DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Joey Logano won the 2015 Daytona 500.
Of course he did.
The script for the 57th edition of the Great American Race was supposed to have already been written. The superstars of Hendrick Motorsports had dominated the early chapters of Daytona Speedweeks, sweeping the front row in pole qualifying and sweeping Thursday night's Duel 150 qualifying races.
The way that Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson won those races, in an almost bullying fashion, led to speculation that the Hendrick four -- including pole-sitter Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne -- would be an unbreachable blockade.
Of course they weren't.
Not this year. Logano, 24-years old, newly married and once washed-up, held off a herd of NASCAR all-stars in an extra-laps green-white-checkers-yellow finish to earn the biggest win of his life, his ninth NASCAR Sprint Cup victory.
"You don't understand how crazy this is," he said, standing in Victory Lane, awaiting his father, Tom, and boss, Roger Penske, as they descended the frontstretch tower and jogged across the infield grass to join him. "To beat the guys we beat is crazy. And to have won this race at this place is crazy. I love Daytona, but man, I have always thought this is easily our worst racetrack."
He's not wrong. Before Sunday, he had only three top-10 finishes in a dozen Daytona starts. Now a guy that had been discarded from Joe Gibbs Racing three years ago, a wunderkind labeled a "bust" who luckily landed at Penske Racing, is now the second youngest winner in the history of NASCAR's biggest race.
Of course he is.
"It makes me feel good. It should make us all feel good," Penske said of the win, a second Daytona 500 victory to go with his 15 Indianapolis 500 titles. "You have to have youth around you in business and in racing. You feel rejuvenated by a moment like this and a story like Joey's. Of course you would."
Why all the "of course"? Because this Daytona 500 always seemed predestined for the unexpectedly special. So much so that on race morning more than a few drivers, crew members and even NASCAR employees themselves, admitted a sense of uneasiness about the day ahead, anxious to see exactly what those two words -- unexpected and special -- might actually mean.
"We are all always excited about the Daytona 500," Jimmie Johnson said prior to team meetings that would start a day that ended with a fifth-place finish, despite leading 40 laps. "But I think that today there is also a feeling of, let's get on with this thing before something else unordinary happens."
That's why, as Logano celebrated in Victory Lane and the sun began to set on an unpredictable, frequently bizarre and sometimes heartbreaking Daytona Speedweeks, his champagne-soaked feelings of elation were surrounded and countered by an emotion not typically associated with the Great American Race: relief.
Sure, the 42 non-winners were disappointed. They always are, especially following a race like Sunday, which concluded with a three-wide thriller of a final 30 laps until the last-lap caution flag was thrown. But instead of the typical dosage of postrace frustration over what-could-have-beens, the paddock was packed with looks of satisfaction and eyes turned toward the backstretch airport.
"I'm ready to go to Atlanta," runner-up Kevin Harvick said of next weekend's race, the second of the 2015 season. "It seems like we've been here for a month. I'm glad today's over. You're relieved."
"I'm definitely glad to come home safe," explained Dale Earnhardt Jr., who missed defending his 2014 Daytona 500 title by a mere two positions on the track, but was almost all smiles as he talked about it. "I want to send good wishes to Kyle [Busch] over at the hospital. Sorry he couldn't be here today. Just hoping he can get back here real fast."
On Saturday night, Busch, a former teammate of Logano's, suffered a compound fracture to his right leg as well as injuries to his left foot at the end of the Xfinity Series race. That sparked an online debate about the lack of SAFER barrier "soft walls" along the inside concrete wall where he'd hit, a debate led by drivers such as Johnson.
The multicar crash that set up Sunday's wild finish sent cars sliding through that area of the track, where the packed tire stacks hastily installed by speedway staff overnight were visible in the background.
Busch's injuries were merely another stanza of a disconcerting eight Daytona days. It started with a bafflingly bad pole qualifying session and continued with wreck-filled practice sessions, first-time winners in Trucks and Xfinity, and frigid temperatures throughout.
The entire week was overshadowed by a court document tennis match between Kurt Busch and ex-girlfriend Patricia Driscoll that ultimately ended with Busch indefinitely suspended by NASCAR, despite two Saturday appeal hearings at the NASCAR tower across the street from Daytona International Speedway.
The general consensus was that Kyle Busch's injury cast a bit of a pall over the typical Daytona pre-race electricity and contributed to the relatively calm early pace of the race.
In the morning, Logano's teammate Brad Keselowski had predicted "a wreckfest." But over the race's first 196 laps there were just four caution periods and only one of those came via an accident involving Keselowski.
Everyone agreed that a great finish would cure the Daytona doldrums. They also agreed that being a prerace favorite was probably not a great position to be in if one wanted to be in the right position at race's end. Not this week.
But in the end, even those fallen favorites seemed happy enough to have been broken out of their weeklong funk.
"I'm disappointed I didn't win but for some reason, I'm still smiling and enjoying this," said Jeff Gordon, Logano's childhood hero, who led a race-high 87 laps but wrecked on the last one to finish 33rd in his final Daytona 500. "You see Joey with his dad. That's what it's all about. These types of moments. Such a big race. It means so much to all of us. You want to show that to the people that you're closest to and have been there for you along the way."
Gordon, pointing across pit road to Daytona's Victory Lane, was right. So were the people who'd said that a great finish and an unexpected winner would soothe this super sideways Speedweeks as it came to a close.
Even the youngster who provided that win recognized the relief.
"You're down here for two weeks and there's so much buildup coming into this race," Logano said. "The qualifying and the Duels and it's the first time we raced in a couple of months, there was a lot of anxiety, a lot of nerves before the race. To be able to pull that car into Victory Lane, to see my team there, my family, my friends, everyone was here."
"It was the perfect ending to a tough, strange week."
Of course it was.