Danica Patrick took the Daytona 500 pole, Jimmy “5 Time” Johnson won on a racetrack that generally hates him, and the DRIVE4COPD 300 Nationwide Series kickoff sent an engine into the stands. That is how the historic opening week of NASCAR 2013 went into the record books. Running in her first full season this year, just about everything that Danica Patrick does will mark history. She was the first female driver ever to win the pole for the Daytona 500, and finished a very respectable eighth on the day, another record as the highest finish for a female driver in Daytona 500 history.
Unfortunately, the DRIVE4COPD 300 Nationwide race will probably be more remembered for the spectacular final lap crash that sent car parts and other debris over a twenty-two foot high safety fence into the stands. At least 28 fans were injured, some treated on site and others at a nearby hospital. Reigning Sprint Cup champ Brad Keselowski got caught up in the wreck, as did Nationwide drivers Kyle Larson and Brian Scott, and Tony Stewart survived the 12 car collision to win the race.
A wreck also helped dictate the outcome of the Daytona 500 on Sunday, and Stewart was not that lucky this time around. Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne, Kevin Harvick, Juan Pablo Montoya, Tony Stewart, Brad Keselowski, and Kurt Busch were involved in a huge wreck on lap 32. That proved to be great news for the #48 car of Johnson, who had only a couple of laps before taken over the lead after several cars made pit stops. Car crashes and the fickle finger of fate always have their hand in deciding the winner of the Daytona 500, and that was the case Sunday. Previous to taking the lead, Jimmie Johnson had been running right in the middle of those same drivers involved in the Big One which always makes an appearance at Daytona.
Next up in the Sprint Cup Season is the Subway Fresh Fit 500 run on the Phoenix International Raceway (PIR) in Avondale, AZ on March 3 at 3 PM EST. And it is a safe bet that the Vegas odds on Danica Patrick to win will not start off this week at 125 to 1 like they did before she won the Daytona 500 poll. Jimmie Johnson has built some good momentum heading to a track that he already runs well, and the same could be said for Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick before they got tangled up in the Daytona 500 wreck. Mark Martin is a grizzled veteran who also tends to do well at Phoenix, and he just posted a third place finish at Daytona.
Ryan Newman also runs good at PIR, and he just chalked up a number five finish in his #39 Chevy at Daytona. Clint Bowyer and the #15 Toyota finished just out of the Top 10 at the Daytona 500, but his car and race team like Phoenix, so he should be in the mix on the newly reconfigured Phoenix track layout with 9 to 11 degree banking in the turns. Compared to the drastic 31 degree banking at Daytona, the Subway Fresh Fit 500 will be like running on flat road, and the Vegas odds on NASCAR drivers are sure to reflect the emergence of the new Gen 6 cars as well.