Are Patrick and Pastrana for real?

Is Danica really that good? Is the Gen-6 really that bad?

Are former start-and-parkers Michael McDowell and J.J. Yeley really competitive? Can Travis Pastrana really be a 10-top racer? Is it safe to sit in the grandstands?

Lots of people were asking those questions when the weekend ended at Daytona.

Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Travis Pastrana gets a thumbs-up for his 10th-place showing in Saturday's Nationwide race at Daytona.

Stay tuned. Most of your questions will be answered in the next two weeks on a Western swing to Phoenix and Las Vegas. But I'll step in ahead of those events and tell you what answers are coming.

One thing you should realize about Daytona: It can fool you. It can cause you to believe things that just aren't true.

Daytona is an anomaly. Take it for what it's worth -- NASCAR's premier event, but not a good predictor of things to come.

So let's take those questions above one at a time and make a judgment call.

• Is Danica really that good? -- Well no, not yet. Danica Patrick rocked NASCAR's world at Daytona -- the first woman to win the pole for the Daytona 500, the first woman to lead the race and the first woman to post a top-10 finish in the big event.

She went to the last lap with a chance to win, but fell from third to eighth before the checkered flag when she got shuffled back in the draft.

It happens to the best of them, but Patrick isn't going to race in the top 10 consistently this year and she knows it.

"It would be unwise to start telling myself that a top-10 is where we need to be every week," Patrick said after the 500. "I think that's setting up for failure.

"Let's see how these first five races go at a bunch of different kinds of tracks, see where we settle in, and start to establish goals from there on out."

• Is the Gen-6 really that bad? -- No, it isn't, and Daytona is not the place to assess it. The 500 was a one-line parade most of the race, but it means nothing about how the new car will race everywhere else.

Daytona is its own little fiefdom. Even Talladega, the other restrictor-plate track, is different because Daytona is a handling track and Talladega isn't.

"Plate racing is its own animal," said Jimmie Johnson, who now has two Daytona 500 victories after Sunday's win. "I think everybody is holding tight to see how the car races at Phoenix, Vegas, Bristol and Fontana to get back into the type of racing we see on a regular basis.

"This car has so much grip in it. It's going to promote aggressive driving and aggressive racing. Phoenix is a newly repaved track. The groove might be a little narrow to see the side-by-side racing. But I feel when we get to Vegas we'll see an amazing race, great side-by-side racing that everybody will enjoy."

Even Daytona probably will improve in July after the teams have half a season to learn about the car.

• Are former start-and-parkers McDowell and Yeley really competitive? -- McDowell finished ninth Sunday (the first top-10 of his career) and Yeley was 10th (his first top-10 in five years).

Cheers to both of them, but it's not likely an omen of things to come. If you run the entire race and avoid the wrecks, almost anyone can post a top-10 at Daytona.

Teams don't want to start and park in the 500 because so much money is on the table. McDowell earned $366,121 for the No. 98 Ford team and Yeley made $344,338 for Tommy Baldwin Racing.

Dave Blaney finished 17th for TBR, which was good for another $322,785. Baldwin has stepped up his program this year and wants to race (really race) as much as possible. And McDowell is a quality driver when he actually gets a chance to race. But top-10s for these teams are a stretch.

• Can Pastrana really be a 10-top racer? -- Other than Patrick, Pastrana was the surprise of the weekend, finishing 10th in the Nationwide race Saturday.

Considering his lack of experience (he never had competed in a restrictor-plate race before Saturday), he's actually a bigger surprise than Danica.

Just getting to the end on the lead lap would have been a major achievement, but running near the front a good part of the day was stunning.

It was a big moment, but top-10s will be hard to come by in the learning process. Pastrana is a little goofy, in a good way, but he works hard and he has talent.

He also is going to be a dad soon. A Pastrana mini-me? Lord help us.

But keep your eye on the father-to-be. He is a fun guy who's exciting to watch. More surprises are ahead.

• Is it safe to sit in the grandstands? -- Saturday's terrifying last-lap crash that resulted in injured spectators, two of them critical, left everyone questioning catch fencing, lower-level seating and the overall safety of attending races.

You could attend races every week for the rest of your life, sit anywhere you want, and the odds of ever getting hurt by an on-track accident are astronomically low.

Even so, it's time to find a better way than catch fencing to contain an airborne car. The SAFER barrier was a revolutionary step forward in speedway walls. A super-strength Plexiglas-type window may be the future answer to eliminating catch fencing.

Related Content