The 59th Daytona 500 was a wildly uneven affair, with about 150 laps of good racing and 50 laps of utter mayhem before Kurt Busch made a last-lap pass to win his first restrictor-plate race ever.
Props to Busch, crew chief Tony Gibson and the entire Stewart-Haas Racing team, which over the winter had to go through the arduous process of converting from Chevrolet to Ford.
Here are seven takeaways from the Daytona 500:
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Emotion is a beautiful thing
“Wide World of Sports” used to talk about the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” There was plenty of both on Sunday. On the plus side was Busch’s crew chief Tony Gibson, who grew up five miles from Daytona International Speedway and was crying tears of joy after the race.
On the flip side were so many drivers who got crashed out of the race, including Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer. Kyle Busch wasn’t real happy when he had a tire failure, either.
Stages weren’t the problem
This was the first weekend that NASCAR broke races into stages and in the Daytona 500, they did exactly what they were intended to do: They made the racing more compelling at the end of each stage. That’s great.
What was not so great was the fact that there five crashes between Lap 105 and Lap 150 involving a total of 42 cars, which means obviously some drivers were involved in multiple incidents. That stretch of racing was just plain ugly.
Ford is serious about winning
Signing Stewart-Haas Racing was a brilliant move by Ford Motor Co., which now has two of the very best teams in the sport with SHR and Team Penske. Ford hasn’t won the manufacturers’ championship since 2002 or the drivers’ title since 2004. Do not be surprised if they win both this year.
Chase Elliott is going to be really, really good
I felt bad for Chase Elliott running out of gas while leading at the end of the race. He won the Daytona 500 pole, his Can-Am Duel 150 qualifying race and he damn near won the 500, too.
Several individuals in the garage yesterday told me Elliott has made significant progress from where he was a year ago and he was pretty good then. He’s going to start winning soon and once he does, he’s going to start winning a lot.
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Don’t read too much into one race
Daytona and Talladega run under different rules packages than the other 21 tracks in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series do. While you can expect most of the teams that were good at Daytona to be good elsewhere, we’ll need to get about five or six races into the season to truly know where each team and driver stands.
The sport is headed in right direction
Shell signed a seven-year deal with Team Penske that will keep the two companies together with driver Joey Logano and crew chief Todd Gordon to “2022 and beyond.” Likewise, Joe Gibbs Racing, FedEx and Denny Hamlin signed new contracts.
And for the second consecutive season, the Daytona 500 was sold out. All through Speedweeks, there was a lot of buzz in town and enthusiastic crowds. It seems to me reports of the sport’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.
The Monster Energy girls
New series sponsor Monster Energy had a strong presence at Daytona, most notably with the Monster Energy girls lined up along pit road before the race. Some fans, predictably, didn’t like them, but a lot of fans did. I think their presence spiced things up and gave folks something new to talk about, debate and disagree over. All good in my book.