Looking up you could tell the weather was going to be an issue Sunday here at Daytona. The skies were full of dark clouds and the wind was whipping the flags atop the car haulers. We all had our fingers crossed either Daytona 500 qualifying or the Advance Auto Parts Clash would be delayed or washed out.

It also was made things tougher for Jimmie Johnson and Jamie McMurray, who were running the Daytona Half-Marathon that begins at the track, then goes out to the beach and back. Heading to the beach, a 20-30 mph wind was right in the face of the runners, but thankfully on returning to the speedway, it was at their back.  McMurray finished the 13.1 miles in 1 hour 30 minutes with Johnson crossing the finishing line three minutes later.  

I guess they both need a little "warm up" before the Clash and Daytona 500 qualifying.

During the battle for the front row in the 61st running of the Great American Race, there seemed to be a little sprinkle here and there but nothing that seemed to bother the drivers. It certainly didn't have any effect on Hendrick Motorsports "dynamic four".

Alex Bowman and William Byron led the charge in round one followed closely by Chase Elliott and Jimmie Johnson. The difference between the four .241 of a second. Then, in the final round, Byron beat out Bowman for his first career Monster Energy Cup Series pole by just .036 with Johnson winding up third and Elliott fourth. The gap between the four was cut to only .125.  Rick Hendrick would say afterward he was proud how equal the cars were prepared with each having the same aero numbers in the wind tunnel and all their engines were within one horsepower of each other.

Here are some other numbers to chew on. For Hendrick Motorsports it was the 13th Daytona 500 pole position and the fifth in a row.  Not to mention, for Chevrolet it was their 700th in Cup competition.

The biggest surprise in qualifying was rookie Daniel Hemric winding up fifth overall with teammate Austin Dillon, last year's 500 champion, 10th after the final round. It was refreshing to hear Hemric talk about how 20 years ago he was racing go-karts on a nearby dirt track at the Municipal Stadium and said it was too big a dream to think one day he'd be competing in the Daytona 500. I think he's going to be fun to watch this year.

As for the Clash, Paul Menard dominated from the pole and the race, for the most part, wasn't all that much to write home about. It was also stopped twice by a light rain, giving it a herky-jerky feel.

It did, though, get a whole lot more interesting with the team's radar clearly show a big band of rain was coming and the race would not make it to lap 75. The intensity picked up just as the wind began to really gust.

Jimmie Johnson knew time was running out, so it was no surprise how and when he went after Menard going down the backstretch on what many believed was literally the white flag lap, even though they were closing in on finishing up lap 59.  Johnson got to Menard's inside and hung for a moment, perhaps too long, on the 21 car's left rear quarter panel. For a brief moment it appeared Menard would drive out of a slight "wobble", but when he lost control, the ensuing "Big One" would involve, amazingly, 17 of the 20 cars.

Runner-up Kurt Busch would later say Johnson had stayed in the "no zone" too long, the left rear of Menard's car, and on top of that passed below the yellow line, hinting it was an illegal pass.  When I asked Johnson about Busch's opinion, he clearly didn't like it, but got all of us in the media center to laugh when he pointed out Kurt was politicking for the win.  To be fair, Johnson also said he was remorseful to for all the cars that were torn up.

It turned out to be quite a day for Rick Hendrick, top-four in Daytona 500 qualifying and then Johnson's victory in the Clash. It was a great way to start 2019, after struggling for anything positive almost all of last season.  He summed it up with one word "unbelievable".

One thing that really touched my heart Sunday was the surprise announcement that benefitted  U.S. Army Sargeant James Pistole, who had lost his left hand and leg from an IED in Iraq. He could hardly contain his emotions when Advance Auto Parts and Building Homes for Heroes let him know they were going to build him a new, mortgage-free home.  A young veteran lady was also there who had lost her left leg. She had also benefitted from the program and was asked what she would like the public to know about the sacrifices she had made. She wanted them to know "they were worth it".  Wow.

That's what real heroes are made of.