Sunday, February 22, 2015

Daytona's 1999 Sideways Throwback 500

This is the year 2015, but the way the Daytona 500 finished you would think it was a sideways version of 1999.   It began with Jeff Gordon on the 500 pole, and the showdown for this 500 was between Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets and Penske Racing Fords.   Despite pre-race hype, the Joe Gibbs Toyotas really didn't offer that big a challenge even with Denny Hamlin's late-race wildcard bid.

1999 was a 500 with little in the way of competition until the final twenty laps - and in 2015 that scenario played out again, but this time there was a big reversal.   In 1999 the Penske Fords led over half the 500 and were unpassable for the longest time until all hell broke loose in the final laps, specifically a three-abreast storm by Jeff Gordon and Mike Skinner that became an unprecedented triple sidedraft epic for the win until it petered out in the final few laps.  

For 2015 this time the Hendrick Chevrolets all but monopolized the 500, looking unpassable until in the final fifteen laps challengers got the run and suddenly the entire field was three abreast thirty cars deep for the win, and the surviving Penske Ford was the one who stormed to the decisive pass.   Denny Hamlin salvaged a miserable day for Joe Gibbs by storming into this fight and finishing fourth, this after starting 42nd and this after the other JGR Toyotas either crashed or were basically useless as far as challenging for the win went.  

For Joey Logano, the 500 win has accelerated a career surge no one could have imagined after his abysmal efforts with Joe Gibbs.   From JGR reject, Logano has become a bona-fide superstar, this even with the continuing abrasiveness in evidence in him.   That teammate Brad Keselowski and the Penske satellite effort fielded by the Wood Brothers all fell out with engine failures was in its own way a display of who is top dog at Penske Racing's stock car unit.

Among the others whose days ranged from respectable to reprehensible -


* Kevin Harvick has become the lone contender for Tony Stewart's team, finishing second as everyone else in that bunch either crashed (Stewart, this as Danica Patrick actually finished despite having nothing to show for that), got tossed from the tracks (Kurt Busch, who keeps losing appeals), or showed little in the way of fight (Regan Smith).   

* Clint Bowyer is not part of a one-car team, but Michael Waltrip's outfit looks more and more like one as Bowyer contended basically without a teammate all week.  

* Speaking of one-car teams, Martin Truex took a gigantic step forward with his wildcard victory bid, a huge improvement after a dismal 2014.

* Remember Roush-Fenway Racing?  You may not after their Cup program spent the 500 just drafting and amid no sign of real life.  Trevor Bayne was compared to Tim Tebow in 2011 - it's a comparison he better not want, while Ricky Stenhouse's only measuring stick as a racer is how he competes against his girlfriend.

* Richard Petty should not be pleased.   Sam Hornish earned respect with a decent run, while Aric Almirola should count himself lucky he salvaged 15th after being unable to do anything pretty much on the Cup side the whole week, especially on restarts and despite some excellent pit work from Trent Owens' group.   We know Petty's bunch can do a lot better.

* Speaking of doing better, RCR's Chevys showed life after being MIA all week, especially Ty Dillon fighting into the lead group.   Austin Dillon salvaged a decent finish, while Paul Menard was - well, Paul Menard again, and Ryan Newman is officially worthless as far as helping that outfit.

* Casey Mears is what he is - a guy who did less when provided more.   That he unnoticed pulled off a spectacular finish is amazing.  

* While Jamie McMurray looked okay, Kyle Larson looked bad, and the recent history of young drivers in Cup has been discouraging in terms of sustaining early promise.  

It all added up to a memorable yet frustrating start to the 2015 NASCAR season.  

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