WALTZ: Recognizing The Best (And Worst) From Daytona

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HARRISBURG, N.C. — On Monday evening following the Indianapolis 500, participants gather for the annual victory celebration where prize money and post-race awards are distributed.

Since there’s no similar event for the Daytona 500, we’ll use this space to recognize several special performances in Sunday’s Great American Race. Keep in mind there are no trophies or prize money to accompany these awards, and they are presented solely for the entertainment of our readers.

So without further delay, the envelopes please:

Bill France Award: Penske Racing No. 22 – This award recognizes the team with the best overall performance during Daytona Speedweeks. Kurt Busch won the Budweiser Shootout, his 150-mile qualifying race and finished fifth in the Daytona 500. Not a bad way to start the season, especially with a new sponsor.

Rookie of the Race: Trevor Bayne — Absolutely no debate here. Bayne is the breath of fresh air NASCAR needs and his 500 victory is a big boost for the sport. The only disappointment is that the Wood Brothers don’t have enough sponsorship for him to run the full 36-race schedule in the legendary No. 21 Ford.

Best Individual Performance: This award is not being presented this year because of the unique nature of the two-by-two racing. Running well in the Daytona 500 was truly a team effort.

Outstanding Technical Achievement: Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. — Normally when a race track is repaved tires end up being the headline story. Not this time. The Goodyear engineers did what was perhaps their best job ever in producing tires that were both fast and durable.

What Was He Thinking? Award: David Ragan — In his post-race interview, Ragan was still not exactly sure what he did to earn the black flag. The replay clearly showed he jumped ahead of Bayne before they got to the start/finish line on the next-to-last restart and NASCAR said he started too soon. If Ragan would have waited a second or two to make his move, everything would have been just fine.

Workin’ Woody Award: Bobby Labonte — This award is named in honor of the push truck that traveled with the World of Outlaws sprint cars for many years and is presented to the best “pusher” in the 500 field. Labonte earns the award because he was the one who locked onto the rear bumper of Bayne’s No. 21 following the final restart and kept the youngster in position to win the race.

Alan Kulwicki Award: Regan Smith — Recognizing the best performance by an underdog team, Bayne was also a finalist for this one. But the honor goes to Smith whose Colorado-based Furniture Row team was in the hunt the entire week and finished seventh.

Best Off-Track Performance: Rick Hendrick and Martina McBride — This one was a tie. Hendrick gets the nod for securing the future of Hendrick Motorsports by signing Chase Elliott, the 15-year-old son of 1988 NASCAR champion Bill Elliott, to a long-term contract. McBride shares the honor with Hendrick for her outstanding performance of the “The Star-Spangled Banner” during pre-race ceremonies.

Felix and Oscar Award: Ryan Newman and Joey Logano — Named in honor of television’s “The Odd Couple,” Newman and Logano share this award for being the least likely drafting partners. Last year at Michigan, the two were nose-to-nose, nearly coming to blows, and Sunday they were helping each other.

Spin Cycle Award: Kyle Busch — Spinning on the high banks of Daytona without hitting anything, or being hit by anyone, is nearly impossible. But that’s exactly what Busch did early in the race and came back to finish eighth.

Well Diggers Int’l Award: Kevin Harvick — One of the pre-season championship favorites, Harvick is already in a deep hole. His engine lasted only 22 laps Sunday and he was home in North Carolina long before the checkered flag.

Chamber of Commerce Award: Joie Chitwood — The new general manager of Daytona Int’l Speedway earns this honor for bringing race fans to town. Even though the crowds earlier in the week were not that impressive, Chitwood and his staff did a great job of putting fans in the stands for Sunday’s 500.

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