Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, FL — July 6, 2019
Joey Logano(22) sits on the pole for the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway. Kyle Busch(18) starts next to him on the front row. Qualifying was rained out, so the field was set by driver points.
Unfortunately, the rain was still present at the 7:30 start time of the race. The delay gave the NBC TV crew the opportunity to talk about the controversy of the weekend. During practice, Brad Keselowski(2) felt he was being blocked by William Byron(24). Keselowski ran into the rear of Byron’s car causing some damage. Byron was able to recover from the bump and not wreck his racecar.
Keselowski let everyone know that is how he intends to respond to drivers who throw blocks during the race. “I had a big run and (he) put me in a position where I had to lift and I keep telling these guys I’m not lifting. I hate it for his team that they have to work on their car and so do ours, but just trying to send a message that I’m not lifting.” Nothing like a little bump and run in practice to rev up the anticipation for what is always a race won by the survivor of multiple crashes.
Last year’s winner, Erik Jones(20), got his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win by avoiding the carnage that took out much of his competition. Racing for 400 miles at Daytona consists of 160 laps, Stages are 50/50/60 and it’s a good bet the race will see overtime. But, first, they have to get the race started. Due to the inclement weather, NASCAR postponed the start until Sunday, July 7th at 1:00 pm.
Second only to the Keselowski controversy, the talk around the garage focused on manufacturer plans for the race. The rumor was that brand loyalty would dictate drafting, pit stops, even what teams did during their visits to pit road.
The plan was clearly evident as the Fords quickly lined up during the first lap and began to set the pace. Kyle Busch paired up with Denny Hamlin(11) and they challenged for the lead early. It was Logano, with the help of his fellow Mustang drivers, who drove away from the pack. With Kevin Harvick(4) pushing, followed by seven Blue Oval drivers lined up nose-to-tail at the front.
With 14 Laps to go in Stage 1, most of the Fords pitted together, taking gas only. The remainder of the contenders followed a lap later, matching the Ford strategy of gas only stops. Harvick exited the pits first, followed by Logano at the Mustangs returned to the front of the pack.
The Ford driver’s remained disciplined until the final lap of the stage. Logano pulled out of line and took the Stage win as drivers scrambled for position and the Stage points that accompany the first 10 places.
Stage 1 Results
|17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.*||9|
|19||Martin Truex Jr.||1|
* Ford Mustang Drivers
Eight laps into Stage 2 the first incident of the day brought out the caution flag. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.(17) was leading the Ford contingent drafting on the high side of the track. A run in the bottom grove coming off Turn 4 threatened to catch up. Stenhouse pulled low to block the advance of a Kurt Busch(1) led train of cars. Busch, taking a page out of Keselowski’s book, did not lift and sent Stenhouse into a spin down the front tri-oval.
During the caution, most of the field pitted as they would be able to finish the Stage with a full tank of fuel. Austin Dillon(3) and Chase Elliott(9) led the field back to green as the Camaro’s lined up together to protect the lead.
Stenhouse quickly worked his way through the field back to the Top 10, when Kurt Busch scraped the wall, had the right rear tire go down and ultimately spun out in Turn 3 bringing out the caution again.
Manufacturer orders again hold true as brands line up and push on the restart. But the Fords are separated into two lines as the field races three-wide. Trouble erupts in the tri-oval as Harvick is pushing Keselowski. Brad gets loose and hits the outside wall. The problem with team drafts is that when something goes wrong you can end up taking out teammates.
After his team evaluates the damage, Keselowski is told to take his car to the garage and out of the race. The Fords of Harvick, Daniel Suarez(41), and David Ragan(38), and Logano all sustained minor damage in the incident.
To complicate race strategy, rain clouds are clearly visible in the distance.
Stage 2 Finish
With 10 laps to go in the Stage, it’s a seven-car Chevy breakout at the front of the field with Austin Dillon leading. Clint Bowyer heads a five-car Ford pack chasing on the outside lane.
With 4 laps to go Bowyer takes the top spot, Dillon battles back side-by-side. With 1 lap to go, it’s Dillon back out front. The 2018 Daytona 500 winner, Austin Dillon, wins Stage 2.
Stage 2 Results
|17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.*||3|
* Ford Mustang Drivers
The Final Stage
Logano and Austin Dillon swapped the lead running next to each other at the start of the Final Stage. Paul Menard(21) led the 3rd line of cars forward and joined the battle being pushed by Hamlin. As the rain crept closer, Hamlin dove low in front of Dillon and the 2019 Daytona 500 winner became the new leader.
The “Big One”
Austin Dillon quickly tired of following Hamlin. With Bowyer leading a run on the outside, Dillon pulled to the high side and Bowyer pushed him back into the lead. Bowyer, with a good run, pulls down to take his shot at the top spot. Dillon moves down to block and apparently, everyone in the field is employing the don’t lift attitude. Bower spins Dillon and the Big One is on.
A wreck at the front of the pack is sure to collect a large number of cars. In addition to Austin Dillon and Bowyer, Elliott, Hamlin, Ryan Blaney(12), Ty Dillon(13), Stenhouse, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr.(19), Erik Jones, Chris Buescher(37), Kyle Larson(42), Bubba Wallace(43), Ryan Preece(47), last weeks winner Alex Bowman(88), Matt DiBenedetto(95), and Parker Klingerman(96) were all caught up in the incident.
After the mess was sorted out, Kurt Busch found himself in the lead. NASCAR gave the one to go signal and Busch pitted. Justin Haley(77), not a regular on the Cup circuit, gambled and stayed out. As the pack lined up behind the pace truck lightning struck in the area, NASCAR waived off the restart and ultimately brought the cars to pit road displaying the red flag.
Last July at Daytona, Haley made a big move on the last lap of the Xfinity race. Moving from 3rd to 1st he took the checkered flag. NASCAR ruled that Haley won the race by passing below the double line and took the victory away. Should weather keep the race from being restarted, NASCAR will hand him the winner’s trophy for this year’s Cup Race.
After multiple attempts to restart the race, NASCAR finally called it a day. Justin Haley, in only his 3rd NASCAR Cup Series start, wins the biggest race of his life on a gamble where he really had nothing to lose. Kurt Busch giving up the lead because he anticipated a green flag turned out to be the poorest decision of the day.
The good news for the Cup Series regulars, Haley is not eligible for the playoffs. For drivers near the playoff cut line, Haley’s win has no impact on the standings.
Next week the series stops at Kentucky Speedway for a Saturday Night Shootout. The Lasco Press will be on-hand all weekend to bring you the action from the mile-and-a-half track just to our south.
Results of the Coke Zero Sugar 400 From Daytona International Speedway
Position Car DRIVER LAPS 1 77 Justin Haley 160 2 24 William Byron 160 3 48 Jimmie Johnson 160 4 13 Ty Dillon 160 5 6 Ryan Newman 160 6 32 Corey LaJoie 160 7 10 Aric Almirola 160 8 95 M DiBenedetto 160 9 36 Matt Tifft 160 10 1 Kurt Busch 160 11 00 Landon Cassill 160 12 52 JJ Yeley 160 13 34 M McDowell 160 14 18 Kyle Busch 160 15 43 Bubba Wallace 160 16 21 Paul Menard 160 17 37 Chris Buescher 160 18 8 Daniel Hemric 160 19 62 Brendan Gaughan 159 20 42 Kyle Larson 159 21 88 Alex Bowman 159 22 19 Martin Truex Jr 159 23 20 Erik Jones 158 24 17 R Stenhouse Jr 158 25 22 Joey Logano 158 26 11 Denny Hamlin 158 27 53 Joey Gase 158 28 51 BJ McLeod 157 29 4 Kevin Harvick 157 30 27 Ross Chastain 155 31 96 P Kligerman 121 32 47 Ryan Preece 119 33 3 Austin Dillon 118 34 14 Clint Bowyer 118 35 9 Chase Elliott 118 36 12 Ryan Blaney 118 37 15 Quin Houff 141 38 38 David Ragan 86 39 2 Brad Keselowski 85 40 41 Daniel Suarez 83
Points / Playoff Standings
Rank Driver Points Wins 1 Joey Logano 689 2 2 Kyle Busch 682 4 3 Kevin Harvick 618 0 4 Brad Keselowski 611 3 5 M Truex Jr. 596 4 6 Denny Hamlin 585 2 7 Chase Elliott 572 1 8 Kurt Busch 564 0 9 Alex Bowman 525 1 10 Aric Almirola 512 0 11 Ryan Blaney 500 0 12 William Byron 490 0 13 Jimmie Johnson 470 0 14 Kyle Larson 468 0 15 Ryan Newman 443 0 16 Daniel Suarez 435 0 Playoff Cut Line 17 Clint Bowyer 434 0 18 Erik Jones 430 0 19 Paul Menard 390 0 20 R Stenhouse Jr. 386 0