Daytona 500 replacement driver report
Photo by Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images
Matt Crafton poses with the No. 18 Toyota Camry pre-race Sunday.
This year’s Daytona 500 featured three interim drivers, including two who filled in for teams that made the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup. Below is a report on how the three fared.
No. 18 Matt Crafton
Replacing the injured Kyle Busch, Matt Crafton made his Sprint Cup debut in NASCAR’s premiere event. The two-time Camping World Truck Series champion described the race as a learning experience.
“It was a learning curve,” he said. “The first half we just rode around and tried to learn, learn, learn. I made a mistake – I had a pretty good surge up top and I tried the bottom and shuffled myself all the way to the back. I should have had a little better finish there at the end, but it is what it is.”
Crafton, who ran as high as third place, posted the fastest lap three times Sunday. Staying on the lead lap for the entire race, Crafton finished 18th in his first Sprint Cup outing.
“It was very, very tough, but that’s what we get paid to do – drive race cars and figure it out quick,” Crafton said of getting in the car with no practice. “I felt fine, just my back from being in that seat hurt. Under yellows I would loosen up the belts as much as I could and just try to bow myself up in the seat just because my back was just cramped so unbelievable bad. We made it”
No. 41 Regan Smith
Smith filled in for the sidelined Kurt Busch, making his first Daytona 500 start in two seasons.
“Started off really tight with the race car and never got it turning,” he said. “I don’t know, kind of frustrating. I actually anticipated a much better day and nothing much more to show for it. Those guys did a nice job all weekend but we just plowed through the corners.”
Smith ran on the lead lap for much of the race, finishing 16th. No official announcement has been made if Smith will run more races in the No. 41 in 2015.
No. 55 Michael Waltrip
Waltrip started 34th in his 28th Daytona 500 appearance.
Waltrip was on the lead lap when he received damage from the lap 42 multi-car incident involving Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart.
Running one lap down for most of the second half of the event, Waltrip earned the free pass under the fifth caution period late in the race.
Waltrip was 30th before the last lap accident, but managed to finish 26th his best finish in the race in two seasons.