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Race Rewind: Looking back at the Daytona 500

- jutter@charlotteobserver.com
Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013

Observations

bull; After Saturday's vicious accident in the Nationwide Series race, there seemed an air of apprehension building Sunday morning before the Daytona 500. It was a mixture of concern for the 28 fans injured as well likely anxiety by everyone associated with the race hoping not to see anything like it repeated. In the end, as happens most of the time in NASCAR, the racing took center stage and by halfway most of the attention was directed on what drivers had the best chance to claim the first win of the 2013 season. Make no mistake, those injured remained on the minds of drivers even after Sunday's race was over. And NASCAR begins another job on Monday just as important as putting on its biggest race - finding out what it can do better to protect the sport's fans.

bull; Danica Patrick had a spectacular Speedweeks, particularly when you consider the abysmal one she went through in 2012, which included wrecks in her qualifying race, Nationwide race and the 500. She won the pole, ran in the top-10 virtually the entire race and finished a respectable eighth. What does it mean? I have no idea. Michael McDowell and J.J. Yeley also finished in the top-10. Will all three be top-10 running cars this season? Will none of them? The nuts and bolts of the season begins at Phoenix and in the weeks ahead those questions will become easier to answer.

bull; I doubt you would find anyone associated with Daytona International Speedway or NASCAR disappointed its much-lauded new track drying system was never seen during this weekend's races. They may be disappointed it's not available at any other race tracks as yet.

Notebook

Close again: Mark Martin came close - again - to winning his first Daytona 500, working with Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the final lap trying to close the distance on race leader Jimmie Johnson.

"The spotters did have a discussion before the (last) restart. Obviously I knew Junior had a fast car and is one of the masters here, certainly would trust his judgment," Martin said.

"I was in a position where I needed to pass a bunch of cars in order to get in contention to win. So we did that. If things would have got crazy enough, maybe we could have got the big trophy."

Martin has already said he won't be driving the No. 55 for Michael Waltrip Racing next season. Was this his final Daytona 500? "I'm not going to talk about 2014," he said.

What happened to the leader? For a great deal of Sunday's race, it looked like Matt Kenseth would be earning his third victory in NASCAR's biggest race. He led 86 of the first 149 laps before his No. 20 Toyota developed engine problems and he was forced to the garage.

"It's disappointing obviously, but it's also really encouraging. I thought we did all the right things. We had a great pit stop right there at the end -- I thought Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) had a great pit stop there at the end when we needed it," Kenseth said.

"We had all the right things - we just didn't make it to the end. Those are things we can fix."

Annett released from hospital: Nationwide Series driver Michael Annett was released from Halifax Medical Center on Saturday and returned home to North Carolina.

Annett was caught up in a 13-car wreck in Saturday's Nationwide race and was transported to the hospital for observation and treated for bruising to his chest.

5 key moments

1 . For Danica Patrick, one key happened a week ago - when she won the pole for the 500. Passing was so difficult, that track position was vital and her ability to start up front helped keep here there most of the race.

2 . On Lap 34, Kyle Busch hit Kasey Kahne and triggered a nine-car accident that brought an early end to two contenders for the race win - Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart.

3. Between Laps 150 and 153 two more contenders went to the garage with engine problems, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth. Kenseth still led the most laps in the race (86).

4. Leading a freight train of cars on the inside line, Johnson moved into the lead on Lap 186, passing Brad Keselowski, and maintained the lead during a caution on Lap 192 for debris.

5. After taking the white flag with Johnson in the lead, a group of cars wrecked behind the leaders. NASCAR did not throw a caution and Johnson was able to hold off a fast-approaching Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the win.

Next race

Subway 500

Where: Phoenix International Raceway, Avondale, Ariz.

When: 3 p.m. Sunday

TV: Fox

Radio: Motor Racing Network

Last year's winner: Denny Hamlin

Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter
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