Welcome back race fans! Long time to be away from racing. As many of you know, the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona is the kickoff to the season for me but I have to admit my attention was elsewhere a lot of this young season. After watching qualifying for the 500, I pretty much missed the Duels for the first time in forever.
There have been a fair amount of changes this year leaving me to question just how good the racing was going to be.
Realistically, Daytona is a terrible measure of how the cars will race on 95% of the tracks.
But hey, the 500 is the 500 after all and while the way it finished is open for debate, the ending kind of made up for what I thought was somewhat of a boring race.
While the TV talking heads were talking about how many lead changes there were, it was mostly between the front two drivers changing the lead over and over again. There was very little passing for the lead in terms of real racing. This race reminded me of some of the older gen cars when they just ran single file lap after lap and nothing much happened till the end of the race.
Pit stops were what really changed up the field until very late in the race when drivers started getting a bit racier as the laps wore down. But the final laps were pretty intense as a handful of drivers were actually passing each other for the lead and jockeying for position for a run at the checkered flag.
Of course, we all know how that ends. In a crash. And not just one, oh no! Let’s line them up and do that all over again, shall we?
That is the byproduct of plate racing in cars that have restricted vision flying along at nearly 200 mph.
This means a lot of good cars fail to meet their lofty season opening goals and give a driver who really didn’t have a shot at winning their chance to make history. Had this been 1998 rules, the winner would have been Kyle Busch making a statement on his career and choice of RCR for his future team.
Instead, we saw veteran Ricky Stenhouse Jr. make a great move and was lucky enough to make it stick when the final caution fell after he took the white flag. Half a lap more and it may not have been Stenhouse in the lead.
As much as the TV talking heads wanted to say this was not unexpected given Stenhouse’s ability as a plate driver, I disagree and so did the odds makers. While Stenhouse isn’t TERRIBLE at plate racing, his finishes on superspeedways will tell you that he doesn’t have a great track record. Can he draft? Sure he can. Often times he has a pretty decent plate car but we all know he didn’t get his nick name of “Wrecky” by winning races. But in the end, all that matters is that he was in the lead at the right time on the right lap. He now goes down in history as one of the drivers to win the Great American Race. Congrats to Stenhouse and all of JTG Daugherty Racing.
What did we learn at Daytona?
RFK Racing looked like it was picking up where it left off. Overall, Fords looked stout on the big track and while this isn’t indicative of racing on 1.5 mile tracks, RFK didn’t appear to have a let down from the end of 2022 and could easily have been vying for the win and have two cars in the Top 10.
Kyle Busch had a lot of speed in his backup car and probably would have been the race winner had the field not run out of talent. His talent may elevate the RCR organization sooner than a lot of folks think.
Joey Logano is going to be a threat to win all year on every track.
Hendrick’s showed front row speed but was unable to turn that into a win at Daytona. I expect similar results in 2023 to what 2022 offered. I still think the 48 and 5 need to learn how to close the deal.
With only 6 cars in the garage, Toyota will win their share of races but it might be an uphill battle in 2023.
Stewart-Haas Racing went all in with some young talent in 2023 but they will have to suffer the ups and downs that come with that. Kevin Harvick will win sooner than later if they can get him some closing speed.
OK, now for the fun.
What was up with Michael Waltrip? His face looked like he went a couple of rounds with Tyson. Did he get some work done around his eyes cause he looked terrible.
And speaking of Joey Logano, the kid looks like he got some hair moved forward on that dome of his. His hairline has been receding for years and now it isn’t. And I don’t think he is combing it over.
That’s about all I saw. What did you see?
Next up is Fontana, the last race before it gets redone. This is where Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman can show us if what we saw at Daytona is real. Can Kyle Busch bring it home for RCR this week or will Logano be the bride and not the bridesmaid? Can Kevin Harvick keep his late season mojo going? You could ask the same of Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher.
Now the real racing season begins… at least until the dirt race at Bristol.
(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images/NASCAR Media)