Feb 24, 2013; Daytona Beach, FL, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Jimmie Johnson poses with the Harley J. Earl Trophy after winning the 2013 Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

Jimmie Johnson’s Victory Caps Off Eventful Weekend at Daytona


Twitter: @Li495Akiem

The weekend at the 2013 Daytona 500 was defined by the introduction of a new car, nearly endless Danica Patrick banter, and a horrific wreck at the Nationwide Series race on Saturday.

But, as the old saying goes, to the victor belong the spoils. 2013’s Great American Race victor is Jimmie Johnson and the #48 team of Hendrick Motorsports. It is the second Daytona 500 victory for Johnson.

It is also the first victory at the 500 for the #48’s crew chief, Chad Knaus. Even though he was Johnson’s crew chief back then as he is now, he was suspended in 2006 which was the last time they won. The acting crew chief for Johnson’s victory in ’06 was Darian Grubb. Grubb is currently the crew chief of Denny Hamlin and the #11 team for Joe Gibbs Racing.

For Jimmie Johnson, it is certainly the most auspicious of starts for his 2013 campaign after what happened at the end of 2012. He was embroiled in a down to the wire chase for the 2012 Sprint Cup Championship with Penske’s #2 of Brad Keselowski. Johnson wrecked in Phoenix and didn’t take enough pit stops at Homestead-Miami in the last two races of 2012 allowing Keselowski to be crowned champion. He would finish third behind Keselowski and Clint Bowyer after his struggles in Homestead Miami.

Johnson is expected, once again, to be one of the top contenders for the 2013 Sprint Cup Championship and winning Nascar’s flagship race is certainly a great way to get the “six pack” started.

In addition to Johnson winning, Hendrick managed to go 1-2 at Daytona in the Cup race. A late charge from the #88 of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. allowed him to surge up to second, and nearly passed his Hendrick teammate for the victory. While many may have seen the race as relatively bland up to that point, if anything was going to wake the crowd in Daytona up, it’d be with a potential last-lap pass by Nascar’s most favorite driver.

That pass, of course, didn’t happen. Junior picked up his first victory in a long time last year in Michigan and was slowly inching towards a victory as time went on dating back to 2010. The leader of Junior Nation too should be a contender for the Cup championship this year.

Among some of the top ten finishers included drivers that normally aren’t seen in the top ten. These included Regan Smith, Michael McDowell, and J.J. Yeley. All of these drivers are talented, but aren’t driving for teams with the money and resources of the big Charlotte teams like Hendrick, Gibbs, Roush Fenway, Childress, and Penske. Yeley drove the #36 car which also turned in an impressive showing at last year’s Daytona 500 by Dave Blaney.

Blaney finished seventeenth this year in the #7 Chevrolet.

While many drivers outside of the Charlotte loop had impressive outings at Daytona International Speedway, More of the usual suspects from those major Charlotte teams did not get their seasons started on the right feet (or, should I say…right tires).

An early wreck would end the day for many of the drivers that are within the “Charlotte Loop” as I like to call it. Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne, Jamie McMurray, Austin Dillon, and Juan Pablo Montoya were all involved. Several of those drivers had to head to the garage for the day. Carl Edwards was involved in another wreck that took out him and Trevor Bayne among others.

Here’s who finished 31st to 43rd on the day at Daytona.

Austin Dillon (31st)

#1 Jamie McMurray (32nd)

#99 Carl Edwards (33rd)

#18 Kyle Busch (34th)

#34 David Ragan (35th)

#5 Kasey Kahne (36th)

#20 Matt Kenseth (37th)

#38 David Gilliland (38th)

#42 Juan Pablo Montoya (39th)

#35 Josh Wise (40th)

#14 Tony Stewart (41st)

#29 Kevin Harvick (42nd)

#87 Joe Nemechek (43rd)

Half of the drivers on the list are perennial Sprint Cup Championship contenders on paper and/or former Daytona 500 winners. Edwards wrecked his fifth car in the last few speedweeks. Needless to say, many of the top drivers had tough days at the proverbial office.

Much of the hoopla revolved around…of course…the #10 of Danica Patrick.

Much of it was even increased when Danica Patrick had scored the pole position for the Daytona 500. Pole position, of course, means nothing in Nascar since the vast majority of drivers who start on the pole do not come away victorious. In a Sprint Cup sense, it’s more meaningful pointswise than it does to give your chances of winning a race a boost.

She would even lead six laps in the race and became the first female driver to lead a lap under green in the Daytona 500. Also, the first crash of the day was one she was able to avoid. Danica has been much maligned for, among other things, being unable to avoid wrecks as well as her budding relationship with Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. Some say it’ll cause conflicts in terms of what happens on the track.

Paranoid, anyone?

Patrick finished eighth—in the top ten. I admit that I do cheer for Danica and hope that she wins a race this year. That I think would be the ceiling for her to go after. I’m not sure if she’ll contend for a spot for a spot in the Chase this year, but crazier things have happened in this sport.

Also, for the sake of giving a little a Philadelphia focus—New Jersey’s Martin Truex Jr. finished 24th.

One thing about the race that surprised me was that there was hardly any of the “two-car tandems” we’ve become used to a Daytona and Talladega. The superspeedway restrictor plate races seem to have been dominated by these continuously finding “dancing partners” as much as three or four cars long. This didn’t happen this time and some say it affected the quality of this year’s race.

Personally, I don’t mind either single or double car racing. I just mind when the same people who complain that the two car tandems were running on overkill now want to go in on this race. It’s another classic case of trying to have it both ways.

Another headline that made the news was the introduction of the “Gen-Six” car which is said to really increase speeds, especially given the banking, track, and outlook of certain tracks.

The week was, of course, marred by Saturday’s last lap wreck in the Nationwide Series race. The Chevrolet of Kyle Larson sailed into one of the frontstretch barrier and debris flew all over the track and the stands. 28 fans were injured (one of which was a child) and two of the victims were listed in critical condition.

Since it was a crash that involved a car going airborne, at first, it began to remind of me of what happened with the Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards confrontation a few years ago at the Atlanta Motor Speedway. Given the results, it was certainly worse than that. Luckily, Larson was not killed in the crash.

Two things I get from the crash is that it once again confirms that Nascar drivers are athletes. The ones who say that the drivers aren’t athletes are those only saying it because it’s not the most mainstream of sports. Or, they feel they can drive the wheel of one of these cars.

If they can, why aren’t they in auto racing?

It also has called into question the safety of the catchfences that are supposed to protect fans from these kinds of things happening. Already, there has been suggestion for all tracks to adopt something similar to what Kansas Motor Speedway has where there is significant distance between the fans and the catchfences.

Of course, all wrecks go back to the tragic crash in Daytona that took the life of Dale Earnhardt, Sr. in 2001 on the last lap of that Daytona 500.

A video was posted by someone with a cellphone to a YouTube account that showed the crash. For a short period of time, the video was requested to be taken down from YouTube by Nascar. Charlotte tried to use the weak defense that they were thinking about not letting the person’s identity go public. The person’s identity will go public once they’re identified by either national or local press outlets in Central Florida anyway.

Nascar eventually relented from its request, but various videos of the wreck shortly were posted onto YouTube and became viral worldwide once they were there. Public-relations wise, Charlotte did not do itself any favors by having its initial move be to go after a fan who shot the event with the video camera. They requested that the video get taken down so it wouldn’t look bad and make them look bad.

Let’s see what they do the next time this happens. I hate to say it & I don’t cheer for wrecks like some sickos who watch the sport for wrecks (who are the fakest of fans, by the way). There will inevitably be a next time, unfortunately.

In short, the week ended on an exciting note with the Jimmie Johnson victory and Dale, Jr. almost passing him on the last lap. But, it wasn’t the best of weeks for Nascar even with all of the Danica buzz.

See you in Phoenix somewhere next week.

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