Rarely does the Daytona 500 provide much in the way of predictions about the outcome of NASCAR’s 36-round Sprint Cup championship. Run with power-sapping `restrictor plates’, which keep the cars jammed together in a giant slipstreaming pack, the 500 is more a lottery than a motor race. Typically, there are more than a few multi-car accidents which inevitably eliminate some of the favourites and in many ways Daytona is anybody’s race.
Indeed this year’s 500 saw a handful of top contenders – Tony Stewart, Kevin this year’s 500 saw a handful of top contenders — Tonytewart, Kevin Harvick and Kasey Kahne among them — eliminated or delayed by accidents. As the race wore on last year’s winner Matt Kenseth and team-mate Kyle Busch looked good only to drop out after 400 miles with mechanical failures. In the closing stages the race was dominated by Jimmie Johnson who led the final 10 laps and swept home unchallenged. In his 400th start in NASCAR’s premier division Johnson scored his second Daytona 500 win (his first came in 2006) and the 61st Sprint Cup victory of his career.
Five-time champion Johnson has been out of luck at Daytona in recent years and he was delighted not only to survive this year’s 500 but to lead team-mate Dale Earnhardt Jr across the line in a one-two sweep for Hendrick Motorsports. “As we all know, ‘plate’ racing has been tough on us for the last few years,” Johnson remarked. “So I’m happy to get through it all. We just had a strong race car. I feel like the speed we had in our car allowed me to really have control of the race there at the end. I felt like I was sitting on something all day and was just ready to have some fun when it counted, and I did.”
Inevitably, Johnson’s performance at Daytona sparked talk about his chances of winning a sixth NASCAR championship this year. If the 37-year-old Californian is able to pull it off he will put himself in the rare position of challenging NASCAR’s record of seven championships shared by Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt. “I was really happy today to see our cars be able to run one-two,” Johnson said. “It’s a great feeling. It gives you a lot of momentum to start the year. Before the season started we felt good about the 500, but we’re also really excited for everything after this race. I think it’s going to be a strong year for us.”
The big story ahead of the race was Danica Patrick’s historic pole position, the former IndyCar racer becoming the first women to achieve the feat in stock car racing’s biggest event. She ran competitively in the race and finished a creditable eighth.
Daytona was the first race for NASCAR’s new ‘Generation 6’ car which permits the three competing manufacturers — Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota — more individual brand identity than the previous car, known as the ‘Car of Tomorrow’, which was an identical spec car. It’s hoped that the new car will bring back some of NASCAR’s lost fans of recent years, but the message from Daytona was mixed. Crowds were down all week for qualifying and support races and there were plenty of empty seats for the 500 itself, although TV ratings were up by 30 per cent over last year. Gordon Kirby
WRC Rally Sweden & Rally Mexico
Sebastien Ogier has moved clear in the World Rally Championship title race with back-to-back victories in Sweden and Mexico.
Driving Volkswagen’s all-new Polo R WRC, Ogier is 31 points ahead of nine-time World Champion Sebastien Loeb following maximum scores on the Swedish snow and rough Mexican gravel.
But with Loeb a bit-part player in this year’s WRC, Mikko Hirvonen is actually the closest driver to Ogier in the standings, 44 points adrift of the Frenchman.
Ogier’s latest success came on the back of a dominant display on the high-altitude stages of Rally Mexico in early March, where VW’s Polo passed its first true test of endurance with flying colours. His rivals now fear he will embark on a period of Loeb-esque dominance.
After finishing almost three and a half minutes behind Ogier in Mexico, Hirvonen said: “We were no match. We need to improve in all areas to fight with VW.”
Qatar M-Sport team principal Malcolm Wilson, whose young charges Mads Ostberg and Thierry Neuville scored podiums in Sweden and Mexico respectively, said: “The biggest problem we’ve all got is one man: Sebastien Ogier. If we thought Sebastien Loeb was good. Sebastien Ogier will be even better.”
Although the once-dominant Citroen outfit left Mexico still atop of the manufacturers’ standings, team head Yves Matton admitted Loeb had been missed. Hirvonen’s podium in Mexico made up for a torrid start to the season while Dani Sordo, back at Citroen after two years driving MINIs, struggled in Scandinavia and North America.
Ogier’s brace also underlined Volkswagen’s continued emergence with the company’s WRC chief Jost Capito dedicating the victory in Mexico to the company’s engine technicians: “They have developed an engine for altitude and one that copes with the challenge of this rally and delivers the power for the team. It is extraordinary.” Richard Rodgers
Mid Wales Stages
The start of the historic rallying season drew record crowds as the Mid Wales Stages marked the opening round of both the new West Wales Rally Spares RAC Rally Championship and the Mintex MSA British Historic Rally Championship. Topping the historic entry, which totalled over 90 cars, was the Ford Escort Mk2 of Nick Elliott and Dave Price (above) after a mighty battle at the head of the RAC event with the similar car of Irish ace Marty McCormack and his English co-driver Phil Clarke. With more than two-thirds of the historic entry, the RAC Championship grabbed all the headlines and a stunning field included Jimmy McRae. Unfortunately, alternator failure sidelined his Escort Mk2 on the opening pair of stages.
An overshoot on the second stage cost Elliott time. “I knew I’d really have to push to pull it back and get close to him,” said Elliott, who clawed back over 10 seconds to secure his victory after a fabulous contest. The winning margin was just 3.7sec.
In the opening round of the BHRC, Gareth James won on his first full gravel rally with Steffan Evans alongside in their Escort Mk2, albeit three minutes down on Elliott’s time for the same stages. Paul Lawrence
With many competitors braving freezing temperatures in open top cars, all-rounder Dudley Sterry won the 2013 Pomeroy Trophy at Silverstone in his HRS. Sterry’s performance in the high speed trial, when he beat his handicap target by three laps, sealed his victory in the VSCC event. Second overall was Alistair Pugh in his 1939 Frazer Nash BMW 328 while the club’s PR officer Gillian Carr won the Pomeroy Edwardian Trophy for the second year in a row driving a 1914 Vauxhall. Paul Lawrence