What started as a race that looked doomed to Monday resumption instead became the 12 Hours Of The Daytona 500 and one of the more astonishing - and frustrating - races ever seen. And now the sport will see its aftermath as it packs up and heads to Phoenix. Some takeaways from Speedweeks 2014 -
Here comes Junior Nation again - Certain fanbases just don't make much sense and don't represent a sport well. Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans are a fanbase that doesn't do any favors for their sport, let alone the man they adore. The public controversy they generated over his car number in 2007 remains an embarrassment to racing, and the cheering when he takes the lead - when no particular reaction ever comes when someone else takes the lead - is off-putting. It certainly isn't Earnhardt Junior's fault, as he doesn't generate much flamboyance; he is what he is, a bit of a quiet individual who interacts well with people. That he's won again certainly is commendable for him; we just don't need the derangement periodically seen from the fanbase that follows him.
After a promising start, Speedweeks sees the upset that wasn't - It appeared the other marques would push back Chevrolet for a change as Toyotas dominated preliminary events and Fords looked competitive. But then the form chart came back as Chevrolets won the Busch Series 300 and then the 500, though Regan Smith's photo-finish win counts as an upset for certain. The 500 became just another Chevrolet show, and worse it was another Rick Hendrick show. Certain car owners do nothing but drain the life out of a sport, and Rick Hendrick more than anyone has done that over the years in NASCAR. The sport doesn't need another Rick Hendrick show.
The rookie class' poor start - This is supposed to be the rookie class to actually show something after years of worthless one-year wannabes without any backing. Instead the sport witnessed rookies who look like rookies - worse, rookies in over their head. Austin Dillon salvaged ninth but that isn't saying much. Kyle Larson was abysmal almost from the start. And there wasn't much positive noise generated by any other rookie in this race.
Thanks for nothing again - The subplot of the 500 was the media-fed feud between Richard Petty and Danica Patrick. All Speedweeks had shown was that Petty had been right - yet no one got anything out of it after a pit penalty put Aric Almirola a lap down and then a wreck eliminated him and Patrick. Patrick hadn't run up front all week and got into a wreck for the second time in eight days; this was supposed to be an upsurge for Almirola with a fresh new crew chief in Trent Owens. Instead it was another race to nowhere.
Rain helps the aero package - Until the rain, Speedweeks had been defined by one-line racing - either the top line was fast, or the bottom line, never both. Even with a wild Truck 250 and the photo finish there and in the Busch Series 300, the racing had been defined by one-line running, and NASCAR's ridiculous no-tandem ideology hurt the racing even more. Then the rain changed the racetrack and made both lanes fast; suddenly between a grippier racetrack and fear that rain would end the race past halfway, the field got the hint and went for the lead - hard. The result was the best 500 in three years and a huge competitive upsurge over the last two seasons.
The fastest postrace press release during the race - Martin Truex blew up and fell out before the rain, and his postrace press release came while the race hadn't yet been ended.
And so Speedweeks 2014 is a wrap, Phoenix awaits, and the sport tries to ride momentum - and we hope the upset that wasn't at Daytona finally starts appearing down the season road.