Race Capsule: Dominant at Daytona, Earnhardt Jr. wins ahead of vicious crash
Flag to Flag: Sunday and mostly Monday's Coke Zero 400 started three-and-a-half hours late and ended with a bang. Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s red, white, blue, and black Nationwide Insurance Chevy started from the pole after qualifying's
Teammate Jimmie Johnson drove the only entry that had anything for the No. 88 and led 35 laps to finish second, ahead of mass chaos behind him as he came to the checkered flag. Denny Hamlin (3rd) got a big push from Kevin Harvick (4th) as the field came to the start-finish line, this turned Hamlin and gobbled up the field. Austin Dillon (7th) was nearby and got sent to the apron, then airborne, then upside down. The No. 3 Bass Pro Shops Chevy launched over a wrecking three-wide pack and
Dillon's car landed on its roof and then got clobbered by a spinning Brad Keselowski, who was trailing the wrecking field by quite a bit. Earnhardt Jr.'s crew and at least one member of the No. 13-Casey Mears crew ran to the No. 3 car to check on Dillon and quickly motioned he was okay. Then Dillon, Friday night's Xfinity Series race winner emerged and gave a celebratory nod to the crowd.
Wrecks perforated the
On the final restart, Earnhardt Jr. and Johnson led the field the green. Johnson on the outside tried desperately to side draft and break up the draft and momentum between Earnhardt Jr. and Hamlin. Then the field turned into a three-wide hornet's nest and the likes of Harvick, Tony Stewart (14th), and Jeff Gordon (6th) - in his final start at Daytona - tried to push into the fray. But Earnhardt Jr., who says this and his 2014 Daytona 500-winning car, are the two best restrictor plate cars he has driven, had the field covered and won.
The top 10 were Earnhardt Jr., Johnson, Hamlin, Harvick, Kurt Busch (strong, but quiet all night), Gordon, Dillon, Ryan Newman (damaged in lap 4 crash and never a factor until surviving the finish), Trevor Bayne (stayed in top 5 in closing laps, but had nowhere to go to really catch the lead), and Clint Bowyer.
The race took three hours and nine minutes and most of the fans seemed to stay for not only the late start of the
Track safety has been a big subject all year and even bigger this weekend - the first Daytona race weekend back after Kyle Busch's horrible February crash. The track has added SAFER barriers, changed the infield wall angle where Busch hit, and paved over the grass in that area. Daytona officials re-enforced the
RaceTweet: Earnhardt Jr.'s rain-delayed Daytona win overshadowed but unbelievably scary Austin Dillon crash into
Handsome Boy Modeling School Stud of the Race: Dale Earnhardt Jr. -
North Korean Missile Dud: Jeff Gordon - Sure, he finished 6th and was in the top 10 all day, but when is he going to win? He led a ton of laps in the Daytona 500 and faded there. The nature of Sunday/Monday's race just never led him to the front. That is disappointing.
Never Fear, Underdog is Here: Casey Mears - He could have finished better and should have finished worse. Mears developed a problem with his electronic fuel injection sensor shutting the car off. He had been running in the top 5 and fell off the pace. But the GEICO crew fixed it and Mears drove back to as high as 5th in the closing laps. Like almost everyone else, the No. 13 Chevy got crash damage on the last lap, but 11th is the best effort of the underdogs this night/morning.
Ghost Driver: Tony Stewart - One of these races, Stewart is going to emerge in beast mode, right? Last week at Sonoma was a chance to race without worry of struggling under the rules package and Stewart got shuffled out of contention. This week saw the No. 14 hang in the back most of the race, charge at the end, but only get up to 14th.
You Can Comeback, But You Can't Stay Here: Ryan Newman - The No. 31 Grainger Chevy looked done after that early wreck, but Newman rose through the swarm at the finish and ended in the top 10. Honorable mention goes to Joey Logano's crew, who got down three laps after heavy damage in that same crash, but then got the free pass on the second-to-last caution. They wrecked three times in the race and still finished 22nd.
Jimmie Johnson Lucky Horseshoe: Austin Dillon - He walked away from one of the worst crashes in years and got hit after his car came to a stop on its roof. Simple as that.
Wheel of Misfortune: Ryan Blaney and Michael McDowell - Each missed the race, because rain cancelled qualifying and set the field by points and then by race attempts and then the past champion's provisional. Since Blaney and McDowell run for part-time teams, they DNQ'd.
Head-Scratcher Crown of Thorns: Why in the heck was this a Sunday night race? I got that question a lot and the reasons I read were because NBC and NASCAR did not want the race to run on July 4th itself (which it used to for many years) and that NBC thought ratings would be better on a Sunday night, than a Saturday night. The late start time might have been because of competition from the Women's World Cup Final (congrats to Team USA, by the way). But this decision was ludicrous.
NASCAR has been bitten hard by the rain bug the last few years and moving a race to Sunday night leaves no wiggle room for things like what happened this Sunday night - rain. If the race moves to Monday, then the ratings, attendance, and overall interest are hurt. Teams have compressed work weeks. Pretty much everyone suffers. And knowing what we know about summers in the south, especially in Florida, we knew the high likelihood that rain could slow the process.
Next year, the race certainly will run on Saturday, as July 4th will be later. But maybe the next time we run into this quandary NASCAR could consider at the very least running the race during the day Sunday and not at night. The ratings certainly weren't better from 11 p.m. - 3 a.m. than they would have been between 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. That was a major mistake.
Georgia on My Mind: Georgia drivers mostly struggled this weekend in Daytona. David Ragan started 8th, ran as high as 5th, and fell back to mid-pack for most of the race. Landon Cassill got into him and spun him late in the race, but Ragan fought back to finish 12th in a race he won in 2011. Ragan also ran Saturday's Xfinity Series Subway Firecracker 250 and finished a respectable 7th, in another crash-filled event.
In that same race, Chase Elliott was in the top 3 and had a shot to win at the end, but only mustered that 3rd position. He gained points, though, as points leader Chris Buescher crashed and came back to finish 12th and Ty Dillon also wrecked and finished 26th. Elliott is now 2nd in the standings, trailing Buescher by 34 points.
Ryan Sieg got torn up in one of the big wrecks and finished 27th and so did John Wes Townley, but he worked back up to 19th. Chris Cockrum (with "Remembering Captain Herb" on the rear bumper) in a self-owned No. 37 Chevy and Mark Thompson driving for MBM each failed to qualify for the race.
Next: Kentucky Speedway and the new Sprint Cup Series rules package adjustment are on the radar next weekend. The NSCS runs Saturday at 7:30 p.m. on NBCSN (so on cable, not network). The NXS races Friday at 7:30 p.m. on NBCSN at Kentucky also. And the Camping World Truck Series also returns to action at Kentucky with a Thursday race at 7:30 p.m. on FS1.