The 60th running of the Great American Race…the Dayotna 500…is in the books, and to say that it was an historic event would be an understatement.
Let’s discuss what made it historic.
The #3 is back in Victory Lane at Daytona International Speedway for the first time since 1998. The #3 had always been synonymous with Dale Earnhardt. The Intimidator. For the longest time the only true blemish on an otherwise stellar career for Earnhardt was that he had never won the big one. He had never put the #3 in victory lane in the Daytona 500. He finally achieved the feat in 1998 after 19 failed tries.
Earnhardt passed away in a wreck on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, and while the racing world was in shock, life waits for no one and the Earth keeps spinning. Richard Childress Racing put a young upstart named Kevin Harvick in the car, but changed the number to #29. The famous #3 would not be seen in Cup competition until 2014, when RCR put Austin Dillon behind the wheel and put the #3 back on the door panel.
Dillon battled back from being a lap down late in the 2018 Daytona 500 to win.
Dillon is the grandson of car owner Richard Childress, and this often leads to his getting a raw deal from irrational NASCAR fans who refer to him as being spoiled, spoon fed, the beneficiary of nepotism…none of which is earned. Dillon began racing in 2005, moved up through the ranks of truck racing, Nationwide Series racing, and finally into Cup racing.
Dillon won the race after bumping race leader Aric Almirola and spinning him out. Of course the internet went crazy calling him a cheater in the same breath as saying that Dillon disrespected the legend of the #3. Oh the irony of people griping about Dillon winning in such a fashion while flying the number that was associated with a driver who would wreck his own mother to win a race. Just ask Terry Labonte about Bristol in 1999.
Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. made history by becoming the highest finishing African-American driver ever in the Daytona 500. Bubba was the first black driver in the 500 since Wendell Scott started back in 1969.
Oh yeah, Wallace (who is officially listed as a rookie) finished second in probably the most recognizable race car to have ever been on a track anywhere, at any time…the Richard Petty owned #43. Aric Almirola left Petty Enterprises to bolt over to Stewart-Hass Racing to take over for Danica Patrick, and Petty, a good old Southern boy, made Wallace the first black driver to ever have a full time ride in NASCAR Cup racing history.
Wallace has stated that he does not want to be known as a black driver, just as a racer. But he will never be able to escape racing’s roots, or it’s history.
Both Dillon and Wallace crossed the legendary finish line at Daytona in the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. This was the first ever official race for the Camaro, and they came home with top two positions, three of the top five, and five of the top ten. Not bad for a first outing by a manufacturer that had been taking a back seat to Toyota all last season, and fast Fords at Daytona.
Speaking of Toyotas, their highest finisher was Denny Hamlin in third…and the next Toyota to cross the line was defending Cup Champion Martin Truex in 18th place, two laps down.
My two Daytona 500 picks did not fare very well. Chase Elliot was in a wreck on lap 101, and Kyle Larson finished 3 laps down.
Another note of history being made in this year’s Daytona 500 was it’s return to President’s Day weekend.
This year’s race was the first Daytona 500 since 1982 in which there were no race cars in it that were sponsored by beer companies.
As we recover from the Daytona 500, we move forward to Atlanta (1.5 mile quad-oval), one of the faster tracks on the NASCAR schedule. Truex was the master of the mile and a half tracks last season, and we will keep an eye on whether he can continue that success this season.
Can Dillon prove his Daytona win was not a fluke? Can Elliot, Larson, Jimmie Johnson, and a slew of other great cars recover from wrecks at Daytona?
On a more local note, in the next installment of “Talking Racing” we will talk about the Winter Nationals for DIRTcar, World of Outlaw Late Models, and WoO Sprints down in Florida.
Until then, keep it shiny side up!
Photo Credit: Getty Images