5 Lessons Learned at the Daytona 500

By Jared Turner

The Verdict Is Out NASCAR’s New Stage Format

Sunday’s Daytona 500 was the first full premier race broken down by segment, on the basis of NASCAR’s new enhanced race format introduced for the sport’s top three series prior to the 2017 season. While some observers suggest that dividing races into stages — all of which pay points at their respective conclusion — makes wrecks more likely to occur, there is no empirical evidence to support this kind of cause and effect. In fact, many drivers completely refuted this theory at Daytona, saying that the presence of segments was not to blame for the many wrecks, but claiming that most of the wrecks were simply a product of restrictor-plate racing.

The Racing At Daytona Is Out Of Control

The racing at Daytona International Speedway is some of the most intense and electrifying that you’ll find on the NASCAR schedule. But what we saw on Friday, Saturday and Sunday was nothing short of insanity. People who attend NASCAR events don’t spend their hard-earned money to watch a demolition derby. They pay to watch a race. The lone fact that 35 of 40 cars incurred some form of damage in Sunday’s Daytona 500 (we won’t even get into all the carnage in the truck and XFINITY races) should be enough to convince NASCAR that a change to the rules package for both Daytona and sister track Talladega is necessary.

Fuel Mileage Still Matters

When NASCAR implemented the new race format for 2017, it was widely thought that the days of fuel-mileage race were long gone. Think again. In Sunday’s Daytona 500, three of the four drivers who held the lead in the last four laps came up short on fuel, setting the stage for Kurt Busch to seemingly come out of nowhere to score the victory. Particularly devastating was the plight of pole-sitter and second-year driver Chase Elliott, who appeared to be on his way to his first career victory before running out of gas with three laps to go. A similar fate then awaited Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson.

It’s Still Better To Be Lucky Than Good

If you look at the drivers who were on most folks’ shortlist of favorites to win Sunday’s Daytona 500, you’ll find one notable absence: The guy standing in Victory Lane at day’s end. Despite being winless throughout his career at both Daytona International Speedway and sister track Talladega Superspeedway, and despite not flexing a ton of muscle throughout most of Speedweeks 2017, Busch was out front when it mattered most — at the checkered flag. Even though Busch unquestionably went out and earned the win, you’d be hard-pressed to say he had the fastest car on Sunday. Whatever Busch may have lacked in speed, he had in old-fashioned good luck.

Dale Jr. Can Withstand A Hit

A collective holding of the breath came over Daytona International Speedway and viewers everywhere Sunday afternoon when Dale Earnhardt Jr., back after missing the last half of 2016 with a concussion, was swept up in a wreck triggered by a sudden tire failure on Kyle Busch’s car. Junior, whose No. 88 suffered heavy damage in the incident, followed NASCAR’s new protocol that requires all drivers eliminated from competition by way of wrecking to report to the infield care center for a mandatory health evaluation. Junior passed the screening on Sunday at one of NASCAR’s notoriously most dangerous tracks — clearly a good sign for both his short-term and long-term health situation.