Sunday, February 20, 2011

Rating the Daytona 500: 5 Stars *****

An action-packed Daytona 500 shook off any remaining offseason dust as the large pack returned to Daytona for a great show that brought a rookie and legends together in Victory Lane at the greatest race track on Earth. This year's race earns a rock-solid 5 Star Rating.

This race had just about everything a NASCAR fan could ever hope for in a race, provided that fan’s driver didn’t get caught up in the Big One on lap 29. In that case, it may have been a rather long race, but the action that followed should have made up for it.

Could this race have been any more perfect? The weather was absolutely perfect, the racing was close throughout and the final laps had several players new to the front of the field. Robby Gordon, Bobby Labonte, Regan Smith, David Gilliland and winner Trevor Bayne are generally never at the front of a race, but there they were ready to fight for the right to be called the victor of the sport’s greatest race.

A huge congratulations should go out the Bayne. What a great guy; hopefully this is the start of something great for him. Fans need a guy like this to root for.

Some things are just thought to be unattainable, and at several points in the past decade it looked like a #21 Wood Brothers car going to Victory Lane would be one of them. This team was basically left for dead along with Petty Enterprises as NASCAR rushed into the 21st century.

The original Petty shop closed and the Wood Brothers had to cut back to a limited schedule with semi-retired driver Bill Elliot.

The #21 has been fast in qualifying for the Daytona 500 several times in the recent past, but it never ran particularly well in the race. Personally, I thought this year would be no different. While it looked like it was possible for many different cars to get to the lead, some cars, such as those with Earnhardt-Childress Racing engines, would be able to rush to the front when it counted.

However, it turned out those ECR engines, although they may have produced the most power, couldn’t hold up for an entire race. That, combined with the wrecks set up a finish for several surprises, similar to the 2002 race when Ward Burton beat Elliot Sadler, who drove the #21 that day, after Sterling Marlin was penalized for tugging on his fender under the red flag and Jeff Gordon crashed late in the race.

As expected, a track-record 22 drivers swapped the lead a record 74 times in the 208 laps it took to finish the race. People kept saying this was going to be one of the best ever, and they were right. The Daytona 500 is always special, but the events that unfolded were incredible from morning through the afternoon and into the evening.

The prerace ceremonies were spectacular, as always, with a very nice video piece on Dale Earnhardt. Then, Lap 3 raised goosebumps as the entire crowd raised three fingers during the lap that was partly led by the #29 car, which replaced the #3 on the track the week after the 2001 Daytona 500.

After the two-car drafts dominated Speedweeks, everybody was back in a big pack early in the race, which was nice to see. Maybe everything people said was true, the warmer temperatures kept the two-car draft from working really well and the presence of more cars on the track kept two cars from pulling away.

It’s going to be tough to follow this race, but Phoenix International Raceway will give it a shot. This will be the final Sprint Cup race on the track with the current pavement and configuration, so teams might as well go for broke because notes from this upcoming weekend won’t be much good in November.

In addition, Monday Morning Crew Chief will be live at the race Sunday, so check out the new Facebook page for updates and plenty of content will follow the race and the experience of race day.


  1. GREAT race! Your analysis was spot on. Good to see a young driver like Trevor Bayne win. He had the nerves of a ten year vet with a number of Cup titles under his belt--he certainly didn't drive like a rookie in just his second Cup race! I remember that 2002 Daytona 500. WTH was Sterling Marlin THINKING?? You have cameras all over the place and he thinks he's NOT going to get caught?

  2. jon_464 - Bayne was unbelievable all week, from qualifying to the 500. What's even more impressive is he lost his drafting partner, Jeff Gordon, early in the race but still found new people to work with.

  3. I've liked Bayne since he started in the NW series a couple years ago. When Mikey dropped him last year I thought he might regret that choice....but wasn't expecting it so quickly, lol

    he didn't put a foot wrong all day, even at the last wreck when the guy behind (was it Tony? I can't recall) gave him a big bump, it would have been easy to spin himself out of contention. Great drive, great story and it's moments like these that remind us exactly why we love watching motorsport :)

  4. tezgm99 - Seems like the best way to win the 500 is to get dropped by a team late in the previous season. lol. This is a great story, though, for Bayne, the Wood Brothers and everyone involved.

  5. It was so great to see the 21 back where it belongs! Also, was nice to see all the low budget teams in it at the end.

  6. great write up! i thought it was a great race, with a nice finish. Glad to see Woods Bros. enjoy some well earned success.

    Tez- its ironic that Trevor left MWR because they couldn't guarantee him a sponsor this year, and this year he is driving an unsponsored car for Roush in the NNS. Hopefully this win will provide him help in the sponsor arena.

  7. Gene - I didn't think I would ever see it happen, especially this year when it looked like the ECR engines had the field covered.

    storkjrc - NASCAR hasn't had a story like this in a really long time, maybe since Carl Edwards beat Jimmie Johnson at Atlanta in 2005.