1. Ryan Sieg (No change) – Three top-10’s in four races for Ryan Sieg Racing, averaging a finish of 7.8 and an average running position of 11.3. At this point last year, was averaging a 24.3 finish. Sieg seems poised for a run toward playoff contention and potentially his first Xfinity win. Also poised to jump right out of the underdog category.
  2. Ross Chastain (No change) – Excluding season-opening 13th place finish with Kaulig Racing, Chastain has averaged a 13th place finish in Xfinity with JD Motorsports. His 27th place finish at Phoenix with Premium Motorsports in Cup nets him his first top-30 since Daytona.
  3. Brandon Brown (+2) – Averaging a 15.8 finish to open 2019, Brandonbilt Motorsports coming out of the gate fast in their first full-time effort. He grabbed his second top-15 of season at Phoenix. The question is whether this early success can translate to filling the quarter panels on the #86 going forward.
  4. Timothy Peters (No change) – Despite being off this week, Peters still holds the 4th best driver rating among the small team drivers. His three-race stint with Niece Motorsports is over but I’m just going to let him enjoy the view from the top for another week.
  5. Chris Buescher (-2) – Another solid top-20 for Buescher at Phoenix, despite a DNF at Daytona he is still averaging a 20.0 finish. His third straight top-20 has him sitting 23rd in Cup points.
  6. Matt DiBenedetto (+2) – Of all the other small team drivers in Cup, only David Ragan has completed more green flag passes, but DiBenedetto has over double the number of quality passes. His average finish of 25.8 is deceiving as he has averaged a running position of 18.5 through 4 races. A battery issue at Phoenix cost him at least a top-15 finish.
  7. Gray Gaulding (-1) – Gaulding holds tight in the top-10 after a 16th place finish at Phoenix. Has averaged 19.5 finish in first four races of season, good enough for 15th in Xfinity points.
  8. Jeremy Clements (-1) – Clements is averaging just over a top-20 finish after Phoenix, where he finished 13th. If not for the DNF at Daytona, would be hovering right below the Xfinity playoffs cut-off line.
  9. Ray Black Jr (+4) – Fresh off his second top-20 finish, Black is up to 18th in points after starting the season in 29th. In 2016, his only full Xfinity season, he finished 19th in the final Xfinity standings.
  10. Garrett Smithley (+1) – Another strong start to the season for Smithley who finds himself 17th in points. In the first four races of season he’s finished 24th, 17th, 18th and 22nd this past week in Phoenix.
  11. Ryan Preece (-2) – It was a rough Phoenix outing for Preece who managed 34th after getting turned during a restart. Has run in top-15 for over 10% of total laps run to date.
  12. David Ragan (-2) – Consistently churning out the top-25’s like last year, averaging a 24.8 finish. Has completed more green flag passes (551) than any of the other small team Cup drivers.
  13. Josh Williams (-1) – Williams had an ignition issue cost him another top-20 late in the going at Phoenix. Despite his 29th place finish, Williams is still averaging a 22.0 finish.
  14. Chad Finchum (Not ranked last week) – Has been a consistent presence in the top-25 for the three races he’s been behind the wheel of the #42. Up to 23rd points after not racing in Daytona.
  15. Brennan Poole (+1) – Stays in rankings this week on strength of his average finish (19.0) and having run 34.9% of all total laps inside of the top-15.
  16. Ty Dillon (+2) – Bounces back from a rough outing at Las Vegas with a 15th place effort in Phoenix, holding steady at 22nd in Cup points.
  17. Tyler Dippel (-2) – Stays in the rankings with an average finish in three Trucks starts of 19.0.
  18. Corey LaJoie (-1) – LaJoie nets his best finish since Daytona with a 26th place finish at Phoenix.
  19. Michael McDowell (-5) – Hard knocks all the way around for McDowell at Phoenix send him tumbling in the rankings. Since his top-5 at Daytona, he’s had no finish better than 30th despite showing speed in several of those races.
  20. David Starr (No change) – Starr stays put as the last driver in the rankings. With two top-20’s already under his belt this season, he has helped give Jimmy Means Racing one of their best starts ever to a season.

Ranks for the memories! This driver fell out of the top-20 this week: Timmy Hill (ranked 19th last week)

Las Vegas

  1. Ryan Sieg (+1)  – There’s a new sheriff in town. It appears that the addition of Shane Wilson and a new deal with ECR have more than jumpstarted the small team from Tucker, GA. Averaging a 7th-place finish over the first three races, Sieg finds himself sitting 8th in points, one of 11 drivers with 2 top-10’s to start the year. In Las Vegas, Sieg ran over 94% of his laps inside of the top-15, averaging a 12.5 running position.
  2. Ross Chastain (-1) – Chastain continued his run of good finishes in the Trucks (10th) and Xfinity (7th). Chastain was the only driver in the NGOTS field to have 100% of his passes deemed to be quality passes. Since his top-10 in Daytona 500 to start the year, his two other Cup finishes have been outside the top-30, a rare occurrence for the driver and team that averaged a 28.4 finish in 2018.
  3. Chris Buescher (+1) – Steady run up toward the top-15 in Vegas for Buescher.  Despite running 24% of race inside of the top-15 Buescher ends up finishing in 18th-place. After the DNF in Daytona, Buescher has lowered his average finish to 21.3, similar to his 2017 (21.4) and 2018 (21.0) average finishes.
  4. Timothy Peters (-1) – For the first time this year a Niece Motorsports entry failed to finish inside of the top-10. Running two-thirds of the race in the top-15 and as high as 7th-place, Peters ends up finishing in 12th. He currently sits 11th in points, 7 points out of 10th.
  5. Brandon Brown (+4) – A very solid start to 2019 for Brown, finishing 18th at Daytona, 13th in Atlanta and 17th this past weekend in Las Vegas. Brown never ran lower than 22nd the entire race, averaging a 17.6 average position. His three top-20’s to start the year matches his total number of top-20’s in 7 starts from last year.
  6. Gray Gaulding (+4) – Quietly has made his way into the top-20 in Xfinity points after three races. His 12th-place in Las Vegas was his career-best series finish, besting his pair of 13th-place finishes while racing for Jack Roush in 2016 and leading the first laps of his Xfinity career.
  7. Jeremy Clements (+7) – Since his engine issue at Daytona, Clements has managed an 18-place finish in Atlanta and a 15th last week in Las Vegas. Spending most of the race inside of the top-20, Clements gained 4 spots late, working his way back into the top-15. He finished 13th the last time the series visited Las Vegas
  8. Matt DiBenedetto (No change) – A 21st-place finish for DiBenedetto, who ran in 21st-place for almost the entire second half of the race in Las Vegas. It is the best finish of the year for the new driver/team combo.
  9. Ryan Preece (-3) A relatively quiet race for Preece given how the first two races of season played out. Managed a 25th-place finish, the same position he was in at mid-race.
  10. David Ragan (-5) – After a remarkable qualifying effort (6th) with the new format, Ragan drifted back to the top-25, eventually finishing 28th. Through three races he is averaging a finish of one position higher than at this point in 2018.
  11. Garrett Smithley (+1) – Ran around 21st for much of race but able to make a little track position up late, finishing in 18th.
  12. Josh Williams (Not ranked last week) – Much like Smithley, ran just outside of top-20 for much of race before making up 6 positions late. His 16th-place finish is a career-best for him in Xfinity.
  13. Ray Black Jr (Not ranked last week) – Probably overdue appearance on this list, but Daytona was such a snoozer, his 30th-place finish followed by a 23rd in Atlanta  kept him off the list. An 11th-place finish in Las Vegas after running the majority of race in the top-20 catapulted him up into the rankings this week.
  14. Michael McDowell (-3) – Still benefitting from his top-5 in the Daytona 500 as well as the speed he showed in Atlanta before a parts failure sent him behind the wall. His 30th-place finish in Las Vegas was hampered by a pit road penalty.
  15. Tyler Dippel (-2)Comes off his 11th in Atlanta with a 17th-place showing in Vegas, ran in the top-20 for entire second half of race.
  16. Brennan Poole (-1)A 20th-place finish for Poole after starting 8th, was in contention for a top-10 if not for a late fuel pickup issue.
  17. Corey LaJoie (+3) – Vegas recap from LaJoie on Twitter, “We had 27th place speed all weekend. We finished 27th”. I appreciate the honesty.
  18. Ty Dillon (-11)Finishes of 25th and 29th have slowly sunk him since his top-10 at Daytona.
  19. Timmy Hill (Not ranked last week) – In three Xfinity seasons with Carl Long, Hill is off to his best start averaging a 23.3 finish, almost 10 positions higher than his two previous seasons, 23rd last week in Vegas.
  20. David Starr (Not ranked last week) – Starr finally cracks the rankings after collecting his 2nd top-20 (19th) in the first three Xfinity races.

Ranks for the memories! These drivers fell out of the top-20 this week: Gus Dean (Ranked 16th last week), Corey Roper (Ranked 17th last week), Alex Labbe (ranked 18th last week), Parker Kligerman (ranked 19th last week).


  1. Ross Chastain – The only driver to have run all six of races so far between Cup, Trucks and Xfinity, Chastain has averaged a 12.8 finish across all series in the first two weekends. Chastain finished 6th with Niece Motorsports in the Truck series for his second straight top-10 and 14th with JD Motorsports in Xfinity for his second straight top-15. Even with a 31st place finish in the Cup race Premium Motorsports, Chastain easily holds on to the top spot in this week’s rankings.
  2. Ryan Sieg (+3) – With a 4th place and 11th place finishes to kick off the season, Sieg currently sits 10th in points. He averaged a 12.4 running position never falling lower than his qualifying position of 18th during the entire Xfinity race, running nearly 99% of his laps inside of the top-15. 
  3. Timothy Peters (+9) – Like his Niece Motorsports teammate, Ross Chastain, Peters has notched two top-10’s in Truck series competition to start the 2019 season. A 10th-place finish in Atlanta bounces him up to 7th in points.
  4. Chris Buescher (Not ranked last week) – After getting taken out in the first big crash of the Daytona 500, finishing 37th, Buescher rallied in Atlanta with a 9th-place finish. His 9th career Cup top-10 wasn’t a fluke, after restarting in the top-10 midway through the last stage was able to maintain his track position. Eventually had to make way back into the top-10 late after getting shuffled to 13th-place on late restart.
  5. David Ragan (+11) – Strong run for Ragan after getting taken out at Daytona while running in the top-10. One of the first drivers to find speed running near the wall, he was able to make way into the top-25 early and slowly work his way up to eventually finish in 16th. Seven positions higher than his finish in Atlanta last year.
  6. Ryan Preece (-1) – Preece was looking to collect his second straight top-10 when he ran into the back of B.J. McLeod on pit road, resulting in a 35th-place finish. Having restarted inside the top-10 with less than 100 laps left in race, he was able to hang there along with teammate Buescher, running as high as 7th.
  7. Ty Dillon (-1) After capturing his 2nd career top-10 at Daytona, Dillon finished in 25th-place in Atlanta. Hovering just outside of top-25 for much of race, Dillon found himself as one of only two drivers two laps down with little chance to make up any spots late. Was also the highest finishing driver who didn’t complete a quality pass over course of the race.
  8. Matt DiBenedetto (-5)  – DiBenedetto had contact on pit road which cause a tire rub and an unscheduled pit stop. After running within the top-25 for much of race, he ended up in 26th. With the exception of JTG Daugherty, Leavine Family Racing certainly looking like the best of the rest of the smaller teams.
  9. Brandon Brown  (Not ranked last week) – A strong Atlanta race in Xfinity for Brown catapults him up from the ranks of the unranked. Despite finishing 18th in Daytona last week, he was not ranked due to the large number of successful runs by other teams at Daytona. Brown was extremely consistent over course of entire race this past week, starting 11th, never running lower than 18th and finishing in 13th-place.
  10. Gray Gaulding (Not ranked last week) – Impressive speed from Gaulding in the second SS Greenlight entry. After starting 35th, quickly moved up toward top-20, running in an average position of 16.7 before eventually finishing in 16th.
  11. Michael McDowell (-9) McD was looking at a likely top-25 until a broken tie rod sent him behind the wall, relegating him to a 37th place finish.
  12. Garrett Smithley (Not ranked last week) – Strong 17th-place Xfinity run for Smithley who ran inside the top-20 for virtually entire race after qualifying 22nd. Electrical issues on the Cup side kept him behind the wall for many laps.
  13. Tyler Dippel (Not ranked last week) – Just missed out on his first career NGOTS top-10, nabbing 11th-place, his best finish in seven starts. Also his 5th top-15 in 7 career starts
  14. Jeremy Clements (Not ranked last week) – Clements went behind the wall early at Daytona but made the most of a top-20 starting position in Atlanta, running between 17th and 20th for virtually the entire race, eventually finishing in 18th.
  15. Brennan Poole (Not ranked last week) – After running the bulk of race inside of the top-20, able make way into the top-15 after late crash, his best NGOTS finish since his debut in 2015.
  16. Gus Dean (Not ranked last week) – Gus Dean finishes 15th for second straight week, this time he was running at the finish
  17. Corey Roper (Not ranked last week) – After crashing at Daytona while racing in the top-5, Roper bounces back with a solid 16th-place finish.
  18.  Alex Labbe (Not ranked last week) – Labbe is back(e), picks up where he left off in 2018 with another Xfinity top-20, averaged a 19.9 running position in Atlanta 
  19. Parker Kligerman (-4) – A Cup 30th-place finish and a late crash in the Truck series cost him when a potential top-25 and top-10 were up for grabs.
  20. Corey Lajoie (-2) – Ran inside of top-30 for most of Cup race despite late contact with the #34 when McDowell had his issue with tie rod, finishes 29th.

Ranks for the memories! These drivers fell out of the top-20 this week: Josh Reaume (7th last week), Spencer Boyd (8th last week), Jeff Green (9th last week), Clay Greenfield (12th last week), Austin Wayne Self (13th last week), B.J. McLeod (14th last week),  Angela Ruch (15th last week), Timmy Hill (17th last week), Joey Gase (19th last week), Bobby Gerhart (20th last week), 



  1. Ross Chastain – It’s hard to find many faults in Chastain’s three races at Daytona. With the exception of a tight squeeze late in the Xfinity race which kicked him out of the top-10 resulting in 13th place finish, Chastain’s 3rd place on Friday in the Truck series, stage win and 23 laps led in the Xfinity series followed by a top-10 in the Daytona 500 set him apart from all other drivers.
  2. Michael McDowell – Following a late penalty and a series of close calls, McDowell pushed back on expectations by not pushing Joey Logano on the last restart of the race. The decision to fight for his chance at a win rather than submissively roll over and help the larger team didn’t necessarily gain him any positions on track but certainly drew a clear line in the sand regarding the way he wants to be treated by front-runners. It is his second career Cup top-5.
  3.  Matt DiBenedetto – DiBenedetto excelled in his first race with Leavine Family Racing, leading 49 laps, more than doubling his previous career total. Each time it seemed he was going to get mired back in mid-pack he would find his way back to the top-10, then top-5, then be competing for the lead. Atlanta will be the first peak at what this team’s expectations should truly be this year.
  4. Ryan Sieg – Sieg finished in 4th place for his 4th career top-5, recording the 8th best driver rating of the NASCAR Racing Experience 300. His average running position was 9.3, running in the top-15 for 100 laps. Despite a lack of intrigue late in the Xfinity race, the quiet affair may have provided the perfect launchpad for his second shot at the playoffs.
  5. Ryan Preece – Dodging and weaving his way to the finish, Preece picks up his first career top-10 with his 8th place finish. Running mid-pack for much of race, Preece spent only 53 laps running inside of the top-15, deciding it was time to make his move with 25 laps left, quickly moving up toward the top-10. The only driver to have a lower driver rating in the top-10 was Ross Chastain, yet both had career days.
  6. Ty Dillon – It took Dillon 72 races to capture his first top-10, it only took a trip back to Daytona to capture his second. Running as high as 4th place, Dillon, much like Preece, spent the majority of race running mid-pack, his average running position during the Daytona 500 was 21.5. Despite getting a piece of two of the late crashes, the damage was minimal enough as allow him to collect his second 6th-place Daytona finish in a row
  7. Josh Reaume – After 33 starts in the Xfinity series and 28 starts in the Gander Outdoor Truck series, Reaume captured his first top-10 and led his first lap in NASCAR competition. In his own equipment, nonetheless. In a race where merely taking care of your equipment was enough, Reaume was one of nine trucks still running on the lead lap at the finish. Hands down one of the best stories of Speedweeks.
  8. Spencer Boyd – After a full season in the Xfinity series in 2018 Boyd moved back to the Truck series with Young’s Motorsports. Wearing the rookie stripes again, he managed to make keep the truck intact for his first-ever top-5 in NASCAR competition. His 4th place finish was just the third ever top-5 for the team in 165 combined starts.
  9. Jeff Green – Green had the lowest average running position (16.8) of all the top-10 finishers in the NASCAR Racing Experience 300. Only running 52 laps inside the top-15. Which means on a day when passing was limited the veteran of 29 years still had what it takes to school the younger generation in better funded equipment.
  10. Parker Kligerman – Despite getting turned by Casey Mears on the frontstretch and falling two laps down, Kligerman picked up his career-best Cup series finish. His 15th-place finish in the Daytona 500 was also the second top-15 for Gaunt Brothers Racing. All of this came on a day when the team had the third-lowest number of quality passes in the field, spending the majority of the race 2 laps down.
  11. Timothy Peters – Finishes in 7th-place for his 127th top-10 in the NGOTS/CWTS/CTS.
  12. Clay Greenfield –  Ran consistently in top-10 and as high as p2 before getting caught up in the late truck race sheet metal jamboree. Ends up in p12 after having to blindly park it.
  13. Austin Wayne Self – Collects 5th career top-10 finish, finishing p9.
  14. BJ McLeod – Would have been in great shape for a top-15 in the Daytona 500 had he not been collected at pit road entrance mid-race. Finishes p19, his career-best finish in Cup. Also had the most green flag passes (157) of any driver in the Xfinity race on the way to 27th-place finish.
  15. Angela Ruch – First-ever top-10 (p8) in second Truck start, leading 2 laps in the process.
  16. David Ragan – Was running around the top-5 in the Daytona 500 before getting swept up in the big one.
  17. Timmy Hill – Made up into top-10 late until contact on pit road relegated them to a 19th-place finish.
  18. Corey Lajoie – After an early flat tire, managed car and damage to an 18th-place finish.
  19. Joey Gase – Finishes p16, made way up into the top-15 late after running outside the top-20 for much of race.
  20. Bobby Gerhart– Oh so close to his first-ever NASCAR top-10, finishes in 11th-place.

There is a Season: One Score

The Setup

I was 13 at the time of the 1999 Daytona 500. I had never watched a full race in my lifetime with the exception of attending a few exhibition races when tickets were extremely cheap and family members would ask me to go. Despite my lack of interest in racing, my proximity to the Daytona International Speedway (living in Central Florida just north of Orlando) provided exposure to the special feel of racing at Daytona. There was something unique about this major sporting event happening almost in your own backyard, right up Interstate. Big name drivers would rush into town, setting up show cars in the parking lots of countless grocery and strip mall chains. You felt the tremendous pull of the Daytona 500, even if you didn’t attend. The first race I attended was the 1996 Busch Clash, of which I remember little. I do however remember the program that was bought for me; in fact, I still have it. The black cover commemorated 25 years of Pontiac as the official pace car of the Daytona 500. It was kind of lame, looking back, but as an 11 year old, the silver patch that came glued to the cover was something I cherished. I believe that was the last year the program included a patch on the cover. Inside of the program was an insert for Upper Deck that included one of their “Predictor” cards. If the driver on your card won the Daytona 500, you could send it in for the entire set of 10 “Predictor” cards. The driver on the card in my program was Rusty Wallace. Without watching the entire 1996 Daytona 500, I did keep tabs on Rusty in the hopes that I might just win that 10 card set. He finished 16th, I wouldn’t watch a race for another 3 years. The name and face on that card would lay dormant but would not be forgotten.

For reasons I cannot remember now, the 1999 Daytona 500 grabbed my attention. Maybe it was the leftover hype from the 1998 win for Dale Earnhardt. Maybe it’s because I had received and mastered NASCAR 99 for Nintendo 64 during the offseason. Maybe it was the way the local Orlando Sentinel went all out with its coverage of the race, including a full-page, colored rundown of the starting grid. Either way, I remember nervously pacing around my living room waiting for the start of coverage, like some expectant cartoon father-to-be in a waiting room.

Finally, it was noon. Greg Gumbel, the lead NFL play-by-play announcer, did most of the introduction and setup for the 41st Daytona 500 after a typical Daytona montage played over a dreamy, swampy slide guitar. His presence signaling a step up in the level of prestige in the event. One year after Dale Earnhardt’s win, the focus turned to the next in line to break into the Daytona 500 win column; drivers like Terry Labonte, Mark Martin, and that guy from that free card I got in 1996, Rusty Wallace.

It is Valentine’s Day and nearly 200,000 people are in attendance according to Gumbel—a crowd size three times larger than the Super Bowl, he points out.

The Early Departures

As the cars roll off the grid, we get treated to a full screen lineup run-down, announced row by row with near-equal attention to each driver. It is sorely missed. Then, we get the now jaw-dropping list of the sixteen drivers who did not make it into one of the 43 starting positions. It’s been a while since the number of drivers who didn’t make the race outnumber the car count of “the big one”. Among them are Jeff Green, David Green, Dick Trickle, Buckshot Jones, Morgan Shepherd, and Steve Grissom.

This year, two drivers had the potential to miss the race out of a field of 40. In 2015, the year before the charter system, 6 drivers failed to qualify and an additional team withdrew. After the charter system was in place, the number of qualifiers who failed to make the race were 4 in 2016, 2 in 2017, 0 in 2018.

The Broadcast

After Gumbel’s intro, we are quickly sent to pit road where drivers are heading to their cars and we get a few boilerplate statements from Dale Earnhardt, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin. I’ll combine them all to save space: “It’s been twelve months; it’s the great American race; it’s not the fastest car that has the advantage I think, it’s the best handling car; also, I have to make sure I don’t do anything stupid.”

Finally, we get a little time with Ken Squier. He quickly dives into a description 1979 Daytona 500, this being the 20th anniversary of the race that garnered so much attention for stock car racing in America.

Then, Squier breaks out that line or rather notion of “a common guy doing uncommon deeds”. That idea that any of us could break through with a little practice, a little luck, a little talent. It’s hard to find much of that sentiment in 2019.

The invocation, handled by the ecumenical Rev. Hal Marchman, a presence sorely missed over the last decade, ends with his signature “shalom and amen”. As the last syllable fades to a brief moment of silence, you can feel the gravity of the situation begin to simmer. Edwin McCain is introduced for what turns out to be a serviceable National Anthem. At last, we are thrown to the booth where Ned Jarrett, Mike Joy, Buddy Baker are waiting for the pace laps to start.

While the cars get up to temperature on this cool Daytona day, Baker reflects on winning Daytona 500 in third person, “the biggest day of Buddy Baker’s life”. The race starts out with a lengthy green flag run, the broadcast gets Buddy Baker personally involved as his record for fastest Daytona 500 appears to be in jeopardy. He earnestly brushes away the notion of resentment, asserting that he’d give up the record if it meant a safe race.

There is no denying the impact of having a Buddy Baker or Benny Parsons in the booth, they were gentle giants who married the inherent dangers of stock car racing with a light-hearted nature. At one point, Baker spots a wrapper stuck to the front of a car while viewing an on-board camera. To his delight, he exclaims: “Look at that sandwich wrapper up there on that hood pin, think it’s not getting a workout?”. To illustrate his point, he circles the wrapper using the teleprompter and we follow its journey around Daytona.

Mike Joy has essentially maintained the same father-knows-best tone over the last two decades, at one point stating, “That is one great thing about the heroes of NASCAR, none of them came out of high school to full scholarships, none of them came out of college to a million dollar signing bonus, every one of these drivers started out at a quarter mile track running Saturday nights somewhere”.

CBS would pull a 25-share for the 1999 Daytona 500 with 14.5 million viewers tuning in, making it the most-watched Daytona 500 of the 1990’s.

The Bit Players

Through much of the first three-quarters of the race, CBS takes the time to spotlight a few feelgood runs. Prior to Brett Favre waving the green flag, the booth gives a shout out to Dave Marcis who was making his 32nd consecutive Daytona 500 start, tying himself with Richard Petty for the most starts.

Early on, they show Rick Mast who was up to 12th; he would go on to run entire season without a DNF with Cale Yarborough Motorsports. They also show Jimmy Spencer unexpectedly running up near the lead draft; crew chief, Donnie Wingo, had said before the race that they changed everything they could on the car out of frustration.

We are informed that John Andretti is being pushed behind the wall with some sort of engine issue, as it happens in real-time. They get back to this story on lap 32, showing the car being pushed through the garage followed by an interview with Andretti on lap 34.

On lap 43, CBS shows an unscheduled pit stop for Ricky Craven, a rarity at any race for a team running mid-pack in 2019.

Derrike Cope is mentioned as having cut a right front tire and making an unscheduled pit stop.

After Mike Wallace pits for the first time, it is mentioned that Wallace replaced Mike Harmon mid-week in the Junie Donlavey #90 after the deal with Harmon’s sponsor Big Daddy’s BBQ completely disintegrated.

None of these storylines impact the battle for the lead or the top-10 but the intent is clear; these drivers have fans and these fans want to know what is happening to their driver. Somewhere in the last 20 years, that intent vanished.

The Culture

During the National Anthem, the broadcast shows Mark Martin, Dave Marcis and the rest of the field sitting in their cars, something we’ll won’t see again for a while. Honestly, it plays better to the enormity of the moment—one last solitary pause for reflection and peace.

In this super-charged political climate, it’s hard to imagine any Supreme Court justice being offered or agreeing to be grand marshal for stock car racing’s biggest event, but in 1999, associate Justice Clarence Thomas, donning a leather jacket, gives the command to start the engines.

The Commercials

The first commercial break of the race is on lap 11, returning to coverage on lap 14.

The second commercial break starts at lap 24, returning on lap 28.

The third commercial break lap starts at lap 35, returning on lap 38.

The fourth commercial break starts at lap 44, returning on lap 47. The pattern for commercials for first quarter of race is roughly 6-7 laps of coverage, 3-4 laps of commercials.

The fifth commercial break comes at Lap 60, returning from break on lap 64, almost 22 laps without a break.

The sixth commercial break comes at lap 71, returning from break on lap 75. On lap 81, there is an in-race shoutout to the Budweiser lizards, Louie and Frank.

As we near halfway, we are swimming in “Jag” and “Touched by an Angel” rejoins.

The seventh commercial break comes just after the first caution on lap 96, coming back for the green flag on lap 100.

The eighth commercial break comes at lap 112, returning from break at lap 114.

The ninth commercial break comes after the second caution at lap 123, returning to a green flag at lap 127. Coming back from commercial, we are treated to a promo for Cosby, King of Queens, Everybody Loves Raymond, Becker, and LA Doctors. Mike Joy half-chuckles his way through the sitcom plot explanation, “Raymond goes on a Caribbean cruise with his mother”.

The tenth commercial break comes at Lap 131, back from the break on lap 134 just before the big crash.

The eleventh commercial break comes at lap 140, returning to go back green at lap 142.

The twelfth commercial break comes at lap 150, returning to broad cast on lap 153.

The thirteenth commercial break comes at lap 161, returning to broad cast on lap 164.

The fourteenth commercial break comes at lap 170, returning just before Bobby Hamilton crashes on lap 173.

The fifteenth commercial break comes during the caution for Hamilton on lap 175, returning on lap 177.

In all, 45 laps, almost a quarter of the race, mostly under green flag conditions were missed for commercials.

The Race

It only takes one lap before the first glaring difference in officiating rears its head. After leading the first lap, Jeff Gordon is unable to fend off a charging Bobby Labonte who ducks below the yellow line on the backstretch. This will happen all race long; in fact, the winning pass of the race in 188 laps will occur in just this fashion. No black flags, no controversy, just a narrowly avoided, potentially dangerous collision.

It’s easy for me to forget that for a brief moment in time, a young Tony Stewart raced against Dale Earnhardt. The start of Stewart’s first Daytona 500 found him running with Earnhardt until an ill-fated pass attempt up high leaves him shoved into the middle lane on lap 4.

Bobby Labonte, running a car from 1998, continues to lead the early laps, despite a strong move by Earnhardt to nearly draw-even with the #18 on lap 8. This is the closest Earnhardt would be to the lead for much of race; he would not lead a lap in the 1999 Daytona 500.

As the race settles into an apparent long green-flag run, Dick Berggren reports on the somber tone of the driver’s meeting due to crash-marred nature of the previous day’s Busch Grand National series race. The NAPA Auto Parts 300 featured 6 cautions, including the infamous Casey Atwood blowover. In total, 15 cars were caught up in crashes.

At this point, the race is almost 48 laps in and there have been no major pit stops. I forgot how long 22 gallons of fuel lasted on these plate tracks.

Jeff Burton is the first driver to have his pit stop shown in full, a mediocre 24.5 second stop. Dave Marcis, Bill Elliott, Jerry Nadeau and Johnny Benson are all shown pitting. After watching six years of mid-pack racing, I feel confident in saying that it’s rare for coverage to be this widespread anymore. Tony Stewart’s new team then make their first ever pit stop, called “remarkably good” after clocking in at 19.1 seconds.

I had completely wiped catch cans and fuel being carelessly splashed about from my memory. Dangerous nostalgia is the best nostalgia. The blend from pit road is also insane, commonly two-wide off of pit road all the way to turn one.

Rusty Wallace assumes the lead after pit stops on lap 58, a lead he will hold for the next 64 laps, much to my teenage surprise. As he leads into the second half of the race, much will be made about his prior flips at plate tracks and his potentially gun-shy nature at these tracks.

Kenny Wallace falls off the pace on lap 93 with no oil pressure bringing out the first caution of the Daytona 500. Up until now, I had forgotten that the field used to race back to the caution flag.

The field pits and the hood goes up on Bobby Labonte’s car as he has developed a skip in the engine; the crew tries changing a plug wire. After going back green, Tony Stewart would also develop a skip in his engine. He will eventually go behind the wall. Dale Jarrett has a reported hole in fender of car, but Todd Parrott opts to leave it alone.

The second caution comes out for Jimmy Spencer who slammed the wall out of turn 2 on lap 122.

Shortly after going back green, on lap 135, Kenny Irwin upsets the back of his teammate Jarrett going into turn three, sparking the biggest crash of the race. Geoff Bodine, Steve Park, Mark Martin, Dale Jarrett, Sterling Marlin, Joe Nemechek, Terry Labonte, Rich Bickle, Jeff Burton, Ward Burton, Robert Pressley, and Ricky Rudd Rudd are all swept up in a grinding, painful-sounding crash. After the incident, Bickle and Park confer about the crash while waiting for rides to care center, as do Jarrett and Labonte. Twelve cars in total were involved and are currently off-track.

Replays conclude Jarrett was turned by air from of nose of Irwin’s car; Robert Yates has no comment back in garage.

When we return from commercial on lap 164, we find that Jeff Gordon has now taken over 2nd place behind Wallace. Barring a caution, crew chiefs Robin Pemberton and Ray Evernham will go for it to the end on fuel.

Approaching 30 laps to go, the booth is starting to build up towards a Rusty Wallace victory; he has been dominant for much of the race and, as Wallace told Baker before the race started, “It’s Valentine’s Day”.

After the caution comes out on lap 175 for Bobby Hamilton who turned sideways by himself on the backstretch, Rusty and teammate Jeremy Mayfield decide not to pit. Rusty’s crew chief Robin Pemberton is interviewed regarding the decision and declares they were just as likely to make a mistake pitting before conceding that he may be a sitting duck.

On lap 184 after the field goes back green, the term “bump-drafting” is used for first time on broadcast. With 15 laps left, Rusty leads Earnhardt and Gordon. Gordon dispatches Earnhardt off of turn two and sets his sights on the #2 car.

One of the most crucial sequences of the race happens next, before the actual change for the lead. Chad Little gets into Mike Skinner in what could have been a massive wreck. Skinner somehow saves it and continues on just in front of his teammate Earnhardt without losing hardly any momentum. This momentarily allows Rusty and Gordon to pull out ahead on the backstretch. Through turns three and four, Gordon rolls back to Skinner, leaving Rusty with a 3 car-length lead. That gap spelled the end for Rusty as Gordon is able to charge with a head of steam through the tri-oval. Heading out of the tri-oval, Gordon ducks below the white line and squeezes alongside Rusty just in time to avoid clipping the wounded Ricky Rudd’s machine on the apron. After a lap of three-wide racing for the lead, Rusty fades into the middle and Gordon is left to battle Skinner. Looking at the rest of the top-5 is a little eerie as you see Michael Waltrip working with Earnhardt while Ken Schrader runs in the high line.

Richard Childress is interviewed after Earnhardt pushes Gordon into the lead saying, “You know Dale, he’s got some moves on him left”. Terry Labonte will learn that later on in 1999.

After a strong, final charge from Earnhardt, Gordon captures the 1999 Daytona 500. Only 15 cars finished on the lead lap. There were 14 lead changes and only 4 cautions. Rusty Wallace finished 8th after leading 104 laps. Dale Earnhardt finishes second, offering a simple: “Got beat!”, when asked what happened at the end of the race.

Impact Statement

I was devastated. I had emotionally invested myself in this event, and it was a bitter pill to swallow for the driver I had arbitrarily started cheering for to lose in such a fashion. I was also hooked. Soon, I would be going to the mall for a Rusty Wallace hat, scouring Targets and K-marts for 1:64 diecasts, and watching every race of the 1999 season. The long green-runs and the big crash don’t stand out in my mind twenty years later. All I remember is that feeling of disappointment, of having something so precious slip through your fingers. I also couldn’t wait for Rockingham, a track I had mastered on Nascar 99 early on; I doubt I focused much at school that week. There was the hope that the next week’s event would work out, and if not next week, the week after, it was a long season, after all.

In the Wake of the Draft

After an unexpected and wild night, it’s time to break down exactly what we all just witnessed for the 1st Monster Cup Draft. Based on the agreement between the Race Team Alliance and the Stock Car Drivers Association, chartered teams, picked in reverse order of the 2018 owner standings. All drivers are in the process of negotiating their three-year contract which will terminate after the last race of 2021, prior to the next draft. Although the night is young, there are already trade rumors circulating. Remember, all trades, be it drivers, points, charters or equipment must be completed by 12:00p the Saturday of Daytona 500 qualifying weekend. The trade market will not open again until first race of the playoffs.

There have been a lot of questions regarding sponsorship and how it effects the draft and salary cap. Any money brought in by a driver-sponsor combo counts against the salary cap (announced this year at $17 million per team) on a sliding scale so that a driver bringing in $3 million effectively lowers the cap to $14 million for the team. Drivers have to disclose any sponsorship details when declaring for the draft. The mere uncertainty of not knowing where their driver may end up has led many big name sponsors to jump over to a team.

The draft officially opened as of 8:00p at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, each chartered team nestled into their respective war room across the greater Charlotte area.

Pick #1 – Rick Ware Racing #51: Kevin Harvick

Rick Ware Racing is entering 2019 with quite a bit of cap space, so it was expected early on that they would spend big. After announcing the purchase of a second charter, however, there was a question as to whether the small team wouldn’t trade down in lieu of technical support from a larger team looking to move up. Rumors of a proposed multi-year technical alliance and engine deal from a large multi-car team surfaced weeks before the draft. As the clock ran down on the first pick in the draft it came as a surprise to everyone when Jim France walked out to announce Kevin Harvick had been drafted to drive the 51. Harvick was not available for comment.

Pick #2 – Front Row Motorsports #38: Christopher Bell

In a deft move slightly before the draft, Front Row announced that the 38 team would assume the charter of the recently re-acquired BK/NY Racing #23 car. Doing so bumped them up to the second position of the draft. The clear choice on most pundits’ draft board was Kyle Busch, it was the safe, obvious choice. You could hear a pin drop when it was announced that Christopher Bell had been selected for the #38 ride. Bell, who had declared himself eligible for the Cup draft late in the 2018 season, was projected to go closer to the middle of the draft.

Pick #3 – StarCom Racing #00: Kyle Busch

After the Front Row surprise, Derrick Cope took little time to declare the obvious; that he would select Kyle Busch. The 33-year-old practically fell into his lap and will go to work over the next three years trying to build this promising team up further.

Pick #4 – Rick Ware Racing trades down to the 12th pick with Roush-Fenway #6 team

Pick #4 – Roush-Fenway Racing #6: Martin Truex Jr

After sticking with the #1 draft pick, Rick Ware Racing trades down to the 12th pick after accepting a one-year Roush-Yates engine deal which in turn allowed the #6 team to move up the 4th pick. RFR picks up Martin Truex Jr. There is a clear optimism that a new Martin behind the wheel will help get the #6 car back into championship contention.

Pick #5 – Premium Motorsports trades down to 14th pick with Hendrick Motorsports #24 team

Pick #5 – Hendrick Motorsports #24: Kyle Larson

Fairly certain that the driver they wanted would still be available later in draft, Premium Motorsports swapped places with the iconic Hendrick #24 team. HMS wasted no time declaring the 5th pick to be Kyle Larson. It came at a cost for Hendrick, they’ve agreed to transfer a charter to Jay Robinson for the 2021 season with the possibility of additional support if the #24 were to win a championship in 2019 or 2020.

Pick #6 – Go Fas Racing #32: Brad Keselowski

After winning 3 races then bowing out of the playoffs early in 2018, Brad Keselowski will now work to get Go Fas into playoff contention.

Pick #7 – Richard Petty Motorsports #43: Joey Logano

Richard Petty made it clear early in the off-season that, if defending champion Joey Logano was still on the board when it came time to fill the seat of the iconic #43, it would be an automatic choice. True to his word, Logano will be the one to try and improve on their 3 top-10’s from 2018.

Pick #8 – Germain Racing #13: Ryan Blaney

There was a lot of speculation prior to the draft on how much influence long-term sponsor Geico would have for the 8th pick of the draft. Word was that the ownership and the sponsor disagreed on which direction to go; one side leaning toward a veteran such as Kurt Busch the other toward a youthful presence such as the eventual 8th pick, Ryan Blaney.

Pick #9 – Front Row Motorsports #34: Kurt Busch

A reliable veteran to pair with the rookie Christopher Bell.

Pick #10 – Leavine Family Racing #95: Chase Elliott

Will pick up where Kasey Kahne and Regan Smith left off with the hopes that a new alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing will further boost performance.

Pick #11 – Front Row Motorsports #36: Aric Almirola

Scooped up by Front Row after finishing 5th in points in 2018, Almirola will also serve as the second veteran teammate for the rookie Bell to lean on in 2019. Front Row jokingly being call Stewart-Haas Lite.

Pick #12 – Rick Ware Racing #52: Denny Hamlin

After trading down, Rick Ware Racing was able to pick up a surprised Denny Hamlin to pair with Kevin Harvick. Still, questions remain as to whether RWR will commit to run both drivers or will shop one or both around before Daytona.

Pick #13 – JTG Daugherty Racing #37: Jimmie Johnson

After forging a technical alliance with Hendrick Motorsports heading into 2018, JTG-Daugherty welcomes a Hendrick lifer into the fold with Jimmie Johnson.

Pick #14 – Premium Motorsports #15 trades down to 21st pick with Hendrick Motorsports #88 team

Pick #14 – Hendrick Motorsports #88: Erik Jones

Premium Motorsports apparently struck a deal late with Hendrick Motorsports #88 team. Reportedly, a 3-year deal to provide Premium an HMS development pit crew. Jay Robinson is slowly parlaying his original high draft pick into a decent Hendrick goodie bag. Despite two of their former drivers being available, the HMS #88 opts for Erik Jones, fresh off his second season in Cup and first win of his career.

Pick #15 – JTG Daugherty Racing #47: Clint Bowyer

Adding Clint Bowyer to the fold could make JTG Daugherty a surprise sleeper pick for putting both cars into the playoffs. Even if they fall short, talks of a major Natural Light activation and ad campaign with Bowyer have execs drooling over the possibilities.

Pick #16 – Joe Gibbs Racing #19: William Byron

After opting not to pick up Daniel Suárez, JGR is betting that the payoff will be bigger with William Byron in the long run.

Pick #17 – Ganassi Racing #1: Alex Bowman

Bowman probably didn’t get the respect he deserved after placing the HMS #88 into the playoffs in 2018, however landing in a Ganassi ride hardly qualifies as a disappointment. The #1 car averaged a 18.9 finish in 2018, the #88 averaged a 17.0.

Pick #18 – Wood Brothers Racing #21: Daniel Suárez

Suárez finds a home with a fast team, will look to bounce the legendary #21 back into the playoffs in his third year in Cup.

Pick #19 – Roush Fenway Racing #17: Ricky Stenhouse Jr

Apparently for the #17 team, if your former driver is available, you go with what you know. They should hit the ground running at Daytona being one of the only teams to have retained their driver.

Pick #20 – Richard Childress Racing #31: Austin Dillon

No surprise here, although there are rumors they may opt for a number change heading into 2019.

Pick #21 – Premium Motorsports #15 trades down to 25th pick with Hendrick Motorsports #48 team

Pick #21 – Hendrick Motorsports #48: Chris Buescher

Premium does it again; this time reportedly for two guaranteed sets of sticker tires each weekend and first dibs on all used sets of tires from practice and race. In return, HMS completes the Buescher-Johnson ride swap. Buescher will be the first driver not named Johnson to pilot the #48 since the year 1993.

Pick #22 – Joe Gibbs Racing #20: Ryan Preece

The gamble on himself in Xfinity paid off in Cup for Ryan Preece. After establishing a winning relationship with JGR, they’re betting that he can maintain the playoff-caliber level of performance the #20 is accustomed to.

Pick #23 – Premium Motorsports #15 trades down to 31st pick with Hendrick Motorsports #9 team

Pick #23 – Hendrick Motorsports #9: Matt DiBenedetto

A roar of laughter from the crowd in attendance as Premium once again gives up their pick to a Hendrick team. Reportedly for an undisclosed amount of data-sharing and support, Premium drops to the 31st pick and Hendrick picks up what they consider to be as close to a “can’t miss” pick as possible this late in the draft with Matt DiBenedetto

Pick #24 – Richard Childress Racing #3: Darrell Wallace Jr

If nothing else, RCR assures die-cast sales dominance over the next three years.

Pick #25 – Stewart Haas Racing #14: Paul Menard

After just missing out on the playoffs in 2018, Menard finds himself in some of the best equipment he’s ever driven.

Pick #26 – Joe Gibbs Racing #11: Ross Chastain

No one is surprised to see Chastain go this early, but it will be a disappointment for Chip Ganassi as he had his eye on picking him up for the #42 ride.

Pick #27 – Penske Racing #12: David Ragan

Ragan will immediately be a threat to win the Daytona 500.

Pick #28 – Ganassi Racing #42: Daniel Hemric

Despite not winning a race in 2018, Ganassi dips into the Xfinity well to nab Hemric in the hopes that his deep run into the playoffs in 2018 can be duplicated in Cup.

Pick #29 – Penske Racing #2: Corey LaJoie

LaJoie will not be stacking pennies for the foreseeable future as he gets his shot in championship-caliber equipment.

Pick #30 – Stewart-Haas Racing 41: Ryan Newman

Newman finds himself in an enviable position despite dropping from a projected earlier draft position.

Pick #31 – Premium Motorsports #15: Brett Moffitt

It will either be business as usual or a major championship run for Premium after they bolstered their operation by trading down. One of the few teams to earn a unanimous draft grade of A.

Pick #32 – Stewart-Haas Racing #10: Landon Cassill

Back-to-back Iowa picks in the draft as Stewart-Haas banks on Cassill being a suitable replacement for Almirola, minus the bacon.

Pick #33 – Joe Gibbs Racing #18: Michael McDowell

McDowell back with Joe Gibbs Racing for first time since 2014 when he finished 2nd at Iowa in Xfinity.

Pick #34 – Stewart-Haas Racing #4: Cole Custer

Little surprise here as Stewart-Haas opts to keep it in the family and bet on Custer’s abilities to maintain the momentum going with Rodney Childers.

Pick #35 – Spire Motorsports #77: Regan Smith

Smith gets a shot at building up another start-up team out of the chartered ashes of his former team.

Pick #36 – Penske Racing #22: Justin Allgaier

Early projections had Penske taking AJ Allmendinger to once again drive the #22, but his decision not to declare for the draft left the door open for another blast from the past. Penske chose to bring Allgaier back into the fold to fill the seat of the defending championship team. In 2018, Allgaier won 5 times and, in Xfinity competition, has never finished worse than 7th in points in 8 full seasons.

A quick reminder that the Supplemental Draft for all unchartered and part-time teams will be shown tonight at 8p on the NBC Sports App.

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