Wow. As Jeff Gordon was involved in a lap 174 crash that relegated him to a 30th place finish, I practically cried. Come on, it's the biggest race of the year. However, as Darrell Waltrip called Michael Waltrip's last few laps to his Daytona 500 victory, his first in 463 starts, I almost cried again. I'm still in shock. I'll say it again: Wow.
Gordon raced in the top 5 to top 15 for the first 50 laps, drafting with Dale Earnhardt and teammate Jerry Nadeau. He fell back, then went to the front again as a result of the new aero package.
On lap 47, Jeff
Purvis cut a tired and went into the Turn 4 wall to
bring out the first caution. Everyone made their
regular pitstops under the caution, and Gordon got
back out on the track in fifth position - a gain of
two positions from when he entered pit
On lap 47, Jeff Purvis cut a tired and went into the Turn 4 wall to bring out the first caution. Everyone made their regular pitstops under the caution, and Gordon got back out on the track in fifth position - a gain of two positions from when he entered pit road.
As the race progressed on lap 52, Gordon was shuffled out by the draft and was forced to run in the middle of the pack, which was about 20th position. Green flag stops came up on lap 101, as Gordon pitted with many of the leaders. After pit stops cycled around, Gordon was in fourth. But with Ricky Rudd drafting up behind him, Jeff soon moved into the lead for the first time on lap 106. Soon, however, Gordon was shuffled back, but regained the lead on lap 114. Again he was shuffled back, and again, he retook the lead on lap 130.
On lap 151, it was once again time for green flag pitstops. As Gordon drove into his pit he overshot his pit box, and the team had to push the car back in, costing valuable seconds. He lost a few spots, falling back to 7th. Back on the track he drafted up, but was shuffled back before he could retake the lead. Then, off of turn two on lap 174, everything went south.
Robby Gordon got into Ward Burton, who hit Tony Stewart and turned him sideways. Ward Burton was also sideways, and blocked the entired track for those cars coming up from behind, including Jeff Gordon. Stewarts car flipped through the air several times, finally coming to rest beside team mate Bobby Labonte's car. Other drivers that could not avoid the wreck included Mark Martin, Dale Jarrett, Jerry Nadeau, Steve Park, John Andretti, Terry Labonte, and Jeremy Mayfield. In all, at least 19 cars sustained damage of some sort.
"It was just a wall of cars in front of me and a lot of us didn't have anywhere to go," Jeff Gordon said. "It's going to happen with these kinds of rules, somebody can't make a mistake. The guys were putting on a heck of a show and doing a real good job, but that is going to happen if someone makes a mistake."
Gordon was able to drive his car back to the garage, but was hit on the way by John Andretti. NASCAR put out the red flag to clean up the mess, and no one could work on their cars. The DuPont team worked on the car after that to put the car on the track and make some laps, and they did. However, Gordon's car could not meet the minimum speed limit and was given a DNF to start the season.
Meanwhile, there were still about 15 cars that were race worthy. Among them were Michael Waltrip, the Earnhardt's, Ken Schrader, Sterling Marlin, Rusty Wallace, and others. Racing resumed with Michael Waltrip in the lead, being pushed by Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Behind these two, the elder Earnhardt was trying to hold Sterling Marlin's fast car at bay. For the next several laps, Waltrip held the car on the low line around the track and Dale Jr. could not make a run at him. Then, coming off of turn 4 on the last lap, Sterling Marlin tapped the rear fender of Dale Earnhardt's car sending him head on into the outside wall. He collected Ken Schrader on the way, and the two came to rest on the infield grass. Waltrip won the Daytona 500, his first ever Winston Cup victory, as his big brother Darrell called it to the line.
"I thought it was boisterous that we thought we could win this race," Waltrip said to his brother, 1989 Daytona 500 winner Darrell Waltrip, when his elder sibling was connected via radio from the FOX TV broadcast booth. "As soon as I can find Dale Jr., I'm gonna give him a kiss. You can't win this today without help and he was it."
"He had a dream he won the Daytona 500," Michael Waltrip said of his teammate, Jr.'s, well-publicized premonition. "He did -- I'm just here celebrating it."
However, the victory was bittersweet. Dale Earnhardt had to be cut out of his car, and was immediately taken to Halifax hospital where he is listed in serious condition. Dale Jr. did not stay for the celebration, instead he left for the hospital to check on his dad.
Top 5 in points after race 1: