More often than not, the sun beats down on the racing surface. There’s a sense of excitement in the air as crews bolt together displays and pit boxes. Hot dogs, burgers and other greasy foods lure you to the concession stands. In the RV lots, barbecues are fired up and tales swapped. This is a race weekend. For the most part, it is just like any other… isn’t it?
Ah, but there’s where you are wrong. Daytona’s palm trees and ocean breezes are gone with the larger-than-life pre-race concerts and monstrous crowds. Now, the real nitty gritty of the weekly racing circus begins. No specially built cars, overly complicated qualifying procedures or Mickey Mouse atmosphere remains. Come Thursday, the teams will have arrived in Phoenix, and the “real” season will begin. Here, we have rattlesnakes, a dusty mountain range and a track the shape of… well… I’m not sure what you want to call it. It is different.
Different as the varying stories that litter NASCAR headlines every single week.
Nah, that can’t be. It’s always the same old story, every week, you protest.
Well now, let’s review the headlines generated by the finish of the Daytona 500 and see what they tell us:
Jimmie Johnson won his second Daytona 500 in his 400th Sprint Cup start, proving what we already know. Mr. Five-time is still as competitive today as he was when he won his first Cup. However, it was interesting to note that this was Chad Knaus’s first Daytona 500, as the last time Jimmie earned the Harley J. Earl trophy, Chad was suspended for fiddling with parts, as he does so well.
On the final lap, Dale Earnhardt Jr. made a run at the top spot, which if you’re not a JJ fan, there’s a good possibility you’ve got Jr.’s back. Oh, it felt good to see him make that charge to the front after spending the entire race mired more or less in the single-file train. But, you know, Junior isn’t so young anymore. We’ve seen the “I almost made it!” headline before from the No. 88. Still, the last second charge got National Guard fans out of their seats.
Now, if you weren’t happy JJ took the checkers and Jr. was nearly there, it still probably made your eyes bug a bit to see the No. 55 of Mark Martin getting into it at the end. Oh, what a celebration that would be if he had snared the checkers! I’m sure Mark’s bus would be rolling with the hip-hop, even as his neighbors asked him to turn it down. If you’re ever looking for a driver to represent the youth and age of our sport, the wrinkled veteran has that spot down.
Farther down the finishing order we have to give kudos to Danica Patrick. Yes, she finished eighth, setting all kinds of records for the fairer sex. And after winning the pole, leading the race and clinging to the top five throughout most of the afternoon, I admit to being impressed. Well, as much as doing well in a plate race can impress anyone. Do you think Ricky Stenhouse Jr. just might have some real competition for the Rookie of the Year? I wasn’t expecting that to be a possibility. I like surprises. Come on, girl. Prove all my preconceptions wrong. I dare you!
And finally, ninth and 10th sported a couple no-name faces, which we usually see that happen in the final results of a plate race. Michael McDowell and JJ Yeley got themselves some valuable face time as they piloted their second and third tier teams to extremely respectable finishes.
It’s one of the best aspects of NASCAR. It is still possible on a random afternoon for a smaller team with empty wallets to pull off a miracle every now and then. Even though we’re watching the cream of the crop compete, in the same instant we are reminded that not everybody able to pilot a car belongs to the stables of Hendrick, Gibbs, Roush, RCR and Penske. Would I necessarily sign them to a contract? Maybe not, but the thought is still worth considering.
Five stories of varying interest, and certainly not to be found all together every week:
A champion seeking to grab his throne one more time.
The iconic driver with a name from the past and a massive fanbase belonging to the present looking like he might be able to do something with that No. 88.
A man who won’t retire and still likes to mix it up with the young ‘uns daring Junior to bring it on!
Our own Go-Daddy girl, she drove like a racecar driver this week and made sure every news station in America mentioned NASCAR.
And a pair of stock-car pilots who reminded us that the track is big enough to include the little guys, too.
Next Sunday the place, names and cars will shift around, giving us all something new to think about as we wait for the trucks to pack up and head to Vegas. It’s one of the best things of our sport. There’s never a dull moment and we’re never in want of a really good story to swap.
At Phoenix, we return to the scene of the Great Rivalry of 2012. Will Jeff and Clint make up? You’ll just have to tune in to find out.
About the author
The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.