumble in a Cup car.
It didn't get much better when in practice the day before the Gatorade Duels, Kasey Kahne went for a spin through the infield grass after a tap from Juan Pablo Montoya. The resulting damage forced Kahne to a backup car.
And Monday, the ugliness continued. Jimmie Johnson wrecked on Lap 2, Gordon blew an engine just before halfway, and once again, Kahne got caught up in another wreck.
Long story short, the only members of Hendrick Motorsports who came away from Speedweeks with smiles on their faces were the team's fabricators, knowing they won't have to worry about job security anytime soon.
The defending Sprint Cup champion was expected to follow up on his second-place finish in the Shootout and win in the first Gatorade Duel by finally getting that elusive Daytona 500 victory after 14 tries.
Instead, he was essentially a nonfactor throughout; even getting a piece of the Lap 198 wreck that collected seven other cars. When the checkered flag flew, there was Tony Stewart 16th in the final rundown.
No one expected her to light the world on fire in her Speedweeks debut as a fulltime NASCAR driver. Then again, no foresaw her wrecking in all three races she competed in; and overall, it was an inauspicious Daytona for Danica Patrick.
I wonder if Kurt Busch is having fun yet? Because I can't imagine the answer is a yes. Not after going through two cars in a span of a week, damaging a third in the 500 and finishing 39th-place, 89 laps off the pace. Especially, when you take into consideration Daytona was a track where Busch and his Phoenix Racing team were expected to contend.
Ever since his victory a year ago, it's been a struggle for Trevor Bayne – both on and off the track. The thought was maybe a return to the place where he experienced the ultimate high would equate to him having his luck turn around.
While the idea was good in theory, it didn't translate to reality. Despite being fast all week, come raceday it more of the same, as on lap 2 the defending winner of the Daytona 500 got collected in the same wreck which consumed Jimmie Johnson, Danica Patrick and Kurt Busch.
Success is always fleeting, but in Bayne's case it was more than that. It was lightning quick.
It wasn't just getting wrecked two laps into the Daytona 500 or the fact that ever since his win in this race in 2006 he's finished 42nd, 27th, 35th, 31st, 27th and 39th.
No, more worrisome is crew chief Chad Knaus facing a suspension (pending appeal) and the 48 team a points penalty from NASCAR which might put Johnson in a negative hole in the standings – considering he left Daytona with just two points.
Juan Pablo Montoya
Before Monday, Juan Pablo Montoya was seen as a world-class racecar racer – a driver who amassed a victory in the Indianapolis 500, seven wins in Formula One, along with a CART championship.
Now though, despite the accident resulting from a parts failure and not driver error, Montoya will forever be viewed as the guy who crashed into a jet dryer in the biggest motorsports race in North America.