NASCAR Sprint Cup Power Rankings: Top 15 After Daytona

After a Speedweeks that can be described as nothing else but crazy, Sunday saw a somewhat tame Daytona 500…if you can call multiple laps of three-wide racing for the lead at 200 mph tame. The race ended under yellow for a multi-car accident after the field took the white flag. Joey Logano, who led 31 total laps, was the leader at the point of caution and won his first Daytona 500.

The top 5 featured a who’s-who of restrictor-plate racing including Kevin Harvick (2), Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (3), Denny Hamlin (4) and Jimmie Johnson (5). Pole sitter Jeff Gordon led a race high 87 laps but was involved in the last lap accident.

This year’s Daytona 500 saw no Busch brother in the field for the first time since 2000. Kurt Busch has been suspended indefinitely by NASCAR and Kyle Busch was injured in an accident on Saturday during the XFINITY Series race. Replacements Regan Smith and Matt Crafton finished 16th and 18th respectively. Regan will be in the No. 41 again at Atlanta. David Ragan will move from the No. 34 of Front Row Motorsports to Joe Gibbs Racing and will drive the No. 18.

Teams stay on the East coast and head to Atlanta for week 2 this season. But before drivers take on the high-speed track, let’s see who made the top 15.

How The Rankings Are Calculated: Frontstretch does our power rankings similar to how the Associated Press does them for basketball or football. Our expert stable of NASCAR writers, both on staff and from other major publications will vote for the Top 20 on a 20-19-18-17… 3-2-1 basis, giving 20 points to their first-place driver, 19 for second, and so on. In the end, Mike Mehedin calculates the points, adds some funny one-liners, and… here you go!

 
Rank
Change
Name
Total Votes

1

 +6

2014 NASCAR Cup Joey  Logano headshot Credit Getty Images 430 TALLJoey Logano

Scores big with 500 win at one of his self-proclaimed worst tracks — watch out! Mike Zizzo, Texas Motor Speedway

First Place Votes: 9

167

2

 +2 2014 NASCAR Media Day - Portraits

Kevin Harvick

Might just be Stewart-Haas Racing’s only hope in 2015. Just call him Obi-Wan Kevinobi. Amy Henderson, Frontstretch.com

162

3

 +2

2014 NASCAR Media Day - PortraitsDale Earnhardt, Jr.

Daytona could be a good omen for year one of the post-Letarte era if Junior is coming away disappointed with third. Tony Lumbis, Frontstretch.com

154

4

 -1

2014 NASCAR Media Day - PortraitsJimmie Johnson

Chad Knaus has done a super secret analysis of the current Chase rules and has come up with a top secret plan to win title number 7. Dennis Michelsen, RaceTalkRadio.com

148

5

 +3

2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series PortraitsDenny Hamlin

Recorded a top-5 finish and did not have a single incident with Danica, making it a very successful day at the office. Tony Lumbis, Frontstretch.com

First Place Votes: 1

141

6

 -5

2014 NASCAR Cup Jeff Gordon headshot Credit Getty Images 430 TALLJeff Gordon

He’s NASCAR’s top rated driver at Atlanta with an average finish of 9.6. He dominated at Daytona until getting tied up in the back at the end. Aimee Turner, Richmond International Raceway 

124

7

 N/A

2014 NASCAR Cup Clint Bowyer headshot Credit Getty Images 430 TALLClint Bowyer

Clint Bowyer wants to put last year behind him. He and the No. 15 team are off to a good start. Dwight Drum, RaceTake.com

113

8

 +5

2014 NASCAR Media Day - PortraitsKasey Kahne

Finished ninth in the Daytona 500, still frosted that the other Casey keeps beating him on the plate tracks. Amy Henderson, Frontstretch.com

111

9

 N/A Credit: Getty Images

Greg Biffle

Greg Biffle continues to stand out at Roush Fenway Racing. The Biff could have a great year. He’s still one one who could get championships in all three top NASCAR series. Dwight Drum, RaceTake.com

104

10

 -9

2014 NASCAR Cup Matt Kenseth headshot Credit Getty Images 430 TALLMatt Kenseth

Didn’t get a chance to see what he had for the 500, but hopefully his Sprint Unlimited win was an early sign of a turnaround. Mike Zizzo, Texas Motor Speedway

94

11

 +4

2014 NASCAR Media Day - PortraitsMartin Truex, Jr.

Martin Truex, Jr. is off to a jumpstart this season. A single car team needs fast starts as well as fast finishes. Dwight Drum, RaceTake.com

84

12

 -3

2014 NASCAR Media Day - PortraitsBrad Keselowski

The teammate rivalry is officially on. Keselowski and Logano rallied off wins aplenty last year, and both were in position to go for Daytona glory this year until Keselowski’s motor blew leaving Logano to wave the Penske flag. How Keselowski responds throughout the year will determine Penske’s lead driver. Aaron Bearden, Frontstretch.com

67

13

 -7

2014 NASCAR Media Day - PortraitsCarl Edwards

Now they head to the kind of track where Carl should win early and often at this year. Dennis Michelsen, RaceTalkRadio.com

64

14

 N/A Credit: Getty Images

Austin Dillon

Austin Dillon is looking to find some success after a sub-par rookie year in 2014. He ran as high as third in the final 50 laps, but got lost in the pack late before turning Jeff Gordon to bring out the final caution. Dillon limped home in 14th, with hopes of a strong 2015. Aaron Bearden, Frontstretch.com

39

15

 -3

2014 NASCAR Cup Ryan Newman headshot Credit Getty Images 430 TALLRyan Newman

Surely not the start he was expecting after riding the off-season wave from a second place points finish in 2014. Needs to remember “that’s plate racing” and start to dig out of the hole Tony Stewart created for him. Michael Mehedin, Frontstretch.com

38

Others Receiving Votes: Kyle Larson (37), Casey Mears (36), Tony Stewart (36), Sam Hornish, Jr. (34), Aric Almirola (23), AJ Allmendinger (21), Trevor Bayne (20), David Gilliland (14), Jamie McMurray (14), Paul Menard (12), Regan Smith (10), Michael Annett (8), Matt Crafton (6), Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. (5), Ryan Blaney (2), Danica Patrick (1)

NASCAR Mailbox: Daytona, Atlanta, and the Busch Brothers

What else can fans ask for out of the official start of our season? Daytona brought firsts in terms of victories for two young drivers; in the Camping World Truck Series for 19 year-old Tyler Reddick in the No. 19 Ford for Brad Keselowski, and in the XFINITY Series for 21 year-old Ryan Reed in the No. 16 Mustang for Jack Roush. But it was the Great American Race, the Daytona 500, that really brought the crowd to their feet. We saw actual competitive laps without “the big one,” packed in three-wide racing for the final 20 plus laps, and a driver emerge at the end with the kind of power that we saw at the conclusion of the Chase last season in Joey Logano.

It was Logano’s ninth Sprint Cup Series victory, and the first win for Ford in the Daytona 500 since Matt Kenseth brought the blue oval to victory lane back in 2012. It hasn’t been that long when you consider this was the 57th running of our sport’s largest race, but the Bow Tie has simply been dominant at Daytona thanks to the likes of Mr. Six-Time, Jimmie Johnson, and last year’s winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

Joey Logano has really re-created his career since his days at Joe Gibbs Racing in the No. 20 Toyota, where a skinny kid from Connecticut went up against the giants of the sport and tried to make his mark, but only won twice, with his first career Sprint Cup win coming at a rain-shortened race at New Hampshire in ‘09, and his second in 2012 at Pocono. The Logano we see today as Daytona 500 Champion is more than the scrawny driver he used to be when he was at Gibbs, who somehow showed a much different persona when he got behind the wheel, and managed to ruffle the feathers of many veterans in the garage area for not racing clean. The Joey Logano of 2015 dominates on and off the track. He is no longer afraid of speaking his mind when he’s not happy  on pit lane following the checkered flag, nor is he timid on the track. There’s no doubt that Logano has matured into a much better overall driver at the sport’s highest level, but what he’s showed us over his short time with Roger Penske, now capped-off with a Daytona 500 ring, is nothing more than simply amazing at age 24.

Joey Logano is good for our sport, and he’s great for Team Penske and his sponsors in Shell and Pennzoil.

Now on to this week’s mailbox questions…

Q:  I know it’s been colder in the Atlanta area recently. How will the cold and the testing session early this week change how teams are prepping for this weekend’s race? Thanks! –Aaron, Ontario, CA

A:  Hey Aaron, thanks for writing us! There is no doubt that Sprint Cup teams, and those in the Camping World Truck and XFINITY Series (also racing this weekend), will be preparing for cold temps heading up to Atlanta this weekend. The temps have been in the 30’s and 40’s, and the forecast for the weekend shows temps in the high 40’s and lows in the 20’s Thursday through Sunday. In fact, on Sunday right now they’re projecting freezing rain. That should be an interesting match for Air Titan 2.0… But things will be tight on these cars with the cold weather, and the aging racing surface at Atlanta.

As you mentioned, the major change in the schedule for teams getting ready for the race weekend is the lengthy testing session which will be held on Thursday at the track for the Sprint Cup Series. As we covered during Speedweeks at Daytona, this week will be the debut of many changes to the car and competition rules package for 2015- including specifically the in-car, driver-controlled track bar adjustment knob. Drivers will now have to work with crew chiefs even more closely as they’ll be responsible for dialing up the level of looseness or tightness of their cars.

Haulers will be leaving the Charlotte area a little earlier than usual this week because of the testing session. This week will be one to really test the teams, here early in the season, what they’re made of (both on and off the track), and showcase all the preparation they worked on all off-season.

2015 Daytona I CUP Regan Smith car credit Mike Neff

Regan Smith will continue as the driver of the No. 41 for Stewart Haas Racing while Kurt Busch’s future remains uncertain. (Credit: Mike Neff)

 

Q:  Who will replace Kyle and Kurt Busch for the season given that the pair won’t be back anytime soon? – Dillon, Dayton, OH

A:  Right now the timetable for both the Busch brothers to return to racing is completely up in the air. For Kyle, his injuries, while serious, seem to be something that he can rehab from in a minimum of six to eight weeks. Meaning his bones could (that’s a big “could”) heal by May and he could be back for the All-Star Race or even the Coke 600. It’s possible. But with a compound fracture to his right leg, along with a break in his left foot, rehab time will be important to ensure everything heals and Rowdy is at 100% before he gets back into his Cup ride, as fellow competitor Tony Stewart can attest to. Right now, Joe Gibbs Racing announced that 9-year veteran driver, David Ragan will replace Busch in the No. 18 Toyota for Atlanta and the foreseeable future. JGR was able to work out a deal with Ragan’s team, Front Row Motorsports, that puts the two-time race winner behind the wheel of the 18 machine, and allows Front Row to use wins from the 18 with David Ragan towards the No. 34 Ford getting a slot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup at season’s end. That is IF Ragan can pull off an improbable victory in the No. 18 while filling-in for Kyle Busch. Regardless, getting a high-quality, skilled driver like David Ragan is a huge relief for owners Joe and JD Gibbs heading into this season- a season possibly without their star driver.

For Kyle’s older brother Kurt, things are much different with his indefinite suspension from NASCAR. The road back to the seat of the No. 41 Chevy SS for Busch may be a longer, and harder stretch of highway than his younger brother’s. Kurt will need to not only win NASCAR’s approval back into the sport after his legal issues with ex-girlfriend Patricia Driscoll and the alleged assault, but also win back the support of his sponsors, his team at Stewart-Haas Racing, and perhaps most importantly NASCAR fans everywhere.

Regan Smith will continue to fill-in for Kurt in the 41 machine this weekend at Atlanta, as he pulls double duty with running the No. 7 Chevy full-time for JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series- where he’s competing for a championship this season.  Kurt could be back in a week, or he could be back and able to compete months from now. What happens to the 41 car and Kurt Busch’s comeback from this will undoubtedly be one of the biggest, most complicated stories to follow this season.

 

Have a question? Email me at greg.davis@frontstretch.com, and make sure to check back next week when we’ll answer your questions on all things NASCAR. Until then, enjoy the racing this week from Atlanta!

 

 

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Five Points to Ponder: Down to Business, Busch-less Racing and a Back-to-back Champ?

Down to Business:
There are very few events in sport I enjoy more than the Great American race. Daytona 500 Sunday is truly a date to be celebrated on the sporting calendar, as 43 drivers go full tilt for five hundred miles for the iconic Harley J. Earl trophy and NASCAR immortality. Having the biggest day in the sport as the traditional season curtain raiser has always felt a little counter-intuitive to me, certainly when compared to the sport’s stick-and-ball cousins, but there can be no question the 500 starts the season in truly grand style and the 2015 edition was no exception. With the big race in the books, thoughts turn to the rest of the season and, with restrictor plates off the engines until Talladega Superspeedway in early May, arguably the true start to the year. What we see transpire next weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway and then in the four following races before the Easter weekend off – Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Phoenix International Raceway, Auto Club Speedway and Martinsville Raceway – will be far more indicative of how the season might unfold. So while the 500 is a genuine jewel in the American sporting landscape; it’s also a glorious 200 MPH distraction before we hit the first stretch of racing that will begin to define the pretenders and contenders for the 2015 Sprint Cup crown.

(Photo: CIA Stock Photography)

It’s been over a decade since we’ve seen a race without er of the Busch brothers in it. We’ll see a lot of it in 2015. (Photo: CIA Stock Photography)

The Busch Brothers:
Not since Atlanta Motor Speedway in the penultimate race of the 2001 Cup series have we seen a top echelon NASCAR race without a Busch brother. We’ve seen the very occasional race with just one of the irascible siblings, thanks to the odd race suspension or two, but after some thirteen years it was certainly strange to see neither brother line up for the green flag of the Daytona 500. The question of when either Busch will be back remains to be seen and, at the time of writing, there isn’t really a timetable for either driver to return. The severity of Kyle’s injuries, sustained the XFINITY Series race on Saturday afternoon, may preclude his involvement for multiple races but we’ll learn more as the week progresses. As for Kurt, it’s anyone’s guess at this stage. Some are even opining that he might never return to the Cup Series, but that’s a little premature for me. The first one back, you’d think, would be Kyle, and it will be interesting to see if he alters his M.O. and reduces his XFINITY and Camping World commitments when he does. Best wishes to him as he makes his recovery from an injury that SAFER barriers might well have avoided.

Morale Boosting Start for Martin Truex, Jr.:
A battling eighth place finish and running in contention for most of the race was a solid enough start to the 2015 season for Martin Truex, Jr. This time last year in his first race with his new team, the one-car underdog Furniture Row organization, Truex finished dead last in the 500, running a meager 30 laps before his engine expired. The New Jersey native went on to record one solitary top five (fourth place at Kansas in the Chase race) and just four other top 10’s and his winless streak now stretches 57 races back to Sonoma Raceway in June 2013. In an interview in a Denver Post story written by Nick Groke prior to the season, Truex said of his team’s prospects in 2015: “Things will be different… The important thing is, are we built to adapt? I think we are. But until things change, you don’t know. Hopefully our eyes are wide open and our cars are fast.” It seems unlikely that Truex will go out and run in the top-10 each week but with a bit of luck (say at Sonoma in June), Truex might just find a way to race his way into the Chase. And what a story that would be.

Can Harvick Repeat?
In the end on Sunday, it was quiet sort of second place for the defending champion in the Great American Race. Twelve drivers led at least one lap with Kevin Harvick not among that dozen. “I’m relieved for my team that we had a good, solid finish, a good start to the season,” said Harvick of the first loser finish. Second place continues a fine run of results for Harvick who finished up 2014 with a second place and two straight victories and he’s already looking forward to the challenge of Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend. “I’m excited about, you know, everything that we do on our mile-and-a-half stuff. I’m looking forward to going to Atlanta,” said Harvick. “That’s really what it’s all about, is trying to win a race to get yourself positioned in the Chase, be able to try to win more races if you can do that early enough.” Don’t rule him out from doing just that next weekend. Winning back-to-back championships, however, is another matter entirely. With the exception of Jimmie Johnson’s record breaking five in a row (2006-2010) you have to go all the way back to 1998 and Jeff Gordon to find the last repeat champion. Brad Keselowski, by comparison, didn’t even make the Chase the year after he won his title. Harvick, given the revised Chase qualifying format compared to Keselowski in 2013, will almost certainly make the playoffs by way of Victory Lane. Whether he can parlay that out once more into a Cup crown over the ten playoffs races remains to be seen.

(Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

The Cup Series has raced under the lights at Atlanta recently, but they return to daytime action this weekend. (Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

Next Up: Atlanta
When I first typed up this week’s fifth and final point I temporarily wrote my subject as “Next up: Phoenix,” which has for the last four years at least been the second race of the campaign. But in a change to the 2015 Cup Series schedule this year, we are instead heading back east across the country to Atlanta Motor Speedway for the 108th Cup race at the venerable and storied mile-and-a-half circuit. Last season Atlanta was race number 25 on the calendar, a Labor Day weekend Sunday night event, one prior to the Richmond International Raceway Chase field cut-off. It was a race won by Kasey Kahne who nailed down his playoff berth just in the nick of time with a much-needed victory. But with the new rules package this season, and a dearth of off-season testing; teams will head to Atlanta with some trepidation as they work out how good they are, speed-wise, relative to the competition. It almost goes without saying that the usual suspects will be fast but this Sunday’s race will do much more to define how the season might play out in the longer term than the Daytona 500 did. Atlanta typically produces great racing at high speed, so here’s hoping week two is a fine second act after all the excitement of the Great American Race.

Who’s Hot and Who’s Not In Sprint Cup: Atlanta Edition

Burnouts (hot)
Of course you’ve got Joey Logano, a first-time winner of the Daytona 500. The good thing about this win for the 24-year-old is that he had one of the top three or four strongest cars all day and this was not a fluke victory. This win continues the momentum for the Penske Racing driver from last year as he was one of the final four to contend for the title at Homestead. Logano also got an assist from spotter Tab Boyd, who told him to stay on the gas after the wreck behind him on the final lap, before NASCAR eventually threw the caution. And not to be lost in all of the glory of winning the sport’s biggest race, Logano also guarantees himself a place as one of the 16 drivers in this year’s Chase For The Championship.

Sure he didn’t win and sure he would’ve liked to have seen that final lap stay green, but Kevin Harvick came within one place of winning three straight races. So, not too bad for the defending champion. What was also a mark of a champion was the way Harvick raced throughout the 500, while not leading, he waited until it was time to go to make his push toward the front.

(Credit: NASCAR via Getty Images)

Joey Logano starts the season off red-hot with his Daytona 500 win.(Credit: NASCAR via Getty Images)

Two keys the pre-race experience are the flyover and just how the traditional command to start the engines is delivered. In this case, you had to like both of them, with the more traditional flyover with the US Air Force Thunderbirds and then also a rousing start your engines command from actor Vince Vaughn.

Tire Rubs (warm)
One of other top three or four cars undoubtedly belonged to Dale Earnhardt, Jr. He led 32 laps and if not for what he admitted to be a bad decision on which line to try and draft with, he easily could have found himself in Victory Lane at the 500 for the second straight year. What bodes well for Junior and his fans is that after dropping back to 20th, he rallied to finish third and turned what could have been a very disappointing day into a pretty decent one.
The Daytona 500 has always been a race where the underdogs can compete, and while one of the favorites in Logano did win, it was still a pretty good day for some teams that only dedicated fans of NASCAR follow. Those results included Casey Mears in sixth, Martin Truex, Jr. in eighth, David Gilliland in 11th, Sam Hornish, Jr. in 12th and Michael Annett in 13th. To be fair, I think we will have more good results at non-restrictor plate tracks from Truex and Hornish, but it was a pretty good way for each them to start the season.

In The Cooler (Cool)
It seemed like for a while we just might get a Cinderella story in this one as Jeff Gordon led much of the first half of the race and had the most laps led with 87. It would have been quite the scene had the driver of the No. 24 won in his final Daytona 500, but the racing gods are rarely influenced by sentimentality. So, that left Gordon, in his 23rd 500, with a 33rd place finish after getting caught up in the last lap accident.

And speaking of the accident, there is some question as to whether NASCAR should have let the leaders race back to the finish line, given the wreck was behind them. Certainly the emotional part of a fan would like to see that happen, like it did in the XFINITY race on Saturday. But on the other hand, if there was a chance where safety could have been compromised, then NASCAR made the right move. It can’t hold a press conference like it did Saturday night to talk about how safety is paramount, then pretend it doesn’t matter in those situation. So, yes, I’m a little cool to the fact we didn’t get to see a real race to the checkered flag, but understanding why, too.

Stuck In The Pits (Cold)
It was simply a bad weekend to be one of the Busch brothers. Let’s deal with Kyle Busch’s situation first. He was very, very fortunate to come out of his accident where he hit an inside concrete wall head first to only come away with broken bones in his left leg and right foot. When watching the replay of that accident in real time, it was one of the hardest hits I’ve seen a NASCAR driver take in quite a while. Fortunately, he will eventually recover, but a compound fracture will likely mean it will be months before he’s allowed back in a race car.

The big question surrounding Kurt Busch will be if he will ever race in NASCAR again. While he will still get his full day in court, NASCAR did the right thing by suspending him. Any hint of domestic violence can’t be tolerated. It looked as though he would take this third chance given to him by Gene Haas and really make it work. Hey, and maybe he was doing that. But it sure doesn’t look good for Kurt Busch right now.

After going through two difficult years, Tony Stewart seemed ready to start this season anew as his old personality has come back to the forefront. Unfortunately, his old Daytona 500 luck was still intact too. He admitted to getting caught in the wrong spot and causing a wreck early in the race that left him with a 42nd place finish. There will be other days for Smoke, but you know he didn’t want to start out the season like this.

Thinkin’ Out Loud: Daytona 500

2015 Daytona I CUP Joey Logano trophy credit NASCAR via Getty Images

Joey Logano posing with the Harley J. Earl trophy (Getty Images)

Who’s in the headline – The winningest duo in the Cup series last season was Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, and when the first checkered flag of the season flew at Daytona on Sunday it was Logano driving under it first for his first career victory at a restrictor-plate track. Logano brought the field to the green flag for a green-white-checkered finish and had himself in front of the field when the caution and checkered flags flew together after several cars got together coming out of turn 2.

What happened – The race started under beautiful blue Florida skies and the field stayed at least double file for most of the event. There were only a handful of incidents throughout the event but none of them that would be categorized as a Big One. A 20-plus-lap run as the race was winding down saw the field three-wide seven or eight rows deep with very little movement within the pack. Similarly, the race only saw 27 lead changes among 12 drivers. For most of the event, when someone was able to get out front they stayed there. Drivers got alongside and even nosed ahead at the line occasionally but it was extremely hard to overtake the leader without a serious push from behind. On the plus side, the warmer weather of the daytime race had the drivers slipping and sliding and actually dealing with handling at Daytona for the first time in many years. The result was a clean race with drivers affording their fellow competitors a lot of leeway that certainly helped with the lack of a Big One. In the end, the caution flew within sight of the finish and resulted in a green-white-checkered finish. That finish was ultimately cut half of a lap short due to a caution after the field had taken the white flag.

Why you should care – The new rules package for 2015 on the non-plate tracks is going to lead to less downforce on the cars. The resulting tire wear and overall lessened grip should make the cars tougher to handle and place a higher premium on driver ability. In the end that should make the overall racing in the series better and more exciting for the fans. The only concern at this point is that the side draft on these cars has a tremendous impact on trying to pass the leader. If that can be reduced so that the old fashioned slingshot pass for the lead can return to the sport, we will all be better for it.

What your friends are talking about – The big discussion around Daytona after Saturday was SAFER barriers. Kyle Busch had a very serious impact with the inside wall on the inside of the front straight/turn one. The resulting injuries included a compound fracture of the right leg and a fracture of his left ankle. Joie Chitwood, president of Daytona International Speedway, immediately committed to putting tire barriers in place for the 500 and SAFER barriers on any track facing walls by the July race. This will hopefully be the final impetus to put SAFER barriers on every wall facing every racing surface on the schedule.

Speaking of safety, the green-white-checkered finish ended with the pack on the backstretch when the caution flag flew for an incident off of turn 2 after the field had taken the white. Many fans were voicing their displeasure with the fact that the drivers were not allowed to race back to the checkered flag in the biggest race of the season. Many of those same fans were screaming bloody murder about the lack of SAFER barriers on Saturday. You can’t play both angles on safety, although it is necessary for NASCAR to be consistent. There have been times where they let them race back with cars in turns 1 and 2 that were stopped and other times where they threw the caution when a single car spun on the back straight and was back under power. Safety is paramount in the modern world of racing but consistently focusing on it is what will help the fans understand what they are watching.

Daytona was the first implementation of the automated officiating system that NASCAR has implemented for 2015. As such, several teams were caught jumping over the wall too soon while quite a few were flagged for speeding on pit lane. The speed timing system is no different so there really isn’t an excuse for violating that rule on the pit road. It will take a couple of races for teams to get used to the new enforcement system but, in the end, they will all learn to follow the rules a little bit closer.

For those fans who were in Daytona it was interesting seeing the fan area outside the track. While there were still some merchandise haulers present it did not appear as though there were as many as there have been in the past. The new plan to eliminate them and go with the large stores is already beginning to take place and good or bad it just makes for a different look to that area of the race track.

Kyle wasn’t the only Busch in the news this weekend. Kurt Busch was suspended indefinitely by NASCAR after the decision that came down from the Dover court this week. Busch appealed the decision to the NASCAR appeals board and it was denied. He then took it to the final appeal level of Bryan Moss, the NASCAR final appeals officer. That appeal was also denied and Busch is out of a ride for the foreseeable future. While the legal process is still unfolding for Busch, unless there is a significant reversal of fortune he is quite possibly out of the sport for good.

Who is mad – Anyone whose name is not Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Ty Dillon, Travis Kvapil, Austin Dillon and Justin Marks. Those six drivers started on the front row of their respective races thanks to the circus that is knockout qualifying at restrictor plate tracks. Many fans, team owners, fabricators, drivers and landscapers all think the process is a joke. How to make it better is anyone’s guess at this. One thing is for sure, it has not added the excitement for which NASCAR had hoped.

2015 Daytona I CUP pack racing II credit Mike Neff

Tony Stewart, before his day ended in the garage (Mike Neff)

Another attempt at winning the 500 for Tony Stewart went south early again this year. The three-time champion bounced it off of the wall just past the 40 lap mark in the race. The impact damaged the front suspension of the car enough that he had to pull the car behind the wall and replace much of the front of the car. The end result is a 17-year run of frustration for the winningest active driver in the series at Daytona.

Landon Cassill made the Daytona 500 for the tiny Hillman Smith Motorsports team. While it is a great payday to just start the 500 it was a tremendous disappointment for them to have an engine failure just 18 laps into the race. Sometimes the builders who lease engines to the smaller teams will put experimental parts in to test them for future use in their general fleet of engines. Not saying that is what happened to Cassill but it has to be a disappointment to go up in smoke less than 20 laps into the biggest race of the season. On the plus side, the team has 250,000 reasons to be happy about heading into the 2015 season.

Who is happy – Obviously Logano is thrilled but he isn’t the only one. Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson all came home with undamaged race cars and top-5 runs. Casey Mears scored a sixth-place finish for the single car operation that is Germain Racing. Mears has 11 career top 10s at plate tracks. He has more top 10s during the July race, which has to have the lizard crew pretty pumped up for this summer.

Fabricators, parts suppliers and sheet metal wholesalers, too. Over 100 cars were involved in incidents at Daytona during Speedweeks. The nature of restrictor plate racing results in torn-up race cars. When teams wad up that many cars it provides a large financial impact to the support industries and individuals associated with the sport.

Clint Bowyer‘s Speedweeks was a disaster by most standards. Totaled cars in the Sprint Unlimited and qualifying piled on top of the difficulties that have plagued him for the last year plus of competition. The karma gods have been hard on Bowyer since the whole debacle at Richmond. When the caution and checkered flags flew Bowyer was in seventh place and his car was in one piece. The gods might finally be smiling on Bowyer again.

When the checkered flag flew: Joey Logano notched his ninth career victory in Cup series competition. He has run 221 races in the series, which gives him a winning percentage of 4 percent.

This is Logano’s first career win at Daytona International Speedway in the Cup Series.

The win is Logano’s third career top 5 at Daytona and fourth career top 10.

The triumph is Team Penske’s second career Daytona 500 win after Ryan Newman took the checkered flag first in 2008. Penske has never won the July race at Daytona.

While Logano has 221 career Cup starts he is the second youngest Daytona 500 champion at 24 years, eight months and 29 days. Only Trevor Bayne was younger when he won the Great American Race.

Joey Logano earned $1,581, 453 for the win.

Landon Cassill grabbed $262,390 for coming home in the last position.

Logano leads the points by five over Kevin Harvick.

Kevin Harvick’s runner-up effort was his fourth career top-2 finish at the World Center of Speed. Harvick has two wins at Daytona and a second in the 500 in 2009.

Harvick has 32 career second place runs. That ranks him in a tie for 20th all-time with Dale Jarrett.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. rounded out the podium with his 10th career top-3 finish at DIS. He has finished third in the 500 twice. He has four second-place runs in the 500 to go with his two career wins.

Earnhardt has 80 top-3 finishes in his career. That puts him 27th on he all-time list.

Logano is the first competitor to tally a win in the 2015 Sprint Cup season. The remaining drivers who are currently eligible for the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup and their point standings are:

  1. Kevin Harvick
  2. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  3. Denny Hamlin
  4. Jimmie Johnson
  5. Casey Mears
  6. Clint Bowyer
  7. Martin Truex Jr.
  8. Kasey Kahne
  9. Greg Biffle
  10. David Gilliland
  11. Michael Annett
  12. Sam Hornish Jr.
  13. Austin Dillon
  14. Aric Almirola
  15. David Ragan

What is in the cooler – It is hard to say a race that saw three-wide racing eight rows deep for over 20 laps as the race was winding down a dud, but this 500 seemed to be lacking in excitement. The crowd didn’t spend much time on its feet compared to last year’s event when it seemed as though it rarely sat down once the race finally restarted late in the day. Plate races inherently have a high level of excitement and there was absolutely a lot of tight racing, but the action at the front of the pack seemed subdued as plate races go. The Daytona 500 was still a good race and as a result we’ll give it four cold Some Beach Brown Ales from the Daytona Beach Brewing Company.

Where do you point your DVR for next week – The next stop for the Cup Series is Atlanta Motor Speedway. The race has been moved from late in the season to this new slot in March. The temperature in Atlanta on Friday was a balmy 34 degrees. The track is also hosting a Truck and XFINITY race on the same day. The first time races have been scheduled back-to-back on the same day. The Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 rolls off at 1 p.m. ET on March 1. It can be seen on FOX and heard on PRN and NASCAR SiriusXM radio.