With the conclusion of Sunday’s Daytona 500, there are many storylines that unfolded throughout the race. Three of them though are not often mentioned and deserve their own sort of respect. Three teams with three unique different approaches and three different drivers all made an impact on not only the race itself, but their entire approach for the season.
NASCAR is a brutal sport financially, with teams entering and exiting from the sport itself, with so much money going into a long season, and sponsorship fueling the passion for the sport. With a new year comes new opportunity and the ability for these teams to emerge from the back of the grid to the spotlight of the sport.
Danica Patrick may have finished in 8th position, but the drivers surrounding her come from obscure backgrounds, and their finishing positions have a huge impact on the season outlook for the season. Finishing 7th was Regan Smith for James Finch Racing, a single-car operation with a restrictor plate racing win under its belt already. Smith is looking to get back to victory lane and make a name for himself, as the young driver has a lot of potential and drives with a lot of poise.
Smith showed the quality of equipment that Finch is able to provide, and already has half the top ten finished Kurt Busch had in the same car last season. For a team with sponsorship issues, usually created by Finch’s sporadic hiring decisions, this purse and publicity will enable growth and a bit of stability neither owner nor driver expected coming into Speedweeks.
Behind Patrick in 9th was journeyman driver Michael McDowell who’s up and down career continues to show flashes of a driver that belongs with a top quality team. This victory means more for Phil Parsons Racing than it does anything else, as the team is all but guaranteed to be in the top 35 in points after five races. The team, which has seemingly gone through more ownership changes than it has full races, looks to earn a full season of sponsorship after securing a top 35 in points. This is surely a better start than anyone could see coming, and sponsors Mike Curb and KLOVE radio could not be happier.
Wrapping up the top 10 was almost-forgotten J.J Yeley whose career has seen a substantial drop in equipment quality, and is looking to climb his way back up the ranks with an emerging team. Tommy Baldwin Racing has seen spurts of success since entering the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series fray in 2009. There is enough success and consistent sponsorship that Baldwin feels comfortable including a second car in more races, running two cars in four races for the 2013 season. For a rather new team, the success has all been earned, with this top ten only aiding in the growth of Tommy Baldwin Racing. Baldwin’s passion for the sport is refreshing, and hopefully this is one of many top ten’s for the team this year.
Anything can happen at the Daytona 500, and that was confirmed today. Three of the top ten drivers are names not typically found on top of the scoring pylon, and it appears once again that Daytona has acted as a springboard for underdog teams. As the year continues, ideally these drivers and teams will continue to find success, and the level of competition will continue to increase in NASCAR for 2013.
Follow Mike Guzman on Twitter @Mike486