Jimmie Johnson Reflects On His Big Win
Sprint Cup: Roulette Ball Lands Right
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Give the 55th Daytona 500 this: At least the roulette ball didn't drop capriciously into some surprise number at the last second. There was a clear winner who earned it.
Nobody had anything for Jimmie Johnson at the end. That was clear. There's nothing wrong with that. That's the way the Richard Pettys and the Cale Yarboroughs of this game used to win Daytona 500s. Fans didn't complain, because the idea of racing was to outrun and outlast the other guy.
The roulette wheel at Casino de Daytona had a brake on it this time, rigged fair and square by crew chief Chad Knaus, who gave the best driver the best car.
And don't bother sending the same old comments and emails: "Johnson only wins because of Knaus, and Knaus cheats." I don't want to hear it. It's bull.
"At the end, when it was time to go, I knew we had a straight race car with no scratches on it," Johnson said. He'd kept it that way.
And that's why Knaus, asked what won the race for the 48 team, said, "I think it was Jimmie Johnson."
It took a driver who could keep the car clean. And it took a strong car. You call that racing.
"The speed our car had in it allowed me to really have control of the race there late," Johnson said. "I felt like I was sitting on something all day, and was just ready to have some fun when it counted "
To get that, Knaus said, "We worked at least 35 days straight on the car that we raced in the Daytona 500. I know I put in personally one day of 38 hours straight."
You and I know there are only 24 hours in a day. Knaus doesn't. To him, the day begins when he comes to work, and ends when he leaves. And that's where those magnificent race cars come from.
Maybe if Mark Martin had been able to push Dale Earnhardt Jr. a little tighter, a little longer, Earnhardt might have gotten past Johnson at the end. But then you'd have had yet another roulette ball dropping suddenly.
And who knows? Maybe the best car in the field was driven by Danica Patrick. She ran in the top 10 all afternoon and was third entering the final lap, but fell back to eighth in the inevitable scramble.
She acknowledged that she just didn't have the experience to shoot it out with the draft-line sharks at the end.
"I was thinking in the car, 'How am I going to do this?'" she said. "I didn't know what to do, exactly."
Like the Gen-6 car, whose performance will be on vastly different display on the flat track at Phoenix on Sunday and the cookie-cutter 1.5-miler at Las Vegas the next, Patrick will face far different challenges from here.
Johnson was highly complimentary of her work here: "Being close to the other competitors, door to door, whatever environment takes place on the racetrack, at these speeds, she was very comfortable," he said. "I didn't think about it being Danica in the car. It was just another car on the track that was fast. That's a credit to her and the job she's doing."
But, Johnson added: "I think this style of racetrack really suits her. When we get to the other tracks, she has a tall learning curve ahead of her."
Usually, the week after the Daytona 500, the mantra is that now the real season begins. That's true to a point. But at least this time, the guy who won the 500 earned it. So maybe it is an indicator of his season to come.
Danica Patrick Breaks Down Eighth-Place Finish
Danica Patrick Makes History, Makes Progress
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- NASCAR officials and local police had been ordering the gawkers from pit road for several minutes by the time actor James Franco screeched, "Drivers and Danica start your engines." The motor in her No. 10 Chevrolet had been rumbling for another few minutes as scores of fans lingered at her netted window, capturing photographs on everything from smartphones to tablets.
"I thought that was a hefty amount of people," she recalled.
It was, as characterized by an exasperated Daytona Beach police officer working through the crowd, "total madness." And these weren't inebriated rapscallions with sunburned chests ignoring authority through a drunken haze. These were little girls in sundresses, grannies with sweaters wrapped around their waists, and well-groomed men in collared shirts staging acts of civil disobedience until photographed to their satisfaction in front of Patrick's race car.
Total madness in a blissful sort of way.
Fireworks burst nearby. Patrick's father, T.J., struggled to locate his wife, Bev, and daughter, Brooke, as they slogged through the mass. It felt disorderly. It felt sublime.
Nationwide: A Subdued Win
Tony Stewart is such a man of the people -- the fans -- that one time at Daytona, after winning the July race, he climbed over the fence and got into the middle of an impromptu mosh pit in the front-row seats.
No driver relishes mingling with fans in the infields of dirt tracks -- such as Stewart's own Eldora Speedway in Ohio -- more than he does.
And so you knew why his voice quivered and trembled, almost weeping with worry, after he won Saturday's 300-miler for Nationwide cars with all hell breaking loose behind him on the track and in the grandstands.
"It's just like your fellow drivers," Stewart said of the fans injured by debris. "If you think one of your fellow drivers is injured, you just don't feel like you can celebrate.
"These fans are die-hard to this sport and the drivers. They come to watch a great show. The last thing you want to do is have any of them get caught up in a wreck that happens on the racetrack."
Coming to the checkered flag, Stewart maneuvered beautifully, diving left to avoid the initial contact that set off the melee. Leader Regan Smith moved to block the onrushing Brad Keselowski, got turned sideways, and the 12-car wreck began.
But as Stewart steered clear, "I looked in the mirror, and that's the worst image I've ever seen in a race in my life," he said.
Retired NASCAR legend Bobby Allison, who was at Sunday's Daytona 500, could relate. In 1987, his car went airborne into the fence along the main grandstands at Talladega, Ala. Two steel reinforcement cables behind the disintegrating fence caught his car and dropped it back onto the racetrack.
Allison's crash was such a close call for thousands of spectators that NASCAR quickly initiated a mandate for the carburetor restrictor plates that still slow down the cars at Talladega and Daytona today.
Almost worse than the view in Stewart's mirror, Allison couldn't see at all in the aftermath of his wreck. His oil tank had broken, spilling hot motor oil all over him, and even into his goggles and into his eyes.
"When the car stopped, I realized I wasn't hurt physically, but it couldn't see," Allison recalled Sunday. "They put me in the ambulance and I said, 'How many people got hurt?' They said, 'Nobody got hurt.' Then they headed around the racetrack the wrong way to get back to the infield hospital.
"I said, 'Yeah, they're taking me this way so I don't see all the dead bodies laying around the track.' It really had me worried."
But then, upon arrival at the infield medical center, Allison heard the track doctor say, "'Shut off the helicopters; we don't need 'em,'" Allison recalled. "I said, 'If they don't need the helicopters that means nobody is hurt bad.' And it gave me some relief.
"So I do understand the concern the drivers have for all the spectators, and for everybody involved."
Camping World: Sauter Survives
The carrot was Sauter himself, seemingly a sitting duck as the leader with Busch on his tailgate entering the last lap of Friday night's 250-miler for Trucks. The stick bore a yellow flag, displayed just seconds after the white, that froze the field and prevented Busch from pouncing.
So Sauter, who'd been spun while leading the last lap of this race last year, held on at the front this time to win.
"We came so close a year ago, and that was a tough one to swallow," Sauter told Speed reporters in Victory Lane. On Friday night, justice came sweeping back so fast, so late -- mainly in the form of a huge push to the front by fellow Toyota driver Todd Bodine -- that Sauter was astounded.
"I thought we were in big trouble when we were about 14th with 30 to go," Sauter said. "I thought, 'Man, we're just not going to be able to get there.'"
Along came Bodine, and "Todd did a great job and quite frankly helped me win this race," Sauter said. But at the very end, "I just felt like I had a better shot with the 51 [Busch] behind us "
Sauter gave Toyota its 100th Truck series win, and seventh in a row at Daytona.
For Busch, this was his third second-place finish here in Trucks.
"We'd have had a really good day if it was a 100-lap race," Busch said, "but it was only 99 today. Man, I hate how that happens "
Hornaday wanted to know what Busch would have done to get around Sauter had the race finished under green.
"I'll show you next year," Busch said. "I can't tell you. If I tell you, guys are going to know what to expect.
"I had a plan. The plan was about ready to take place, then a caution came out."