58th Daytona 500
February 26, 2016
58th Daytona 500
The Daytona 500 is a race that had been on my bucket list until I was finally able to see my first race last year, it was just something that I wanted to see and experience myself after having been to over forty Indy 500s. I wanted to see and experience what is the biggest and best stock car race in the world and to see how it measured up to other races that I have attended. While it still is nowhere close to the size, scope, excitement and historical significance of Indy, I must admit it was much cooler than I had imagined and I enjoyed it so much that I wanted to go back, so I renewed my tickets and found myself back at Daytona again this year.
The prerace festivities really ratchet up in the final hour prior to the green flag, Daytona Speedway does an amazing job moving around the massive crowds that gather in the infield prior to the start to watch the driver introductions and a big concert which this year featured the country duo Florida-Georgia line. It is pretty exciting to be a part of it all and I was able to wonder around and meet the iconic retired NASCAR champion and two-time Daytona 500 winner Bobby Allison before the atart of the race and I got to spend time with my high school buddy Mike, who I had not seen since our graduation over 30 years ago. It was a fun prerace for me.
with Bobby Allison
I watched about half of the short version concert featuring Florida-Georgia Line. They are certainly not the type of band you might traditionally find me watching, but the show was pretty good and the crowd was really, really in to it. I think the fact that half of the band is basically local to the Daytona area helped, but also the band is one of the hottest acts in country music of this current decade and they have a huge, faithful following that overlaps easily with the typical NASCAR crowd. I was at my seat in the very highest level of the grandstands before they finished and watched in awe as they cleared the infield of literally thousands of fans in a matter of minutes leading up to the call to start engines.
The ceremony to get the race started lacks the tradition and gravitas of Indy’s hallowed traditions, but it is still pretty cool and I especially enjoyed the flyover by the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds just after the Star Spangled Banner was sung. The race itself got off to a great start, polesitter and rookie Chase Elliott the son of former NASCAR champ Bill Elliott jumped into the early lead, a good start for the young man taking over the ride from retired legend Jeff Gordon, but he crashed out early and would go on to finish a disappointing 37th.
It was an absolute picture perfect day for the 200 lap race and the race went along mostly smoothly with the first half of the race dominated by Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson, who traded the lead by hugging the inside lane of the track, which was the preferred line throughout. It seemed whatever train was on the outside lane was at a great disadvantage and nobody could really make that lane work all day.
The race had a total of six cautions for 31 laps, none of which were too serious but wrecks knocked out fan favorites Dale Earnhart Jr. and Danica Patrick but also kept the field tightly bunched as is standard in most NASCAR races. The later stages of the race were dominated by Matt Kenseth, who led with seeming ease as the laps counted down nearing the end. It seemed to be his race to lose and unfortunately for him that is just what happened.
After the final caution of the day, the race restarted with 12 laps to go. Kenseth remained comfortably in the lead as the outside line continued to lose momentum. Hamlin jumped to the outside line with one to go and drafted all the way to his teammate Kenseth. Kenseth came down on Hamlin, got himself loose and fell back to finish 14th. Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. drag raced to the finish line and Hamlin prevailed by 11 one-thousandths of a second, the closest in Daytona 500 history.
The race was tedious at times, but the excitement of the last lap and the closest finish ever in Daytona 500 history more than made up for the slow periods and it was a fantastic and enjoyable afternoon all around as Hamlin captured his first ever win at Daytona and the 27th win of his NASCAR career. Truex finished second barely followed by Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards. It was yet another very fun afternoon at the track and I had such a good time that I am already considering returning yet again next year.