Published February 25, 2013
| Sports Network
Philadelphia, PA – Hours before the start of Hollywood's biggest night of the year with the Academy Awards, NASCAR rolled out its own red carpet for the Daytona 500.
Sunday's Sprint Cup Series season opener at Daytona International Speedway, which was completed roughly 30 minutes quicker than the Oscars show, had a number of award winners worth mentioning.
Jimmie Johnson won for best male driver in a leading role for his victory in the Daytona 500. Johnson nabbed the top prize -- the Harley J. Earl Trophy and a $1,525,275 payday -- after winning NASCAR's most prestigious race of the season. The five-time Sprint Cup champion fended off a last-lap challenge from Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. to win this event for a second time. His first came in 2006.
"There's no other way to start the season than to win the Daytona 500," said Johnson, who claimed his 61st career victory in the series. "I'm a very lucky man to have won it twice. I'm very honored to be on that trophy with all the greats that have ever been in our sport."
Is there any doubt who deserved the honor for best female driver in a leading role? We've heard about Danica Patrick's eighth-place finish more so than Johnson's victory in the Daytona 500. She is worthy of the attention, though. It has been a week full of records for Patrick at NASCAR's most famous racetrack. She became the first female to start on the pole and lead a lap in this race prior to securing the best-ever finish for a woman in it. Her boyfriend, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., finished four spots behind in 12th.
Unlike Jennifer Lawrence taking a tumble while on her way to collect the Oscar for Best Actress, Patrick kept her pace throughout the Daytona 500.
"Being able to stay up front, get to the lead at one point, just run up in the top 10, for me that was more of an accomplishment," Patrick said.
Let's give her first laps led in the Daytona 500 the award for best sound. Patrick received the biggest roar from the crowd not only during driver introductions but when she led each of her five laps in the race. Sorry, Dale Earnhardt Jr. You weren't the crowd favorite this time.
With Patrick having a solid performance in the race, you certainly have to give her crew chief, Tony Gibson, the honor for best achievement in directing. Gibson has done a marvelous job guiding Patrick's Sprint Cup efforts since the two started working together at the tail end of the 2012 season. It definitely showed during Speedweeks.
"That was awesome," Gibson said after Patrick's top-10 finish. "She came out here and ran up front all day long. To be the first woman to sit on the pole for the Daytona 500, and the first woman to lead a lap in the Daytona 500 and the highest finish ever is pretty damn impressive. What else are you going to get from that?"
Best supporting roles went to all track personnel who worked feverishly overnight on Saturday to repair the damaged catch fence from the horrifying last-lap crash that occurred on the front stretch in the Nationwide Series race.
Hey, why not give the gold award statue for best visual effects to Mother Nature. Unlike last year's Daytona 500, there was no "Skyfall." The weather forecast for the area on Sunday called for a threat of rain.
There is one other award of note. With just two nominees in this category, best foreign-born driver went to Australian Marcos Ambrose, who finished 18th compared to a 39th-place run for Colombia's Juan Pablo Montoya in this race.
While "Argo" won the Oscar for Best Picture, NASCAR's new Sprint Cup race car, the Gen-6, wasn't exactly a hit in the Daytona 500. Maybe the car will get better reviews next weekend when the series heads Phoenix.