From a rain delay of a day to a rain-shortened race, here is what was surprising and not surprising from the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.
Surprising: In spite of the fits and starts of the race due to the rain, the Coke 600 was still the stuff of legends, from the anniversary victory for The King and Richard Petty Motorsports to the last call of Barney Hall of Motor Racing Network.
RPM’s famed No. 43 made it to Victory Lane, thanks to some rainy luck for driver Aric Almirola and crew chief Trent Owens, on the 30th anniversary of The King’s 200th historic win at Daytona. Almirola was the 43rd driver to pilot the No. 43, scoring his first win of his career at his home track.
“I couldn’t have dreamed of a better place to get my first win,” Almirola said. “I’ve sat in these grandstands and watched the Daytona 500. I’ve watched the Firecracker 400s. That’s what everybody always talked about, and as a young kid, coming over here and watching, just dreamed about what it would be like to have a chance to race at the highest level at this racetrack.”
“I think it’s very cool that we won on this weekend,” Almirola continued. “It’s 30 years to the weekend that The King won his 200th race with the President here. That’s really special.”
Another legend, Barney Hall, also called his final race at Daytona and will retire from race announcing at the age of 82 years.
“He has spoken to millions of fans and made millions of individual fans of our sport,” NASCAR president Mike Helton said. “I wanted to thank him for all he has done for us personally, but also all he has done for NASCAR.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr., an aficionado of the history of the sport, also shared his appreciation for the career of Hall.
“Barney Hall is a legend,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. tweeted. “I grew up listening to him. Forever grateful.”
Not Surprising: In spite of the weather drama and the strategy that was playing out to outfox the rain drops, it was not surprising that what caught the eye of mainstream media were the two ‘big ones’, involving a total of 42 crashed race cars.
Second place finisher Brian Vickers had a bird’s eye view of both incidents, barely making it through each incident.
“We went to the front, and then it got a little bit too dicey for my comfort that early, and guys were moving around a lot,” Brian Vickers, second place finisher, said. “So we went to the back, just had a bad feeling about kind of the energy in the pack and where it was headed, so we dropped back, and at about two laps later there was a big crash and we were fortunate to be out of that.”
“We ended up actually getting into the pack at about the wrong moment and were fortunate enough to get through the last big wreck,” Vickers continued. “I saw it kind of starting out of the corner of my eye, a car from the outside to the inside just went way too quick, and I just jumped on the brakes and as soon as I saw it opening downshifted and went to the gas and was able to get through it. But very lucky to get through that wreck and keep the FSU car out of trouble.”
Surprising: Kurt Busch had some surprising comments about his relationship with his crew chief Daniel Knost after finishing the race in the third spot.
“Yeah, the relationship with Daniel, you know, there’s some times when a driver and a crew chief hit it off and they’re off to the races right away. Daniel and I have been slower to mature together in our relationship, and so we’re 18 races into our first date,” the driver of the No. 41Haas Automation Chevrolet, said. “Now we’re going into the second half of the season, and all of our first dates are done.”
“We’ll go to New Hampshire next week, and that’ll be the last new track that we see together, and then from there on out, all the tracks that we’ve been to we have notes and we have test sessions planned, and that’s where we have to make the 41 team stronger.”
Not Surprising: There was no driver more excited about a top-five finish than Austin Dillon, who has been battling Kyle Larson for Rookie of the Year honors. And this race saw Dillon hold serve over Larson, who was involved in the first wreck and finished 36th.
“It’s huge for us getting a top 10, a top 5; it definitely can change the rookie race,” the driver of the No. 3 Bass Pro Shops/NRA Museum Chevrolet, said. “We’ve got some momentum now.”
“We’ve got the last four races, I think, in the rookie race, and just stay consistent and hopefully we can come out with this thing,” Dillon continued. “Our cars have been really fast all year, and we’re getting better each week. I feel like we’re gaining a little bit, and I’m excited about that.”
Surprising: Driver Paul Menard no doubt had the most appropriate car name for this Daytona race, driving the No. 27 SPLASH/Menards Chevrolet. Menard was marking time in the back but then got caught in the second big one to finish 16th.
Menard did, however, gain at least one position in the point standings, regaining his spot in tenth.
“We battled weather all weekend,” Menard said. “Our strategy was to ride around in the back and miss all the wrecks, but with rain coming we knew it was time to move towards the front.”
“Of course, when we got to the front someone got turned around and we were caught up in a huge mess,” Menard continued. “Fortunately, my guys did a great job on pit road to repair damage and were able to keep us on the lead lap.”
“I think we moved up in points, so all-in-all it wasn’t a terrible day.”
Not Surprising: With Daytona, anything can happen during the ‘big ones’, including cars going airborne and upside down. Unfortunately, for both Jamie McMurray and Kyle Busch, each experience a little bit of both.
“It’s kind of scary I think my car got airborne,” McMurray, behind the wheel of the No. 1 Cessna Chevrolet, said. “I have never had that happen before it’s a helpless feeling when you are getting hit as you are in the air.”
“It was kind of scary, but glad it looks like everyone is okay.”
“Just felt like a slow carnival ride,” Kyle Busch said of his upside down ending. “I guess that’s fitting for the Fourth of July weekend. I just got T-boned there at the end and it just kind of toppled me over.”
“I got hit by the 26 (Cole Whitt) which just toppled me over and when I toppled over you know you just sit there upside down basically in your restraints,” Busch continued. “Your chest is held, your abdomen is held and everything is held and you just wait for them to come in there and get you and turn you over, because it’s way safer to get turned over in that seat because you already got turned over once then it is to try to undo the belts and bang your head off the ceiling and try to get out.”
Surprising: One would have thought that the race was at a short-track rather than on the high banks of a restrictor plate track with the way tempers were flaring.
“The No. 17 car (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.) got sideways on the lap that we’re all getting a competition caution,” Tony Stewart, behind the wheel of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Ducks Unlimited Chevrolet said. “I don’t know. I guess Ricky thought it paid something to get to lap 20. I don’t know. It didn’t make much sense to me, but I’m not that smart either; so I don’t know. I don’t know that I’m the right person to ask.”
“I guess is was just Stenhouse being an idiot,” Smoke continued. “It didn’t make much sense when we’re coming to the caution, we’re like a quarter of a lap from getting to the caution and he does something stupid.”
“It tore up a lot of people’s cars and a lot of people’s days,” Stewart said. “To get here on Wednesday night and sit here all day and run 19 and three-quarter laps and get wrecked by somebody who’s doing something stupid.”
Not Surprising: Like so many of the other racers, Martin Truex Jr. was ready to put Daytona in his rear view mirror. In spite of a vibration and battery change, Truex finished 15th in his No. 78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet.
“It was a roller coaster day,” Truex said. “We never could get going. I didn’t like what I was seeing early in the race and I hung back. That turned out to be a good move as we missed being collected in the first wreck.”
“Then we had a vibration in the car, and later we needed to make a battery change,” Truex continued. “As I was exiting pit road after the battery change, the second big wreck happened. We most likely would have been in that wreck had we not been on pit road changing the battery.”
“We eventually got back on the lead lap and we were ready to move forward. But we never got that opportunity because of the race being declared official following more rain.”
“It’s been one of those weekends you want to forget about and move on.”