Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2015 Daytona 500

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.

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 Johnson all came home with undamaged racecars and top-five 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: 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%.

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

The win is Logano’s third career top five 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.

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

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

Logano leads the points by five over Kevin Harvick.

Harvick’s runner-up effort was his fourth career top-two 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.

Earnhardt rounded out the podium with his 10th career top-three 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-three 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.

About the author


What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Bill B

Listing the drivers eligible for the chase based on points after a single race at Daytona. LOL…. Good one!


I had to read that twice to understand what it was representing. Just hard to think about the top 16 in points at the beginning of the season making them eligible for a Chase that’s more based on wins. As far as the race went, it was ok but nothing special. It’s really too hard to pass with this package and it makes for a bit of a bore. It wasn’t what I would call good pack racing. I much preferred the tandem racing to this. Lots of passing there.

Chris Evans

I totally agree. It was almost impossible to pass by the leader. All Johnson had to to was go to either line and block it off. I think the tandem (though silly itself sometimes) was better. It was a strangely unmemorable race. It never helps that they show new documentaries on the 1979 race and you actually see real racing.

Daytona with all the money they have should have safer barriers everywhere. That is quite a terrible that they don’t.


Bill B

They could run 500 miles in a single file and I still wouldn’t opt for the tandem racing. I hated that “dancing partner” style of racing. IMO RP races suck because you can’t outrun anyone without help so in my eyes that’s the problem.


Yeah not a fan of the tandem style, but then again, I don’t really like RP racing.

I agree about the Johnson/Gordon thing, somehow I don’t think Johnson EVER gives Gordon a break so I doubt he would have done it there, plus as you also stated, Gordon led a bunch of laps. That works for me, just wish that he hadn’t gotten wrecked by the kid in the 3 car.


Gotta agree with you here Gina. Johnson has never given Gordon a break. If it weren’t for Jeff Gordon Jimmie Johnson wouldn’t be where he is today. Talk about gratitude.


i don’t know, something about this year’s 500 have left me wondering if i missed any portion of the race. only thing that really stands out in my memory is stewart’s wreck, brad blowing up and then jr making the decision and getting sucked back to 19th place with what 20 or so laps to go?

conspiracy theorist here – wonder if hendrick told johnson to let gordon lead the first lap of his final daytona 500.

it was a relatively tame 500. got really anxious at the end with 3 wide all the time. i still don’t like plate racing.

cautions flew when they needed pit stops, so what only 1 or 2 green flag stops.

it was a luke warm 500, based on the all the hype leading up to the race.

wonder when dw will remember that princess sparkle pony races, so his “let’s go racing boys” is kind a slap on the face.

and speaking of princess sparkle pony…..all is right with the world, she had a top 25 finish at daytona.

onto atlanta. be real interesting to see if mother nature throws a wrench on race weekend. we’ve had some crazy weather here the past few weeks. i say end of feb is way too early for a race to be here in atlanta. but then again, i still am being bombarded with ticket deals every day. nope, i’ll keep my money and watch from the couch. see what happens when next year’s schedule is announced.

Bill B

I thought about Johnson letting Gordon lead the first lap too but when Gordon ended up leading the most laps that conspiracy kind of evaporates.


bill b – i was playing devils advocate with my “conspiracy theory” comment…..but i imagine some people were thinking that.


Gotta love it. Danica haters complaining because she gets too much press, then mention her after every race. Seriously, the coverage of her this week was just fine. She didn’t deserve alot of it and she didn’t get much of it. Does anything please these people?


Bill B, wow, I’m glad you pointed that out since I missed the reason for that list altogether. Geez, I am completely not interested in talking about eligibility for the chase one race into the season.

I certainly enjoyed Gordon having a good car and leading so many laps and was bummed out when he got wrecked there at the end, but plate racing is just like that. Other than that, I thought this 500 was pretty tame and I’m really OK with that. I am not in it for the crashes.

As far as the safety thing goes, I think NASCAR acting like it is not “their” problem but a “track” problem is stupid and negligent. They are the sanctioning body this technology has been available for years and should have already been in place at all the tracks on the schedule. I have no problem with races ending under caution, I thought the implementation of the GWC finishes when NASCAR came up with THAT brilliant idea was terrible. The opportunity to do multiple restarts to get a “green” finish just risks lives & tears up race cars.

I hope that Kyle Busch has a good recovery. While I’m not a fan of his, I never like to see anyone get hurt and this could have been avoided if NASCAR & the tracks would pull their heads out of where the sun don’t shine. Daytona could spend $400 million I heard(?) including taxpayer $ and tax breaks to make Daytona a theme park and didn’t spend any money on safety. Yeah well we know where their priorities are.


Of course, NASCAR through ISC is essentially the owner of the tracks where more than half of the races are held each year.


I’m fine, too, with a race ending under caution if it is circumstances like yesterday with multiple cars strewn all over the place. Just as long as it isn’t for debris or a solo car spin well off the racing surface in the backstretch.
Somehow, I missed the Chase list when I first read the story. It’s sad that Kyle Busch is laid up with a broken leg because of NASCAR’s negligence and one of the burning questions is whether he’ll get a waiver for the Chase.
Here’s hoping Fox can maybe incorporate some color coding into their still hard to get used to running order graphics. So all of us Chase fanatics can start tracking it in the second of the 35 meaningless races of the season.


LOL rg72, yeah just what we need, more Fox graphics taking up room but I get your meaning. I don’t need no stinkin color coding. I pretty much know where my driver stands in all of that — right now, 33rd, ugh!


I’m a Joey fan, so I’m happy with the end of the race.


Good race. Tight racing, good passing, generally clean and exciting and no big one.

Conspiracy theories – check. Danica dissing – check.



The race had its highs and lows, but that run near the end when the whole field seemed to be three-wide and they didn’t wreck was amazing. Kind of an anti-climatic ending though. Still it was a very enjoyable race, if only for fact that there were no weather issues, no exploding track equipment or potholes leading to hour+ red flags.


that’s what was missing….exploding track dryer.

Michael Daly

NASCAR still doesn’t get it about pit road – there isn’t supposed to be these rules. The rule box they had before 1989 worked – pit road stayed open all the time and drivers could dive in and out as fast as they wanted; there was NO pit safety issue until NASCAR started closing pit road when the caution comes out.

The Daytona 300 was by far the best race of the week, though the final fifteen laps of the 500 turned out to be worth the wait. In the Xfinity race the drivers began to get back push-drafting and the result was amazing racing – NASCAR should give them back more push-drafting in all three series.

The non-plate rules package with somewhat reduced horsepower and lower downforce gets its first test at Atlanta, though tire wear there may negate whatever can be gleaned from this package. The idea of cutting downforce has never worked (see the 5&5 Rule in its various incarnations of 1998 and 2004 onward) so I’m skeptical of the positive claims.

The NASCAR Gridiron Challenge aired on NBC Sports Network in January saw a 20-lap exhibition race with the cars detuned to some 20 MPH slower than Cup trim and the lead changed 15 times in 20 laps – if they get that then this package will be a huge success.

Carl D.

I agree with your assessment of the race… I might add one more beer since the winner was a first-timer, but that’s just me. And as much as I don’t like Kyle Busch I was nervous waiting for him to get out of the car after his horrific crash on Saturday. If I hear one more person say how pro-active Nascar is when it comes to safety I swear I’m going postal. It takes serious injuries and sometimes dead drivers or crew members before Nascar does anything about safety issues. I’m sorry, but what happened to Kyle Busch should never have happened, and I’m angry about it.


Agree, Carl.


Who cares if Johnson did cut a break to Gordon? That’s no conspiracy theory (him winning the pole would be far closer), that could just be respect for Gordon. If would not be the first time that it happened, not is it different from other sports, where an act of respect is celebrated in a game.
I have criticized Mike Neff previously, but I don’t see the reason for bashing the “Chase rundown.” Most likely, that is a part of the weekly template for Thinkin’ Out Loud and you will see it throughout the season.


Bashing? I didn’t see any bashing. It was simply a comment that as a fan I’m not really interested after the first race in the season about the chase rundown.

Bill B

Yeah, I wasn’t bashing it either. I was just calling out the fact that it’s funny. It was kind of funny before the “win and your in” chase format but since points were what mattered it kind of made sense. Now, it’s almost stupid to talk about anyone but winners being in the chase until at least May.

Kevin in SoCal

“The first time races have been scheduled back-to-back on the same day. ”

No, Fontana held a truck race and busch/nationwide/xfinity race on the same Saturday a few years ago.


ok i know i’m not the brightest crayon in the box at times. i’ve been on a roll of losing stuff at home lately, thing the old timers is setting in….

what are the new rules for atlanta? did i read something about them having “testing time” on the track on thursday?

and will the crazy qualifying still be in play? i mean i’m still scratching my head over that a week later.


I don’t think its you, its the fact that NASCAR changes things so often, its hard to keep track.

I have no idea about the “testing” during the days ahead of the race. I think you’re right and I heard that mentioned but I am not sure. As far as I know, they will do the qualifying thing by group like they did last year. I don’t bother to watch. When it was one car at a time, I could enjoy it and I know by the clock whether they were faster or slower than the cars that went before. This new method leaves me completely uninterested so I’ll just wait until I read the results on the internet.


back to the safety issue, doesn’t either ISC or the France family or an uncle or something own the company that manufactures the safer barrier? I thought I heard that in passing a while back. Anyone know for sure?


Dan, naw, Johnson doesn’t feel gratitude toward Gordon and IMO goes out of his way to make life difficult on the track. Gordon moving out of that shop was one of the best things that happened for his morale. I understand that Johnson is a good racer on his own, but w/o Gordon going to bat for him with HMS, he wouldn’t be in that ride. At the very least, he could act like a decent human being but I think that’s too difficult for him – he actully acts like he has low self-esteem.

Share via