If the Coke Zero Sugar 400 has as much excitement as Friday’s Coca-Cola Firecracker 250 the fans at Daytona will be ecstatic. The NASCAR Xfinity Series race featured Austin Cindric(60) barrel-rolling through Turns 1 and 2 during a multi-car incident.
In addition, the finish saw Justin Haley(24) cross the finish line first. Entering the tri-oval Haley trailed Elliott Sadler(1) and Kyle Larson(42). As the top 2 battled for the win, Haley drove his car all the way to the bottom of the track and passed both Sadler and Larson. Unfortunately for Haley, he drove too low and crossed the double yellow line. NASCAR rules call that out of bounds at Daytona. Haley was penalized, had the win invalidated, and finished last on the lead lap. The penalty call came after he started his burnout under the flag stand.
Larson nosed out Sadler for the win. Sadler lost to JR Motorsports teammate Tyler Reddick in February in a similar fashion. Reddick crossed the line .0004 seconds ahead of Sandler. The race was the closest recorded finish in NASCAR history. Sadler, still seeking his first Daytona win, was visibly shaken after the race. “This one hurts. I don’t know how many restrictor-plate races I have left in my career. To lose the one like we did in February, so close, I feel like we were in the right spot again.”
Rain was a factor on Friday, washing out Xfinity qualifying. Pre-race ceremonies for the Coke Zero Sugar 400 were conducted under growing black clouds at the west end of the speedway.
Daytona International Speedway honored three Medal of Honor recipients. Command Sergeant Major Gary Littrell, (Vietnam), Master Sergeant Leroy Petry, (War in Afghanistan) and Staff Sergeant Don Jenkins, (Vietnam).
In a moving tribute, each man’s record of heroic action was read to those in attendance. More information on the recipients of the Medal of Honor may be found at http://www.cmohs.org/recipient-archive.php.
The Start of the Coke Zero Sugar 400
Chase Elliott(9) started on the pole and drove off into Turn 1 with the lead. He towed a pack of 26 cars running side-by-side around the track for 10 laps. Elliott moved from top to bottom depending on which line of cars had the momentum. Until Ricky Stenhouse Jr.(17) caught him and took the lead on Lap 12.
Stage lengths at Daytona for the 400 are 40 laps, 40 laps, and 80 laps to the finish. By lap 21, Stenhouse had strung out the pack into a single file line of 20 cars. As the race neared the end of Stage 1 the field again bunched up double file. Stenhouse took the Stage win as they battled 3-wide behind him for stage points.
Stage 1 Results
* Ford Fusion Drivers
Kevin Harvick(4) had a problem with the air ducts on his passenger side window. He spent an extended period of time in the pits while his crew repaired the problem.
Brad Keselowski(2), William Byron(24), and Kurt Busch(41) exited the pits ahead of Stenhouse who restarted in 4th. The field did not get a chance to settle out before Paul Menard(21) spun going down the backstretch. The incident brought out the yellow flag. The caution allowed teams who were having issues extra time to correct concerns.
On the restart, Byron moved to the lead. On their next trip down the backstretch, drivers began to shuffle for the top spots. Stenhouse tapped the rear of Keselowski turning the #2 car sideways at the front of the field. The resulting crash destroyed a number of cars. Many drivers considered contenders for the win got caught in the “Big One.”
Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin(11), Joey Logano(22), and Ryan Blaney(12) went to the garage. Elliott, the pole sitter, and Daniel Suarez’s(19) crews attempted to repair their cars on pit road. Ultimately they also retired to the garage.
A total of 20 cars, half the field, were involved in the incident. Jimmie Johnson(48), Bubba Wallace(43), Austin Dillon(3), Harvick, and Larson suffered damage.
The Big One #2
Stenhouse tapped Kyle Busch as they ran behind leader William Byron. Stenhouse escaped, but Busch and Byron both destroyed their cars. After pit stops the race restarted with 11 laps to go to the end of Stage 2. Stenhouse and Newman ran two laps side-by-side until Stenhouse pulled away into the lead. He held on to win Stage 2. The big surprise of the night? Michael McDowell(34), having his best run of the year, finished the Stage in 2nd.
Stage 2 Results
* Ford Fusion Drivers
The Final Stage
Ty Dillon(13) and Clint Bowyer(14) led the field to the restart. With a push from Kasey Kahne(95), Bowyer moved to the front. Much to the delight of the crowd, McDowell took the lead and proved he just might have a car to win at Daytona.
After all the earlier carnage, the drivers remaining seemed to want to just ride out some laps. The field strung out into a single line with Stenhouse, Harvick, Alex Bowman(88), and Johnson rounding out the top 5 with 100 laps complete.
With green flag pit stops approaching the field began to bunch up. Side-by-side racing brought Stenhouse back to the lead. Jimmie Johnson(48) moved to the front for a few laps. Then McDowell, showing his moxie, returned to the lead passing Johnson.
Aric Almirola(10) was first to pit road on Lap 117. The majority of the field pitted at Lap 120. The Fords of Stenhouse, McDowell, Harvick, and Bowyer pitted on lap 123. As they returned to the track the field easily roared past. Stenhouse, the first out, was preparing to blend into the rear of the lead pack when Larson spun in Turn 3. Stenhouse T-boned Larson and Harvick also caught some damage in the mess.
Johnson led the field after green flag stops. NASCAR informed the team they had pitted outside the pit box and were going to be black flagged. The Stenhouse and Larson caution allowed Johnson to come into the pits under yellow. The penalty, loss of a lap, had Johnson sitting on pit road as the field drove past.
After pit stops, a new leader emerged, Martin Truex Jr.(78) held the lead on the restart. Another great run from a driver seldom seen at the front of the pack. D.J. Kennington(96) ran in the 2nd position. Kennington’s day in the spotlight did not last long. He spun on the backstretch a few laps later. Bringing out the 8th caution of the evening on Lap 132.
Back to green with 23 laps to go. Bubba Wallace pushed Truex to the lead. Wallace finished 2nd in the Daytona 500. It did not last long as they began racing 2 and 3 wide vying for track position. Kasey Kahne took over the top spot. A 9-car breakaway separated the field as the laps wound down.
With 11 laps to go Stenhouse cut down a tire and spun in the tri-oval. Now the pressure shifts to the crew chiefs. Pit or stay out? Almost everyone stayed on the track instead of pitting for fresh tires. At the restart, the top 5 consisted of Kahne, Harvick, Truex, Bowman, and Bowyer.
The race restarted with 6 laps to go. Khane led briefly, then Harvick took over the top spot. With 4 laps to go, they tried to go 4-wide in Turn 3. Joey Gase(00) spun between Turns 3 and 4. He collected McDowell, ending the great run for the 34 team. Aric Almirola(10) and Johnson were involved.
Track clean-up pushed the race into overtime. A green-white-checkered finish will decide the winner of the race. The top 5 line up behind Harvick with Truex, Bowyer, Erik Jones(20) and Bayne at the front of the pack. Jones pushes his former teammate Truex to the lead. Just before the white flag is displayed to make the event official, a wreck occurs in the tri-oval.
Bubba Wallace pushes Bowyer into the wall bringing out the yellow and sending the race to a second overtime. Johnson, Harvick, and Bayne are knocked out in the aftermath. NASCAR puts out the red flag stopping the field on the backstretch while they clean up the debris.
Truex still holds the lead coming to the restart. Michigan’s Erik Jones runs 2nd. Khane is third, Chris Buescher(37), and Matt DiBenedetto(32) are the remainder of the top 5. On the drop of the green Truex edges ahead, with no help from Buescher, Jones fades going into Turn 1. A strong run down the backstretch brings Jones back even with Truex. As they take the white flag Jones pulls ahead and clears the #78 car.
Building a slight lead Erik Jones is able to hold off a final challenge from Truex and wins the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway.
That Jones Boy
Byron, Michigan’s own Erik Jones is a Daytona NASCAR Cup Race Winner. What a way to earn your first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory, at the “Mecca of Stock Car Racing.”
“That Jones Boy,” the nickname hung on Erik by veteran broadcaster Ken Squier is so appropriate. Owing his early career to the efforts of his father Dave Jones, Erik acknowledged his father is surely looking down on him with pride for this accomplishment. Dave Jones passed away just over 2 years ago to a very aggressive form of cancer. He was 53 years old.
The party in Byron is going to last a few days. Congratulations to their favorite son from all at The Lasco Press. We will follow Erik into the NASCAR Playoffs this year and report on his continuing success. More live coverage next week at Kentucky Speedway.
Results of the Coke Zero Sugar 400
|2||78||Martin Truex Jr.||0.125||168|
|13||96||* DJ Kennington||1.351||168|
|16||51||Ray Black II||-1||167|
|17||17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||-1||167|
|3||Martin Truex Jr.||629||3|
|Playoff Cut Line|
|17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.*||407||0|
* Ford Fusion Drivers