Joey Logano survived hours of intensity to win NASCAR’s biggest race –under a yellow flag.
The Penske driver started in the top five, motivated by the fact that two fellow Ford teams won the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series events. His stellar performance in The Budweiser Duel gave him that spot; there was no doubt he had a strong car.
Four-time champion –and soon-to-be retiree—Jeff Gordon led the field to the green, soon overpowered by teammate Jimmie Johnson. Their fellow Hendrick Motorsports driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., was competitive early on as well. For a while, it looked like HMS would crash the party.
A majority of the race involved the cars racing side-by-side as if they were about to load into Noah’s ark. Lines would gain momentum, fall back, and then gather up the energy once again. Multiple cautions provide the chance for breaks, but nothing extravagant happened. That just created more tension as the laps dwindled down.
When was The Big One going to occur?
Engines began to let go, and two made Logano nervous. His teammate Brad Keselowski went sent to the garage. Rookie Ryan Blaney –running the Ford-powered Wood Brothers Racing machine—suffered the same issue. Paranoia set in. The driver of the No. 22 thought he had voltage problems.
His team let him know about Keselowski and Blaney’s issues, and Logano simply replied, “Say a prayer.”
Things heated up as the laps faded away. The entire field ran three-wide in that disorganized/calm way the sport has perfected over the years. Everyone kept to themselves and raced smart. Logano pulled ahead, followed by Kevin Harvick.
Justin Allgaier lost his engine, and that created a Green-White-Checkered situation. It was clear that Logano was in the best position; passing the leader grew difficult with each lap Sunday afternoon, and that wasn’t going to change.
The machines took off, running three-wide and going full throttle. Logano secured the white flag lap, ensuring that the next flag would end the race. Harvick and Earnhardt Jr. struggled to hang with him. The field dove out of turn 2, and that’s when the wreck happened. Austin Dillon hit Gordon from behind, triggering the wreck that lurked the entire day.
NASCAR threw the caution flag, freezing the running order and crowning Logano the winner.
Fans quickly spewed venom at the decision, feeling cheated that the frontrunners couldn’t race back to the line. NASCAR’s choice to fly the yellow flag erred on the side of caution; the incident Saturday evening with Kyle Busch’s wreck most likely influenced the call. This is neither a good or bad thing. It is what it is, whether fans agree or not.
While the Connecticut native starts 2015 on a high note, Gordon’s final season is currently sour. The last-lap wreck puts him in a points hole that may be difficult to scale. However, it’s only the first race of the season.
Because of Busch’s wreck, NCWTS reigning champion Matt Crafton wheeled the No. 18 to finish 19th. In the same boat was NXS regular Regan Smith, who filled in for Kurt Busch after the Stewart-Haas Racing driver was indefinitely suspended by NASCAR on Friday.
At the end of the day, Joey Logano wrote a piece of history, becoming the second driver to win the Daytona 500 for owner Roger Penske. To him, it tasted sweet –even if it ended under caution.