It was the least competitive Daytona 500 in years - and it ended with a photo finish.
Speedweeks 2016 had seen a spirited ARCA 200, a hard-fought Shootout, the wildest Truck race since Talladega in 2013, and the Xfinity cars square off in a race that started with the kind of all-out combat for the lead that permeated the Nextera 250; it was surprising the Powersource 300's ferocity powered down as rapidly as it did after Lap 25 and never really resumed, even with spots of dicing for the lead and a spirited finish, won by Casey Elliott.
This made the lethargic competition in the 500 all the more damning, even with a huge sidedraft battle for the lead for some ten laps headed by Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson. And it wound up making Hamlin's photo-finish win over Martin Truex Jr. - this coming after Hamlin got slam-drafted by Kevin Harvick - all the bigger a surprise.
Denny Hamlin's win brought out a lot to take away -
The paradigm shift for Toyota continues - While one should still think Hendrick Motorsports will win a share of races, they are no longer the team that dictates how the NASCAR season will go; that's Joe Gibbs Racing now, between taking three of the top five and also putting the JGR-allied Barney Vissar team of Martin Truex Jr. into second. And one has to wonder if finally Toyota, having won fifteen of the last thirty-two races, will win a manufacturers' title, something monopolized by Chevrolet.
Hendrick's humility this time around was hilariously illustrated when Dale Jr. wrecked and the telecast showed a fan lashing out in anger from the grandstands.
Ford MIA - At times the Penske Racing radio traffic put it best - they were the weakest cars on the track. Ford's complete lack of competitive depth has been obvious for years and it showed again as Joey Logano salvaged sixth and Aric Almirola had a frustrating day racing to 12th. For while it was a needed trip in time as Petty's #43 and the Wood Brothers #21 were together in the top-ten 40 years after their most famous Daytona showdown. Outside of that the Ford brigade had nothing again, with Roush-Fenway Racing an outright embarrassment now....and one can be confident if Dodge ever decided to return, a team like Petty's that's clearly improving would abandon Ford, with the same to be said if a manufacturer like Honda ever entered.
The young guns still have no ammo - Kyle Larson, Regan Smith, and Austin Dillon salvaged top-ten finishes, but that's thin gruel for a series that has hyped its young guns and has not gotten anything out of them. Chase Elliott began the downfall of the Hendrick fleet by losing it and wrecking on Lap 19 while Roush-Fenway Racing has been stuck with two young guns in Trevor Bayne and Ricky Stenhouse who look more and more like drafting busts; Austin Dillon's top-ten doesn't eliminate his eligibility from that dubious list. For a series without a first-time winner since Aric Almirola's Firecracker win in 2014 it's a worrisome reality.
NASCAR yet again shows it has zero business opposing push-drafting - Autoweek's
Matt Weaver noted the repeat of a rule controversy from the 2014 Firecracker 250 as Joey Logano noted in the Powersource 300 - he latched onto Chase Elliott and compared the controversy over banning sustained push-drafting or outright tandem drafting to cloud technology. Ty Dillon noted "We can't have this in-between."
Denny Hamlin won the 500 on a slam-draft from Kevin Harvick; the Powersource 300 had push-drafting, and the Nextera 250 produced the most lead changes for the Truck race since maybe 2002 because of hard push-drafting. It is the strongest power to pass ever seen. NASCAR needs to figure out it can't - and shouldn't - police it; instead it needs to mitigate what people don't like about it by incentivizing passing. If a tandem blasts into the lead, give the second-place vehicle incentive to pass the leader instead of just sitting there pushing him further. Stock car racing in all its incarnations - cars, Trucks, heck hybrids of both - have proven the benefits of push-drafting and where tracks can have it, they should.
Oops, she did it again - Eleven years ago Danica Patrick debuted in Indycars at Homestead, so she's not a young gun in racing anymore. In Indycars her forte was crashing; it's been a commonality of her stock car career as well and in the 500 she swerved into Greg Biffle. When you live by identity politics you ultimately fail; Danica's fantasy career of racing continues to prove itself nothing but a fantasy.
Not-so-super supersub - Brian Vickers had to get a blood clot issue fixed and thus missed almost all of 2015; he was available when Tony Stewart got hurt in the offseason, but it didn't produce much for Stewart's #14. Vickers' mediocrity and Patrick's ineptitude made for another mixed bag for Stewart-Haas, who put their other two cars in the top ten.
And so wraps the 58th Speedweeks edition and the Atlanta 500 weekend is next.