There’s nothing like the Coke Zero 400. A Saturday night Daytona shootout on the Fourth of July weekend makes this one of the greatest weekends on the NASCAR schedule — and this year’s running had it all.
THUMBS UP: NBC’s Bat Cam and Helmet Cam
Daytona marks the start of NBC’s race broadcasts for the second half of the season. That means this weekend was the first race after what’s essentially an eight-month offseason for the network — and they made some exciting advances during that time off screen, apparently.
We, the viewers, were treated to two gifts: the Bat Cam and the Helmet Cam.
The (na-na na-na, na-na na-na) Bat Cam, suspended along Daytona’s backstretch, followed cars along Daytona’s backstretch at 100 mph. It made for some dramatic, unique, almost cinematic shots. Thumb raised, Bat Cam.
— NBC Sports PR (@NBCSportsPR) July 2, 2017
And, of course, NBC treated viewers to the Helmet Cam — a camera mounted to the visor of AJ Allmendinger’s helmet. The TV broadcast regularly showed what racing felt like inside the pack, including when Allmendinger drove past a crash where Kyle Larson’s car went airborne.
Between these new cameras and FOX’s visor cam at Sonoma, we’ve experienced some real treats on TV this season. Thumbs up for cool, new views of the action.
THUMBS DOWN: DJ Kennington’s engine expires on Canada Day
The Coke Zero 400 traditionally falls on the Saturday before the July 4th weekend. This year, the race took place on July 1, which also happens to be Canada Day.
On Lap 16, the engine failed on Canadian stock car veteran DJ Kennington’s No. 15, sending his car for a spin and ending his race just minutes into the race.
Given the circumstances — Kennington was making just his second start of the season, and on Canada Day — it wasn’t ideal. Bummer.
THUMBS UP: Doggone Underdog Gaughan
Brendan Gaughan, racing for restrictor plate-only team Beard Motorsports, scored a 7th place finish. That’s worthy for a thumb raised high for many reasons:
1. It was Gaughan’s first Top-10 finish in the Monster Energy Series since 2004.
2. Beard Motorsports is only competing in four races this year.
3. Gaughan crashed to bring out a caution on Lap 91 of the race.
4. Gaughan finished 11th in this season’s Daytona 500, bringing his average finish at Daytona to an impressive 9.0 — the third best in the series this season among drivers to make starts in both races at the 2.5-mile track.
That’s a mighty fine way to celebrate a birthday.
THUMBS DOWN: Dale, No!
In what’s likely his final start at Daytona as a full-time driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr. crashed out of Saturday’s race early after starting from the pole and recovering after an incident that had cost the No. 88 two laps.
Unfortunately for Junior Nation, Earnhardt’s hopes of a victory came to a grinding halt on Lap 106 when Kevin Harvick’s Ford broke loose from a tire issue.
Dale Jr. winning at Daytona in his final start at the track would have made for a great story, but alas, the racing gods said it wasn’t meant to be.
While No. 88 fans are holding their thumbs downward leaving Daytona, perhaps this is a good reminder that Dale Jr.’s pole win makes him eligible for the 2018 Clash.
BIGGEST THUMBS UP OF THE WEEK: Ricky Stenhouse’s Patriotic Post-Race Cheer
Fascinatingly, the No. 17 car led 17 laps en route to winning the 17th race of the 2017 season. If that wasn’t interesting enough, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s energetic on-track, post-race interview took the cake.
After thanking the fans attending the race, Stenhouse gave an off-the-cuff patriotic hoot: “America! 1776! We are the champs!”
It was an unexpected and emotionally charged exclamation that capped off a thrilling day of racing at Daytona — worthy of a good old-fashioned red, white, and blue thumbs up.