- Attempting to predict NASCAR’s season from the results of NASCAR’s most unpredictable race, the Daytona 500.
Kurt Busch, of Stewart-Haas Racing, won his first ever Daytona 500, but it was far from the only story of the day. Only five of the 40 cars that started that race were completely damage free and many of NASCAR’s biggest hitters took hits.
1. Monster Energy is pleased with their first race as title sponsor
Kurt Busch not only brought his team owner Gene Haas’ company, Haas Automation Inc., into victory lane, but also new Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ title sponsor along for the ride. It was the best result the drinks company could hope for in their first race—even if it did have many fans crying foul. Fans were tepid on Monster’s participation in the sport when, during a pre-race interview with football star Rob Gronkowski, the conversation with some of the Monster Energy girls took a turn for the PG-13. Gronkowski, doing his best impression of a middle school boy, tried to get one of the models to say the number ‘69’ on air. Not exactly NASCAR values.
2. Stewart-Haas Racing is taking the fight to the top teams
While SHR has always had a chance at challenging for wins, today every single one of their cars found themselves running near the front of the field. Even Danica. The team certainly impressed in their first outing since switching from Chevrolet to Ford, and if they keep even a fraction of their pace at Daytona throughout the season, they have a shot at even more victories down the line. It's a shame for the team that three of their four cars got caught up in crashes throughout the day, or they could have pulled off an even more impressive team finish.
3. NASCAR can put on a good show without the big stars
Jimmie Johnson. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Danica Patrick. Brad Keselowski. Kevin Harvick. Kyle Busch. Some of NASCAR's biggest names went out in crashes fairly early in the race. And, thanks to NASCAR's new five minute limit on pit lane repairs and rule that mandates body panels cannot be replaced, fan favorites that may have gotten back on track ended up retired. But, despite not having some of the real stars of the series, young guys like Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott provided a tough challenge for eventual winner Kurt Busch—and exciting, crash-crazy racing for fans at home. Expect those three young'ns to be legitimate challengers the rest of the season.
4. Race segments are an advantage for teams that understand them
This was NASCAR's first race since the introduction of segmented racing, and it posed more than a few problems. Kurt Busch's team couldn't figure out how many laps were left before the segment ended. The CEO of Camping World—which sponsors the Trucks series, which also uses segments—couldn't figure out how the points worked. And fans across the board were perplexed as to how many laps were left overall in the race when the broadcast often just showed laps left in the segment. If most of the teams don't get the handle on this soon, favor will swing to the few that do. This bodes well for seven-time champ Jimmie Johnson in his quest for eight as crew chief Chad Knaus is properly talented at using NASCAR's own rules to his team's advantage.
5. Jamie McMurray didn't make many friends
Jamie McMurray may be a previous Daytona 500 winner, but he did not make a good impression on many drivers tonight. The pilot of the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing car was involved in—and at least in part, the catalyst of—two of the night's biggest crashes. His hard charging style may have served him well in the 2010 Daytona 500, but in 2017 it made him no friends. Chase Elliott as also may not be expecting any Christmas gifts from the No. 22 Penske team as spotter for the 22 remarked to Joey Logano that Elliott had hit "everything but the snack bar" over the radio. Ouch.
6. Restrictor plate races this year will be goat rodeos
Though teams are breathing a sigh of relief that Daytona is over, there are still three other restrictor plate races left this season. Daytona and Talladega create carnage at the best of times, but not on the level we saw today at the 500. Only five cars escaped entirely unscathed, and the damage is not easy—or cheap—for teams to fix. It could be a problem of early season nerves, but certainly the hard charging and start-stop created by the segmented races didn't help. For the team's financial sake, hopefully the remaining plate races will be less of a wreck-fest, but the outlook is not good. Maybe start looking at adding sheet metal and duct tape to your investment portfolio.
7. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is back in a big way
No one quite knew how Junebug would run after sitting out half of last season—least of all him. But after qualifying second, leading the most laps in the second Duel at Daytona, and then hanging with the front-runners until an accident took him out, it's safe to say NASCAR's most popular driver is fighting fit. Earnhardt told team owner Rick Hendrick he would hold off signing a contract extension with the team until he was sure his lingering concussion symptoms would not return and he could have "confidence in [his] health." If his performance from this weekend continues, that contract might just get signed sooner than anyone expected.