Denny Hamlin’s Most Excellent Day At Daytona

NASCAR prides itself on being unlike any other major American sport. Fact is, it’s right. Example? Consider this:

  • You win the Super Bowl, you go to Disneyland.
  • You win the World Series, you go to Disneyland.
  • You win the Stanley Cup, you go to Disneyland.
  • You win the NBA Finals, you go to Disneyland.
  • You win the Daytona 500, you … go to Atlanta with everyone else.

Not that there’s anything wrong with Atlanta, although I can’t say I greatly enjoyed walking around downtown the couple of times I’ve been there (never have made it out to Atlanta Motor Speedway, alas). Rather, it points out how NASCAR is the only sport that opens its season with its biggest single event. More people at the end of the year will remember who won the Daytona 500 than won the Sprint Cup. This year it’s Denny Hamlin for the former. The latter will be determined the same month we decide who the next President will be. Speaking of such, what are the odds of Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders making an appearance at a NASCAR race this year in an effort to convince folk they’re fellow down-home folk? ‘Twould be a sight to see. But I digress.

Today’s Daytona 500, which if you think of it is a bit redundant as there won’t be one any other day for a year, was a mercifully quieter affair than we’ve seen in recent races. No Big One, people for the most part kept their cool, and the last lap thrills came from who won rather than who’s upside down and/or on fire. Which is all you can ask from restrictor plate racing. Tide us over until the schedule sings the sweet short track happy blues.

Denny Hamlin proved (again) he’s pretty good at this restrictor plate thing, dumping Matt Kenseth like a hot potato on the last lap, pinching Kenseth off to where throwing a block was impossible, and then eking out the win over Martin Truex Jr. Before that it was trying to avoid the slip sliding away combining a hot track and this year’s car created. When you’ve got Dale Earnhardt Jr. doing a solo spin, you know it’s slicker than a promise in the year of election. (One can never have too many U2 references.)

The day was noticeable more for who didn’t finish well, or at all, than who did. Chase Elliott fell victim to the pathological inability of most tracks hosting NASCAR events to hire a groundskeeper, thus forcing drivers to cut the grass themselves. Seriously, as long as these cars have splitters, lose the green stuff and slap on some extra pavement so we’ll stop losing cars that nine times out of eight could gather themselves up and re-enter the fray. Rumor has it people who attend races prefer this over a local attempt to recreate Butchart Gardens. Later on in the day, Danica Patrick and Greg Biffle took the foot fight concept to a whole new level, fried chicken and fig bars flying through the air. Along with Danica. Quite fortunately, her car stayed perpendicular when briefly airborne, as the front end could have easily have dipped just a bit, caught the aforementioned grass, and … yeah.

Ah well. It’s done and everyone is in one piece. On to Atlanta.

Photo Credit:  Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
Photo courtesy NASCAR Media