The Rundown: Commentary on every Daytona driver
July 07, 2014, Zack Albert, NASCAR.com
Driver-by-driver news and notes from Sunday's Coke Zero 400
1. Aric Almirola, No. 43 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports. The 125th start in NASCAR's big leagues was the charm for the Florida native, who scored his first Sprint Cup Series win and brought Richard Petty Motorsports' famed No. 43 to Victory Lane for the first time since April 18, 1999, when John Andretti won at Martinsville. Almirola led 14 laps, including the final seven before rain abbreviated the Coke Zero 400 after 112 of a scheduled 160 laps at Daytona. "We had a very fast car nonetheless," Almirola said, "but we'll take them any way we can get them." See Almirola and Petty discuss the win here.
2. Brian Vickers, No. 55 Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing. While it wasn't quite a national championship, Vickers carried the Florida State University football colors to a season-best runner-up finish. He dropped to the back of the aerodynamic draft to miss a Lap 20 pileup that snared 16 cars, then threaded his way through the second big crash, a 26-car mishap that red-flagged the race on Lap 98. In between, he called out his team owner in a Lap 28 restart: "What is Michael (Waltrip) doing? I'm gonna punch him in the face if he wrecks me." Vickers later lamented not getting another chance to challenge Almirola, saying "the rain just came at the wrong time for us and the right time for them." See Vickers discuss the rain-shortened race.
3. Kurt Busch, No. 41 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing. The fourth top-five finish of the season for Busch contributed to the No. 41 team's modest performance uptick in the last five weeks. Since finishing third at Pocono, Busch has notched a 13th-place finish, two 12th-place efforts and Sunday's third-place run, in which he led a race-high 36 laps and posted a best driver rating of 120.8. Overall he's moved from 28th in NASCAR Sprint Cup standings since the end of May to his current perch of 24th, which includes Sunday's two-spot jump. NASCAR officials, however, said they would assess a split track bar on the No. 41 as a "potential issue" warranting further inspection. | Read more about the No. 41 car heading to R&D at Concord.
4. Casey Mears, No. 13 Chevrolet, Germain Racing. Mears notched his first top-five finish in the Sprint Cup Series since June 22, 2008 at Sonoma, in part thanks to some swift pit work from his No. 13 crew. The 33.1 seconds of total time on pit road during the green-flag pit stop exchange in Laps 83-89 matched the fastest total service time, helping him move up into the top five. Subscribe to RaceView today and get real-time pit stop data.
5. Austin Dillon, No. 3 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing. Dillon emerged from the chaos to become the highest-finishing Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender for the third consecutive week. The first top-five finish of his Sprint Cup career helped him virtually change places with another heralded rookie, Kyle Larson, in the season standings -- Dillon moved up five spots to 13th; Larson faded five spots Sunday to 17th. "It definitely can change the rookie race," Dillon said. "We've got some momentum now." Hear what Dillon had to say about his first top-five finish in the Sprint Cup Series.
6. Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing. Hamlin held a unique distinction in the rain-shortened race Sunday -- he was the highest-finishing driver who was involved in both field-thinning multicar pileups. The No. 11 survived both wrecks to stay in the lead pack. Hamlin's tenacity in driving back to the front showed up in the post-race loop data -- he led all drivers with a race-high 277 green-flag passes. See his race highlights here.
7. Michael McDowell, No. 95 Ford, Leavine Family Racing.
Part-time driver McDowell was fresh off a season-best 24th-place finish at Sonoma Raceway, but he topped that and then some with his career-best finish in 156 Sprint Cup races. McDowell recovered from a crooked slide into his pit box during an 86th-lap stop for service under green-flag conditions to post just his second Sprint Cup top-10. His only other single-digit finish in NASCAR's top series also came at the 2.5-mile track, where he drove home ninth in the 2013 Daytona 500. Sunday's result was the best-ever finish for Leavine Family Racing as a team. To hear in-car audio, click here to subscribe to RaceView.
8. Danica Patrick, No. 10 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing. Count Patrick in the same bunch with Hamlin thanks to her top-10 finish despite involvement in both huge crashes. She overshot her pit box in the 87th lap, costing her additional 12 seconds to straighten it out during a round of green-flag stops. But the apparent misfortune wound up being a lucky break -- the lost time kept her clear of the biggest fireworks at the front of the 26-car crash that forced a Lap 98 red flag. See her race highlights here.
Danica Patrick greets fans in a drizzly session of driver introductions before Saturday night's washout.
9. Clint Bowyer, No. 15 Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing. Bowyer's third top-10 finish in the last four Sprint Cup races have placed the MWR standout at his highest spot in the standings all season -- 12th -- after a two-position gain Sunday at Daytona. It wasn't without adventure, though, after a high-speed slide through the infield grass in the final massive wreck left him clawing to get back into contention. See Bowyer's slide through the grass.
10. Marcos Ambrose, No. 9 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports. The hard-driving Aussie caught a piece of both major crashes, but salvaged a solid finish to put both Richard Petty-owned cars in the top 10. With his strong closing kick in the final 10 percent (16 laps) of the race, Ambrose gained the most positions -- 21 -- of any driver in that final span to notch his fourth top-10 of the year and his second in the last three races.
11. Terry Labonte, No. 32 Ford, FAS Lane Racing. Labonte made his 127th and final start spanning all forms of motorsports at Daytona, a lofty number ranking third behind Mark Martin and Bill Elliott. In addition to padding his career total, Labonte secured his best Sprint Cup finish since June 2006, when he ran third for the former Hall of Fame Racing team at Sonoma Raceway. He has one more Sprint Cup start in his career, which will come later this season at Talladega, bringing him to 890 for this career, third on the all-time list behind Richard Petty (1,185) and Ricky Rudd (906).
12. Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports. After becoming one of the principals in the 16-car melee just before a scheduled Lap 20 competition caution, Gordon seemed prepared to be in scramble mode as he keyed his radio. "Yeah, today is going to be a day of survival," Gordon told his crew in the 24th lap. With handy patchwork on the front end of his car, Gordon not only recovered from wreck to lead two laps before an exchange of green-flag pit stops but also added three points to his lead in the Sprint Cup standings. See the early wreck Gordon was involved in.
13. Alex Bowman, No. 23 Toyota, BK Racing. Bowman had nowhere to go but up after starting dead last in the 43-car field, but once the checkered finally flew on the oft-delayed Coke Zero 400, the rookie was 30 spots ahead of where he started for his career-best finish in Sprint Cup competition. Only Kurt Busch (+37) and Denny Hamlin (+31) gained more spots from start to finish.
14. Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports. Only two drivers were issued free passes among the six caution periods in Sunday's race. Two of the three issued free passes went to Dale Jr., who escaped severe damage in the first substantial crash to latch onto the lead pack by the rain-shortened end. The sizable recovery effort kept Junior in second place in the standings behind Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon. See Junior discuss the race
Dale Earnhardt Jr. slides into the infield grass during the first of two huge wrecks in the Coke Zero 400.
15. Martin Truex Jr., No. 78 Chevrolet, Furniture Row Racing. Back-to-back top-10 finishes to open the month of June had given the Colorado-based team hope for a turnaround, but it's been tough sledding east of the Rockies or otherwise since then. Truex claimed his second 15th-place finish in the past three weeks, keeping him lodged back in 25th in the Sprint Cup standings for the fourth straight race.
16. Paul Menard, No. 27 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing. Aided by the heavy attrition associated with two wild wrecks that each snagged a double-digit number of cars, Menard actually moved up a spot in the Sprint Cup standings, matching his highest point of the season in 10th place. Despite being collected in the final maelstrom, Menard pushed his streak of lead-lap finishes to seven straight races.
17. Joey Logano, No. 22 Ford, Team Penske. The two-time winner this season wasn't in position to make it three, but despite being the last car on the lead lap, Logano inched up a spot in the standings to sixth place. The No. 22 car was black-flagged late for dragging debris shortly after the second large crash, but Logano was more fortunate than most after the mass destruction. See the big crash that involved 26 cars.
18. Brad Keselowski, No. 2 Ford, Team Penske. The previous week's winner at Kentucky didn't fare nearly as well Sunday at Daytona, but he did have some solid statistics amid the shortcomings. Keselowski posted the fastest lap of the race at 201.729 mph on Lap 90, just after taking on fresh tires and gas. But the Penske driver also failed to lead a lap for just the third time in 18 races this season.
19. Michael Waltrip, No. 66 Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing. Owner/driver Waltrip was back behind the wheel for his third restrictor-plate race this season, but couldn't avoid some slight involvement in the first big crash. When the race resumed, Waltrip's damaged car eventually lost aerodynamic touch with the main pack and he settled for a one-lap-down finish. Waltrip plans to return to the No. 66 cockpit Oct. 19 at Talladega for the final restrictor-plate race of the year.
Owner/driver Michael Waltrip stops for pit road service during his third Sprint Cup start of the season.
20. Matt Kenseth, No. 20 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing. Kenseth's race was a case of untapped potential after leading 12 laps early but having little to show for it after being caught in both hefty multicar crashes. After briefly heading the Sprint Cup points at the start of June, Kenseth has slipped back to a nesting place of fifth. See the first wreck Kenseth was involved in.
21. Michael Annett, No. 7 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing. The Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate shared the fate of many by joining the list of those involved in the final giant crash. Yet Annett managed to make a noteworthy first, leading the first two laps of his 18-race-old Sprint Cup career. He wound up finishing eight laps down to the leader, on a lap by himself. See the big wreck that got Annett.
22. David Ragan, No. 34 Ford, Front Row Motorsports. Last year's underdog winner at Talladega started eighth and spent time at the front of the pack Sunday, leading twice for seven laps, but no similar surprise was in store at Daytona. The crash-related DNF (did not finish) after the 26-car melee certainly stung, but it was actually a slight improvement over the previous three races where Ragan finished no better than 31st in each.
23. Josh Wise, No. 98 Chevrolet, Phil Parsons Racing. Wise managed to escape the first big crack-up of the day, but couldn't avoid the second. He was at least fortunate enough to continue briefly afterward, locking down a 23rd-place run. Wise's efforts this year on restrictor plate tracks,where he has an average finish of 22.3, continued to outpace his performance on all other tracks (33.7 average finish).
24. Ryan Newman, No. 31 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing. Fresh from his first top-five of the season at Kentucky, Newman was unable to better his fortunes at Daytona. His ledger for the two Sprint Cup races on the historic 2.5-mile track in 2014 wound up reading: 22nd and 24th. The silver lining was holding steady at eighth place in the season standings. Newman -- winless this year -- still holds a grip on a place in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoff outlook, though Aric Almirola's win virtually clinches a berth for a driver outside the top 16 in points. More first-time winners in the regular season would ratchet up the pressure on the No. 31 RCR group.
25. Justin Allgaier, No. 51 Chevrolet, HScott Motorsports. Allgaier went 2-for-2 at Daytona in 2014, but not in a favorable way -- both of his races at the 2.5-mile track ended early with crashes. The final wreck of the day totaled his chances at a strong finish, leaving Allgaier at the 29th-place mark in Sprint Cup standings for the eighth straight week.
26. Bobby Labonte, No. 33 Chevrolet, Circle Sport Racing. Labonte made his 44th career start at Daytona in the same car that was the pole-winner earlier this season at Talladega. In making just his second Sprint Cup start of the season -- both at Daytona -- Labonte showed some glimmers of glory by nosing into the lead early on, though he was not credited with leading a lap at the start-finish line. The traffic-choking second wreck proved to be his undoing.
27. Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports. Kahne's third crash-related DNF of the season (the others came at Darlington and Pocono) stymied the forward progress of three consecutive top-10 finishes entering the Daytona race. Kahne & Co. showed speed late in the race, but his hopes of adding a Sprint Cup victory to go with his NASCAR Nationwide Series win Friday night were dashed when a nudge from Greg Biffle pitched his car sideways in front of the field to trigger the final pileup of the day. See the wreck that Kahne was involved in.
The Hendrick Motorsports crew goes to work on Kasey Kahne's No. 5 Chevrolet in the Daytona garage.
28. Kyle Busch, No. 18 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing. Busch only thought his portion of the final wreck was over, until the skidding car of Cole Whitt nudged his nearly motionless car onto its roof. Winding up with a car on its lid isn't a pleasant feeling, but Busch managed some deadpan humor as he radioed his crew to say he was OK: "Just having a good ol' time over here. Just hanging around." Despite what Busch later termed "a slow carnival ride," he still managed to improve one place in the Sprint Cup standings to ninth. See Busch's car go on its roof | To hear in-car audio, click here to subscribe to RaceView.
29. Greg Biffle, No. 16 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing. Before his unwilling participation in the 26-car wreck, the Biff showed that his No. 16 Fusion was up to the task of competing for the win. Biffle topped the chart in a pair of telling loop data statistics, including the most quality passes where he registering a race-high 186 instances of passing a car running in the top 15 under green-flag conditions. He did so while spending 96 of 112 lapsamong the top 15, the best of any driver in the 43-car field.
30. Jamie McMurray, No. 1 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing. Equipped with what he told his crew over the radio was a "super fast" car, McMurray seemed poised to add to his portfolio of four restrictor-plate victories (two each at Daytona and Talladega). But when the second large crash developed, his No. 1 Chevy was smack in the middle of things, actually lifting on the racing surface at the entrance to Turn 3 as it careened off other cars. He dropped one place in the Sprint Cup standings, ceding the 21st spot to race winner Aric Almirola. See his race highlights here.
31. Landon Cassill, No. 40 Chevrolet, Hillman Racing. Despite getting wrapped up in the second colossal crash of the day, Cassill was able to mine some positives from the summer stop at Daytona. After taking the greenflag third -- his best starting position ever in NASCAR's premier series --Cassill led five laps, the highest total in any single race in his 133-race Sprint Cup career. It also marked the first time he's led multiple laps in a race since he gambled by staying out on the track at Fontana, inheriting the lead for the final restart there in March.
32. Ryan Truex, No. 83 Toyota, BK Racing. Truex joined teammate Alex Bowman in turning the catwalk portion of the pre-race stage into a virtual slip-and-slide during the pre-emptive driver introductions before Saturday night's washout. In Sunday's delayed race, he suffered the same fate as many by slipping and sliding out of contention in the second pileup, marking his second DNF for a crash in as many restrictor-plate races this season. See the photos from Daytona.
33. Reed Sorenson, No. 36 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing. Though Sorenson's day was torpedoed by the second huge wreck, he started the abbreviated 400 with an enviable view from the front row. He qualified second in a rain-shortened multicar session, clinching the second-best starting spot of his Sprint Cup career. Sorenson also won the pole position for the Brickyard 400 in 2007.
34. Cole Whitt, No. 26 Toyota, BK Racing. The uphill learning curve of Whitt's rookie season has been a challenge but for the most part, he's managed to be running at the finish. The Achilles' heel this year has been Daytona, site of his only two DNFs of the season. Sunday's early exit came after his No. 26 nosed into Kyle Busch's car to finally halt the pinball ride of the 26-car incident.
35. David Gilliland, No. 38 Ford, Front Row Motorsports. Gilliland began the race in the No. 1 perch after claiming his first Coors Light Pole Award since the 2007 Daytona 500. But handling issues prompted him to radio his crew on Lap 80 to ask, "What part of 'I'm tight, I need tires' did you not understand there?" His day ended 15 laps from the rain-halted finish when his No. 38 was battered in the 26-car fracas. To hear in-car audio, click here to subscribe to RaceView.
36. Kyle Larson, No. 42 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing. Larson has received plenty of accolades halfway into his rookie Sprint Cup season, but the last three weeks have presented a mini-slump with finishes of 28th, 40th and 36th. The last of those came courtesy of the earlier of the two big crashes in the rain-shortened Coke Zero 400. A five-position drop in the Sprint Cup standings allowed fellow rookie Austin Dillon to leapfrog him in the season-long points. Larson maintains a 15-point lead over Dillon atop the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings. In the sour three-week span, Larson has faded from his apex of seventh in the Sprint Cup standings to his current rank of 17th.
Kyle Larson's Chip Ganassi Racing team pushes his damage No. 42 ride back behind the wall.
37. Carl Edwards, No. 99 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing. If restrictor-plate races were like business models, it would all be about location. It's what Edwards was left to lament after his place in a tightly woven pack of cars led to a heavily damaged car in the Lap 20 smashfest. "I knew we shouldn't have been there," the driver told his crew through his in-car communications. "That was dumb." Edwards moved down a spot to seventh in the Sprint Cup standings, but has two regular-season victories to fall back on in securing a Chase postseason berth. To hear in-car audio, click here to subscribe to RaceView.
38. Trevor Bayne, No. 21 Ford, Wood Brothers Racing. Bayne's seventh Sprint Cup start of 2014 reinforced the wrong sort of consistency he's had this season on restrictor-place tracks of not finishing on the lead lap due to being involved in a crash. Sunday, he was an unwitting participant in the 16-car pileup in the early going. "It is disheartening for these guys. ... The only thing we come here for are the top-fives and wins and this is not what we wanted."
39. Kevin Harvick, No. 4 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing. The yo-yo effect of Harvick's first season in SHR machinery continued Sunday at Daytona. Five times this season, Harvick has finished either first or second. On the flipside, an additional five times his No. 4 Chevy has finished outside the top 35. Harvick was scored as running at the finish in Sunday's rain-plagued Coke Zero 400, but he was 66 laps off the leader's pace after sustaining significant damage in the first major wreck of the day.
40. Tony Stewart, No. 14 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing. Smoke was left fuming after his car took an early pounding in a multi-car shunt, just within moments of a scheduled competition caution on Lap 20. Stewart saved his most critical remarks for Ricky Stenhouse Jr., saying, "Every week it's something kind of with him," the three-time Cup champ said. "I love him like a little brother, but it makes me nervous to be around him on the race track." Stewart continued after repairs and was listed as running at the finish, 67 laps down. See Stewart talk about the wreck
41. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., No. 17 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing. Finishes of seventh and 10th in the season's previous restrictor-plate races offered some hope for Stenhouse, but the sophomore slump continued for the second-year Sprint Cup driver when he was a pivotal part of the opening pileup at Lap 20. Stenhouse started 16th and moved up before contact with Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart ignited the 16th-car crash. "It is a tough way to end our day, though," Stenhouse said. "I feel like we had a really fast race car." See the wreck that happened.
42. Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports. After a seven-week stretch that included three wins and zero finishes outside the top 10, Johnson's bunch hit a low tide with its first DNF of the season after his No. 48 was crumpled in the first big multi-car wreck of the day. Johnson was uninjured, save for the heartache for his crew: "Those guys have been down here for four days in this heat, working on the car; not to mention all the time and effort put into this, to go 15 or 20 laps is just a really big bummer." Hear Johnson talk about the crash.
43. AJ Allmendinger, No. 47 Chevrolet, JTG Daugherty Racing. Allmendinger's lone top-five this season came in May at Daytona's sister track, Talladega. Optimism for a repeat performance was snuffed early on when the No. 47 car took a beating in the early 16-car crunch. In the eight races since his fifth-place run in Alabama, Allmendinger has skidded from a high point of 15th place in the Sprint Cup standings to his current rung of 25th.
Contributor: George Winkler