Imagine driving more than three hours and having the race be decided by half the length of a ruler.
That’s how Denny Hamlin woke up Monday morning as a Daytona 500 champion and Martin Truex Jr. woke up a second place finisher. Here are some other slightly less obvious winners (and a loser or two) from the Great American Race.
Win: Toyota Racing Development
Hamlin probably had the best car Sunday and won the race. Truex Jr.’s first Toyota run was impressive, and his team looks ready to expand. Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch easily could have won; even Carl Edwards hung around at one of his worst tracks. The result gives JGR its first 500 in two decades and Toyota its first 500 ever. That’s a pretty good day.
Plus, the Summer of Gibbs could easily have a Spring of Gibbs sequel, and I would be floored if Truex Jr. didn’t win a race or two before Memorial Day. That was quite the start to this 2016 Sprint Cup season for TRD.
Joey Logano was the only Ford in the top 10. The best Jack Roush Racing car finished 22nd, and Ryan Blaney ended 19th even though he ran better than that during much of the 500. Logano and Keselowski are virtual locks to make the Chase. Maybe Aric Almirola qualifies on points, and perhaps Ryan Blaney wins a race. Still, Sunday wasn’t the sprinting out of the gates open any Ford team wanted.
Draw: Chase Elliott
Let’s start with the bad. Elliott went from the pole to finishing 37th. By the way, did you notice three of NASCAR’S most popular drivers (Danica Patrick, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Chase Elliott) finished together in the field? Whoa.
For Elliott, that is the good news. Look at his entire Daytona Week. He won the pole. He ran well in the Can-Am Duel. He won the Nationwide Series race with a smart move. Fans cheered the tar out of him on Sunday.
Rookies struggle. Elliott will this year, and I think anyone assuming a Chase run for him are overly optimistic. The tools are there, and I trust Rick Hendrick will give Elliott the necessary time to mature that he didn’t give Kyle Busch a decade ago.
Breathe deeply Sprint Cup fans; NASCAR moves north to Atlanta, where speeds could still approach 200. Enjoy the afterglow of the Great American Race, and insert a random catchphrase here.