It was a rough weekend at Daytona International Speedway where Mother Nature and slick track conditions played a part in the abbreviated Coke Zero 400 on Sunday.
The driver who was happy to see rain come down was Richard Petty Motorsports’ Aric Almirola who took the famed No. 43 back to Victory Lane – the same place it was parked 30 years ago at Daytona when Richard Petty won his 200th race.
It took Almirola a while to get there.
The Coke Zero 400 was originally scheduled for Saturday night. Mother Nature had another idea when rain postponed the race until Sunday morning. Rain would race to the lead Sunday afternoon to shorten the race to 112 laps. Almirola, who took over the lead, took the checkered flag under the red flag when rain poured onto the 2.5-mile track.
Sunday’s race got off to a slow start. The start was waved off for several laps due to a mist-type rain on the track. When it finally got underway, pole-sitter David Gilliland led the first four laps. Matt Kenseth charged to the front after getting a run on the outside lane. He would lead until lap six when a caution was called for rain.
After an almost 26-minute red flag period, the race continued with Kenseth with the lead. Tony Stewart would make his way to the front by lap 18 and led the field for a short time before he would fall back on the outside lane. The first big accident occurred shortly before a competition caution was planned on lap 20.
As the pack of cars was coming off of turn four on lap 20, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. got loose in the top groove and collected Jeff Gordon who got into Tony Stewart and triggered a 16-car accident on the front stretch.
The field was lined up for the restart on lap 28 with Reed Sorenson and Landon Cassill swapping the lead. Jamie McMurray made his way up to the lead on lap 39 and a caution was called for debris. The race would restart with McMurray keeping the lead but he would lose it to Greg Biffle on lap 52. Pretty soon, Kurt Busch would take over the top spot on lap 59.
Busch stayed at the point until Greg Biffle challenged him for the lead again on lap 79. Busch was able to retain the lead. It was on lap 98 when Aric Almirola passed him on the restart lap after a quick caution for debris. Busch and Almirola started on the front row on the restart and Almirola used the top lane to edge to the lead. Just after Almirola claimed the lead the BIG ONE occurred.
Kasey Kahne was racing on the top groove when he got loose and hit Joey Logano. Logano got out of line and got back up in the pack and 24 other cars behind them were collected in the melee. The four wheels on Jamie McMurray’s No. 1 left the track as his race car bounced along the speedway. Other cars got crunched up when spinning, and careening every which way to avoid one another in the pack. Kyle Busch’s car came to rest in such a way that when Cole Whitt’s car came up to it, it sent Busch’s car onto it’s top. It was a slow roll and he wasn’t injured.
No drivers were injured in the day’s accidents.
Another red flag halted the race as the clean-up began.
The race went back to green on lap 105 where Almirola and Kurt Busch battled each other for the lead. They were side by side for one complete lap and Almirola was able to keep a nose in front of Busch. Busch would lose momentum and slip back as Almirola kept ahead of the field. Just as the cars crossed the start/finish line and the lap count turned to 109, the caution flag flew for rain.
And it rained.
The cars were brought down to pit road three laps later.
It rained harder.
The sky finally opened up and dumped rain on the track and NASCAR officials called it a complete race as over half of the laps were in the books.
Aric Almirola was named the winner after only 112 laps were raced in the 160 lap contest. It was Almriola’s his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win in 125 starts.
The top ten: Aric Almirola, Brian Vickers, Kurt Busch, Casey Mears, Austin Dillon, Denny Hamlin, Michael McDowell, Danica Patrick, Clint Bowyer, and Marcos Ambrose.
Congratulations to Barney Hall, a NASCAR broadcaster for over 50 years, who ended his successful career behind the mic with MRN Sunday afternoon at the conclusion of the Coke Zero 400. According to MRN, he will remain an integral part of the team.
The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will be at Iowa Speedway Friday, July 11 for the American Ethanol 200. That race will start at 8:30 p.m. ET.
Drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and in the Nationwide Series will be at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The Nationwide Series race, Sta-Green 200, will be on Saturday, July 12 at 3:30 p.m. ET while the Sprint Cup Series race, Camping World RV Sales 301, will be on Sunday, July 13 at 1 p.m. ET at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.