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Danica Patrick shines, Jimmie Johnson wins, but this Daytona 500 was a bit lackluster

Danica Patrick shines, Jimmie Johnson wins, but this Daytona 500 was a bit lackluster

Jimmie Johnson, snapping a five-year slump in the Daytona 500 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern

   Danica Patrick drove the race of her career here Sunday, leading laps, running up front all day, and -- surprise! -- she was right smack in the battle for the  victory down the stretch of the biggest stock car race of the all.
   Yes, she lived up to all the pre-race hype.
    Jimmie Johnson launched his bid for a sixth NASCAR championship by winning the Daytona 500 for the second time, and ending a five-year slump in this event.
   Patrick, running third at the white flag, got shuffled to eighth at the finish line. But her persistence and unflappable work at the wheel was remarkable to watch. She did have a few moments on pit road, but only one bad bobble on the track.
    Unfortunately that's about all to say about this lead-off Sprint Cup tour event. It was really downright boring most of the three hours. And it followed a pair of equally boring 150s Thursday....sandwiching a red-hot Truck tour event Friday night and a Nationwide sizzler Saturday. The contrast in action in the three major NASCAR series was striking, and may raise more questions about whether these new 2013 Cup cars are really ready for prime time.
   The 2013s have been hotly promoted by NASCAR in the weeks leading up to SpeedWeeks, and executives do not want this model tainted by criticism such as marred the first days of the last new stocker, the unliked car-of-tomorrow.
   So there has been unabashed praise from virtually every part of the garage about how great these new cars are and how much excitement they will put into this sport.
   However here during the debut events the only real excitement was in the crashing. The cars appear to have issues when trying to race side by side.


  The first of Sunday's two  major crashes took out half a dozen potential winners, including Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick and Kasey Kahne (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
   And even the finish, usually dramatic here, even on a bad day, was rather weak, from a purely entertainment point of view.
   Because the low line, again, never came in for drivers. Thus 'lane choice' for the final restart was the key to victory in a generally lackluster, single-file day at the track.  "The way the side-draft works with this car, everybody wants to run the high lane, and you can really choke down the bottom lane," Johnson said.
   Brad Keselowski, on a comeback afternoon following an early accident, appeared the man to beat down the  stretch, holding off Johnson despite a banged up car.
   Then a late yellow for a piece of aluminum debris, with only nine laps to go in the 200-lapper, while Keselowski was battling Johnson in a tight duel, led to the last restart with six to go.
    Johnson got the nod as leader at the moment that yellow officially came out, apparently based on the embedded scoring loops. That gave him lane choice for the final green, and he took the high line, which was the preferred line through all SpeedWeeks for some odd reason.
   Keselowski was thus stuck in the slower lane and even with pushing help he faded toward the back.
    That left Johnson to fend off Greg Biffle and Patrick. Virtually no one this SpeedWeeks has been able to make an inside pass, and neither Biffle nor Patrick appeared willing to try to dive low the final lap.


  Jimmie Johnson at the line. But what happened to  Greg Biffle and Danica Patrick this last lap? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    Then just as the leaders took the white for the last lap, David Reutimann hit the wall behind them, triggering a scramble in the pack. And Ryan Newman wasn't the only one here who figured NASCAR would throw the yellow.
   However NASCAR didn't throw a yellow, letting Biffle, Patrick and the rest have a final shot at Johnson if they wanted to try it. No one  tried anything, though.

   The rest of the day is easily summed up:
   -- Nobody passed. It was single-file all day...perhaps partly the result of NASCAR cutting rear downforce on these cars considerably over last year's cars (450 pounds less downforce on the rear), by cutting the rear spoiler drastically and by adding a under-body pan at the rear.
   --  Two big crashes took out several top drivers, including Carl Edwards for an amazing fifth time here. The first crash occurred just 34 laps in, in an accordion wreck, taking out Kasey Kahne, Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Juan Pablo Montoya, Jamie McMurray and Kurt Busch. Keselowski was involved, but his crew managed to get him repaired and back in the hunt. The second crash involved Trevor Bayne, Keselowski and Edwards.
   --- Two of Joe Gibbs' three drivers fell out with mechanical problems while leading, Matt Kenseth (transmission) and Kyle Busch (engine). (Denny Hamlin finished 14th.) Those woes quickly revived the specter of reliability issues that plagued the group last season. At one point Toyota held the top six spots in the race. Ironically perhaps Mark Martin wound up the highest finishing Toyota driver...and he was downright giddy about that.

  Ooooh, no, not again. Carl Edwards (99) crashed out for the fifth time in Sunday's 500 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Martin, who drives a part-time schedule, said Saturday's crash weighed on his mind during this race.
   "I was sick all night after that crash Saturday....and I was happy today we could have a good race without a big accident," Martin said. "There was plenty of opportunity at the end, though.
   "And they'll probably have one here in July....but I'm going to be home on the couch for that one."
   Patrick, whose 2012 season was pretty miserable, runs well at Daytona, so how well she may fare in the coming weeks at Phoenix and Las Vegas is up for debate.
   But here Sunday she was impressive all day. She started from the pole, chose the outside line, and quickly tucked in behind fellow Chevy driver Jeff Gordon. And she was clearly in contention all afternoon.  And she wasn't thinking about just a good finish either:
   "There was plenty of time while we were cruising along single-file to think...and I kept thinking 'How can I do this?'" she said.
    She said she couldn't figure out a good endgame. "Maybe I wasn't thinking creative enough."
   But then nobody else had a real good endgame either.


 Jimmie Johnson gets a victory lane handshake from teammate Dale Earnhard Jr. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



Great article. True assessment of the Daytona week.

The 500

Well next time I think I want to watch the 500..I'll save myself a couple hours and go to the nearest train tracks and watch a couple trains whizz by! On the upside I was proud of Danica! I guess the auto manufacturers got their wish...if you had a pair of binoculars....you MIGHT have been able to tell the difference between a Toyota, Chevy, or Ford! Maybe! Well on to Phoenix! (I sincerely hope those fans injured Saturday are doing well.)

Danica proved what? She could follow the leader?

Danica proved what? She could follow the leader? She could take a car that is one of the best in the business and hold the throttle down and follow the car in front of her? Yea, she proved nothing yesterday. Let's see Regan Smith finished ahead of her in a car that has about 1/2 of the funding she gets. Michael McDowell and JJ Yeley finish right behind her in cars with 1/20 the funding she has. All they had to do to get those finish was stay in line and move up. And what happened in the late stages of the race when the chips were down and you had to actually race for the finish. Oh, that's right she went from 3rd to 8th, in less than 1/2 lap. Yep, she sure showed she could run with the big boys. If there had been another lap she may have finished as high as 25th.

Da-yawn-a 500

I hope that NASCAR can find something to help these cars pass at restrictor plate tracks. If they can't, you can add these 4 races to the list of other snoozefest tracks. The cars seemed to handle pretty well overall, but when they pulled out of line it was like they hit a wall. The last of the Gen 4 cars put on pretty much the same show before they got rid of them, and now we're right back there but to a larger degree with the Gen 6 cars. I still don't understand why special engines can't be used for these tracks that will allow the cars to run free without any restictor plates. It's the only chance left to allow the cars to separate from each other. Everything else NASCAR has tried hasn't worked, and with the aerodynamics so finely tuned on these cars there is nothing external that can be done to create separation. It will add expense to the teams, but NASCAR is doing nothing else to cut the costs of fielding a team so why not do something to at least improve the racing at these tracks.

Criticizing The Wrong Issues

Fireball, once again you're criticizing the wrong thing. There is no such thing as a special engine to allow them to run without restrictor plates; as it is the use of restrictor plates on the sport's other tracks has been a decade overdue - we've seen the cars produce far worse crashes away from the plate tracks between the sheer violence of wrecks and the G-readings that have consistently been higher for the smaller tracks than the plate tracks. As for separation, there isn't supposed to be any - competition is about battling for the win, the more involved the better. Separation is not safer - and never will be - and is bad racing.

You want to improve the racing, make the draft everything and eliminate any relevance to handling - the Nationwide cars got it right on the plate tracks.

Well theres a few hours i will never get back. If

Well theres a few hours i will never get back. If theres no passing there will be no watching!

Most boring Daytona 500 ever?

I expected the race to be far better than it turned out. With Danica and the G6 car as well as considerable media hype, the hope was for excitement all the way. The race was a major disappointment, the worst one I can remember and I've seen just about all of them back to the Wide World of Sports days when NASCAR was regional. Can't they pass in the new car? Or is it going to be like the 1.5 mile processional races where a person could tune in during the last 20 laps and miss nothing. Danica did well enough for a rookie but, perhaps understandably, she raced very conservatively. After dozing for the first 400 miles, I sure missed the two car/multi car draft. I would hate it if NASCAR transformed itself into F1 where the race is determined by qualifying and just about the only passing to be seen is due to accident. The NASCAR brass seem quick to adapt but they have one heck of a job to do to fix the sixth generation "race" car!

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I have to give credit where credit is due. Danica did good a job. (based on this "type" of racin') She had a fast car. Follow the leader. Stay out of trouble. That's really all EVERYONE did. I'd be really surprised if she wins another pole or top 10. As the season moves on, the tracks get slicker. Fatigue sets in. Etc. The biggest problem I'm gonna have with this season is Danica-mania for every race instead of concentrating on racin' period. I'll just hold off from watchin' SPEED TV, until the green flag drops.

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