Stewart, Newman finish in top 10; Patrick also shines
Welcome back to Daytona International Speedway.
On NASCAR’s biggest stage, multiple members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family shined the brightest.
There was Tony Stewart, getting back to his high-finishing ways by placing second. There was Ryan Newman getting his eighth top-10 of the year and first since Pocono.
And yes, there was Danica Patrick, running in the top 10 on a track where she made history earlier this season before finishing 14th.
A roundup on the Coca-Cola Racing Family in order of how they finished at Daytona:
Tony Stewart (No. 14)
Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet
Recap: What a bounce back for the veteran, who has been streaky this entire season. Following a span of four consecutive top-10s, three of which were top-fives, Stewart had finished 20th or worse for two consecutive races. At Daytona, where he’d won the summer race four of the past eight years, Stewart finished second to winner Jimmie Johnson, vaulting up six points in the standings as a result. He held on through a green-white-checkered restart for his fourth top-five of the year.
Quotable: “I didn’t get as good a restart as I wanted, but I think it kind of worked to our favor. It got Clint (Bowyer) a little bit ahead of me and it got Kevin (Harvick) a little bit ahead of Jimmie (Johnson). That let Jimmie and me both tuck down to those two guys and get going. Kurt Busch gave us a really good push from behind there and that got us back to getting Jimmie the shove he needed. It got us far enough ahead to where we could worry about racing him. It was definitely a good points night. If you can’t win, you always want to run second.”
His standing: Stewart is 10th in the standings with 499 points.
Outlook: Being in the top 10 gives Stewart an automatic entry into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field, for now. He’s also in fine position to earn a Wild Card spot, which is given to two drivers in standings 11-20 and determined by number of wins. There’s absolutely no reason for ‘Smoke’ to feel comfortable, though. One bad showing could knock him out of the picture completely with eight races to go before NASCAR’s postseason field is set.
Ryan Newman (No. 39)
Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet
Recap: Newman moved up to 16th in the points standings with his 10th-place showing at Daytona. On the heels of his fifth-place effort in the season-opening Daytona 500, it was a great year at the 2.5-mile superspeedway for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series veteran.
Quotable: “The best part of that finish was that we were able to get a top-10, which means that fans can get a free Bloomin’ Onion at Outback Steakhouse on Monday just by saying my name. Honestly, other than that, I don’t have much to say. I’m glad we got a top-10 for Outback Steakhouse, but I hate that we destroyed another race car on the final lap. That just seems to be the norm for us when it comes to restrictor-plate racing.”
His standing: Newman is 16th in the standings with 482 points.
Outlook: Newman is out of the postseason picture for now, but don’t count him out. Long regarded as a boom-or-bust driver, Newman has the potential to get at least one win this season. In fact, his best chance might be this week. The No. 39 team has momentum coming off a strong Daytona run and heads to Loudon, where Newman’s average finish at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in the past eight years is 14.1, which is tied for ninth-best among 49 drivers who have competed at the trick. He won at Loudon in 2011 and has six top-10s in the last seven races there.
Danica Patrick (No. 10)
Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet
Recap: It was tough for Patrick to follow her historical showing at the season-opening Daytona 500, where she became the first woman to win the Coors Light Pole for the Great American Race. Still, Patrick tried. And her 14th-place effort on the heels of qualifying 11th was her fourth-best showing of the year, despite helping start a massive wreck on the final lap.
Quotable: “Well, a green-white-checkered finish is always exciting. (Dale Earnhardt) Junior and I had a good run through the middle and then up high around (Turn) 4. And I just watched the replay. It felt like I ran just along the wall but it could have been me that came down in front of the No. 38 (Dave Gilliland). It definitely wasn’t what I was trying to do at all. So, if that’s what happened, then I definitely apologize. I lost spots doing it. All in all, it was a solid day. I felt like we were a little slow to get going, but I felt like we made the car better and I felt like I figured out some things in the car that helped.”
Her standing: Patrick is 25th in the standings with 343 points.
Outlook: From a track she loves to a track she’s never raced on, Patrick will again rely on her team and testing. One good thing about New Hampshire Motor Speedway -- although it’s nearly twice as long as Martinsville Speedway, it’s configured similarly. And Danica finished 12th at Martinsville, her second-best showing of the season.
Greg Biffle (No. 16)
Roush Fenway Racing, Ford
Recap: Biffle was caught up in one of two last-lap wrecks and finished 17th. Given the nature of plate-racing at Daytona, he actually moved up a spot in the points standings because so many of his fellow competitors in the top 10 simply had issues earlier in the race. It was a solid finish for Biffle, considering he was in 30th through 90 (of 161) laps and was also involved in an earlier incident.
Quotable: “We had really good track position running up front and then that caution came out on that pit cycle and got us to the back and we were just stuck back there. So I decided to stay back there for a little bit while I was there and then we started working our way up and got hit off of Turn 4 and knocked the toe out. We struggled with speed a little bit the rest of the night, but we kept digging and got up there. I think we finished (17th), but didn’t get hurt bad in the points and made it through Daytona.”
His standing: Biffle is ninth in the standings with 489 points.
Outlook: Biffle is in eighth place in the standings, 17 points behind Kyle Busch and 15 points ahead of Kurt Busch. He’ll stay there if he continues to run consistently, as he has been the past few races.
Denny Hamlin (No. 11)
Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota
Recap: Hamlin was involved in two incidents Saturday, the second of which he actually caused as things continued to go wrong for the No. 11 team. The second wreck collected five additional cars, including Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon, among others.
Quotable: On his official Twitter account after the race: “Sorry to the guys involved.”
His standing: Hamlin is 26th in the standings with 338 points.
Outlook: Hamlin will still compete for top finishes and to make the Chase, but it’s difficult to imagine him having a realistic shot at the postseason. At least the next track, New Hampshire, is a good one for Denny -- and that might be an understatement. He finished second in the summer race last year and won the fall race.
Joey Logano (No. 22)
Penske Racing, Ford
Recap: Well, Logano’s streak of top-11 finishes ended in a smoky haze. The No. 22 Ford appeared to blow a right front tire on Lap 71, sending him into the high wall and bringing out the caution. Logano’s car incurred mega-damage, relegating him to a 40th-place finish -- and a four-point night.
Quotable: “I really don’t think I ran anything over and in looking it over it looks like a shoulder failure to me. I don’t know why. I haven’t seen any tire issues out here. It was a big hit, but a bigger hit in the points, really. It’s just a bummer. The Shell/Pennzoil team has done a great job all year gaining up some points. It’s just very frustrating. I was tight the whole run, but we wouldn’t expect a tire failure here, so we’ll take a better look at the tire and see what happened.”
His standing: Logano is 15th in the standings with 483 points.
Outlook: Logano has nothing but positive memories of Loudon, given it was the site of his first Sprint Cup Series win in 2009 with Joe Gibbs Racing. His average finishes there, though, is 15.3