I quite frankly don’t know how to describe how the race weekend was at Daytona except for using the word bizarre. Not just this weekend, but in fact both weekends that Daytona has hosted NASCAR this season have been rather unreal in many ways. The only common denominator in both is that Mother Nature played a role in each, but with different results.
In February, it took six hours of waiting through persistent rain for the track drying to get the racing surface ready for action, and what was to be an afternoon Daytona 500 turned into a night race, the second time it has happened in the last three years. That race ended with Dale Earnhardt Jr. ending a winless streak dating back to 2011, and starting a season that has since been his best to date.
Fast forward, it’s July, and it’s almost a reversal of what should be done in February.
The night race at Daytona has occurred since 1998, although the first one was pushed back to October due to wildfires that came to the Florida area and were causing chaos the weeks leading up to the race. But since that year, the 400-mile event at Daytona International Speedway has been a big event to happen under the lights. I say that from experience because I was at this race in 2003, when Greg Biffle scored his first career win.
This year, rain again made this a difficult weekend for racing, as even qualifying was short for Sprint Cup, and during the Nationwide qualifying session a multi-car wreck halted that session due to a sudden storm. Saturday night’s race got pushed to Sunday afternoon, the first time the summer race was held during daylight since 1997.
Even then it was almost a repeat, because the first caution saw rain hit the track again, then laps later a 13-car accident took place. The the next two cautions were for debris, and the next-to-last was for a major 26-car pile up. The final caution was for rain once again, enough where after 112 laps, NASCAR said it was over, because more rain was coming and it was already past the halfway point to make an official race.
The only good part of this race was the winner, Aric Almirola. This year he signed a longer contract with Richard Petty Motorsports, as did sponsor Smithfield Foods. He finally got that first win of his career, but what made it special was the car he drives each week.
That car is the No. 43, made famous by his owner and boss, who that weekend celebrated 30 years since his 200th career win, and also celebrated a birthday earlier in the week. The win marked the first time since 1999 that the famed No. 43 would go to victory lane, and the first time it went to victory lane in Daytona since that July weekend in 1984. It may have come in a race that didn’t go the full distance, but Almirola had a strong car all race long, and stayed out of trouble. It was well earned and will forever be remembered this season.
Certainly was a great ending to a shortened race, but it definitely was one bizarre weekend at the World’s Center of Speed.
RESULTS: 1-Almirola 2-Vickers 3-Kurt Busch 4-Mears 5-Dillon 6-Hamlin 7-McDowell 8-Patrick 9-Bowyer 10-Ambrose
NOTABLE FINISHES: 12-Gordon 14-Earnhardt Jr. 17-Logano 18-Keselowski 28-Kyle Busch 37-Edwards 39-Harvick 42-Johnson
CAUTIONS: 6 for 29 laps. Lap 7-12 (Weather; Red Flag-25 Mins, 43 Secs.), 21-28 (# 48, 9, 20, 10, 11, 42, 88, 17, 99, 66, 21, 24, 14, 2, 47, 4 Accident-FS), 42-44 (Debris-T1), 95-97 (Debris-BS), 99-104 (#5, 15, 23, 18, 16, 26, 38, 51, 31, 27, 98, 7, 83, 33, 20, 40, 1, 9, 22, 34, 11, 10, 2, 32, 36, 95 Accident-BS; Red Flag-4 Mins, 48 Secs.), 110-112 (Weather-FS).
LEAD CHANGES: 21 among 14 drivers. Gilliland 1-4, Kenseth 5-16, Stewart 17-19, Ragan 20-24, Bowyer 25, Mears 26, Ragan 27-28, Sorenson 29-32, Cassill 33-34, Gilliland 35, Cassill 36-38, McMurray 39-41, Annett 42-43, McMuray 44-51, Biffle 52-59, Kurt BUsch 60-85, Biffle 86, Gordon 87-88, Kurt Busch 89-97, Almirola 98-104, Kurt Busch 105, Almirola 112.
TIME OF RACE: 2 Hrs, 9 Mins, 13 Secs.
AVERAGE SPEED: 130.014 MPH
MARGIN OF VICTORY: Under Caution
POINT STANDINGS: 1. Gordon, 651 points*; 2. Earnhardt Jr, -27*; 3. Johnson, -55*; 4. Keselowski, -65*; 5. Kenseth, -71; 6. Logano, -105*; 7. Edwards, -108*; 8. Newman, -117; 9. Kyle Busch, -127*; 10. Menard, -135.
*Race Winner, Chase Eligible
OTHER CHASE ELIGIBLE DRIVERS: Harvick (11th, 2 Wins), Hamlin (14th, 1 win), Almirola (21st, 1 win), Kurt Busch (24th, 1 win)