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The Big Six: Questions Answered After the Coke Zero 400

The Big Six: Questions Answered After the Coke Zero 400

Looking for the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How behind Sunday’s race? Amy Henderson has you covered each week with the answers to six race day questions, covering all five W’s and even the H…the Big Six.

Who…gets my shoutout of the race?

Austin Dillon scored his career best Cup finish on Sunday afternoon. Credit: CIA

Austin Dillon scored his career best Cup finish on Sunday afternoon. Credit: CIA

Casey Mears deserves the shoutout for delivering his team its best finish ever and his own first top-5 finish in six years. Austin Dillon deserves it for scoring his career best Cup finish and first career top 5. Michael McDowell deserves it for getting his career best and his team’s best ever result. And Danica Patrick deserves it for tying her best finish while driving her way through two huge multi-car crashes.

That’s one good thing about racing at Daytona: there is usually a plethora of feel-good stories within the scope of the event because so many teams have a chance to showcase a skill set that not all drivers have. Yes, there is a lot of luck involved, but there is also driver skill. Not every driver is good on a restrictor plate track, but someone who is has a chance to pull off the improbable because the cars are more equal than anywhere else. The usual suspects were, for the most part, absent at the end, and the result is a new face in the Chase and a lot of teams and drivers riding a high.

 What…beyond the teams’ control affected the action?

After Sunday’s event, perhaps racing isn’t the best word to describe what happened in Daytona. Restrictor plate racing became restrictor plate wrecking after a pair of multi-car crashes that involved more than 40 cars in total (16 at lap 20 and 26 at lap 98, it’s hard to call this race an instant classic. It was more a race of attrition and being in the right place at the right time, as restrictor plate racing often is.

But in the end, it was rain that had the final say, as NASCAR called the race after just 112 of 160 laps, around 3:00 Eastern time. It seems a little odd that NASCAR was so quick on the trigger after waiting for hours to complete races earlier in the season. While there was a threat of rain on and off for much of the afternoon and evening, might there have been a window to run a few laps? It did seem a little too soon to throw in the towel, and while I’m not on the “NASCAR fixes races” bandwagon, it’s hard not to wonder if perhaps they saw the chance to have a compelling storyline in a Richard Petty Motorsports win 30 years after Petty’s final victory and went with that rather than risk an unpopular winner at the end of the day. Whatever the case, there were too many teams and fans who waited around for days…surely they’d have waited a few more hours for a shot at the ending they all deserved.

 

Where…did the pole sitter and the defending race winner wind up?

David Gilliland‘s weekend started out with an improbable pole and ended in the garage after Gilliland was collected in a 26-car melee on lap 98. Both Gilliland and teammate David Ragan led laps and looked as though they could take home a top-10 finish. Unfortunately for Front Row Motorsports, both drivers were swept up in the same crash, and they went home without knowing what might have been. Gilliland finished 35th.

Jimmie Johnson might have been thinking repeat, but those dreams lasted fewer than 20 laps, ending when Johnson was collected in the 16-car crash triggered by Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. on lap 19 as the field was heading toward the yellow flag for a competition caution. With three wins, Johnson is locked into the Chase, but the result still stung the driver, who has worked hard to make himself a solid plate racer. Johnson finished 42nd, his worst of the season by ten spots.

When…did it all go sideways?

The low point of the weekend was more than 24 hours in the rearview mirror by the time the Cup cars even fired their engines, but NASCAR’s non-call in Friday night’s Nationwide Series race has to be at the top of the list this week no matter when it happened. Trying to eliminate tandem drafting simply because some fans were vocal about not liking it, NASCAR created a rule prohibiting cars from pushing one another (though bump drafting is still allowed). Early in the race, Landon Cassill, who runs for Nationwide Series points, and Josh Wise were black-flagged when Wise pushed Cassill for longer than NASCAR thought proper.

But on the final lap, when it appeared that Ryan Sieg pushed Sprint Cup regular Kasey Kahne from Turn 4 to the finish line and the victory, there was no call, though Sieg said afterwards that he “just pushed and pushed” Kahne at the end. “I never got off his rear bumper,” Sieg told the media after the race. It was an ugly end to a race that should have been memorable, instead turning into just another Nationwide race won by a Cup driver. NASCAR had all kinds of excuses for letting the win stand, including insisting it was the camera angle that made it look like Sieg was locked onto Kahne’s bumper and then adding that because Sieg moved back and forth a couple of times, he wasn’t trying to push Kahne. Those are weak, and NASCAR continues to deny what’s obvious to many fans—that the Cup drivers winning so many NNS races are driving dans away from that series. That they made excuses to allow it to happen again shows just out of touch NASCAR has become.

Why…did Aric Almirola win the race?

Despite the rain-shortened race, there was no shortage of celebration in the No. 43 camp. Credit: CIA

Despite the rain-shortened race, there was no shortage of celebration in the No. 43 camp. Credit: CIA

It’s easy to say Almirola got lucky when the rain came, but that’s unfair. After all, Almirola was leading the race at the time, while 42 other drivers were not able to do that. It might leave some people wondering “what if,” and maybe the outcome would have been different if they had run the final 48 laps. But maybe it wouldn’t have. Almirola has been knocking on the door of his first win for some time. He is credited with a Nationwide Series win in 2007, but he wasn’t behind the wheel at the finish (Denny Hamlin missed the start flying in from his Cup obligations and at the sponsor’s insistence, took over the car while Almirola was contending for the win.). He also has a couple of CWTS wins, but a first trip to Victory Lane in the Cup Series is something else entirely. This one was all his, and it was a long time coming.

How…did the little guys do?

Germain Racing; Casey Mears (No. 13 GEICO Chevy): Mears had a stellar day despite a pit strategy almost backfiring on him when he came down pit lane alone during a round of green flag stops, having trouble on the stop, and then reporting a vibration on the radio afterward. Mears was able to race inside the top 10 almost all day long, and had a car capable of winning had the race ended under green. He finished fourth, the best Cup finish ever for Germain Racing.

Leavine Family Racing; Michael McDowell (No 95 JPO Absorbents Ford): McDowell narrowly avoided the huge wrecks on lap 20 and lap 98, and found himself with a top-10 finish for his efforts. McDowell finished seventh. That’s easily the best effort of the year for this part-time operation, and important for a team who must make the best of each race they do enter. They did themselves proud this time around.

GoFAS Racing; Terry Labonte (No. 32 C&J Energy Services Ford): Labonte never was known for being loud or brash, so it was fitting that the two-time champion made little noise for much of the day at Daytona. But at the end, Labonte was able to drive through the craziness on track to finish 11th. That’s this team’s best finish in 126 races.

BK Racing; Alex Bowman & Cole Whitt & Ryan Truex (No. 23 Dr. Pepper Toyota & No. 26 Al’s Liners/Scorpion Window Film Toyota & No. 83 VooDoo Barbeque/ Armed Forces MotorsportsToyota): Bowman was tops for BK this week, scoring a career-best 13th-place run. Whitt and Truex weren’t quite so fortunate, as both were part of the day’s crashes. Truex was collected in the lap 98 crash, and his day was over in 32nd. Whitt was a part of the same accident and wound up 35th, tweeting after the race, ” Well hate plate racing for that reason. Lots of work ahead for a lot of people. Should make the highlights for flipping @KyleBusch over.” That’s definitely not the way he wanted to make it.

Tommy Baldwin Racing; Michael Annett & Reed Sorenson (No 7 Pilot Flying J Chevy & No. 36 Golden Corral Chevy): Sorenson got off to a great start to the weekend, qualifying second. Unfortunately though he’d lead four laps, the No. 36 was one of the cars involved in the lap 98 mess, and he’d finish in 33rd spot. Annett was also in second big wreck of the day, but got away with a little less damage on the No. 7, limping in for 22nd place.

Front Row Motorsports; David Ragan & David Gilliland (No. 34 Farm Rich Ford & No. 38 Love’s Travel Stops Ford): Gilliland started on the pole and both he and Ragan led laps, but the word of the day at Daytona was “Big One” and like half the field, both drivers saw their hopes evaporate on lap 98. Ragan’s 22nd-place result was the team’s top finish, and Gilliland saw his day end in 35th after his promising start.

Phil Parsons Racing; Josh Wise (No. 98 Ford): Unlike many others in this group, Wise was at least listed as running at the end, but the damage was done on lap 98, and Wise had to settle for finishing 23rd after running as high as 11th earlier.

HScott Motorsports; Justin Allgaier (No. 51 Brandt Chevy): This section is beginning to sound a little like a broken record, but like so many others on this list, Allgaier was tangled in the multi-car incident on lap 98 and finished 25th after running inside the top 15 for much of the middle part of the race.

Circle Sport; Bobby Labonte & Landon Cassill (No. 33 Thunder Coal Chevy & No. 40 Newtown Building Supply Chevy): Cassill had a fast start this week with a top 3 start, and he didn’t stop there, leading twice for a total of five laps. Labonte also started near the front in fourth and was looking strong early. But like so much of this group, both were wrapped up in the same crash that affected so many others. Labonte finished 26th and Cassill 31st.

Wood Brothers Racing; Trevor Bayne (No 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford): Bayne was involved in the first multi-car pileup of the day on lap 20, and after extensive damage was running at the end after repairs, but it wasn’t pretty. Bayne finished 38th. He’s a Daytona 500 champ, but that old magic hasn’t come back to him lately.

JTG-Daugherty Racing; AJ Allmendinger (No. 47 Scott Products Chevy): Collected in the lap 20 crash, the No. 47 got mired in the infield grass and when it was extricated, there was too much damage for Allmendinger to continue. With an ECR engine under the hood, Allmendinger had a shot at a great finish, but it was over almost before it began.

About Amy Henderson

Amy Henderson
Co-Managing Editor of Frontstretch since 2012, Amy oversees the site’s photography and daily content as well as assisting with staff management. A ten-year veteran writer and three-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, Amy pens The Big Six (Mondays), Frontstretch 5 (Wednesdays), Holding A Pretty Wheel (Fridays) and writes a monthly diary with Truck Series driver Brendan Gaughan. A New Hampshire native living in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits extend everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports.

13 comments

  1. I bet BZF and his inner circle of yes-men were pacing and wringing their hands over whether to call the race. On one hand they have a #43 victory on the 30th anniversary of the king’s 200th win. On the other hand, they have the best chance for Danica to win a race, being one of the only cars left on track not held together with pop rivets and Bear bond. What to do, what to do…

    Anyhow, congrats to Aric. I always he thought he seemed like a good guy, and his win is pretty much just as legitimate as anyone else’s on a plate track.

  2. Sorry, but yes it was mostly luck that got the 43 car its win at the race, along with the rest of the unexpected finishing order that you cite in the article. Watching a lot of cars get wrecked is not the type of racing I enjoy, I can go see a demolition derby for that.

    We’ve been to the Daytona 500 because I thought that as a race fan I should see one of these races in person at least once, but it just isn’t my thing.

    • Same here GinaV24. Every NASCAR fan needs to go to Daytona once, right? Too bad for me that I picked 2001. Looking back what would most likely make me go back for a second 500 would be Florida in February. The race would be an excuse to go there that week.

  3. It’s OK to push when you’re pushing a Hendrick Hero. If you’re one of those guys that they let drive so that the Chosen Ones have someone to beat, that’s different.

  4. Wow, how nice of you. Got plenty to say as to why YOU are the doofuses, but I won’t. I will keep it nice.

  5. Nascar could have waited a little longer??? Good grief to what end. Since Thursday Mother Nature was calling the shots. Start up, stop, start up, stop. That takes a toll on all involved, most importantly the people at the race track. It is one thing to sit at home go wash the car walk the dog, but once those start and stop deals happen at a large race track, you are kinda stuck there. It was clear the race was not going to finish today as almost 4 or 5 hours later Mother Nature was still in charge, it was still raining..then if it stopped..another long time to dry the track. Arics win is more legit than many plate winners as he actually led some laps. Plate races are a game of chance, this particular winner got his trophy some laps sooner. Big deal. People had places to go and a whole new set of commitments they had to get to. I don’t always agree with Nascar, but this call IMO was correct. Petty racing has been up front this year, so it should not be a huge shock.

  6. People ask why fans think RP races are crapshoots. Look at the finishing order. If I was on a desert island for the entire 2014 year and someone showed me today’s finishing order when I was rescued in 2015, I would immediately come to the conclusion that there was a high probability that it was a RP race without any other information.
    Picking names out of a hat would be a lot cheaper, safer and saner. What a total cluster of a race weekend.

    • This comment reeks of a lack of understanding of plate racing. They aren’t crapshoots. It’s just a different style of racing, that’s all. When will people understand that. So tired of ignorant doofuses who’ve never been in a race car making dumb comments about the most exciting style of racing in the sport.

      • No, that was as crapshoot as it gets. And by the way, many of us do understand restrictor plate racing, we just don’t like it. Because it’s a so often a crapshoot. Like it or not, we’re all entitled to our own opinion.

        • Plate racing is a TOTAL crapshoot. Just draw straws. I certainly wouldn’t bring my best car there.

          • Speed but no acceleration, plate racing always reminded me of big trucks. They can go fast, but it takes forever to get up to speed and they can’t stop. It makes about as much sense as a horse race with 900 pound jockies!

      • Well Bobby R, maybe it’s you that don’t understand the definition of “crapshoot”.
        Are you saying that the finishing order was representative of a normal race? Are you saying that the 30+ drivers involved in the two big wrecks had any ability to avoid them (besides laying back out of the draft and NOT racing)? Please explain what the work “crapshoot” means to you.
        Your comment reeks of someone who doesn’t know the meaning of crapshoot.

      • oh I think that Bill understands the nature of plate racing well enough. IMO its why Talladega doesn’t belong in the chase.