Race #1 – Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway
It may have taken nearly 12 hours to complete, but at the end of a long and arduous Sunday, NASCAR fans were rewarded with one of the most memorable Daytona 500’s in history. Dale Earnhardt Jr. captured his second-career win in the “Great American Race” – his last coming in 2004 – and with it has locked himself into the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship only one week into the season.
More importantly (at least to us here at New Hampshire Motor Speedway), he’s put himself atop the Magic Mile Power Rankings to kick off the 2014 season. But while there is little debate who should be on top, the rest of the top 10 can certainly be discussed and debated. So have it, fans! As always, we would love to know what you think.
Here's a look at the Magic Mile Power Rankings heading into Race 2 at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday:
1. Dale Earnhardt Jr. – The six hour and 22 minute wait certainly put a damper on the initial excitement of the new NASCAR season. But having Earnhardt not only win the Daytona 500 – on the day his father’s legendary No. 3 made its return to the track – but lock up a spot in the Chase was the ultimate storybook ending for Junior Nation. Now, what does he do for an encore?
2. Denny Hamlin – The FedEx Toyota was as good during speedweeks as any in NASCAR. His win in the Sprint Unlimited and Gatorade Duel gave him an opportunity at becoming the first driver to ever sweep speedweeks, but his second-place finish on Sunday night prevented an opportunity to enter the history books. Of course, the way he’s driving, he has his sights on a different kind of history.
3. Brad Keselowski – The 2013 season was one to forget for the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion. It looks like Mr. Twitter has put his rough championship defense behind him, though, as he was super-fast at Daytona and certainly had a car that could have easily coasted into victory lane.
4. Jimmie Johnson – While he did lead 15 laps, this was another prime example of what makes Six-Time so good and yet such an irritant to his detractors. Johnson never really seemed like a threat or had a dominant car, but in the end there he was, checking off his first top-five of the season.
5. Matt Kenseth – One of only two drivers in the top 10 to finish the race in a lower position than where they started, Kenseth ran a strong race, placing a strong sixth after starting the race in third. Time will tell if the disappointment of falling short of his second championship will weigh on the veteran or if the internal competition will motivate him as he enters his second year at Joe Gibbs Racing.
6. Greg Biffle – The amount of speed Biff showed on Sunday, and throughout speedweeks, was impressive given how poorly Roush Fenway Racing tested at the 2.5-mile trioval in the offseason. It’s clear they found something over at RFR with Biffle setting the pace for eight laps and finishing just behind Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
7. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – He didn’t lead any laps on Sunday, but it was a great day nonetheless for the sophomore Cup pilot. Starting 34th, Stenhouse finished the race in seventh, scoring a top-10 in the first race of the year. That’s a good sign given he didn’t record his first top-10 until the last race of the regular season in 2013.
8. Austin Dillon – It wasn’t a perfect debut for the driver of the No. 3 for Richard Childress Racing. Yet, anytime you can score a top-10 then you’re doing something right. Dillon started the race on the pole and finished the race in ninth, which isn’t too shabby considering he found himself in the middle of three different multi-car wrecks – each he exited unscathed.
9. Jeff Gordon – The guy finishes fourth in the Daytona 500 and he’s ninth in the MMPR? Well, looking at his run as a whole, it was an average day for Gordon. No one should be punished for being in the right place in the right time, but in this case that’s exactly what it was. Props to Gordon, though, for pushing Junior to the front on the last restart.
10. Joey Logano – This was a tough choice, as Casey Mears placed 10th, recording his second straight top-10 at Daytona, while Kyle Busch led 19 laps and had a strong car all race, but his 19th-place finish wasn’t good enough for the MMPR. So, let’s give it to Logano, who hung around all day/night, led a pair of laps and placed 11th.
Wave Around: Paul Menard – He finished the race 16 laps down in 32nd place, yet the 27 team has a lot to be excited about out of the gates.
*This list is comprised of drivers that compete in the Sprint Cup Series on full-time basis.