Race Weekend Central

Did You Notice?: 2024 Daytona 500 What-Ifs

Did You Notice? … How many people have the Daytona 500 slip through their grasp?

It’s often the case in superspeedway races, where the nature of the beast means most of the entire 40-car field has the ability to move out front with the right amount of drafting help.

This Daytona 500 was unique, though, in that there was no true dominant car throughout the afternoon. Pole-sitter Joey Logano led the most laps, with 45, but no one else led more than 25. Logano himself spent a large portion of the race cycled back in mid-pack. Winner William Byron led only four laps and didn’t get to the front until after the day’s big wreck on lap 193.

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Couch Potato Wednesday: Daytona 500 Brings Same Issues From 2023

That leaves a lot of people sitting in the shop this week wondering what might have been. Among them …

Alex Bowman. If you’re a conspiracy theorist, you’re telling Bowman to hold a meeting with Hendrick Motorsports and NASCAR officials because he is the rightful winner of this year’s 500. Here’s the clip that was circulating on X this week fans claim muddy the waters as to who the rightful winner was.

For those still holding out hope, there is none; this video is merely an optical illusion.

With that said, Bowman — gracious in defeat — has to be sitting there wondering. The difference between him pulling ahead of Byron was about another second or two. If only officials had hesitated just that much longer before pushing the button. Suddenly, a year in which Bowman missed multiple races, then the playoffs for a team whose expectations scream Championship 4 would be little more than a distant memory.

Byron’s 500 win will catapult him closer to superstardom, but one would argue that it’s Bowman who needed the win the most within HMS.

Brad Keselowski. Keselowski was making a move on the backstretch, under Ross Chastain, for the lead when Bowman’s No. 48 bumped the No. 24 of Byron the wrong way. He was in clear position to make the pass — Chastain said on the radio the RFK Racing No. 6 grazed his left rear on its way around — and was leading a train of fellow Ford drivers on the inside line.

Here’s another driver who took it all in stride, Keselowski recognizing he had put himself in position to win. The rest? At Daytona, it’s simply outside your control.

Make no mistake, a win for arguably the best superspeedway racer without a Daytona 500 would have been monumental. Instead, Keselowski’s now 0-for-15 in this race while his personal winless streak in Cup ticked up to 99 races despite RFK’s recent success.

See also
The Big 6: Questions Answered After William Byron Brings Out the Fireworks in Daytona

Joey Logano. For all of Keselowski’s superspeedway success, Logano may have been in the best shape entering the final laps of the 500. He did lead those race-high 45 laps from the pole and had teammate Ryan Blaney in tow while trying to time his move to the front.

You could tell what a good car he had by how angry Logano was after the race. Calling then-leader Chastain’s blocks “hellacious,” he ripped the way drivers were running in the pack down the stretch.

It’s a feisty start to the year for Logano, who’s already gotten into it with Ty Gibbs earlier this month out at the Clash. But at least he has a previous 500 victory to hang his hat on (2015) and the reality it’s an even-numbered year.

Ross Chastain. Despite losing teammate Daniel Suarez in that crash, Chastain remained the leader heading into the final restart. You don’t often get the chance to control the Daytona 500 that close to the finish, and the moves he made will be replaying rent-free in his head all week. A poor restart allowed the Bowman/Byron duo to charge ahead while Chastain’s line broke apart and cost him track position.

Chastain regained momentum heading to the white-flag lap and looked to regain the lead on Byron. That’s when contact in the pack led to him spinning out into the grass along with Austin Cindric and others, forcing the race to end under yellow.

As always, Chastain stood up for how he raced.

“I just turned left,” Chastain said. “And tried to win the Daytona 500.”

If the No. 1 car somehow gets through that cleanly, who knows what happens. It’s sure hard to see the most aggressive guy in the sport giving up the lead again once he has it.

Christopher Bell. You could make a solid argument Bell was the fastest Toyota, perhaps even the fastest car in the field: Thursday’s Duel winner led 22 circuits, the most of any driver besides Logano. The problem for Bell was he never had any fellow Camry drivers around him most of the night. And when it mattered most, Bell lost any hope of help on the final restart: all three of his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates were involved in the Big One.

“The race was not playing out our way at the end,” Bell said. “And after the green flag stop, I was pretty much in the back. But being on the bottom lane, I was able to squeeze by that last wreck. I don’t know … when we had track position, we were fast.”

Bubba Wallace. Bell might have been able to hook up with Wallace if the 23XI Racing crew didn’t mess up their final stop. Failing to get enough fuel in the car, the No. 23 Toyota had to make an unscheduled stop after the big wreck and restarted from 14th instead of inside the first three rows. That made a difference in Wallace having a shot, although he was able to climb to fifth, his third top five result in seven 500 starts without a win to show for it.

Ryan Preece. Why is Preece listed here, you say? Didn’t he go for a ride in the infield just five laps into the race? Well, after that initial crash that knocked out Harrison Burton and Carson Hocevar, among others, the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing crew repaired their car into a rocket ship. Preece fought his way into the top five and showed speed capable of leading before a pit road speeding penalty took him out of the lead draft in stage two.

Preece eventually lost a lap after that and never regained it despite dicing it up near the front of the pack for most of the final stage. It was another missed opportunity for someone who might have the ability to become a veteran leader in a revamped SHR — if only Lady Luck would cooperate.

Did You Notice? … Quick hits before taking off …

  • As NASCAR charter negotiations continue, there’s slight concern for one of the sport’s main feeder series. The Craftsman Truck Series has just 32 teams entered for this weekend’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, a reduction of nine from Daytona International Speedway (with one new entry added from ThorSport Racing). Keep in mind, 36 makes a full starting grid, leaving it with the smallest field since 2020. What’s more concerning is the lack of diversity among ownership since the closure of GMS Racing last season. 21 of those trucks come from just five teams: ThorSport, TRICON Garage, McAnally-Hilgemann Racing, Niece Motorsports and the Spire Motorsports/Rev Racing combo. That’s a heavy load to put on a select few as concerns remain about purse money and rising expenses in the sport’s third-tier division.
  • Byron joined an exclusive list of HMS drivers to win the 500. But none of the rest of them are currently on the roster. The rest of the current stable (Chase Elliott, Bowman, Kyle Larson) is a combined 0-for-28. In fact, you have to go back a decade to the last time the organization won the Great American Race (2014, Dale Earnhardt, Jr.).

Here’s the full list.

Follow @NASCARBowles

About the author

The author of Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 40+ staff members as its majority owner and Editor-in-Chief. Based outside Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild. He most recently consulted with SRX Racing, helping manage cutting-edge technology and graphics that appeared on their CBS broadcasts during 2021 and 2022.

You can find Tom’s writing here, at CBSSports.com and Athlonsports.com, where he’s been an editorial consultant for the annual racing magazine for 15 years.

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