Race Capsule: Keselowski king at Daytona, Big One involves 22
Brad Keselowski has cemented his place in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series as a premiere restrictor plate racer. Once he got in front of Saturday's Coke Zero 400 field at Daytona International Speedway, the tight pack had fits catching him. Keselowski not only got his first-career Daytona victory, but also the 100th Sprint Cup win for Team Penske in its 50th season in racing. This was the tamest plate race of the season, but when trouble happened, it was big.
Flag to Flag: The Coke Zero 400 started remarkably on time, as rain in the area quit in enough time to get the track dried. Rain washed out Sprint Cup practice Thursday afternoon and cut it short on Friday. Greg Biffle (finished 8th) emerged from qualifying with his first pole since 2012 (meaning his first since NASCAR began knock out qualifying), but led only one lap later. Carl Edwards (25th) led the opening laps, but Keselowski took over the top spot and was hard to beat.
One the No. 2 Ford got out front, he rarely lost the lead for more than a handful of laps. Keselowski is the only driver in the 160-lap race to have led double-digit consecutive laps. The only other driver to lead a double-digit total of laps was Kyle Busch (2nd) and Busch easily had the best chance to overtake Keselowski.
Keselowski, teammate Joey Logano (4th), and sometimes Ryan Blaney (14th) tried to stay together near the front in an alliance, while all of the Joe Gibbs Racing cars tried to stay with them. The pack was so tight that gaining track position and keeping it was very difficult. A competition caution on lap 20 brought the leaders to pit road for two tires and a fairly clean race commenced, as the field sometimes got single-file and road around. This changed on lap 91.
The field had gotten a wild two and three-wide again and Jamie McMurray (34th) had a big moment. He says a tire went down, causing him to lose control in front of Jimmie Johnson (35th). Johnson tried to avoid the No. 1 car, but eventually tagged him and triggered a wreck that at least 22 cars got a piece of. Instead of listing them all, let's just say that if you don't hear about them in the next couple of paragraphs, they didn't make it.
Rookie Brian Scott (37th), who has had the season from hell, got airborne enough to ride the hood of the wrecking machine of Kevin Harvick (39th). Rookie Chris Buescher (40th), who had actually driven into the top 5 at one point, plowed into the wreck and has now wrecked in each plate race this year.
NASCAR never red flagged the race, instead opting to run 11 laps under yellow. Logano came out of the pits with the lead and then handed the top spot to Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin (17th), but Keselowski soon got it back. A lap 131 debris caution set the field up for final pit stops and Ky. Busch won the race out of the pits then and led for 11 of the next 13 laps.
Sonoma winner Tony Stewart (26th) took no tires on the final pit stop and ran inside the top 5 with teammate Kurt Busch (23rd). But Stewart battled a tight condition, lost control, over-corrected, and wrecked on lap 150, gathering up Edwards and Casey Mears (12th). Stewart is racing to get into the top 30 in points and make the Chase off of his Sonoma win and ended the race three points to the good for 30th (because both Scott and Regan Smith wrecked). Nonetheless, Stewart's last race in Daytona did not end how he wanted.
Keselowski managed to get ahead of Busch five laps before the Stewart caution and kept it through the restart. A lap 156 yellow for Edwards getting turned into Bobby Labonte (24th) set up a green-white-checkered finish.
The racing had been frenzied at this point, with drivers speeding through the stay dry foam on the track, kicking up dust and darting from lane to lane and leaning on each other at 200 mph. Keselowski chose the bottom line for the final restart and got a tremendous push from Logano. The No. 22 couldn't keep pace and Keselowski shot ahead of both lines and kept them at bay, with Ku. Busch pulling alongside his brother and ahead of Logano. As the leaders exited Turn 4, Logano tried to make a move under Ku. Busch and they made contact, sending Ku. Busch spinning through the grass and across the finish line over 20 spots behind where he could have finished. Ky. Busch never could catch Keselowski and the MIchigan driver won.
Top 10: Keselowski; Ky. Busch (second-best car in the field, finished where he should have); Trevor Bayne (got into the thick in the late going); Logano (raised the ire of of the No.41 team by hooking Ku. Busch at the end); Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (strategy of riding in the back didn't backfire); Kyle Larson (never ran up front and didn't wreck); Austin Dillon (happy to stay on the ground, unlike a year ago); Greg Biffle (pole sitter made for first time in several years three Roush entries finished in the top 10); Clint Bowyer (needed some good news after awful Sonoma race); Michael McDowell (likes finishing in the top 10 at Daytona).
The points: Just 43 points separate Dillon at 12th in points from 21st Stenhouse Jr. In between them are Dale Earnhardt Jr., Newman, and Ryan Blaney inside the Chase and then McMurray, Bayne, Kasey Kahne, A.J. Allmendinger, and Larson outside. Stewart is now in the top 30 in points, so only as low as 15th in points can make the Chase with no wins.
RaceTweet: Keselowski dominates for first Daytona win and The Big One eats 22. But no one flipped.
NXS RaceTweet: Almirola actually gets to celebrate the win this time at Daytona in controversial, wreck filled finish.
Georgia on My Mind: David Ragan ran some laps in the top 5, but shuffled back to 16th at the finish Saturday. He is 29th in points, just over 30 ahead of one Stewart. Reed Sorenson survived the carnage to place a season-best 22nd.
Chase Elliott was not so lucky, getting clobbered in the big wreck and soldiering a wounded car to 32nd. He is 8th in points, but has a big cushion to stay in the Chase.