Daytona Beach, FL
Winner: Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Even though he had to start from the back due to an engine replacement, he quickly moved to the front taking the lead for the first time on lap 18 in a swooping move. He seemed to be able to drive anywhere on the 2.5 mile high-banked Daytona International Speedway. With two wins in one week he’s certainly back as a contender and perhaps the leading contender to repeat his 2004 win.
Loser: Kurt Busch - This former Sprint Cup champion had an electrical problem in the Miller Lite Dodge which dropped him out of the race on lap nine. Although he’s locked in he will have missed an excellent opportunity to practice for Sunday’s race.
Winner: Car of Tomorrow - The much maligned new car, which proved to be a handful on Thursday, actually made for better racing, at least from the press box and television. Earnhardt admitted it’s a hard car to drive but “honestly, it has to look great on TV. It’s harder to drive, but aren’t we supposed to work harder. It sure is a handful in the car and it sure reminds me of old-style race cars.”
Winner: Brian Vickers With a deft save to keep his Red Bull Toyota Camry off the wall in turn two early in the race. He held together coming back to earn a starting position for the 50th running of the Daytona 500.
Winner: Joe Nemechek - Although he was Kenny Wallace’s teammate (and trying to race into the big event) he chose not to race Brian Vickers for position because he was already locked in. Pretty decent of this guy not to force the issue for just one spot on the grid.
Loser: Sterling Marlin. Winner here in ’94 and ’95, the 50 year-old, co-incidentally the same age as the race, failed to qualify.
Loser: French Canadian drivers - Jacques Villeneuve & Patrick Carpentier - Villeneuve, a World Champion in Formula One, and an Indy 500 winner, found the high banks of Daytona very unfriendly. He got loose, in turn four, when running near John Andretti then went low and then up into an unlucky Jamie McMurray and Dario Franchitti. Jacques had to race his way into the race. Now, he will have to go home, and worse, he still needs substantial sponsorship to continue. He had been running as high as 11th shortly before the accident.
Countryman, Patrick Carpenter, fought an evil-handling car which put his Dodge in the wall to end his shot at a debut in the Daytona 500.
Losers: Bill Elliott and the Wood Brothers. The former Cup Champion and NASCAR pioneers didn’t make the race on speed or the Duels. This is only the third time in the 50-year history of the Great American race that won’t have a Wood Brothers car (1960 & 1962 they didn’t make it.) They’ve won here four times, the last coming in 1976. Elliott, driving for a different team a the time, won the race in 1985 and 1987.
Winner – Dale Jarrett will start his 20th Daytona 500 thanks to fine teamwork of the Michael Waltrip Team. “Michael gave me a lot of good pushes,” said DJ, winner here in 1993, 1996, and 2000, but “we were good enough to make it even without it.”
Winner – John Andretti - a decision to take four tires on the final caution put the veteran in the field and it was a little sweet revenge on the BAM team which let him go in a last-minute preseason decision to put Ken Schrader in the car, but Schrader did not make the race making him a loser. It ended a 23-year streak of 500s for Schrader.
Winners: Denny Hamlin and the FedEx Toyota – Joe Gibbs Racing’s Hamlin gave Toyota its’ first Cup race win, although it was not a points race.
Winner: The very strong run of Reed Sorenson - the under the radar, but senior, driver at Target Chip Ganassi Racing resulting in a second-place behind Earnhardt, Jr.