Race Capsule: Logano wins first Daytona 500 and caps crazy Speedweeks
Flag to Flag: Dozens of cars got wrecked at Daytona Speedweeks this February. And with a sunny and slick racetrack in play for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series' 57th Daytona 500, this race seemed it would follow suit. It didn't. A couple of minor wrecks were all that took place until the big crash on the final lap, which brought out a caution and brought Joey Logano his first win in the Great American Race. Jeff Gordon (33rd) started on the pole and led early and often, eventually leading the most laps (87) in the race. But Gordon got shuffled back in the final third of the race, with teammate Jimmie Johnson (5th) leading the lion's share of the closing laps. With about 20 laps to go, the field became a raucous, three-wide, eight-deep pack and Johnson got swallowed up by the surging cars of Logano, Denny Hamlin (4th), and Martin Truex Jr. (8th). Logano, Hamlin, 2014 Sprint Cup champ Kevin Harvick (2nd), and a couple of others finally got single-file, while the field behind them stayed two and three-wide. This was the most exciting racing seen in a long time on any track, with many barely able to breathe as the intensity rose to a head. Then, with five laps to go, Justin Allgaier (38th) blew an engine and wrecked and brought out a caution. The field was still rowdy behind them and 2014 Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. (3rd) started slicing and dicing his way toward the front. If the race had stayed green, the finish would likely have been twice as exciting. NASCAR soon displayed the red flag after Allgaier's mishap for a few minutes to clear up the mess. The race restarted as a green-white-checkered finish, with Logano leading the field ahead of Hamlin. The first couple of cars stayed ahead of the pack, but none could overtake Logano. Hamlin and Harvick each tried to mount runs and Clint Bowyer (7th) pushed Harvick very hard to the front. We will never know if any of the top 5 could catch Logano and take the Daytona 500, but Logano certainly had one of the best cars and dispelled many pre-race picks that had a Hendrick Motorsports car or a Joe Gibbs Racing driver going to Victory Lane. Logano's big win is the latest assurance that he is an elite Sprint Cup Series driver. It's also the latest vindication of a young driver who was at a career crossroads just over two years ago, when JGR replaced him in the No. 20 car with Matt Kenseth (35th). While Kenseth has done a great job in his two-plus years with JGR, Logano has found the perfect fit at Team Penske and has emerged as a weekly threat to win and a favorite to win the Sprint Cup. He narrowly missed winning it in 2014, but was one of the four drivers in the final hunt at Homestead-Miami Speedway last November. The 2015 season has seen already some astounding and gut-wrenching headlines off the track. And it has started with some great things to follow on the track as well. The top 10 were Logano, Harvick (stayed in the hunt most of the day and charged at the end), Earnhardt Jr. (had one of the best cars, but got shuffled out of the pack on the second-to-last restart and couldn't make it up - his fault, he says), Hamlin (near the front much of the day, but had trouble getting to the lead point), Johnson (overcame speeding penalty mid-race, had the race in his hands and fended off the field very well, until all three lines became equal), Casey Mears (appeared in the top 10 in the closing laps and held it there), Bowyer (made a dramatic late charge to the front and salvaged a decent finish), Martin Truex Jr. (also penalized for speeding and showed again he had fast racecar), Kasey Kahne (invisible most of the day, but stayed out of trouble), and Greg Biffle (never could catch fastest cars, but was in lead pack all race). The points don't matter right now, so don't ask. But Logano is most assuredly granted a spot in the 2015 Chase. It's worth noting that Regan Smith, driving for the indefinitely-suspended Kurt Busch, brought the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevy home 16th and Matt Crafton, in for the injured Kyle Busch, got caught in the final lap crash, but kept digging and placed the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 19th.
RaceTweet: Surprisingly clean race ends in wreck, Joey Logano wins it. Three-wide racing with 20 to go was heart-stopping. Tough break for Jeff Gordon in final 500.
Handsome Boy Modeling School Stud of the Race: Joey Logano - Not every driver with a fast car can cash in a victory. But he drove confidently and fended off formidable challengers for the biggest win of his career. He wasn't the very best car, but he made the best move to pass the best car (Johnson) and take the win. Hello, Chase for the Cup!
North Korean Missile Dud: Trevor Bayne - The 2011 Daytona 500 winner is signed up for a full-time ride in the Roush-Fenway Racing No. 6 Advocare Ford - but he showed very little of the plate racing speed he possessed when driving the famed Wood Brothers' No. 21. Bayne was never seen near the front at any point in the race and got swept up in the final wreck, finishing 30th.
Never Fear, Underdog is Here: Casey Mears - Or is it Under-gecko? The GEICO Chevy laid back most of the day, but got near the front when things counted. The veteran driver was able to hang with the big dogs, stay ahead of the last lap wreck, and get his best finish (6th) since Daytona last July (4th). He also finished 10th in last year's 500. After blowing a motor in his Budweiser Duel race Thursday night, which feels like an eternity ago, by the way, Mears nearly missed the race. Now, he and his Germain Racing team have a skip in their step heading to Atlanta next week.
Ghost Driver: Danica Patrick - She came close to winning this race two years ago and plate races are her best chance to get near the front. She never was this time around. Her 21st-place finish isn't bad, but Patrick had a chance to prove something in the beginning of the last season before her contract ends. Instead, her first race with new crew chief Daniel Knost ended in obscurity.
You Can Comeback, But You Can't Stay Here: Jimmie Johnson - NASCAR's new video officiation system is full blast head for 2015. During green flag stops around lap 90, NASCAR nailed several drivers, including Kyle Larson (34th), Carl Edwards (24th), and Truex Jr. for speeding. But they also called Johnson's No. 48 team for having his crew go over the wall too early. NASCAR's rule states that a crew cannot put a foot in the pit box when the car is more than one box away. Johnson had an opening behind his stall, but there was tape on the ground to show the threshold of the distance of a box. NASCAR called Johnson on it, which meant a pass-thru penalty on pit road, during a green flag run. Johnson stayed with the other drivers that got penalties and they all caught up to the pack after a debris caution on lap 107. Then Johnson quickly drove through the field and eventually to the lead. That hasn't always been easy to do for drivers in any of NASCAR's top three series this Speedweeks, but Johnson did.
Head-Scratcher Crown of Thorns: SAFER barriers or the lack thereof - Kyle Busch's Saturday Xfinity Series crash was scary and made worse that he hit so hard against a wall not protected by the impact-absorbent SAFER Barrier that is in place at many tracks. Busch broke his leg and foot and will be out of racing likely for a long time. Before his injuries even were announced, many took to social media or spoke openly after the race, saying that there is no excuse for why the so-called "soft walls" didn't line every wall at every track. NASCAR responded, by saying that tracks make those decisions, but they would be talking to the tracks even more about them. Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood III manned up and put a temporary tire barrier in place for the Daytona 500 and promised that the whole track would be lined with them by the Daytona July race. There has been plenty of research put into these walls and where to have them, but Harvick said it best, saying that tracks are reactionary to putting the walls in new places and not proactionary. Maybe Daytona's reactionary response will prompt others to be proactive.
Georgia On My Mind: Daytona was not a great race weekend for the Georgia gang, but there were some bright spots. David Ragan and Reed Sorenson raced their way into the 500 in Thursdays Duel qualifying races. Ragan did so after wrecking, losing a lap, and seeing the pack leave him in the closing laps, only to see a caution take out some cars in front of him. Sorenson did so in a backup car for the small Xxxtreme Motorsports team. Their Daytona 500 races were less joyous, as Ragan hung in the back and couldn't ever get the front, finishing 17th. Sorenson lost a lap at one point, got the free pass and gained some spots, but got caught in the last lap crash and finished 32nd. Sorenson is unsure if he has any more races in that car. Saturday's Xfinity race was a tough road for the Georgia group. Chris Cockrum led the group in the Advanced Communications Group/Remembering Captain Herb Chevy, surviving to a 21st-place finish in a sub-par car and after two penalties. Cockrum plans to run with Rick Ware Racing again at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway. Chase Elliott notched his first-career NXS DNF, getting caught in the crash that hurt Busch and finishing 28th. John Wes Townley got caught in the first big wreck of the day, finishing 33rd, as did Ryan Sieg in 38th. Those three drivers will all compete for either the whole season (Elliott and Sieg) or most of it (Townley). The Camping World Truck Series race was crash-filled and eliminated both Townley (22nd) and Hill (30th). Townley will run the full year the the Trucks with his dad's Athenian Motorsports team, while Hill does not have a full-time schedule planned with Empire Racing or anyone else.
NXS RaceTweet: Ryan Reed becomes a first-time NXS winner, making a last lap pass on Brad Keselowski to win wreck-filled race. Prayers for Kyle Busch.
NCWTS RaceTweet: Tyler Reddick make for a Blue Oval sweep of the three big Daytona races, winning a wreck-filled NCWTS season opener and gets first-career win.
Next: The re-aligned NASCAR schedule brings the Sprint Cup, Xfinity, and Camping World Truck Series to Atlanta Motor Speedway. The Sprint Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 is Sunday at 1 p.m. on FOX and PRN - Kasey Kahne is the defending winner. The Xfinity Series Hisense 250 is Saturday at 2 p.m. on FS1 and PRN, followed in a rare double-header by the Camping World Truck Series at 5:30 p.m. on FS1 and PRN. Weather could be a wild car this race weekend, but that won't be the only challenge for teams. Reality now strikes after a crazy, long, and exciting Speedweeks in Daytona. The teams could not test in the offseason, so this first 1.5-mile race of the season will really show where teams are at in the early stages of the 2015 season.