For motorsports fans, spring unofficially begins every February as NASCAR returns with their own “Super Bowl,” the Daytona 500. This Florida racing mecca has produced thrilling races ever since the first cars hit the beaches decades ago, and between the wrecks, the big-name stars in attendance, the compelling storylines, and a wild storybook finish, the 60th running of the Daytona 500 didn’t disappoint.
The Daytona 500 always brings out big stars from racing, sports, and the silver screen, and this year was no different. From Charlize Theron to Peyton Manning to NASCAR fan-favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr., the pre-race festivities were packed with celebrities.
But you don’t tune into the Daytona 500 to see celebs wave a flag or drive a pace car. You tune in to watch 40 racers battle each other and the 31-degree banked turns at speeds of over 200 MPH for 500 miles.
It’s a grueling challenge for even the most seasoned driver, and this year, the seasoned drivers were far and few between. This year’s Daytona 500’s starting field set a record for the youngest average driver age at just over 34. To make things even crazier, nearly half the field was under 30, with a few too young to even celebrate a win with a beer.
Of course, the field did have some seasoned veterans like Jimmie Johnson, the Busch brothers, Kevin Harvick, and Danica Patrick, running in her final Daytona 500. Unfortunately, most of the veterans were caught up in accidents over the course of the race, prompting future hall of famer Jimmie Johnson to criticize just how hard the young guns were racing for stage wins.
The youth and inexperience around him may have cost Jimmie Johnson another Daytona 500 victory, but for the rest of us, it provided one heck of a race.
Veteran racers know how to do restrictor plate races…settle in, find your groove, and be patient. The young kids, several in their very first Daytona 500, missed that memo and treated each stage like it was the end of the race. As fans, we were treated to longer stretches of double- and triple-wide racing than we’ve seen in years at Daytona.
Speaking of wrecks, we all know the big tracks typically have “the big one,” a wreck that decimates the field, and this year’s Daytona 500 was no different. With just 10 laps to go, William Byron spun, bringing out the yellow flag. On the restart, all hell broke loose and a massive wreck collected some of the best-known drivers – Ryan Newman, defending series champ Martin Truex Jr., and Kurt Busch.
This late wreck sent the race to “overtime,” and the sold-out speedway’s 100,000+ fans came to their feet for one of the most exciting Daytona 500 finishes in years.
On the final lap, Austin Dillon, racing in Dale Earnhardt’s legendary #3 on the 20th anniversary of Dale Sr.’s one and only Daytona 500 victory, spun Aric Almirola to win the 60th running of the Daytona 500.
The Intimidator had to smile at that finish.