While Dale Earnhardt Jr. celebrated his second Daytona 500 win late Sunday night at Daytona International Speedway, several drivers who were expected to be top contenders could only think of what could have been.
Martin Truex Jr. started Speedweeks on a high note; in his first race with a new team, Truex put the No. 78 Furniture Row Chevy on the front row. During Thursday’s second Duel qualifying race Truex was able to avoid trouble, until the very end when he was swept up in an accident not of his own making. Despite being forced to a backup car, and forced to drop to the rear of the field Sunday, Truex was optimistic that he could win. That optimism ended on lap 31 when the engine in his back-up Chevy expired after an oil pump belt came loose.
“Super disappointing,” said Truex. “I mean it’s definitely a tough break for the team. The car was super-fast today and I went to bed last night thinking that this was my best shot ever to win the Daytona 500. The car was just so good and we were just riding around, biding our time, being patient and trying to get to the end of this thing.”
Tony Stewart’s hopes for a first Daytona 500 win came to an end on lap 103. Stewart, who also had to start in the back due to an engine change, had made his way into the top 20 after enduring a 6 hour and 22 minute rain delay. Stewart’s Chevy began to lose power and he was forced to pit. The crew recycled the electronic control unit but to no avail. Stewart had to go to the garage where the team found the issue to be a tire; Stewart would return but finished a disappointing 35th, 26 laps down.
Stewart’s driver at Stewart-Haas Racing Danica Patrick who had led laps last season and won the pole led a few laps Sunday. She also had to start in the back thanks to engine issues. Her hopes to at least equal her top 10 finish in last year’s 500, her only top 10 of the year as it turned out, were dashed on lap 145 when she was swept up in a multi-car crash that sent her Chevy hard into the outside wall on the front stretch.
“It was the best car that I had all Speed Weeks,” Patrick said. “It seemed like we could catch whoever and it seemed like we could move around, make lanes and just move around and move forward at the end of the day. I felt like everything was going pretty well, so it’s just upsetting you know. It’s just the culmination of sitting around all day and you know. It’s a bummer, but you know that is the excitement of speedway racing that anything can happen, and it was unfortunate that I was on the short end of the accident. But that is the kind of thing that happens and I appreciate everyone sticking around and watching, and we will go get them at Phoenix.”