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Daytona 500 instant analysis

2/24/2013 - NASCAR

How the race was won -- On a restart with six laps remaining, Jimmie Johnson rode the front bumper of Greg Biffle (a recurring theme at Daytona) to rocket to the front. A backstretch crash on the final lap created chaos behind the Lowe's Chevy, but Five-Time became a two-time Daytona 500 champion, leading teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Pivotal moment, Part I -- A yellow flag with nine laps to go hit the reset button on everything, from the tiniest remaining bit of fuel mileage concern to the broken-nosed run of Brad Keselowski to the front to the suddenly strong move being made by the Johnson-led bottom line. It set the table for what proved to be the race-defining restart that put Johnson out front.

Pivotal moment, Part II -- A crash on Lap 33 involved nine cars and eliminated several expected contenders, including Duel 150 winners Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick. Kasey Kahne, a popular sleeper pick in the garage on race morning, was also taken out, as were hard-luck Earnhardt Ganassi Racing teammates Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya. It also appeared to remove Keselowski from the list of contenders, but he roared back to finish fourth.

Danica watch -- Even the most fervent members of the anti-Danica Patrick faction have to admit that she ran well. After wisely settling in behind Jeff Gordon during the race's first stanza, she struggled on pit road, which was not unexpected, but bounced back into the top 10 and stayed there, both via racing pit strategy, to become the first woman to lead a Cup series race under green. In the end, despite midrace worries about a vibration and being swallowed up in the last-lap confusion, she finished eighth. But as drag racer John Force so deftly noted about her Daytona pole position, "it's not like she delivered the Baby Jesus." Even if she had, I doubt she would have received more media attention during Speedweeks.

If at first you don't succeed -- Tony Stewart (15), Mark Martin (29), Jeff Burton (20) and the Labonte brothers, Bobby (21) and Terry (31), once again came up empty in the Great American Race. On the bright side, as my colleague and Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace likes to reluctantly joke, they're in good company. He went 0-for-23.

Former winners watch -- There were eight former Daytona 500 champions in the race. Johnson won, followed by Earnhardt (second), Ryan Newman (fifth), Jeff Gordon (20th), Michael Waltrip (22nd), Trevor Bayne (27th), Jamie McMurray (32nd) and the man many had marked as their 500 favorite (ahem, me), Matt Kenseth (37th).

What we learned -- The two-car tandem has officially been put out to racing pasture, per the very loud request of countless race fans. But was the return of long stretches of don't-get-out-of-line-or-you're-toast-type drafting what they really wanted? Was that worth it to get that insane finish? I eagerly await your opinions ... I think.