Daytona 500 2014: Racing With the Legacy of Earnhardt
Dale Earnhardt died over thirteen years ago in the 2001 Daytona 500, but during the 2014 Daytona 500 his legacy and influence was alive and well. Austin Dillon put the Richard Childress #3 on pole while Dale Jr. took his second Daytona 500. With the 3 back on track the race was run in the shadow of Earnhardt. Rain dampened the track and stalled the race. In the end however it could not wash away a dramatic and exciting race. NASCAR’s new season is off and running!
Despite starting on pole, Austin Dillon was not a major force on track Sunday. After a little bit of racing the rain came down. The race was delayed for so long that the entire 2013 race was played on replay. This is standard practice during rain delays but for whatever reason it caused a lot of confusion. The confusion got worse when the replay ended with Johnson’s victory. Some were being funny and some truly believed that Johnson had gone two in a row; which is rightly a horrific thought. Although some of the freak out was pretty funny, it does speak to the amount and prevalence of Johnson fatigue for the average fan. If you do not think NASCAR is being hurt by Johnson, go look at the tweets from yesterday.
But Johnson was not the winner, and the race was not over. The racing had been great during the Sprint Unlimited. The racing had been sub-par during the Budweiser sponsored qualifying races. The racing in the Daytona 500 was excellent, especially under the lights. There was plenty of passing for the lead and the usual Daytona excitement. Interestingly the leader on track sometimes was able to hold off the pack.
Austin Dillon was involved in a number of late race incidents which helped cause enough cautions to take fuel mileage racing out of the picture. Dale Junior led the most laps and appeared in control during most of the final portion of the race. Greg Biffle put up a strong challenge as did Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin. Jeff Gordon tried to make a run at Junior as well. None of them succeeded. As the cars entered the frontstretch a wreck caused the caution to come out and Junior to be declared the winner; he was far enough ahead of Hamlin and Gordon that they could not have caught him with a couple hundred more feet of racing.
To be totally honest I would have rather seen Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, or Brad Keselowski win the race than Junior. I’m a huge Gordon fan and as he enters to twilight of his career I want to see some big wins. Keselowski is the future and a 500 would be huge for him. Hamlin is a current star and is a guy who really worked his way into NASCAR through hard work and determination. Still I cannot deny Junior’s win was both good for NASCAR, and an exciting moment for race fans everywhere.
Dale Earnhardt Junior used to be considered a restrictor plate racing expert. In recent years however the plate tracks have not been as kind to him as in the past. Junior has been in contention to win the Daytona 500 a number of times recently and even finished 2nd two different times. This win was long awaited and a great way to cap off an exciting night of racing. The raw emotion out of Junior, his crew, and the fans is exactly what modern racing needs more of!
I would sum up this year’s Daytona 500 with one word. Fun. No, not the band. I mean the race was fun. There was plenty of passing and unpredictability in the race and fuel strategy was mercifully a non-factor. No one was injured in the wrecks, and compared to the Sprint Unlimited the amount of crashes and DNF’s were much more controlled. Overall the race was a lot of fun to watch, at least for me. I don’t think you could have asked for a lot more out of the Daytona 500.
Fox’s broadcast was not particularly good. The new box feature instead of the typical timing line on the top of the screen was bad. Hopefully Fox will change things because the new box does not contain enough information while the old ticker used to tell us various things like gaps, speed, lead lap, ect. Darrell Waltrip and the rest of the Fox crew were pretty much Fox News turned racing group. They are sorely lacking in objectivity and intelligence. Some people enjoy their folksy attitude and love for the sport, but personally I find them annoying and grating. I also think that while their folksy attitude plays well with a lot of current fans, it is a turn off for new fans and non-traditional NASCAR fans. On an unrelated note the Air Titan is actually a really successful NASCAR idea. Although people mock NASCAR’s lack of technology, this particular track drying technology is very innovative. Props to NASCAR.
Dale Earnhardt’s legacy hung over this years Daytona 500 like a mist on a cool spring day. This was aided and abetted by the Fox broadcast crew who were unable to go five minutes without mentioning Dale. Dale deserves his legacy, but this years Daytona 500 should not be remembered for Dale Senior and the 3 car. It was the continuation of Dale Junior’s comeback as he tries to earn his first championship. It might have been Jeff Gordon’s last 500, and it is hopefully just one of many 500’s for Larson, Patrick, Stenhouse, Hamlin, Keselowski and Dillon. NASCAR’s new championship format is rightly seen as a major problem, but at least for one night NASCAR managed to make us forget all of the off track issues. On Sunday night, we were all NASCAR fans, or at least should have been.