Under The Radar
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone | MRN.com on February 26, 2014 | 8:00 A.M. EST
Casey Mears (13) and Landon Cassill (40) finished 10th and 12th, respectively, in the Daytona 500. (Photo: Getty Images)
You’ll have that when a guy named Dale Earnhardt Jr. wins NASCAR’s biggest race.
But while Junior certainly deserved the limelight for his second career victory in “The Great American Race,” there were a few others that also earned time in the spotlight.
One of those drivers was Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who started 34th but worked his way to the front of the field in short order.
Last year’s Rookie of the Year also dealt with a cut tire after running over debris on lap 145, but overcame that challenge to be in the mix for the dash to the checkered flag and eventually finished seventh.
“We struggled there for awhile,” Stenhouse said. “We worked our way to the front and got off a little of fuel strategy when the rain came. I knew our Nationwide Fusion was fast but it was such a log jam trying to get back to the front.”
Stenhouse finished one spot ahead of Roush Fenway Racing teammate Greg Biffle, who looked like his 2014 season would start off in disaster when he slapped the wall just 15 laps into the race.
After a pit stop to change tires and ensure there wasn’t more damage to the right side of the 3M Ford Fusion, Biffle returned to action. He got back on the lead lap and wound up leading the race three times for eight laps.
Biffle got shuffled back in the final two-lap run to the finish but earned a more than respectable eighth-place finish.
“It was a good night,” said Biffle. “They (Chevrolet) just have a tick more speed, it seems like. I could kind of hold them off, but it depends on who is pushing you, I guess. You get some fast cars lined up and you’re fast, but that last restart killed me. That was it. We had a really strong car, but the No. 88 was real fast. We just couldn’t hold him off.”
Casey Mears and the Germain Racing organization began their new alliance with Chevrolet and Richard Childress Racing in solid fashion.
Mears started the race 28th but was inside the first twenty only seven laps later. But like he did during practice earlier in the week, Mears was forced to dodge several incidents that broke out near him during the rest of the day and night.
He was lined up 16th in the final green-white-checkered finish to end the race and was able to draft his way to come home 10th.
“I’m just so happy for the guys on this GEICO team because they worked really hard during the off-season to make the conversion to Chevrolet and build the new relationship with Richard Childress Racing,” Mears said. “They were logging some pretty heavy hours away from their families, so it’s great to see smiles on their faces tonight.
“Each year we’ve gotten a lot better and I’m glad the 2014 season is off to a strong start.”
But perhaps the biggest underdog story of the race was 12th-place finisher Landon Cassill. The Hillman Racing driver secured a starting berth in the "500" with his Budweiser Duel finish.
The Cedar Rapids, Iowa native made the most of the opportunity and dodge several accidents around him to record the impressive finish.
"Huge thank you to everyone who made this possible," said a jubilant Cassill after the race. "With a great car, we finished 12th place in the Daytona 500."