Dale Jr ., Kyle Busch win Can-Am Duels at Daytona
MORE: Full starting lineup for 500 RELATED: Can-Am Duel 1 results " Can-Am Duel 2 results DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Retaking the lead with five laps left in the first of Thursday night’s Can-Am Duel 150-mile qualifying races, Dale Earnhardt Jr . cruised to a dominating victory and grabbed the third staring spot for Sunday’s Daytona 500 . RELATED: See the best photos from the Can-Am Duels In the second Duel, reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kyle Busch took the checkered flag under caution after a wild last-lap wreck took out the cars of Jimmie Johnson , Martin Truex Jr ., Matt Kenseth , AJ Allmendinger and Danica Patrick and damaged the No. 41 Chevrolet of Kurt Busch . Kenseth will go to a backup car and start from the rear in the Daytona 500 , surrendering the second starting spot he earned during last Sunday’s time trials. "I guess it was quiet and calm there for a long time, and the last lap just went kind of crazy," Busch said. "Great car. These guys at Joe Gibbs Racing did a phenomenal job this winter building some new pieces for us to come down here with and have some fun. "Looking forward to starting the Daytona 500 in the fourth spot, but I think I will actually get the outside front row now that Kenseth got caught up in that mess and tore up his car." RELATED: Dale Jr . wins on 15-year anniversary of dad's death Driving a chassis nicknamed "Amelia" for famed aviatrix Amelia Earhart, Earnhardt won his Duel for the second straight year and for the fifth time overall. The two-time Daytona 500 winner drove Amelia in all four restrictor-plate races and the Duel last year, winning two points races as well as the Daytona qualifier. Earnhardt held off 2015 Daytona 500 winner Joey Logano and rookie Ryan Blaney , who drove their Fords to second and third, respectively. Kevin Harvick finished fourth, followed by Denny Hamlin and Daytona 500 pole winner Chase Elliott . With Blaney finishing highest in the first Duel among the four "open" drivers who had to race into the field, Michael McDowell earned a spot in the Daytona 500 based on his qualifying speed from last Thursday, the third fastest among the "open" drivers. Blaney was already locked into the field as the fastest qualifier among the "open" drivers. RELATED: Which Open drivers are in, out of Daytona 500 ? "You all know what it means to be in the 500," McDowell said. I've been on the other side, too, where I've been loading up, too, and going home on a Thursday night. I definitely appreciate it when we make the races. "It's definitely a big thing for our team, Circle Sport and Leavine Family Racing . We're going to have two cars in the Daytona 500 , especially for a small team. To really start out the year well, it's very important. This is such a huge race." Earnhardt got the lead on Lap 55 of 60, diving to the inside and pulling up beside Hamlin, who was leading at the time. Earnhardt stayed out front for the final five laps, bringing his total for the race to 43. "Denny is such a great plate racer," Earnhardt said. "There are a lot of guys that are really good at it these days. I knew he was going to be real tough to get around. When he got the lead (during a sequence of green-flag pit stops), I didn’t know if we were going to be able to get around him. He’s got a great car and he’s real smart. "For whatever reason, I was able to get to his quarter-panel, (and) he saw we had a pretty good run. I don’t know, I didn’t think I was going to clear him. We got away from him so he couldn’t side draft us, I guess. I was really surprised as anybody that we got by him. He’ll be tough on Sunday." With Brian Scott spinning off Turn 4 and slamming into the inside wall on the final lap, Earnhardt crossed the finish line .183 seconds ahead of Logano, who also finished second to Hamlin in last Saturday’s Sprint Unlimited exhibition race. The first Duel sets the inside lane for the Daytona 500 . Hence, Earnhardt, Logano, Blaney, Harvick and Hamlin will line up third, fifth, seventh, ninth and 11th behind Elliott on Sunday. Jamie McMurray , Kurt Busch , Carl Edwards and Ty Dillon finished second through fifth in the second Duel and will line up behind Kyle Busch in the outside lane on Sunday, provided none of those drivers has to go to a backup car, and provided Elliott chooses the inside lane for the start of the race (the pole winner has lane choice). With Matt DiBenedetto finishing highest among the "open" drivers in the second Duel, Robert Richardson Jr . earned the last starting spot in the Daytona 500 on speed, given that DiBenedetto already was locked into the field as the second fastest "open" qualifier during time trials. With Richardson and DiBenedetto in the race, BK Racing has all four of its cars in the field. The cars of David Ragan and Michael Waltrip are chartered and therefore guaranteed starting spots. "Two weeks ago I was at home working on my ranch, got a phone call from Lane Segerstrom from (sponsor) StalkIt, saying he was trying to put a deal together trying to run the Daytona 500 ," Richardson said. "This was two weeks ago. A lot of guys start preparing for this race as soon as the season ends from last year. "I'm very, very honored to be a part of BK Racing , having another opportunity to run here at the Daytona 500 . I've been in it once before, but this one is very, very special to me. My wife and I welcomed our brand new baby boy who was born in early December. Every bit of the earnings we get from this race are going to go into a college fund for him." Failing to qualify for the Daytona 500 were Cole Whitt , Josh Wise , David Gilliland and Reed Sorenson .
Dale Earnhardt Jr . leads final practice at Daytona
Dale Earnhardt Jr .'s No. 88 Chevrolet -- now affectionately dubbed "Amelia" -- showed no signs of slowing down in Saturday's final Sprint Cup practice at Daytona International Speedway . The Hendrick Motorsports driver topped the leaderboard with a fast lap of 197.131 mph around The World Center of Racing, bookending Daytona 500 practice sessions as he led opening practice earlier in this week. Earnhardt will start third in Sunday's Daytona 500 (1 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, Sirius XM NASCAR Radio) beside teammate and pole-sitter Chase Elliott . RELATED: Earnhardt's 'Amelia' taking flight again at Daytona Team Penske teammates Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski and Wood Brothers Racing 's Ryan Blaney -- whose team has a technical alliance with Penske -- drafted together throughout the session, putting them at the top of the leaderboard behind Earnhardt. Logano was second-fastest in his No. 22 ride (196.369 mph), while Blaney came up third in the No. 21 (196.288 mph). Keselowski rounded out the Ford trio with a fast lap of 196.262 mph from his No. 2 machine. A pair of Stewart-Haas Racing cars -- Kurt Busch (196.061 mph) and Kevin Harvick (196.014 mph) -- completed the top six, respectively. Bush's No. 41 team made extensive repairs to his car after incurring damage during the last-lap wreck of Thursday's Duel No. 2. Jimmie Johnson (18th-fastest), Matt Kenseth (21st-fastest) and Brian Scott (23rd-fastest) were the drivers in today's practice now wheeling backup cars after wrecking in the Duels. Martin Truex Jr . and AJ Allmendinger , who did not turn a lap in the final session, will also come from the rear in backup rides. Only 25 of the 40-car field participated in Saturday's final practice. FULL PRACTICE RESULTS Pos Car Driver Speed 1 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr . 197.131 2 22 Joey Logano 196.369 3 *21 Ryan Blaney # 196.288 4 2 Brad Keselowski 196.262 5 41 Kurt Busch 196.061 6 4 Kevin Harvick 196.014 7 16 Greg Biffle 195.959 8 24 Chase Elliott # 195.839 9 14 Brian Vickers 195.814 10 15 Clint Bowyer 195.763 11 38 Landon Cassill 195.236 12 7 Regan Smith 195.135 13 5 Kasey Kahne 194.397 14 23 David Ragan 194.384 15 *26 Robert Richardson Jr . 194.342 16 6 Trevor Bayne 194.280 17 46 Michael Annett 194.221 18 48 Jimmie Johnson 193.719 19 1 Jamie McMurray 193.075 20 95 Ty Dillon (i) 192.951 21 20 Matt Kenseth 192.806 22 43 Aric Almirola 192.201 23 44 Brian Scott # 192.160 24 31 Ryan Newman 191.111 25 34 Chris Buescher # 190.392
Issues for Pastrana, Richardson Jr ., Hamlin early
Travis Pastrana spins twice, Robert Richardson Jr .'s engine goes up in a fireball and Denny Hamlin has to change his carburetor.
Nationwide to give fans inside look at Dale Earnhardt Jr .
NASCAR fans will get an inside look into Dale Earnhardt Jr .'s return to racing beginning next Tuesday thanks to a six-part series provided by Nationwide Insurance. Nationwide is the official primary sponsor of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet driven by Earnhardt in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series . "Unfinished Business" documents the offseason preparation and work behind Earnhardt's return to competition following last year's injury-shortened season. NASCAR's most popular driver missed the final 18 races of the year after suffering a concussion. The series is scheduled to go live on the Nationwide 88 Facebook page each Tuesday between Jan. 24 and this year's Feb. 26th running of the Daytona 500 . Two episodes will air the week leading into the season-opening race. A preview (trailer) of the series was posted to the Nationwide 88 Facebook page Thursday. "Based on everything that happened last year, we wanted to really capitalize on Dale getting back in the car and all the excitement and interest, just the fans' general hunger for as much Dale Jr . content as we could provide," Jim McCoy, director of sports marketing for Nationwide, told NASCAR.com. "Going into the offseason as we did our production shoot for 2017 as we normally do, we wanted to add on a new layer ... a behind-the-scenes unique look around Dale. The offseason processes around production shoots, around designing the car, all the things that go into getting ready for Daytona. And having a real personal view from Dale conveying that." Each segment of the six-part series is short, informative and entertaining. For 2016, Nationwide produced a successful paint scheme unveil for Earnhardt's No. 88 entry. But following his injury officials wanted to go a little deeper this year. Portions of the series include Earnhardt's wife, Amy, car owner Rick Hendrick and crew chief Greg Ives. "Just the people that are really close to everything ... that fans don't normally get," McCoy said. Earnhardt's prior medical condition didn't hinder the process, but sensitivities surrounding the issue were addressed with the Hendrick organization. McCoy said it is "a very small part of this six-episode series." "This is truly more about getting ready for Daytona; we absolutely touch on the subject of him being out of the car because you have to," he said. "But I would say the majority of it is around what goes into the offseason preparation, why he is even more excited for this year and all that." Among the information provided to fans will be why there may be a different look to this year's No. 88 Nationwide paint scheme. Earnhardt has always been actively involved in determining the appearance of his race cars and coming up with the look for this year's car was no different. "There was a unique little nugget that came out that we'd not heard on him growing up around his grandfather and his dad racing based on the car coming back from the race track," McCoy said. "The lighter cars you could always tell how the race went based on where the tire marks were, the dirt and everything else. On a white car you always had a better sense of that and we've really transitioned to a lighter paint scheme this year with more white mixed into it. "He pulls in some of those personal stories that we hadn't heard and I think the fans will get a really big kick out of learning a little bit more about why he likes lighter paint schemes." Earnhardt has 26 career wins in NASCAR's top series, and his final three -- at Talladega, Daytona and Phoenix in 2015 -- came with Nationwide on the car in a primary role. The company, which previously was the title sponsor for what is now the XFINITY Series, has been affiliated with Earnhardt and his family for many years. McCoy said the series sponsorship, which ran from 2008-14, was crucial in helping to prepare Nationwide for its relationship with Earnhardt. "We learned a lot and we would not have been ready and in position to be able to take over as majority primary (sponsor) of the No. 1 driver in the sport, for the fans' demands and what they would want out of a sponsor," he said. "I think the Nationwide Series allowed us to really learn and do a lot of great things. "But we've taken the program to new levels and heights in partnership with Dale. He's our best customer and we can authentically connect with him and our products and services because it's real. It's been real since he was 16 years old. As we're trying to expand the message of who Nationwide is and what we do, the many sides of our company." &amp;lt;/p&amp;gt;
JR Motorsports hires new ruff and tumble security guard
RELATED: Read more Inside Groove Following its expansion from two to four full-time teams to compete for the 2017 XFINITY Series championship, JR Motorsports deemed it necessary to increase its security presence on site at its Mooresville, North Carolina shop, as well. Better be prepared to greet this guy when you visit today. #Gus #Watchdog pic.twitter.com/QIovzzM3vQ — Kelley Earnhardt (@EarnhardtKelley) January 19, 2017 Who's a good boy? Officer Gus is a good boy.
Richardson's rough day continues
Robert Richardson Jr . spins in an early wreck causing Johanna Long to lose control on the front stretch in the History 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway
Logano, Dale Jr . lead Saturday Daytona 500 practices
RELATED: See at-track photos from Saturday's practice Practice 2 recap " Full results Team Penske showed its strength in Saturday's final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice in preparation for next Sunday's Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway as both Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski jumped to the top of the leaderboard in the closing seconds of the two-hour session. Claiming the fastest speed of 195.933 mph, Logano led a draft involving Keselowski and Ryan Blaney on his last run of 29 laps. Logano is the reigning Daytona 500 winner and was second-fastest in opening practice. Keselowski was packed in the middle of the draft and came out second-fastest at 195.848 mph. Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Blaney tagged along in the Ford-only draft and was third-fastest with a speed of 195.797 mph. The trio got together to ensure Blaney put down a fast practice time in case rain threatens Daytona 500 qualifying and the Can-Am Duels -- Blaney drives for Wood Brothers Racing , which does not have a Charter and must qualify into the race. Kurt Busch sat atop the leaderboard for a majority of practice, but was knocked off late and was fourth-fastest at 194.877 mph. Reigning Sprint Cup Series champion Kyle Busch was fifth-fastest in the closing session at 194.696 mph. Dale Earnhardt Jr . led Saturday's opening session, but came up 11th-fastest in the final practice round with a speed of 193.823 mph. Follow Daytona 500 qualifying Sunday, Feb. 14 at 1:15 p.m. ET (FOX). The Daytona 500 will run Sunday, Feb. 21 at 1 p.m. ET (FOX). Practice 1 recap " Full results Dale Earnhardt Jr . led Saturday's opening Sprint Cup Series practice session in preparation for next Sunday's Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway . The Hendrick Motorsports driver laid down his fastest speed of 194.116 mph on Lap 11, the No. 88 driver's final run of the practice round. Earnhardt has won the Daytona 500 twice in his 16 attempts. Second-fastest to Junior was last year's Daytona 500 winner, Joey Logano , at 193.853 mph. Matt Kenseth (193.782 mph), Chase Elliott (193.586 mph) and Kasey Kahne (193.582 mph) completed the top-five fastest on the leaderboard. This is rookie Elliott's first Daytona 500 showing and his first practice behind the wheel of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Reigning Sprint Cup Series champion Kyle Busch was 11th-fastest in the opening session at 193.087 mph. Tune-in at 1:30 p.m. ET for the final Daytona 500 practice of Saturday. The Daytona 500 will run Sunday, Feb. 21 at 1 p.m. ET (FOX).
BK Racing shuffle: Ragan, DiBenedetto won't return
BK Racing will have a significant overhaul to its driver lineup for 2017 with announcements on consecutive days that primary drivers David Ragan and Matt DiBenedetto would not return to the team next season. DiBenedetto, touting the promise of an exciting announcement in the future, announced Thursday night on Twitter that he would not return to the Charlotte-based team. Ragan's departure was the next bit of news, with the Ron Devine-owned organization confirming that transition Friday afternoon. I've decided to go in a different direction next year. Exciting announcements coming soon. It's been a great ride @BKRacing_2383 Thank you! — Matthew DiBenedetto (@mattdracing) December 8, 2016 In two years with the organization, DiBenedetto logged 68 starts with one top-10 finish. That finish, in April 2016 at Bristol, was a sixth-place result -- he finished one spot ahead of 2014 champion Kevin Harvick -- and resulted in an emotional, memorable on-air interview. "I can only say so much at this time," DiBenedetto said Thursday night on SiriusXM Radio. "I've been in talks with BK, and no hard feelings. I'm appreciative of everything they've given me. … Just kind of evaluating the team situation for next year. From my end there's a little too much unknown, so I just had to make that decision. I'm excited about what the future has to hold here still, and obviously everyone will have to stay tuned." Devine confirmed DiBenedetto's parting through a statement released later Thursday evening. "Our 33rd- and 34th-place finishes this year did not produce the results we were hoping to achieve," Devine said. "I am, however, very proud of Matt DiBenedetto and his many accomplishments over the past two years. He is a wonderful driver and a special person. I am confident that Matt will go on to be a very successful NASCAR driver, and I believe it is the right time to release him so that he can pursue other opportunities. "Myself and everyone at BK Racing wishes Matt all the best in his future endeavors. I am looking forward to much success for both Matt and BK Racing ." Devine struck a similar tone in his statement on Ragan's release, hinting at measures to better its results next season. " BK Racing has agreed not to renew David Ragan 's contract for next year," Devine said. "Everyone wishes David the best of luck in his career. BK Racing will continue to restructure as an ongoing effort to improve our on-track performance ... and we will be announcing our 2017 driver lineup in the near future." DiBenedetto and Ragan were the primary drivers for BK Racing in 2016, but the organization also fielded Toyotas in spot duty for Jeffrey Earnhardt , Ryan Ellis , Dylan Lupton , Robert Richardson Jr ., and Michael Waltrip. The team has been full time in NASCAR's premier series since 2012, when it debuted as a two-car outfit with drivers Landon Cassill and Travis Kvapil . Ragan, 31, has two victories in NASCAR's top division since he began full-time competition in 2007. He won at Daytona International Speedway driving for Roush Fenway Racing in July 2011 and handed Front Row Motorsports its first victory at Talladega Superspeedway in May 2013. Ragan finished 33rd in the final standings in his only season for BK Racing . His most recent top-10 finish was in March 2015 in a fill-in role for the injured Kyle Busch in Joe Gibbs Racing 's No. 18 Toyota. DiBenedetto missed one race in 2016, at Texas Motor Speedway in November, after not being medically cleared following a wreck in the NASCAR XFINITY Series the day prior. He was cleared from concussion protocol in time for the next race. DiBenedetto, 25, also has 68 career starts in the XFINITY Series. &amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;gt;
JR Motorsports ramps up with 2017 expansion
RELATED: Driver Tracker " On the move: Changes in store for 2017 The encore for an organization that placed both of its full-time drivers into the Championship 4 field in the inaugural NASCAR XFINITY Series Chase last year has the chance to be even greater. JR Motorsports has that unique possibility, an opportunity granted by not sitting still. Elliott Sadler and Justin Allgaier return to the fold after prosperous debut years with the team, but that's where the offseason status quo ends. JRM plans a full-court press for the upcoming XFINITY season, expanding from two to four full-time drivers in an all-out push to bring home the championship it barely missed out on in 2017. "To have that opportunity to go up against three teammates, to see the growth in our shop, to see the growth in our teams, it's really, really fun to watch," Allgaier said. "I feel like if you came back here next year and said we'd have four cars from JR Motorsports in the final four, it wouldn't surprise me at all." A four-car sweep for the Homestead-Miami finale in November would mean stellar introductions by the two newest faces in the JRM stable: up-and-coming teenager William Byron, a NASCAR Next alum, and 30-year-old vet Michael Annett , back in XFINITY after a three-year stint in NASCAR's top division. The addition of Byron, a 19-year-old prospect in the Hendrick Motorsports system, actually counts as a reunion. The Liberty University student was a former driver for JRM's Late Model program on the weekly and touring level. His teammates have already seen what he can do in top-level equipment. Byron won seven times in his rookie NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season, with only a crucial engine failure in 2016's penultimate race keeping him from the championship fight. It's the reason Sadler has touted him as "a star of the future" and why Allgaier echoed the thought, calling Byron "an absolute class act and an amazing talent." Kelley Earnhardt Miller -- who co-owns JRM with her brother, Dale Earnhardt Jr . -- spoke with tones of regret in describing how Byron got away in late 2015, snapped up by Kyle Busch Motorsports and seemingly earmarked for an upward career arc in the Toyota pipeline. That changed last August when team owner Rick Hendrick brought him back into the Chevrolet camp, cognizant of the creeping advancement in age of his Monster Energy Cup Series roster. "For that to all come back full circle, we're real excited about it," Earnhardt Miller told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio last month. "He's just a great kid and a good family, and his story is just so cool -- doing the computer racing [on iRacing] and then telling his dad he wants to race and then not racing until he was 15. It's just a good story. But Mr. Hendrick deserves the credit there, trying to look at his next moves because he's going to have some drivers that are on the retirement horizon in the next several years, so smart move for him to make all that happen." Said Byron: "I just remember their ultimate goal for me when I started racing Late Models was so I could race an XFINITY car there. In a weird way, I got back to that and it's going to be really cool to return next year." To accommodate the escalated XFINITY Series growth, which Earnhardt Miller said has maxed out the team's resources, JR Motorsports has closed its truck series operation. Cole Custer , who drove the JRM No. 00 truck the last two seasons, has since moved on to Stewart-Haas Racing 's XFINITY program. As in past years, JR Motorsports plans to run an extra XFINITY entry in select races with Monster Energy NASCAR Cup drivers Earnhardt and Kasey Kahne behind the wheel for two races each. But at the heart of its growth are the core four XFINITY regulars, a direction chosen in light of new driver participation guidelines that go into effect in 2017. The continuity will keep JRM from scrambling to shuffle its roster once the Chase playoff begins and the limits on Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers moonlighting in the XFINITY ranks become more stringent. But the organization will still need to make inroads against stout competition, especially Joe Gibbs Racing , which won 19 of the 33 XFINITY races last season and took the other two spots in the four-driver championship round. Reminded of the heady assignment a day after last season's finale, Allgaier was unwavering. "Even with the Gibbs guys," Allgaier said. "I don't know, I just feel like with the packages that we've seen of what's a possibility for the XFINITY Series next year, the work that we're doing at the shop and the cars and just all the things that we've been working on, I really think next year's an opportunity for us at JR Motorsports."
The Rundown: Daytona
Complete news and notes on all 40 drivers from the Daytona 500 . 1. Denny Hamlin , No. 11 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . The dominant car for much of Speedweeks, Hamlin was out front for 95 laps and used a huge last lap surge to clear his teammate Matt Kenseth , edge Martin Truex Jr . to the line and earn his first Daytona 500 victory in 11 tries. Grade: A+ 2. Martin Truex Jr ., No. 78 Toyota, Furniture Row Racing . Just inches away from his first Daytona 500 victory, Truex may be heartbroken, but he took his second-place finish in style and with class. Grade: A 3. Kyle Busch , No. 18 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . One year after watching the Daytona 500 from the hospital, the defending Sprint Cup Series champion was a total team player and helped push the Joe Gibbs Racing charge to the front. Grade: A 4. Kevin Harvick , No. 4 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . The 2007 Daytona 500 champion made an incredible save early in the race and provided the push that shoved Denny Hamlin to the front of the field on the last lap. Grade: A 5. Carl Edwards , No. 19 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . The No. 19 Toyota looked like it went through 500 miles at Martinsville after getting caught in Brian Vickers ' early race spin, but the team never gave up and Edwards was a factor late in the race. Grade: A- RELATED: Edwards takes on damage 6. Joey Logano , No. 22 Ford, Team Penske . The 2015 Daytona 500 champion had a fast Ford, fought the handling for much of the race and helped form the high line late that won the race for Denny Hamlin . Grade: B 7. Kyle Larson , No. 42 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing . The quiet seventh-place finish for Larson was a huge improvement over his four previous Daytona starts, where he failed to finish better than 34th. Grade: B+ 8. Regan Smith , No. 7 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing . In his first start for Tommy Baldwin Racing , Smith overcame an early spin and an overheating engine in the closing laps to earn his first top 10 since Talladega Superspeedway in May 2013. Grade: B+ 9. Austin Dillon , No. 3 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing .The driver of the No. 3 Chevrolet had a slow start to the day but was able to hang around and move through the pack when it mattered most to finish inside the top 10. Grade: B- 10. Kurt Busch , No. 41 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . After missing last year's Daytona 500 , Busch was a factor toward the front of the field for much of the day and finished 10th. Grade: B 11. Ryan Newman , No. 31 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing . A dismal start of Speedweeks turned into an 11th-place finish for Ryan Newman , much better than they had performed all week. Grade: B 12. Aric Almirola , No. 43 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports . The driver of the famed No. 43 ran mid-pack for much of Sunday's Daytona 500 , but was able to work his way to 12th in the final laps. Grade: B- 13. Kasey Kahne , No. 5 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . Kahne's No. 5 Chevrolet showed speed throughout the day, but fell back when the field broke up off Turn 4 on the final lap of the race. Grade: B 14. Matt Kenseth , No. 20 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . The driver of the No. 20 Toyota was leading the race in the final corner, tried to block Hamlin's strong run and made an incredible save to avoid wrecking the field. The two-time "Great American Race" winner led for a total of 40 laps. Grade: A RELATED: Kenseth reacts to heartbreaking ending 15. Michael McDowell , No. 59 Chevrolet, Circle Sport- Leavine Family Racing . McDowell stopped in the wrong pit stall, stalled the car, was pushed out by Ricky Stenhouse Jr ., but was able to recover to finish inside the top 15. Grade: B- 16. Jimmie Johnson , No. 48 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsport s . Starting in the rear with a backup car, the two-time Daytona 500 champion showed speed, led 18 laps, but fell back late after making an incredible save. Grade: B- 17. Jamie McMurray , No. 1 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing . The 2010 Daytona 500 winner was running mid-pack on the final lap and had to check up when Kenseth slowed off Turn 4. Grade: B- 18. Paul Menard , No. 27 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing . The Richard Childress Racing driver ran outside the top 20 for much of the race, ran inside the top 10 midway through the event, but then dropped back late in the going. Grade: C 19. Ryan Blaney , No. 21 Ford, Wood Brothers Racing . The highest-finishing rookie showed strength throughout the day, but faded late in the 200-lap event after a loose wheel mired him in the pack. Grade: B- 20. Brad Keselowski , No. 2 Ford, Team Penske . The Team Penske driver fought the handling of his No. 2 Ford throughout the race, tried to make the high line work on the final lap, but fell back. Grade: C+ 21. AJ Allmendinger , No. 47 Chevrolet, JTG Daugherty Racing . Not the start to the season Allmendinger was hoping for, as he ran outside the top 25 for much of the race. Grade: C- 22. Ricky Stenhouse Jr ., No. 17 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing . Stenhouse was stuck behind McDowell on pit road midway through the race, was in the wrong lane at the end, but was still the highest-finishing Roush Fenway Racing driver. Grade: C 23. Landon Cassill , No. 38 Ford, Front Row Motorsports . Starting 24th, Cassill ran midpack for much of the event and finished one spot ahead of where he started. Grade: C 24. Brian Scott , No. 44 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports . The rookie driver took a conservative approach at the end of Sunday's race, trying to avoid a wreck and finished outside the top 20 as a result. Grade: C 25. Ty Dillon , No. 95 Chevrolet, Circle Sport- Leavine Family Racing . Making his second Daytona 500 start, the younger Dillon worked his way to the top 10 just before halfway, but faded deep in the pack late in the race. Grade: C 26. Brian Vickers , No. 14 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . Filling in for Tony Stewart , Vickers spun on Lap 56, avoided any damage and fought back to the top 10, but was caught in the high line late and fell through the pack. Grade: B+ RELATED: Vickers spins out, but rallies 27. Michael Annett , No. 46 Chevrolet, HScott Motorsports . Annett ran outside the top 30 for much of the day, but was able to make some moves and work his way to 27th by the end of the race. Grade: C- 28. Trevor Bayne , No. 6 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing . The 2011 Daytona 500 winner was involved in an early incident with Carl Edwards and was never able to make a charge to the front. Grade: C- 29. David Ragan , No. 23 Toyota, BK Racing . Ragan raced his way inside the top 20 throughout the race, but was never a factor and fell to the back of the pack on the final run to the checkered flag. Grade: C- 30. Michael Waltrip , No. 83 Toyota, BK Racing . The two-time Daytona 500 winner struggled throughout the day on pit road, receiving multiple penalties. Grade: D 31. Bobby Labonte , No. 32 Ford, Go Fas Racing . Starting 33rd, the 2000 series champion rarely broke out of the top 30, finishing the day 31st. Grade: D 32. Casey Mears , No. 13 Chevrolet, Germain Racing . Mears was hit with a pit-road speeding penalty under green and hit a large piece of debris with the hood and windshield. Grade: C- 33. Clint Bowyer , No. 15, HScott Motorsports . In his debut with HScott Motorsports , Bowyer struggled for speed throughout Speedweeks and received a pit-road penalty late in the going. Grade: D- 34. Greg Biffle , No. 16 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing . Biffle had high hopes for the Daytona 500 , but when the team put left side tires on the right side of the car, it led to a blown right rear and late contact with Danica Patrick ended any hope of a recovery. Grade: D- 35. Danica Patrick , No. 10 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . Problems on pit road, heated conversations with the team over the radio and a wild ride through the grass after contact with Biffle made her Daytona less than memorable. Grade: D 36. Dale Earnhardt Jr ., No. 88 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . One of the strongest cars all of Speedweeks, Earnhardt was charging to the front when his car -- penned "Amelia" -- broke loose and slid into the inside wall with 31 laps to go. Grade: B- RELATED: Junior's day ends early after hitting wall 37. Chase Elliott , No. 24 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . After a strong start for the rookie pole-sitter, Elliott lost control of his No. 24 (off Turn 4) on Lap 18. The infield grass destroyed the front end of Elliott's car and ended his hopes of a solid finish. Grade: C- 38. Robert Richardson Jr ., No. 26 Toyota, BK Racing . The underdog story of Daytona ended up finishing two spots ahead of where he started, and Richardson stayed out of trouble throughout the day. Grade: D+ 39. Chris Buescher , No. 38 Ford, Front Row Motorsports . Buescher's rookie campaign did not get off to a great start as he was caught up in a Lap 91 incident with Matt DiBenedetto , taking a huge hit in the process. Grade: C- 40. Matt DiBenedetto , No. 93 Toyota, BK Racing . Making his first Daytona 500 start, the BK Racing driver had a hard hit into the Turn 1 SAFER barrier and took blame for the incident. Grade: D