The Daytona 500: Winners, Losers, and Storylines
The No. 3 returns to Victory Lane and there is a new rookie driver grabbing NASCAR headlines.
There are three words that sum up the 60th Annual Daytona 500: Storylines, storylines, storylines. Forty drivers were front and center on NASCAR's biggest stage and they did not disappoint. While some drivers may have left the Daytona International Speedway disheartened, fans of stock car racing should only admit to being thoroughly entertained.
Leading up to the Daytona 500, there were many narratives to follow. The race wasn’t the multi wreck-fest that most anticipated it would be, but upon the conclusion of the Daytona 500, one thing was clear: The chronicles of the 2018 NASCAR season are just beginning.
Like Old Times
Austin Dillon may have driven away as NASCAR’s newest Daytona 500 champion, but all talk was on Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. After his second-place finish in the Daytona 500, Wallace couldn’t hold back his tears. Behind the wheel of seven-time Daytona winner Richard Petty’s legendary No. 43, he had the highest finish by an African-American driver in the history of the Daytona 500. He is also the highest finishing rookie of all time.
On the 20th anniversary of Dale Earnhardt Sr.'s Daytona 500 win, Austin Dillon took the No. 3 car, made famous by Earnhardt into Victory Lane.
“I looked up, seen the board up here, the 3 and the 43, I thought, how special is that for the history. Petty has been here so many times and Bubba did a great job in that car tonight, and I’m really proud of those guys,” said team owner Richard Childress. "It was so awesome to take the 3 car back to victory lane,'' Dillon said. "This is for Dale Earnhardt Sr. and all those Senior fans.''
Danica is done. In her last race as a full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup driver, Danica Patrick went out the way most expected she would (but hoped she wouldn't). Patrick got caught in a big wreck that ended her Daytona 500 run while Aric Almirola who took over her No. 10 car for Stewart-Haas Racing faced a similar fate. Unlike Patrick, Almirola made it to the last lap before his hopes and dreams of becoming the newest Daytona 500 champion were foiled by Austin Dillon who bumped the rear of his car as he attempted to retain the lead to the finish line. The verdict is still out as to whether or not what Dillon did was just good ol’ hard racing, but as far as he is concerned, he did what he had to do to win the race, which included catching and turning Almirola as they came down the final stretch.
“My heart is broken,” said Almirola who finished the Daytona 500 in 11th place. “… It was the last lap and we’re all trying to win the Daytona 500. It’s the biggest race of the year and it’s a career-changing race, so we were just racing really aggressively. I put every move I knew to try and stay in the lead and, unfortunately, I just wasn’t able to hold on. He got to my back bumper and was pushing, and just hooked me.” When asked about the incident after the race, Dillon said, "I'm glad he's not mad. If he needs to do it to me at Talladega for everybody to feel good, I've got a Daytona 500 championship trophy, ring, whatever.”
Ryan Blaney, who was caught up in a 12-car wreck with less than two laps to go, dominated the Daytona 500 leading the most laps of any driver with a total of 113 laps led. After an early setback, Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, put himself in position on the final restart to make a run for the checkered flag but fell short. He had to settle on a third-place finish. Hamlin said he was “heartbroken for Aric, excited for Austin, disappointed for myself.” Hamlin led the second most laps with 18.
Alex Bowman, the Daytona 500 pole sitter, had a quiet but consistent day. At one point during the Great American Race, it appeared he was in a position to make a move. He took to the front on three separate occasions, leading a total of 11 laps. Like many, Bowman’s day ended when he got caught up in the “Big One,” a 12-car pile-up with two laps to go which took out multiple top contenders including Ryan Blaney, Kurt Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and defending series champion Martin Truex Jr. to name a few.
With Austin Dillon returning the No. 3 back to Victory Lane and Darrel “Bubba” Wallace Jr.’s historic day at the Daytona International Speedway, accomplishments of lesser-known drivers were overshadowed. Chris Buescher, Paul Menard, and Michael McDowell all had top-10 finishes at the Daytona 500. It is worth noting that only 11 drivers finished on the lead lap.
There were 24 lead changes among 14 drivers during the 60th running of the Daytona 500 at the World Center of Racing. There were only 8 cautions during the race; however, late-race accidents sent the race into overtime, giving fans a small taste of all the drama we have all come to expect at a restrictor-plate track.