Gorgeous, sunny, and an afternoon temperature of 75 degrees was the weather forecast for the 57th running of the Daytona 500 on Sunday. NASCAR starts off each racing season at Daytona International Speedway and drivers want to win the feature race there (arguably) more than anywhere else on the schedule. Daytona is not like any other track on the NASCAR circuit. It is 2.5 miles long, and reasonably wide enough for 3 cars to run side-by-side — but still, that’s really tight. The only track on the circuit comparable to Daytona is the much-larger Talladega Superspeedway, where drivers can manage racing 4 cars side-by-side. At both of these mammoth raceways, each race car must use a restrictor plate which reduces airflow into the engine, therefore keeping the cars from going speeds so fast that they literally start flying off the race track (like Bobby Allison’s did during the 1987 Winston 500). In this type of racing, the way each car handles is a major challenge, and today may have been one of the most intense Daytona 500 races ever. At one point, cars were 3 wide 10 rows back, and the difference between the lead and 20th place was one second. Have you ever been in a traffic jam? Try doing it at 200 miles per hour; that’s what you can compare it to.
In this type of racing, anything can happen and every driver has a legitimate shot at taking the checkered flag, the Harley Earl trophy, and the winner’s purse, which was a million-and-a-half bucks this year. A field of 43 cars battled for 500 miles around the track in Daytona Beach, Florida on Sunday. Even as top speeds exceeded 200 MPH, the race was calm for most of the day, with drivers appearing mostly content to ride in line with one another. There were a few cars, though, that seemed to set the pace all afternoon. Joey Logano (#22, Team Penske) was one driver who seemed to always be close to the front. He was the eventual winner of the race and earned every bit of it. Kevin Harvick (#4, Stewart-Haas Racing) and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (#88, Hendrick Motorsports) mounted a strong charge on the last lap of the race and looked to make it an exciting battle to the finish. However, a wreck on the back stretch that collected several cars caused the race to end under caution, which handed the race to Logano. Harvick finished 2nd and Earnhardt, Jr. finished 3rd.
Denny Hamlin (#11, Joe Gibbs Racing) looked strong for much of the race. While starting 2nd on the final restart, he could not hang with the leaders, but still managed a 4th place finish. Six-times series champion Jimmie Johnson (#48, Hendrick Motorsports) was also at the front of the pack for a good part of the day, leading 39 laps. He had to overcome a pit road violation after NASCAR’s new officiating system determined that Johnson’s crew jumped into their pit box too early as the #48 car entered the pits for service. Johnson finished 5th. Jeff Gordon (#24, Hendrick Motorsports) started what will likely be his last Daytona 500 on Sunday, and he did so from the pole position. Gordon led the most laps (87) and looked to be a contender until he was caught up in the last lap wreck. His day ended with a 33rd place finish.
Sunday’s race kicked off the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup series. Now the drivers will focus their attention on the next race in Atlanta, GA, the Folds of Honor Quiktrip 500, Sunday March 1st at 1:00 PM on Fox. Please visit NASCAR.com to find out more information.