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Coming out smokin' The Daytona 500 gets the NASCAR season off to a roaring start

Big winner: Jimmie Johnson wins his first Daytona 500 despite his crew chief, Chad Knaus, having been suspended for using an illegal part for qualifying.

Big loser: The Busch brothers. Kurt ran up near the front until Jamie McMurray knocked him out with 12 laps to go and he finished 38th. Kyle was also strong until an aggressive driving penalty put him at the back of the pack and he dropped to 23rd.

Return of the "old" Tony? In the first race after his feel-good championship season, Tony Stewart stewed (as did the drivers he hit) after several incidents.

Worst crash: Jeff Green's spin led to Carl Edwards plowing into Kyle Petty so hard that two slid into the infield together with Edwards' front end completely propped up on Petty's hood.

Cinderella story: Kirk Shelmerdine, a 47- year-old who was the crew chief for Dale Earnhardt when he won the 1986 championship, was the last driver to make this year's Daytona 500. Without a regular crew chief and a severe lack of equipment, he started 42nd and finished 20th.

Pleasant surprise: Drivers' use of bump drafting all came in the right spots and led to an exciting race, and NASCAR didn't have to throw any would-be controversial "penalty flags."

Most common sign in town: "Welcome Race Fans," from Krispy Kreme to the pawn shop.

Best quote: Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the controversy- causing Bud Shootout - "Hell, we all came from night racing, banging Saturday night, a lot of money, a little bit of time to get it, a lot of hungry drivers ain't been on the racetrack all winter."

Second-best quote: "That sounds like a country song right there," Carl Edwards, describing Earnhardt's quote.

Wackiest story: Kurt Busch admitted to having cosmetic surgery in the offseason to have his once-prominent ears pinned back closer to his head.

ESPN perspective: "An adrenaline circus" was anchor Chris Fowler's great phrase to describe his first Daytona 500.

Merchandise-mania: There were Daytona fans adorned with Dale Jarrett and Ricky Rudd jackets, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon cooler bags and Tony Stewart and Richard Childress Racing baseball caps. And that was just on Wednesday's 7 a.m. flight from Buffalo to Orlando.


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