The hype, the pageantry -- and yes, the blazing fire -- that are the Daytona 500 are now behind us, and with all due respect to the Great American Race, now it's time to ditch the restrictor plates and get the Sprint Cup season underway.
It's easy to find Danica Patrick at Daytona International Speedway. Just look for the pack of photographers, the whirring of their cameras capturing the every move of NASCAR's newest star.
CONCORD, N.C. -- Amid heavy criticism of the buddy system at Daytona, NASCAR officials believe it's time to bring back the pack in this year's 500.
To NASCAR fans desperate for the way it used to be, the vision was as breathtaking as seeing water in the desert.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The voice that raised a million arena lights was wafting out of a garage bay at Daytona International Speedway, not in its normal high-decibel rasp, but in laughter. There, in a threadbare fire suit rolled down to his waist, Brian Johnson stood, arms crossed, his barrel of a torso cocking backward and then forward as he related a morning's misadventure in the high-powered BMW/Riley Daytona prototype parked behind him.
There was nothing but a ribbon of empty road in front of him and, further ahead, the biggest prize of his career: the Daytona 500 checkered flag. As the Sprint Cup race last February was extended beyond regulation because of a caution flag, David Ragan led the field to the green flag for a few more laps at the 2.5-mile tri-oval, confident that he was going to win for the first time in his Cup career. In second place, next to him for the restart, was rookie Trevor Bayne.
The Daytona 500 ended abruptly for Kevin Harvick, the No. 29 Chevrolet sent to the garage with a terminal engine failure 22 laps into Sprint Cup's most prestigious race. Harvick's record in restrictor plate races since 2007, when he won the race, made him a favorite in February and losing that opportunity so early was a devastating disappointment.
We're a quarter of the way through the Sprint Cup Series season after eight races that were book ended by a pair of thrilling finishes at Daytona and Talladega and which gave plenty of reason for Junior Nation to rise to its feet with signs of the No. 88's revival.
The streak is up to 100 now, stretching back to a steamy June day in 2008 in the Irish Hills of Michigan. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has come close to winning since that afternoon, finishing second in four different races, but his inability to close the deal has left him with the longest winless drought of his 12-year Cup career.
During introductions for last Saturday's Nationwide race at Daytona, it was no surprise that Dale Earnhardt Jr., voted NASCAR's most popular driver for the last eight years, received thunderous applause.
1. It's only the second week of a long and arduous season, and yet Denny Hamlin could already be giving us an early indication of just where he is mentally as he tries to end Jimmie Johnson's reign as Sprint Cup king.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- It's time to put the Daytona 500 to bed and focus on the rest of the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season, beginning with Sunday's race at Phoenix International Raceway.
Daytona 500 stories in the SI Vault
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- It's Friday, and Sprint Cup's most recent points-paying winner is busy running a different kind of race. A few minutes late for a Ford photo shoot, Carl Edwards is to walk briskly across Daytona's Fan Zone, darting through crowds and jumping behind the fence to walk his way toward Victory Lane. The Blue Oval manufacturer's greatest hope to win Sunday's 500-miler, NASCAR's Super Bowl, Edwards must now bowl over fawning admirers like he's a linebacker playing in the NFL version two weeks earlier.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.--There were plenty of winners and losers in Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway. Tony Stewart staged a come-from-behind victory to nip Clint Bowyer by 0.007 seconds in the third-closest finish in NASCAR history. The race also featured a record-tying 35 lead changes among eight drivers.
The Daytona 500 can propel a driver to prominence, just ask Jamie McMurray, the surprise winner of the 2010 event. It's probably the only race that comes close to matching the accomplishment of winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. It is also the start of a grueling 36-race season that ends four days before Thanksgiving.
DAYTONA, Fla. -- He pulled himself out of his black-and-red No. 29 Chevy and immediately gazed at his car like it was his most treasured possession. Kevin Harvick had just finished third in his qualifying race on Thursday afternoon at Daytona International Speedway, but he couldn't have been much happier. "I feel really, really good about this car," Harvick said as he walked off pit road and into the garage. "We led a bunch of laps today [20 of 62] and stayed in the lead pack. It's winning the big race that matters. And all in all, I really like our chances in the Daytona 500."
Nationwide and IndyCar driver Danica Patrick spoke to SI.com about her upcoming season, what she thinks about NASCAR's latest rules changes and who she thinks will take the checkers at Daytona.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Welcome to a whole new NASCAR as cars are allowed to race at over 200 mph on a new track surface at Daytona, ushering in a completely different style of racing there than the sport has produced since the advent of the restrictor-plate.
MOORESVILLE, N.C. -- So NASCAR's baby boom has struck another Daytona 500 and this time it involves 2003 Cup champion and 2009 Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth.
Stability. Silence. Serenity. Staying the course.
Half the nation woke up Wednesday to some combination of snow, ice, sleet, or a wind chill so cold two winter coats wouldn't cut it. Outside my Northeast window, I see snow mounds piled higher than my 5-foot-6 frame, a car ready to be shoveled out for the tenth time this season and temperatures hovering right around freezing. At this point, I really don't care if Punxsutawney Phil says we'll have an early Spring, because unless it comes tomorrow, virtually everyone east of the Rocky Mountains isn't happy.
Jimmie Johnson struggled early in his Sprint Cup career at Infineon Raceway and Watkins Glen International, the series' two road courses. He's worked hard at getting better, to the extent of putting in extra seat time by driving in the Rolex 24 at Daytona. It paid off with Johnson's victory at Infineon last season, his first on a road course.
Porsche keeps Patrick Long, its sole American factory driver, busy racing around the world. The German manufacturer also leaves enough room in his schedule for Long to venture outside of sports cars into NASCAR and touring cars.
Taking a break from testing on Daytona's new surface, drivers tripped all over themselves during a Thursday teleconference, trying not to call the repaved, 2.5-mile superspeedway "Talladega II" in honor of its super-speedy, restrictor plate parity twin.
Shawna Robinson, in 2002, was the last woman to race in Sprint Cup, closing out an eight-race Cup career with a 24th place finish in the July race at Daytona. Danica Patrick will likely be the next female in Cup, perhaps next year depending upon how her partial Nationwide season with JR Motorsports goes.
TALLADEGA, Ala. -- With the 2010 NASCAR season winding down, many top teams are already looking ahead to next season. In years past, that meant offseason testing, but NASCAR banned that two years ago as a cost-saving measure, and is only lifting it at Daytona in mid-December and mid-January because of a recent repaving job there. But is it time to ease the moratorium even more than that or do away with it for good? Drivers and owners shared their thoughts on that subject with SI.com last week.
DAYTONA -- Two ceremonies have been held during the Daytona International Speedway repaving project that began in July: a groundbreaking with Darrell and Michael Waltrip and the burying of a time capsule at the start-finish line, in which Jeff Burton and track president Joie Chitwood III helped.
1. Watching David Reutimann, who has stood as one of the Cup series' most underappreciated drivers, outduel Jeff Gordon and hold off Carl Edwards at Chicagoland was a win for someone outside of the same core of Victory Lane drivers. But it also got me thinking: as undervalued as the self-effacing Franchise has been, he's far from the most underestimated wheelman on the circuit.
Five things we learned during a long, rainy night of racing at Daytona:
Brad Keselowski does a bi-weekly diary for SI.com. Heading to Daytona this weekend, he talks about translating confidence from his Nationwide Series success into the Cup Series program, and whether the pressure is getting to the sport's top drivers after several recent wrecks. Also, why NASCAR's new car design means so much, the art of apologizing and the biggest thing he ever learned from Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
He was hanging out in the drivers lot at Daytona International Speedway, leaning back in the passenger's seat of a golf cart that was parked a few feet away from his towering motor home. The start of this year's Daytona 500 was only minutes away, but now Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- relaxed and reflective -- tried to put into perspective what the famed track meant to him.
1. It certainly seemed like the death knell for Richard Petty Motorsports when Kasey Kahne, their biggest drawing card, decided that he's leaving to join Rick Hendrick's version of Audioslave or Velvet Revolver. There's even a strong chance RPM was picked up in more than a few dead pools after Kahne's announcement.
MOORESVILLE, North Carolina -- It's time for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series' second trip to Daytona International Speedway for Saturday night's Coke Zero 400. It's the annual Independence Day Weekend shootout, a contest under the lights that's bound to include fireworks both on and off the track.
After taking vacation for my brother's college graduation, I spent Monday catching up on NASCAR racing from Dover. But in every conversation, I was struck by two words that had nothing to do with the Monster Mile. From my eyes on pit road to the articles I read yesterday, all were focused on what should be sending shivers down Daytona officials' spines...
It is one of the oldest saws in the sport: You can't predict Talladega.
1. Days removed from Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray's Kleenex-worthy love fest, I asked about the past; not his, but that of the previous three men to drive into Victory Lane at the season opener.
Brad Keselowski is doing a biweekly diary for SI.com this season. In his latest edition, he takes us through his anger over Daytona's pothole seen 'round the world and talks about keeping his confidence up through two straight wrecks to start the season. He also talks Winter Olympics, gambling and the best place to hang out in Vegas as he prepares for the Shelby American 400 this Sunday.
One week after a pothole sunk the Daytona 500, NASCAR caught a break after a rainstorm just missed California's 2-mile oval Sunday. That led to a double bonus, with the race not only ending on time but the threat of raindrops leaving drivers on pins and needles throughout -- creating a rare Hollywood action thriller at a track known for its share of boring races. But when the smoke cleared after 500 miles, this movie script ended with an all-too-familiar face up front.
FONTANA, Calif. -- Track president Gillian Zucker likes to bill this weekend as "NASCAR's trip to Hollywood," but there isn't anything Hollywood about Auto Club Speedway, which sits amidst the decaying remains of the old Kaiser Steel Mill. This place is about as earthy as it gets, with the race track built upon a remediated site of toxic waste from when the Inland Empire factories belched out smoke and soot in the 1940s and 1950s.
What a difference a year makes.
Three Daytona storylines that could set the tone for the entire season:
His hands in the pockets of his winter coat, the most powerful owner in American motor sports walked down pit road at Daytona International Speedway on Thursday afternoon. One of his drivers, Jimmie Johnson, had just won the first of two qualifying races for Sunday's 500. Now Rick Hendrick smiled widely as he neared another of one his drivers, Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was about to roar onto the track for the second qualifying race.
"When you've won everything but the 500, it's hard to have that confidence that you know how to win the 500," says Tony Stewart. "But it's like we know how to win all the other races. We need to figure out how to win the one that matters most."
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- With so many new storylines, including NASCAR eliminating the bump-drafting rule and allowing the drivers to self-police, there is the potential for an even wilder and more frantic Daytona 500 on Sunday. Here's a guide to the first and biggest race of the Sprint Cup season, which, with its 1 p.m. start, will be the earliest for a Daytona 500 since 2003.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- SpeedWeeks 2010 officially began at Daytona International Speedway on Thursday, including practice for Saturday's Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200. But this isn't your father's ARCA race, not with IndyCar regular Danica Patrick making her stock car debut here. With her in the field, it'll be the most anticipated, most watched ARCA Series race in history. Here then are five things we learned on her first day in Daytona.
MOORESVILLE, North Carolina -- When NASCAR officials announced that their attitude about officiating races in 2010 will be "Have at it, boys," one of the first thoughts that came to the mind of this skeptic was: "Haven't we seen this before?"
The Daytona 24-hour -- the Rolex 24 -- is a true world-class race. Every driver who wins it is very proud to put it on his resume. Don't believe it? Where else can you see Jimmie Johnson racing against Scott Dixon or Sebastien Bourdais? Just look at the drivers in the field.
Auto racing, and NASCAR in particular, used to be a "man's domain." A sport for those brave and fearless men who loved speed and didn't flinch at danger. Women? Most circuits didn't even allow them in the pits until the 1970s. But these days, Teresa and Kelley Earnhardt are major figures in NASCAR, Danica Patrick is one of the most recognizable drivers in the U.S., and come Feb. 14, the Daytona 500 will be run with the most powerful woman in sports in her new role, that of CEO of International Speedway Corporation (ISC), promoter of The Great American Race and approximately 100 others.
Scott Pruett drove in four Indy 500s and one Brickyard 400, and thought his days racing at the famous speedway had ended when he switched in 2001 to racing sports cars, which have never run there. He'll have an unexpected opportunity to return on Sept. 3 in a test sanctioned by the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series.
The induction of NASCAR's first Hall of Fame class in Charlotte next May has already become the source of great conjecture, fueled by the release last week of the names of the 25 nominees for five precious spots.
Five things we learned under the lights on Saturday night at Daytona:
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