The immediate story entering Sunday's Daytona 500 was concern over injured spectators from Saturday's last-lap Kyle Larson tumble in the Daytona 300, and NASCAR felt confident in its rebuilt fencing on Daytona's trioval coming in; news that injured spectators were all in stable condition and being discharged was certainly encouraging. It proved fitting that the 500 raced under heavy overcast, between fear over the Kyle Larson melee in the Daytona 300 and also concern over NASCAR's new Generation Six racecar, a racecar that had done nothing to live up to its heavily-promoted promise of better racing.
The Daytona 500, alas, lived down to the low expectations of this new racecar. With handling plaguing the racecars from January testing onward, the 500 was a huge competitive drop from the rip-roaring ferocity of the Daytona 300. It nonetheless saw some spots of good racing, notably a late Brad Keselowski-Jimmie Johnson battle for the lead won by Johnson. In the end, though, the racing never went anywhere and the finish was yet another forgettable anticlimax. The lead changed 28 times among 14 drivers, dismal compared to Saturday's 34 lead changes among 20 drivers.
NASCAR and its rules myopia once again was the loser of Speedweeks. There were plenty of other losers as well -
RCR ENTERPRISES - after Kevin Harvick dominated earlier in the week he was eliminated early and the other two RCR Chevys got knocked out late.
GANASSI RACING - they went nowhere pretty much all week.
JOE GIBBS RACING - the strongest cars all week, the Coach's Nationwide fleet failed in the 300 and then blew up in the 500; only Denny Hamlin salvaged anything. Matt Kenseth's engine failure was the biggest surprise, and it legitimized recent complaints about Toyota's engines by Kyle Busch.
JEFF GORDON - He started on the front row and led handily, then at the end disappeared and finished poorly. Before the Daytona 300 he defended NASCAR's new package and its lack of passing because of how strategy somehow became a critical factor in the racing - not only was this wholly hypocritical (and made Gordon look foolish as Jack Roush accurately analyzed the Generation Six package compared to the Nationwide cars and their "two-on-two" tandem drafting) after he derided this same package as "too conservative" at Talladega in May 2012, the result in this 500 was his worst finish in awhile.
There were also winners aside from Johnson in this 500 -
STEWART-HAAS RACING - While Tony crashed out his other two cars finished in the top eight of the 500 and he himself won the 300, bringing him into Daytona's seven-timers club.
DARK HORSES - Lost amid Danica-mania and Jimmie Johnson were stunningly productive efforts from Regan Smith (robbed of a Daytona win Saturday), Michael McDowell, and J.J. Yeley, whose career has never recovered from being fired from Joe Gibbs Racing.
ARIC ALMIROLA - 13th isn't much to feel good about but it's the best effort for Almirola in Richard Petty's #43.
With the start of another NASCAR season, the fields head to Phoenix - and yet enduring another forgettable Daytona 500 continues to plague the sport - though fan safety issues also unexpectedly jumped in.