After all, the 2013 Daytona 500 would be the first time that the Generation 6 race cars were run for 500 miles, and earlier testing had proven the cars to be more challenging in traffic than the identically-shaped Generation 5 “Car of Tomorrow.”
Adding to the uncertainty was Danica Patrick, in her first full season of Sprint Cup competition, starting from pole position and surrounded by drivers with significantly more experience (and, some would argue, significantly more to prove). Could Danica avoid trouble as the veterans around her diced for position?
The answer, ultimately, was yes. Sure, Sunday’s race did deliver a few crashes, including an early-race entanglement that took out potential favorite Kevin Harvick (who’d won the Sprint Unlimited race and the first Budweiser Duel race) and perennial-Daytona-bridesmaid Tony Stewart, but (thankfully) the big one never came.
Pole winner Danica Patrick silenced critics by running near the front of the pack throughout the day, but it was five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champ Jimmie Johnson that proved unstoppable in his second Daytona 500 win.
Thanks to a push from Denny Hamlin, Johnson took the lead for the last time with ten laps to go. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. rallied in the closing laps to challenge Johnson, and current series champ Brad Keselowski looked fast in the end, too.
Jimmie Johnson beats Dale Earnhardt Jr to teh checkered flag - image: Harold Hinson for Chevrolet
A last-lap crash collected a few mid-pack drivers, but when the checkered flag waved it was Jimmie Johnson across the line first, followed by Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Mark Martin. Patrick, who’d run as high as third towards the end of the race, ultimately finished in eighth position.
With one race in the books, the top five drivers in points are Jimmie Johnson (47), Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (42), Mark Martin (41), Brad Keselowski (41) and Ryan Newman (40).
Next weekend the Sprint Cup series heads to the one-mile tri-oval in Phoenix, Arizona, for the Subway Fresh Fit 500. Look for Joe Gibbs Racing to work on solving reliability issues with its engines, while all Sprint Cup drivers work on finding a way to pass in the Generation 6 cars.