24 February 2014

Was the 2014 Daytona 500 the best ever?

(Getty Images)
It is not all that often that you can call a race that took almost ten hours to complete, thanks to the longest rain delay in the history of NASCAR, one of the greatest ever but yesterday's Daytona 500, won by Dale Earnhardt, Jr. for the second time, certainly appears to fit the bill. And the aforementioned rain delay appears to be the key reason why.

When the drivers finally got back to green flag racing at around 8:30 last night, with only 39 of 200 laps complete, there was a race to be in position to win should the rains return, as it was thought that they would. The race becomes official once you have reached the halfway point in the race, and thus the positioning for the win should the race be shortened was on. Therefore, a green flag stretch for 100 laps after the green flag was chock full of hard two and three wide racing. And even after a few wrecks, the drivers let up in a significant difference from the 2013 500, defined by single-file racing for long green flag stretches.

Much of the sports' finest found their way to the front, with folks like Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth all running strong. But it was a race defined by a brilliant performance by the sports' most popular driver in the #88 Chevrolet.

Earnhardt has always had the reputation of being one of the finest restrictor plate racers on the circuit, and this was his eighth win on a plate track. But it also was his first plate win since Talladega in October of 2004, and the man they refer to as "Junior" has generally been seen as a disappointment since he joined Hendrick Motorsports in 2008 and a driver that was widely thought to be on track to win a title has yet to do so, or come that close.

But there is no question of the excellence Earnhardt showed last night, with the passion he showed after winning the most excitement we have seen out of NASCAR's biggest name in years, and could this win put him on track to perhaps get that long-alluded first title?

Back to the race, was this perhaps the best edition of the Great American Race ever? After all, the Daytona 500 has seen many a legendary race like in 1976, when Richard Petty and David Pearson battled so hard for the win on the last lap they ended up wrecked in the infield where Pearson edged Petty at the line, 1979, the first televised flag-to-flag race in which millions witnessed a fight between Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison (as well as his brother Bobby) as the two had wrecked and allowed Petty to win, or 1998, when Dale Earnhardt finally got his first 500 victory. But I think that the 2014 edition has to be considered among the great 500's of all time.

I think Keselowski, who finished third, had the money quote (and who is surprised with that?):
"I never saw a lull in the action from where I was sitting. This has to be the hardest-raced 500 ever as far as I'm concerned. And probably one of the best."

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