By Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief
After a solid Speedweeks, the 2016 Sprint Cup rookie class struggled to live up to expectations in this year’s Daytona 500.
Chase Elliott replaced retired four-time series champion Jeff Gordon in the No. 24 at Hendrick Motorsports, and started off with a bang by winning the pole for ‘The Great American Race’. However, after leading the opening three laps, the second-generation driver and 2014 XFINITY Series champion quickly ran into trouble, wrecking off Turn 4 before ultimately finishing 37th.
Chris Buescher, last season’s XFINITY Series champion, saw his day in the No. 38 Love’s Ford with Front Row Motorsports after the 23-year-old Texan collided with second-year driver Matt DiBenedetto entering Turn 1, retiring 91 laps in and finishing 39th.
Brian Scott, driving for Richard Petty Motorsports in the No. 44, had a relatively quiet Daytona 500. The 28-year-old from Boise, Idaho started 35th and stayed out of trouble, but never broke into the top 10 during the course of the day. On his one run, which came late in the race, Scott drove up the middle, splitting the field before losing momentum and falling backwards to finish 24th.
“At the end we kind of rode around expecting bigger crashes,” said Scott. “We wanted to be there at the end. When we started racing for position I got in the middle of three-wide, the one chance we were working towards track position, and the car just didn’t like it. It didn’t like being in the middle. The back end kept coming out and we about wrecked, so I backed off thinking other cars probably battled some of the same issues and that there would be a big wreck and after that we were gonna get our track position back and it just didn’t happen.
“Everybody did a great job holding onto their cars out there that I’m sure weren’t handling very good.”
Without question, the best hope the rookie class had in this year’s Daytona 500 was Ryan Blaney.
The 22-year-old from High Point, North Carolina had a stellar comeback in the Can-Am Duels in which Blaney finishing third after encountering a vibration and going a lap down early on. After starting seventh, the Wood Brothers Racing driver stayed among the top five all race until getting shuffled out in the final 30 laps. Unable to recover, Blaney was forced to settle for 19th.
“You can’t go anywhere,” said Blaney. “No one could go on the top line all day. There was a while where people could go but then it became nonexistent. We just got behind and we couldn’t get back up there. We also had a loose wheel again so that is something to work on but it wasn’t too bad of a run and I am definitely looking forward to Atlanta next weekend.”
Image: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images