By: Toby Christie, Editor – Follow on Twitter @Toby_Christie
Speedweeks 2018 is in the books. For the last couple of weeks, we were treated to a stunning display of brightly colored race cars driving two to three, and sometimes four-wide.
We saw breathtaking crashes, that luckily every driver walked away from.
In all, 58 machines were wadded up past the point of being able to finish the race between the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, NASCAR Xfinity Series, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, and ARCA Racing Series events in Daytona.
However, as the guys in the fabrication shops begin to cut away body panels, we realize that there was a lot more to take away from Daytona than mangled race cars.
Danica’s Legacy: Danica Patrick’s NASCAR career ended with an 0-for-191 record after an unceremonious 35th-place finish in Sunday’s Daytona 500. However, Patrick’s legacy remains intact. She is still the only female driver to record a pole in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, which came ironically in the 2013 Daytona 500. Patrick’s seven career top-10 finishes are also the best all-time for a female driver in NASCAR’s Cup Series.
But perhaps the biggest piece of Patrick’s legacy is the door that she has opened for others with the same ambitions that she had.
Natalie Decker thanked Patrick on Twitter this week for everything she has done for aspiring female drivers like herself. Decker is an up and coming driver, who opened eyes in the season opening ARCA Racing Series event at Daytona. Decker, who hails from Wisconsin, sat on the pole, and after being swept up in a crash, Decker was still able to rebound for a fifth-place finish in the Lucas Oil 200.
As Patrick’s career winds down with an Indy 500 start this May, keep your eye on Decker, 20, who very well could run with Danica’s torch in the stock car ranks.
Jordan Anderson’s Good Run: The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series always produces wild action. This week at Daytona was no exception. But the biggest feel good story of the race had to be Jordan Anderson.
The South Carolina native has struggled to make a name for himself in the series, racing 57 events for under-funded operations. This offseason, Anderson, 26, purchased three trucks and began his own race team. By doing so, the driver/owner got to a point where he had only $190 in his checking account. However, Anderson kept tuning away in the offseason, and the fruits of his labor showed immediately in Daytona.
Anderson led a lap and remained in the top-10 all night in the NextEra Energy Resources 250. In the closing laps he looked to have a shot at the win, but as the field came out of turn four on the final lap, Anderson’s Blue and White No. 3 Toyota Tundra was turned around. Anderson would skid across the finish line backwards, but luckily, he avoided hitting anything as he was credited with his first-ever top-10 finish.
“I’m almost speechless,” Anderson said after the race. “I’m usually a guy that has a lot to say, but this makes it all worth it. I love this sport. I love the opportunity to be here. Hopefully this is one for the underdogs tonight.”
Closest Finish in History: In case you were wondering, we can make as many attempts as needed at a green-white-checkered finish in any NASCAR National Series event. If you didn’t know that rule, the finish to Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series Powershares QQQ 300 was probably quite confusing.
In an accident-marred finish, it took five overtime restarts and 23 extra laps being added to the race distance before fans were treated to an incredible finish.
Tyler Reddick eked out a win by about an inch over his JR Motorsports teammate, Elliott Sadler. The official margin of victory was four ten-thousandths of a second – or 0.0004 – which secured this race’s place in history as the closest NASCAR National Series finish ever.
“This feels amazing,” Reddick said. “Helluva way to start the year off with JR Motorsports.”
There is one gripe though, the race should forever be known as the Powershares QQQ 357.5.
Bubba’s Emotional Day: It started with a call from Hank Aaron and continued with a tweet and follow from Lewis Hamilton. Bubba Wallace – NASCAR’s first full-time black Cup Series driver since 1971 – had a lot of people rooting for a good showing before his first-ever Daytona 500 start.
“Wow. That makes you feel good. It definitely pulls on your heartstrings a little bit, just to know that you’re being watched by so many greats,” Wallace said. “They’re the ones you’re looking up to and they reach out to you and that’s really cool.”
Wallace, 24, fed off that energy in the early stages, as his No. 43 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 was among one of the more aggressive on the track. Wallace eventually slapped the wall in the middle stages of the race, but he kept his composure.
While many others fell by the wayside in accidents throughout the day, Wallace kept his head down and stayed relaxed. In the closing laps, the driver from Mobile, Alabama had a unique way of staying calm.
“I actually had the same piece of gum in for I think the last 10 laps. And it wasn’t great. But, I think that helped me be calm,” Wallace said after the race. “I’m like okay, I’m not chewing fast here; I’m singing. No lie. When we were single with like six (laps) to go, I’m singing to myself. And I think that’s what really changed it for me is how calm I was for my first Daytona 500.”
Wallace would go on to push the eventual winner to the front and Wallace came home second. Understandably, he couldn’t contain his emotion after the race was over as he hugged his mother, Desiree in the media center.
Austin Dillon Gets It Done: 20 years later, it’s déjà vu all over again for Richard Childress Racing and the No. 3 team.
The result – the No. 3 car in Daytona International Speedway’s victory lane – may be the same, but Austin Dillon took a totally different path than what Dale Earnhardt did when he won The Great American Race back in 1998.
Earnhardt, in a dominating performance, led a race-high 107 of 200 laps in the 40th Daytona 500.
Dillon led only the final lap in the 60th edition of the race, but he did win the race on a very Earnhardt-like move — as he didn’t lift when Aric Almirola attempted a block heading into the final turns of the race.
“Daytona has a way with just making memories,” Dillon said emotionally. “This place makes memory after memory and they are life changing memories and I was fortunate to be in Victory Lane 20 years ago and I’m here again, but I’m driving – this is awesome!”
It doesn’t matter whether you lead every lap in the Daytona 500 or just the last lap, because when they inscribe your name on the Harley J. Earl trophy, they don’t rank you by the number of laps you led to win the race. Once you’re on that trophy, you’re ranked equally with all the greats who have captured stock car racing’s ultimate prize. Greats that include Richard and Lee Petty, David Pearson, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt (Sr. and Jr.) and now Dillon.
“I said my first win I couldn’t beat it, but this does,” said Dillon on the importance of the win at Daytona.
Now Dillon is locked into the playoffs – for the third straight year – with this win. Can he add a Cup Series championship to his mantle as well? It’s been 24 years since the driver of the No. 3 RCR Chevy won the championship. If Dillon is in contention in Homestead, he won’t buckle under the pressure.
“My Grandfather (Richard Childress) has done everything for me. Everybody knows it. There is a lot of pressure on me to perform because I have had a little bit of everything. But I like that pressure,” Dillon stated. “The same with the No 3. There is a lot of pressure behind that. But I’m willing to take that and go with it. I’m just thankful for all the people that support us along the way. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and his family for letting us bring this number back. It comes full circle. I just can’t thank the Lord enough for this opportunity.”
NASCAR heads to Atlanta now, where the racing should get back to being a bit more conventional than that of the wild restrictor plate pack racing.
Photo by: Tom Copland/HHR for Chevy Racing