Observations• For NASCAR, sometimes it’s not always the outcome you want, but the outcome you get, that provides the biggest surprise. Certainly, no one wanted to see nearly two weeks of preparation during Speedweeks culminate with a nearly 6 1/2-hour rain delay as NASCAR and Daytona International Speedway worked feverishly to get the Daytona 500 underway. Yet, could it have been any better for NASCAR in how it turned out? A prime-time race with edge-of-your-seat excitement and a victory by the sport’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr. It doesn’t get much better.
• Earnhardt Jr. certainly is a man of his word. During a prerace TV interview with Michael Waltrip, Earnhardt Jr. said if he won the 500 he finally would join Twitter – something many of his fans have craved for years. At 2:33 a.m. Monday, the following message was posted to the @DaleJr Twitter account, which Earnhardt Jr. had reserved long ago: “Tonight seemed like as good a night as any to join Twitter. How is everyone doin? #2XDaytona500Champ.” It was accompanied by a photo of Earnhardt Jr. grasping the winner’s trophy.
• Intentional or not, the new Chase format unveiled by NASCAR last month certainly played into Sunday night’s race, particularly in drivers’ comments after it was over. When asked if his third-place run got his season off to a strong start, Brad Keselowski responded, “Points days don’t mean anything anymore.” Mission accomplished.
Not like last year: Danica Patrick’s Daytona 500 experience turned out much different than a year ago, when she won the pole and finished eighth in the race – her only top-10 of the season.
Patrick had to start from the rear of the field Sunday because of an engine change last week and was running mid-pack on Lap 145 when she got caught up in a 10-car accident on the frontstretch. Her car was too damaged to continue and she ended up with a 40th-place finish.
“I think more than anything I am just upset because the car felt really good,” Patrick said. “It seemed like we could catch whoever and it seemed like we could move around, make lanes and just move around and move forward at the end of the day.”
Last here, first out: Martin Truex Jr., who began Speedweeks by missing Media Day because of a snowstorm in the Charlotte area, was the first to exit Sunday’s Daytona 500. Truex, in his first year with Furniture Row Racing, was forced to the garage on Lap 31 after his engine failed.
“The car was just so good and we were just riding around and biding our time you know, being patient and trying to get to the end of this thing,” he said. “Unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be.”
Tough race back: Tony Stewart ran intro problems midway through his first points race since breaking two bones in his right leg during a sprint car race last summer. On Lap 94, Stewart first noticed problems with his fuel gauge, and he was forced to pit under green to have the problem assessed.
He eventually required a lengthy trip to the garage, where his team replaced the fuel cell and all of its electronic pieces. He returned to the track on Lap 146 but ended up with a 35th-place finish.
Who won the Daytona 500? Some media outlets and fans actually thought they witnessed two Daytona 500 winners Sunday. Late in the afternoon, Fox Sports showed a replay of last season’s race – and at times it wasn’t clearly labeled as a replay.
Once the race – which Jimmie Johnson won – ran its course, several fans posted messages on Twitter congratulating Johnson. Unfortunately, so did several media outlets, including Fox News.
Five key moments
1 . Just 38 laps into the race heavy rains and a series of thunderstorm and tornado warnings produced a nearly 6 1/2-hour rain delay. When the race finally returned to green, Kyle Busch led the way.
2 . Dale Earnhardt Jr. moved into the lead for the first time on Lap 131 of 200. He would lead 54 of the final 69 laps.
3 . A 10-car wreck on Lap 146 knocked out several contenders.
4 . Earnhardt Jr. traded the lead twice with Carl Edwards before moving out front for the final time on Lap 183.
5 . On a restart with two laps remaining, Jeff Gordon gave Earnhardt Jr. a push, giving him a sizable lead. A caution was displayed on the last lap for a wreck, which froze the field and ensured Earnhardt Jr.’s victory.