DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - After a week filled with controversy -- some of it very ugly -- NASCAR got almost everything it wanted in Sunday's 57th Daytona 500.
The "Great American Race" lived up to its nickname with perfect weather, emotional story lines and big-name drivers in contention until the end.
It finished with a late surge and a victory for one-time Sprint Cup Series wunderkind Joey Logano. The 24-year-old from Middletown, Connecticut, won his first Daytona 500 in a two-lap green-white-checker finish after a nearly seven-minute break to clear the track following a one-car spinout.
The race finished under caution after a mishap on the final lap involving emotional favorite Jeff Gordon, who led for 77 of the first 100 laps but ended up 33rd in his final Daytona 500.
Gordon, the four-time Daytona 500 champion who is retiring after this Sprint Cup season, led for 87 laps overall from the pole position.
No one was seriously injured in the wrecks, which was a welcome development after Kyle Busch suffered a broken right leg and left foot in a crash during Saturday's Xfinity Series race on the same Daytona International Speedway track.
Busch crashed head-first into an interior wall that lacked an energy-absorbing barrier, leading to a promise from track officials to cover the entire speedway with barriers. For Sunday's race, tires were used as barriers at the spot of Busch's accident.
In a bizarre twist, Busch was in surgery in a Daytona Beach hospital Saturday night at the same time his brother, Kurt, was miles away losing a pair of appeals of an indefinite suspension that kept him out of Sunday's race.
NASCAR banned Kurt Busch on Friday after a Delaware Family Court judge said the 2004 Daytona 500 champion "more likely than not . . . committed an act of domestic violence" when he choked and beat his former girlfriend last Sept. 26 at Dover International Speedway.
Busch has denied the allegations. He has not been charged with a crime as the case is still being investigated. He is the first driver suspended by NASCAR for alleged domestic violence.
The lead-up to the race also included drivers complaining bitterly about a new qualifying system and a shouting match between drivers Danica Patrick and Denny Hamlin after a crash.
But the race itself went off without a blemish. The skies were sunny and the temperature hovered around 80 degrees, which was a challenge for the drivers after a week of races and practices in chilly (for Florida) conditions.
Logano is no stranger to cold as he grew up in Connecticut and began competitive driving at age 6. He won his first race when he was 7 before the family moved to Georgia in 1999.
Logano joined the Sprint Cup Series as an 18-year-old and was nicknamed "Sliced Bread" -- meaning the next big thing. But he struggled and was dropped by Joe Gibbs Racing in 2013. Logano signed with Roger Penske and Sunday delivered the team's second Daytona 500.
"Daytona 500, oh my God! Are you kidding me?" Logano yelled in Victory Lane. "I was so nervous the whole race. We worked so hard in the offseason and this is my weakest race track, the superspeedways, and we worked so hard at them. I couldn't be more proud. Unbelievable."
Reigning Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick finished second and was followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr., the defending race winner who led for 32 laps. Logano led for 31 laps -- including the most important one. With AP