Thursday, February 24, 2011

Roush Rewind: Daytona 500


Photo credit: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images for NASCAR
The 2011 Daytona 500 was a race that saw two of the Roush Fenway Racing's drivers (Greg Biffle & Matt Kenseth) return back to North Carolina with damaged cars, one finishing up as the race's runner-up (Carl Edwards) and the fourth driver (David Ragan) watching his hopes of winning "The Great American Race" disappear after making a costly mistake during a restart.

Once the green flag dropped on Sunday afternoon, every driver had their sights set on becoming the 2011 Daytona 500 Champion. Instead of the usual big packs of cars that are normally seen at Daytona International Speedway, it became a matter of finding the right drafting partner as "two-car tandems" became the best way to get around the newly paved racetrack. When the checkered flag waved, it was 20 year old Trevor Bayne who became the history making driver to win "The Great American Race." He is the youngest driver in NASCAR history to ever win this prestigious event.

Greg Biffle—Started: 26th. Finished: 35th.
During last year’s Daytona 500, Greg Biffle finished in the third position. The #16 3M Ford Fusion team looked to better that result this time around. Biffle took the green flag from the 26th position and was soon paired up with teammate Carl Edwards. The plan throughout most of the day was that these two would remain towards the back of the pack to avoid any potential trouble.

Under the first caution of the day, Biffle was running 40th and pitted for fuel only. On the restart, he partnered with Edwards again and the two remained in the back for a while. When the next caution flag waved, both drivers stayed out on the racetrack.  Once the green flag waved again, the duo began to move towards the front of the field. They were running 8th and 9th respectively when the third caution came out. Biffle made a pit stop for two tires, fuel and would have to restart in 15th position. He was then paired up with one of his other Roush Fenway teammates Matt Kenseth.

Biffle and Kenseth made their way through the pack trying to avoid the three-wide and four-wide racing by riding in the middle of the pack. However, they were unable to avoid the multi-car incident that unfolded just a few laps later. The damage to the #16 3M Ford Fusion was enough to send Biffle to the garage for repairs. The right side of the car was heavily damaged along with the radiator which had to be replaced.

On lap 46, Biffle was able to return to the track. In the following 90 or so laps saw Biffle pushing one of his teammates at some point. On lap 135, Biffle was pushing teammate Matt Kenseth when Kenseth had to check up suddently to avoid getting into Logano. Biffle couldn’t check up as fast and got into Kenseth, which turned him into the wall, effectively ending Kenseth’s day. Just a handful of laps later, Biffle and the #42 Target Chevrolet of Juan Pablo Montoya made contact which sent Biffle into the wall. At this point, Biffle's day ended early due to the further damage to his car.  He is currently 32nd in the standings and 33 points behind the current points leader. 

Matt Kenseth—Started: 9th. Finished: 34th.
It was approximately two years ago Matt Kenseth and his crew won the Daytona 500.  After a disappointing and winless season last year, the #17 Crown Royal Black Ford Fusion team looked to kick off the 2011 season with a win. Kenseth started ninth on the grid and in no time at all was running up front. Just like every other driver, Kenseth had to find help in the draft and that help came in the form of the #29 Budweiser Chevrolet Impala of Kevin Harvick. These two drivers had worked well together during the first Gatorade Duel on Thursday and on the chemistry proved to be no different during this race.  By the second lap of the race, Kenseth pushed Harvick to the lead.

Kenseth stayed out under the first caution of the day and made a fuel-only stop under the caution which  came out shortly after the first few laps. Harvick pitted with Kenseth so they could get hooked up again on the restart. Kenseth restarted 20th and was looking to once again work with Harvick. However, six laps after the restart, Harvick had engine problems and his day ended early. As a result, Kenseth lost his drafting partner.

Under the caution that resulted from Harvick’s blown engine, Kenseth pitted for right side tires and fuel. He restarted 17th; however, shortly after the restart a multi-car incident unfolded in turns 3 and 4. Kenseth was caught up in the melee which caused right side and left rear damage to his car. He immediately began to fill his crew in on the damage over the radio stating the right-front suspension and the steering were off. Kenseth pitted multiple times under the caution so his crew could make repairs. Surpisingly, he didn’t have to go to the garage but did return to the track with a car that was still pretty damaged.

Following the restart, Kenseth reported the car was slow since he had no drafting help but otherwise it drove fine. Due to the lack of drafting, on lap 44 Kenseth went down a lap; however, he gained it back on lap 47 due to a caution flag. He made a pit stop for four tires, fuel, and more repairs. On the restart, Kenseth informed his crew that car was chattering the tires. Once again, another caution came out and the team tried to repair the damage.

Eventually, the lack of grip combined with the damage to the car had Kenseth fighting for position from that point on. During a restart on lap 129, Kenseth and teammate Biffle planned to work together. It went well until lap 135 when Kenseth had to check up for Logano in front of him. He received a nudge from Biffle that sent the #17 3M Ford Fusion into the wall. Kenseth’s day was over at that point and he left accepting a 34th place finish. He is currently 31st in the standings and 32 points behind the current points leader. 

David Ragan—Started: 34th. Finished: 14th.
The 2011 season could prove to be a pivotal year for David Ragan. With a lot of talk that his ride at Roush Fenway Racing is in jeopardy(recently it was announced his contract with RFR has been extended to 2014), he needed a great showing on Sunday to prove that he could earn his keep. Ragan qualified 34th for the Daytona 500 thanks to the second Gatorade Duel on the Thursday; however, he crashed his primary car on the last lap of that race and was forced to pilot a backup car. The #6 UPS Ford Fusion took the green flag from the back of the field.

In the early laps of the race, Ragan quickly teamed up with the #9 Stanley Ford Fusion piloted by Marcos Ambrose. The two had discussed a strategy to work together during practice earlier that weekend. Under the second caution of the day, Ragan pitted for adjustments and fuel. He restarted 33rd since some drivers had stayed out and Ambrose continued to work with him. Under the caution brought out by the #29 (blown engine), Ragan pitted again for fuel. On that following restart, Ragan hooked up with the one driver who would prove to be instrumental in getting the duo to the front. His new drafting partner was the #21 Motorcraft Ford /Quick Lane Ford Fusion piloted by Trevor Bayne. By the time the next caution came out, they were running in the top five.

Ragan made a pit stop for left side tires and fuel on lap 77 but was forced to pit again because the team was worried they hadn’t gotten the fuel tank completely full. Making the extra stop caused Ragan to be separated from Bayne on the restart. His new drafting partner was teammate Greg Biffle, who had returned to the track in a damaged car. The two worked together for a while before pit stops separated them. On lap 108, Ragan made a stop for right side tires and fuel under caution. On the restart he had help from another teammate, Carl Edwards. At some point during the next run, something caused a hole to form in the nose of the Ragan's car but he reported that it wasn’t affecting the handling. During the next pit stops, the crew put tape on the nose of the car and sent Ragan back out on the track. Finally, during a pit stop on lap 160 Ragan was reunited with Bayne once again.

Ragan and Bayne paired up and stuck together until there were just two laps remaining in the race. The caution came out on lap 197 of the 200 lap race, resulting in a green-white-checkered finish attempt. Ragan was the leader for the restart and Bayne fell in line behind him. A multi-car accident happened behind them just after the restart. As a result, this meant that there would be another attempt for a green-white checkered finish.

Perhaps the win in the Daytona 500 would have meant more to Ragan than anyone could have ever known. Unfortunately, fate threw a cruel curveball in the form of a black flag against Ragan on the final restart. He had changed his line on the restart well before the start/finish line causing NASCAR to penalize him. He was forced to make a pass-through penalty on pit road and restarted in the 15th position. This resulted in Ragan finishing 14th and is currently sitting 13th in the points standings.  He is 11 points behind the current points leader.

Carl Edwards—Started: 22nd. Finished: 2nd.
The #99 Aflac Ford Fusion started Sunday’s race from the 22nd position. Carl Edwards found a drafting partner in teammate Greg Biffle. The two had worked well together in the second Duel on Thursday so it was only logical they work together for the Daytona 500. Edwards was able to avoid the multi-car incident that collected Biffle early in the race.

Edwards pitted under the caution brought out by that incident for four tires and fuel. On the restart, he worked with the #4 Red Bull Toyota Camry piloted by Kasey Kahne.  Once Greg Biffle returned to the track, Edwards planned to stick with him despite the fact that his teammate was multiple laps down in a damaged car. When Biffle’s day ended after another incident, Edwards had to find another drafting partner. Halfway through the race, Edwards was running in the top five being pushed by the #56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota Camry piloted by Martin Truex, Jr. However, with all the cautions and pit strategies coming into play, Edwards ran anywhere from the top five all the way to mid-pack. With 20 laps to go, Edwards once again teamed up with Kahne; however, a brake rotor broke on Kahne’s car just a few laps later which brought out a caution. Edwards couldn’t avoid the rotor and ran it over cutting down a tire.

Fortunately, Edwards was able to pit for four tires and remained on the lead lap. He restarted 24th and once again found himself being pushed by Truex, Jr. Edwards was able to avoid the multi-car incident on lap 197, and was up to 11th for the first green-white-checkered attempt.  For the second attempt, Edwards was lined up 10th. Once the green flag dropped, it became one of those “where’d he come from?” moments as Edwards rocketed to second place coming off turn four on the last lap with help from the #34 Taco Bell Ford Fusion piloted by David Gilliland. Despite an impressive late race charge, Edwards fell short of claiming the victory as he took the checkered flag in the second position. Ironically, he is currently the points leader due to the new points system that was put into the place by NASCAR at the beginning of the year.

Race Winner—Trevor Bayne
In a race that had a record 16 cautions and broke the record for lead changes, it was only fitting that the winner also break a record himself as the youngest driver to ever win the "Great American Race." Congratulations to Trevor Bayne and the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing team on their astonishing victory!

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