DAYTONA BEACH, FL, MAR. 17 - This year's Daytona 200 was enough to finally rid the palate of the bitter taste of recent 200s, the 57-lapper at Daytona International Speedway an absolute thriller that went off without a hitch and with 19-year-old Joey Pascarella and his Project One Atlanta Yamaha holding off the Latus Racing Triumph of Jason DiSalvo by just .048 of a second. And Y.E.S. Graves Racing's Cameron Beaubier and GEICO Suzuki's Martin Cardenas crossed the stripe in a virtual tie for third - the pair just .112 of a second behind Pascarella.
No tire woes, pace cars or controversy in this one. Just stellar racing from two youngsters - Pascarella and Beaubier - and an amazing comeback by veteran DiSalvo, the New Yorker riding a Triumph 675 decked out in Gary Nixon livery in a fashion that would have made the late Nixon proud.
"The hardest race ever," Pascarella said from Victory Lane. "There was always somebody there every time I looked back. I have to give it up to my crew. It's phenomenal, dude. They gave me the equipment to do this. I'm really thankful to be out there. I definitely thought I could do it. I just didn't let it get to me after qualifying and I just rode my own race and stayed out front. That's where I was most comfortable."
Pascarella, who won't turn 20 until September, became the second youngest winner of the Daytona 200 and the youngest 200 winner at Daytona International Speedway. Brad Andres won the 200 at the age of 18 at the beach course in 1955. When Josh Herrin won the 200 in 2010, he was two and a half months shy of his 20 birthday. Pascarella, who looks more Sid Vicous than Brad Andres, is six months shy of 20.
The youngster from Victorville, California, was a factor throughout, leading 41 of the 57 laps, and when he wasn't leading he was in the lead pack. The Project One Atlanta crew performed flawless pit stops and it came down to a furious final lap with DiSalvo coming from no where to almost steal the victory. But at the end it was Pascaralla winning his first-ever non-Supersport race - just four years removed from competing in the Red Bull Rookies Cup.
DiSalvo was forced to fight back after making an unscheduled pit stop on the 14th lap. The veteran heard funny noises from the Triumph and opted to pit in the name of safety, losing some 40 seconds in the process. From there he would continue to fight. On the 32nd lap he was 17.2 seconds behind. On the 43rd lap that gap was 13.2 seconds and then it really started to drop. With seven laps to go, DiSalvo was 7.7 seconds behind and it looked like he could make this happen. On the 55th of 57 laps, he had the gap to under a second and it all came down to the final lap and he came up just short at the line.
"At the beginning of the race I knew we were coming back from a big deficit," DiSalvo said. "Uusally in the Daytona 200 that counts you out - in theory. The Triumph was fantastic, the crew did an incredible job of preparing this motorcycle. All race long I had in the back of my mind to keep riding for Gary Nixoin... every lap, harder and harder and harder. It was the hardest race I've ever ridden and I want to dedicate this race to his memory and to his family who are in attendance."
Before DiSalvo and Cardenas clawed their way back, it looked as though it would be Beaubier who would fight with Pascarella to the finish. But the other 19-year-old on the podium ended up third - just .112 of a second from the win.
"The race was really long and I kept making mistakes in the first corner," Beaubier said. "My crew gave me an awesome bike. I was struggling a bit in the right handers and spinning it up, but it was an awesome race."
Cardenas was basically tied for third, but the photo finish gave the spot to Beaubier.
Fifth place, some 44 seconds behind, came M4 Broaster Chicken Suzuki's Dane Westby. Westby was also in the battle for victory after clawing his way back to the front (and he led seven laps - the second most to Pascarella), but his race was wrecked by a bad pit stop on the 41st lap when his pit crew struggled with the front-wheel change.
Sixth place went to DucShop Ducati's Jake Zemke, the veteran holding off another veteran, Tommy Hayden, by just .112 of a second. Hayden had shown up on Thursday to replace the injured Garrett Gerloff on the second Y.E.S. Yamaha. Young Jake Gagne also crossed the line with the veterans. Ditto for Tommy Aquino with the four of them separated by just .225 of a second.
Tenth place went to Cory West, who was over 10 seconds behind the battle for sixth, but over 23 seconds ahead of 11th-placed JD Beach.
Daytona 200 Results:
1. Joey Pascarella (Yamaha)
2. Jason DiSalvo (Triumph)
3. Cameron Beaubier (Yamaha)
4. Martin Cardenas (Suzuki)
5. Dane Westby (Suzuki)
6. Jake Zemke (Ducati)
7.Tommy Hayden (Yamaha)
8. Jake Gagne (Yamaha)
9.Tommy Aquino (Yamaha)
10.Cory West (Suzuki)