A crowd of over 100,000 fans finally saw a very good Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race last Sunday. After agonizing over the Clash and the Duel races earlier in the week, The Daytona 500 race turned out to be one of the best 500’s in years.
Two Hendrick Motorsports drivers, William Byron and Alex Bowman, secured the front row after qualifying was held. The Dual races established the starting positions for the rest of the field and it looked like the drivers were more interested in keeping their equipment in good shape for the big race itself than where they finished.
Kevin Harvick won the first of two NASCAR Gander RV Duels, earning the third starting position. Harvick led a trio of Fords to the line in a race defined by teamwork down the stretch. Joey Logano used a last lap pass to win the second NASCAR Gander RV Duel race, ensuring him a fourth-place starting spot.
I ended last year’s Art of Racing extoling the merits of Joe Gibbs Racing, and the organization reestablished themselves as the team to beat in 2019.
Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch were followed by Erik Jones in a 1-2-3 podium sweep for Joe Gibbs Racing, the first time a team has accomplished that since Hendrick Motorsports in 1997. The win for Hamlin, coming off a winless 2018 season, was a very emotional win for the Joe Gibbs Racing team as it came just five weeks after the death of J. D. Gibbs (it was J. D. who discovered Hamlin as a late model standout more than a decade ago). Coach Gibbs was visibly emotional in victory lane, calling it the most emotional victory in any sport he’s ever had.
The Daytona 500 was scheduled for 200 laps and for the first 190 laps fans were treated to some exciting restrictor plate racing. A lot of two- and three-wide racing occurred with only a few minor incidences.
The Fords established a strategy early in the race, short-pitting and drafting together. As the race was nearing the conclusion, the lead Fords came upon a large group of cars, slowing them down as they tried to pass, and enabling the lead Toyotas to close up on them.
The resulting 20-car or so pack was a battle not just for positions, but also to stay on the lead lap.
With 10 laps to go, the “big one” finally happened, involving more than 20 cars. The race was red flagged as track crews cleared the wreckage. Only a few remaining cars were left unscathed over the final laps. Another wreck resulting in another red flag caused the race to go overtime.
The Daytona 500 is the final race of restrictor-plate racing as we know it.
For the remaining races at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway in 2019, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will use the same tapered spacer package it’ll race for the majority of the schedule.