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Thinkin’ Out Loud – Coke Zero 400
Aric Almirola celebrates in victory lane in the 2014 Coke Zero 400. (Credit: CIA)

Thinkin’ Out Loud – Coke Zero 400

Key Moment - The only set of green flag pit stops occurred from lap 83 through 87 Sunday. Aric Almirola was running near the end of the top 10 when he peeled off to pit lane. He was the second car off in the group of cars he came down with, and slotted into second when the entire cycle of stops continued. That quick stop put the No. 43 in position to win the race.

In a Nutshell - Combine a plate race with rain and you get what we had on Sunday. The race ran 10 laps before the first caution for rain. As the field came to the line for the competition caution flag after the race restarted, 16 cars wadded up in a ‘Big One’. The race ran until lap 99, albeit slowed for two debris cautions, until the ‘Bigger One’ occurred on the back straight where 26 cars were involved and Kyle Busch ended up on his lid after a leisurely roll over at the end of the incident. The race went green from lap 104 through lap 110 when the caution flew a final time for rain. Two laps of caution and the red flag was displayed; the race was called shortly thereafter thanks to the soaking rain moving into the area of the race track.

2014 Daytona II CUP big one lap 20 CIA

The beginnings of the first Big One

Dramatic Moment - NASCAR announced a competition caution would take place on lap 20. As the field was coming off of turn four to end lap 21, without having seen the yellow flag, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. got loose. He saved the car but Jeff Gordon made a move that ultimately contacted Tony Stewart and triggered the first big wreck. That accident took out many of the biggest contenders for the win and changed the complexion of the entire race.

What They’ll be Talking About Around the Water Cooler - The No. 43 is in Victory Lane for the first time in 15 years and for the first time ever at Daytona without Richard Petty behind the wheel. Rain shortened races may be like kissing your sister but the winner still goes into the record books as a winner. Aric Almirola is now qualified for the Chase, assuming he attempts to run the rest of the races this season. While the odds are he won’t contend for the championship, there is always a possibility with the new format. Whatever the case may be, it was quite nostalgic reminiscing about the great history of that car at Daytona.

The Firecracker 400 has been a fixture on the Cup schedule since July 4th, 1959. It was run on the 4th until 1988 when it was moved to the closest Saturday to Independence Day. In 1998, lights were added and the race was moved to night time. The great thing about the Firecracker was that the track was hot and slippery and the cars were hard to drive. Thanks to the rain on Saturday night, the track was hot and slippery and the cars were hard to drive. There is no doubt that they’re not moving the race back to the daytime any time soon, but thanks to God’s intervention, we do get to occasionally see racing the way it ought to be at Daytona in the middle of the Summer.

Landon Cassill ran to the midway point of the race on one set of tires. He also qualified on those tires so he ran somewhere around 90 laps on a set of tires. We saw, at the beginning of the season, that tires wearing out and giving up grip made for much greater racing. Running over 80 laps in a 160 lap race on one set of tires is not conducive to good racing and showcasing driver talent. Hopefully Goodyear can come to the realization that tires don’t need to last half of a race and we’ll see more tire wear in 2015.

The majority of fans wanted to see tandem racing go away and packs return. Whatever the reasoning was for the fans’ response, the end result is huge crashes. Two wrecks during the race involved 42 cars. Some cars were involved in both incidents so a grand total of seven cars made it through both wrecks. If total carnage is the desired result of pack racing then Sunday was a huge success. Ending a race with seven undamaged race cars on a track that is over a mile in length hardly seems desirable, except for fans of Almirola.

It is hard to believe but 30 years ago Richard Petty won his 200th and final race of his Hall of Fame career. Petty always thrived at Daytona, and, in front of Ronald Reagan, who was the sitting president of the United States at the time, he won by leading the last 32 laps. For old school fans the race was contested on Wednesday, July 4th. There are those who would debate that NASCAR threw the caution on the last lap to prevent Cale Yarborough from beating the King, but hindsight doesn’t award trophies.

NASCAR is over 60 years old. For more than 50 of those years the voice of the sport has been Barney Hall. There are a few voices in sports that immediately identify to the listener which sport they are hearing broadcast. Hall is the lead announcer for MRN radio and the Coke Zero 400 is the final race that he broadcast as the lead announcer. He will still be involved with MRN but is abdicating the lead announcer role. Telling a legend thank you seems so inadequate but from all fans of NASCAR, Thank You Barney Hall for bringing the races into our radio for over half of a century.

The race preempted the Lord of the Rings marathon on TNT on Sunday. While the Renaissance Faire demographic might not be a big target for NASCAR, their numbers among that group certainly took a hit on Sunday.

The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune

Fans wanted pack racing because they could see the Big One. Pretty sure that these drivers aren’t big fans of the pack racing after Sunday’s race: Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Marcos Ambrose, Danica Patrick, Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Matt Kenseth, Trevor Bayne, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Larson, A J Allmendinger, Jimmie Johnson, Michael Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Carl Edwards.

2014 Daytona II CUP Lap 98 big one CIA

The second Big One

Big One fans were treated to a double header of massive wrecks on Sunday. The second major wreck involved 26 cars. While some only had minor damage, the list is impressive: Jamie McMurray, Brad Keselowski, Kasey Kahne, Michael Annett, Marcos Ambrose, Danica Patrick, Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, Greg Biffle, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano, Alex Bowman, Cole Whitt, Paul Menard, Ryan Newman, Terry Labonte, Bobby Labonte, David Ragan, Reed Sorenson, David Gilliland, Landon Cassill, Justin Allgaier, Ryan Truex, Michael McDowell and Josh Wise.

The “Seven Come for Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune

Danica Patrick was classified as being involved in both wrecks but received almost no damage in either one. She also missed her pit box on a pit stop that dropped her out of the draft. She caught a caution before going down a lap and drove through the second huge wreck to come home with a tenth-place finish.

Brian Vickers was running near the 20th position when Kasey Kahne turned sideways on the back straight triggering the 26 car wreck. Cars were spinning and crashing all around him but the track opened directly in front of him and he drove through without touching a car. He ended the race in second position thanks to that fine fortune.

In the same incident where Vickers was given divine assistance, Austin Dillon led the way for him. Dillon made slight contact with Paul Menard and Ryan Newman but received little to no damage and carried that good fortune to a top-5 run.

Worth Noting

Aric Almirola scored his first victory in the Cup series with his win at Daytona. It took him 125 starts to score his first victory.

In Richard Petty’s first 125 races he scored six victories. Almirola only has to win 199 more races in 1,059 starts to match the King.

With his victory Almirola becomes the 24th driver to take a win in all three of NASCAR’s national touring series. Almirola reached that milestone with only four wins in the three series. David Reutimann is the only driver to do it with fewer. He had one win in each of the three series when he accomplished the feat.

The win is Almirola’s first top-10 finish in seven career starts at Daytona.

Brian Vickers finished second and notched his first top-2 finish of the season and his first ever at Daytona International Speedway.

Kurt Busch led the most laps in the race (36). Busch finished third for his fourth podium finish of the season. He has not finished between third and 12th in any of the 18 races this year. He has finished in the top 3 six times in his career at Daytona, and he has 11 top-5 finishes in 28 career starts at Daytona without scoring a win.

Austin Dillon was the highest finishing rookie (5). It is the first top-5 finish of his career.

Jeff Gordon leads Dale Earnhardt, Jr. by 27 points in the meaningless point standings. Jimmie Johnson is in third.

The last time the No. 43 visited Victory Lane was Martinsville in April of 1999. It marked the 199th career win for the No. 43.

Casey Mears finished in fourth place Sunday. It is his first top-5 finish since 2008. He has scored two top-10 finishes this season, both at Daytona.

What’s the Points

Points don’t matter as much as wins. The 11 race winners are listed below along with the five drivers who would make the Chase on points at this juncture of the season.

Winners:
Daytona and Pocono – Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Phoenix and Darlington – Kevin Harvick
Las Vegas and Kentucky – Brad Keselowski
Bristol and Sonoma – Carl Edwards
California – Kyle Busch
Martinsville – Kurt Busch
Texas and Richmond – Joey Logano
Talladega – Denny Hamlin
Kansas – Jeff Gordon
Charlotte, Dover and Michigan – Jimmie Johnson
Daytona (2) – Aric Almirola

Drivers making the Chase on points who do not have wins:
5) Matt Kenseth
8) Ryan Newman
10) Paul Menard
12) Clint Bowyer
13) Austin Dillon

Jeff Gordon is locked into the Chase due to the fact that he is 395 points ahead of David Gilliland, who is in 31st position. The maximum points that can be gained over the next 8 races, assuming Gordon starts every race as required to be eligible for the Chase, is 376.

Overall Rating(On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) -

A rain shortened race is never going to get six beers. A plate race with two wrecks involving 42 cars is going to be handicapped even further. That said, for the second time this season at Daytona, rain seemed to inspire the drivers to get after it for the vast majority of the race. There was a five lap segment right before halfway where the field went single file. Other than that there was two and three-wide racing on every lap of the race. The opening laps of the race saw three-wide racing seven rows deep for much of the time leading up to the competition caution. Add in the historic significance of the No. 43 going to Victory Lane at Daytona on the 30th anniversary of Richard Petty’s 200th win. This one receives a solid four ice cold Budweisers.

Next Up

The circus pulls into New England next weekend. New Hampshire Motor Speedway hosts the Camping World RV Sales 301 at 1:00 PM Sunday, July 13th. It is the last race of the TNT Summer Series. It can also be heard on your local PRN affiliate.

About Mike Neff

Mike Neff
What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Sprint Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Thursday with Tech Talk. Mike works as track announcer for Millbridge Speedway and East Lincoln Speedway, local bullrings based outside of Charlotte, and pops up everywhere from Athlon Sports to SIRIUS XM Radio.

23 comments

  1. I had to laugh during Kurt Busch’s interview under red when he complained of a driver outside the top 20 getting a win. Have you checked your own ranking Kurt? Almirola’s ahead of you.

  2. Had to laugh at Janice’s comment about “the King” – for us “oldtimers” Richard will ALWAYS be the King.

  3. Capt Spaulding

    When the writer awards “4 Ice Cold Budweisers,” for that 2 day waste of time, it tells you direction this website is headed…….Maybe Matt M. got out while the getting was good.

  4. I think Nascar called the race because if there were any more wrecks, there wouldn’t be enough cars to finish the race, and having only 10 cars on the track makes your race look pretty stupid.

    They tout their track dryers to no end, then it comes time to actually put their money where their mouth is, they abandon it. They could have waited longer and gotten the rest of the race in. I keep hearing Nascar talk about “doing things for the fans”, well I’m sure the fans were not happy having the race called at 3pm when you have lights. Sorry but I’m not buying their explanation for calling it so early.

    • Dirt Outlaw #15

      I think calling the race was just putting it out of its misery.

      • I agree. Excellent way to look at it. I’d add, to put the fans out of their misery as well. LOL

    • I think they made a good decision to call the race when they did. The main reasons were that they had been trying to get the race in for nearly 24 hours. Not only that, but you also have to figure the lightning equation in there, as well. When they called the race, there was lightning all over the area, and some bolts had been seen at the track, which is why interviews had to be stopped. (I would like to have heard interviews with Terry Labonte, who was in his final race at Daytona, as well as Jeff Gordon, if only to hear him describe what he had been through that day, being involved in both big wrecks, including being a central figure in the first one, but it was not to be.) So there was a safety issue with everyone involved because of lightning. Remember that 10 people were injured at Pocono two years ago, one fatally, from lightning strikes in a race that wasn’t called quick enough. When it comes to lightning, you can not be careful enough, so I think NASCAR made the right decision, as it’s better to make the call too early rather than too late when lives could be in danger. They gave it a shot for the track to dry up, but it wasn’t to be.

      When they had the absurd 6 hour plus delay at the Daytona 500, there were no thunderstorms or lightning involved, so there was no safety issue for everyone there like there was yesterday. So the right decision was made, and I believe at the right time, if not slightly too late, because I think it should have been called at the first hint of lightning.

  5. Tandem racing reminded me of the pre-plate days of real racing and sling-shot passes. What happened yesterday reminded me of the destruction derby at the county fair, only less entertaining.

  6. The only thing that’s more of a dumb, crapshoot lottery than a restrictor plate race is a restrictor plate race that’s rain-shortened. There couldn’t be a more pointless event.

  7. Actually, while NASCAR officially lists 26 cars as being involved in the second big crash, there were actually 27 cars involved, because Jeff Gordon, who was a central figure in the first big wreck (started by Ricky Stenhouse’s wild driving), was also in the second big wreck, as he got into the back of David Ragan, which resulted in more damage to the front of his car that required numerous pit stops. Otherwise, Gordon would have been battling for the win in that final dash, as he came through in fourth place. But there were 27 cars in that second big wreck, not 26 as NASCAR listed.

    And despite the fact that we have these huge wrecks in plate race, has anyone forgotten why they run restrictor plates at Daytona and Talladega? It’s because of Bobby Allison’s crash in the 1987 Winston 500 when he blew an engine, parts of which cut his right rear tire at 210 MPH, resulting in his car getting airborne and nearly flying into the crowd. That’s why they have restrictor plates. They simply can not go that fast without getting airborne.

    A way to avoid what happened in the day’s second big wreck is for NASCAR to adopt a version of the old P.A.C.E.R. light system USAC used at Indy in the 1970s, which slowed the field down during caution periods, but did not allow the field to bunch up during those caution periods. I think that could work in the plate races to keep the field somewhat spread out. That would limit the damage done later in these plate races, though it would not have prevented yesterday’s first big wreck.

    • but charles, even with plates over the past few years on plate tracks cars have become airborne and injured fans in the stand (dega and then the nationwide race at daytona a year or two ago when the engine landed insided the fence by the flag stand).

      they have other options of slowing down the cars besides plates with engine and transmissions but won’t do it. series already costs an arm and leg, so why not have a crate load of engines just for use on the high banked, high speed tracks instead of the plates.

      of course they’d have to remove the plate from brain fart’s head first!

      • The problem with that idea is that nothing can possibly slow the cars down enough, short of smaller engines, and the last time that a change in the size of engines was done, long-time teams and car owners such as Holman-Moody, Banjo Matthews, Ray Fox, and Cotton Owens were driven from the sport because they didn’t have the money or support to make such a drastic change. You’d have to slow them down 25-35 MPH to allow them to run unrestricted, and no change in gear ratio or aerodynamics alone can cause that kind of a drop in speed. The only way to slow the cars down that much is to change to a much smaller engine (say, to about 280-300 CI from the 358 CI used since 1975). It’s obvious that cars are still getting airborne, but that happened in the early 70s when the cars were barely going 180 MPH, so that’s always going to be a problem at Daytona and Talladega. And quite a number of the cars we see going airborne at Daytona and Talladega these days has to do with extended contact, rather than aerodynamics.

        And I still say the only way I can think of to lessen the crashes seen late in a plate race is to keep the field spread out during caution periods so they can’t close up, like USAC did in the 70s at Indy with the P.A.C.E.R. light system, and I don’t think NASCAR ever wants to go down that road. And even that would not have prevented the first big crash yesterday.

  8. I’m in the “I hate restrictor plate” group. Haven’t liked them for years and it seems that they just get worse. I agree that if I have to choose pack racing is marginally better than tandem, but mostly it is all stupid since I just hate all of the wrecks and running in the back to avoid it, nope, that didn’t work either. Ugh!

    I used to watch qualifying and I realize that a lot of people seem to like this new group grope, but for me, I find no interest in it at all and have stopped bothering watching any of it. I just wait and find out where people are starting on the internet. Of course according to Brian France, it’s all good, business is great so not many changes are needed. I don’t happen to agree with him, but well, I’m just one of those pesky fans.

    Mike Neff, every year they talk about how Goodyear needs to bring a better tire and I thought maybe this year they had it figured out, but nope, back to the same old, same old tire that will run for laps and laps.

    I had plans for Saturday night so I didn’t find out that the race had been delayed until I got home that night. I feel sorry for the fans that went and waited and waited and then only got to see whatever that hot mess was that happened on Sunday.

  9. Boring race. The wreckfest makes it a lottery rather than a real race. Rules package was horrible. Cars really couldn’t pass much. The best car with the best driver could easily be stuck in line with no where to go. They sometimes have a good package where a very good car and a driver that knows how to use it can go to the front. But, what we saw was more of a traffic jam. I’ll take tandem driving to this any day. At least you can do something.

    As far as the race being called at 3pm at a track where they have lights. I think they should have waited it out. I know it’s a long time but with wins getting you into the Chase now, it’s really incumbent upon NASCAR to see that the race finishes.

  10. The crowd looked a lot better a day late at Daytona, than the crowd did at the scheduled times at Kentucky, Dover, etc. The SuperStretch is always closed for the 400 and the other empty sets of bleachers were under construction.
    Taking the plates off most likely isn’t the answer either. At 220+ the race would most likely resemble Michigan with new pavement, with strung out single-file racing.
    The trucks seem to consistently put on good racing at Daytona. The secret at any track continues to be tire wear and getting the cars off the ground. Remove downforce, let them run whatever spoiler angle they feel like they can manage and see what happens.

    • trucks are boxy and punch a big hole in the air. they not so aero-engineered vehicles.

      • Exactly. If you are not going to race “stock cars”, switch the cars to a boxy design, with ground clearance and tires that give. Racing changed for the worst when corner speeds increased. When drivers can mat the throttle through the corners, single-groove racing results. Slow the corner speeds, have tire management become a factor and the racing will improve.

  11. oh yeah…one last thing….

    kyle petty’s constant reference to his father as “the king”…..i find that so annoying.

  12. i don’t understand why they do knock-out qualifying at the plate tracks.

    when i got home from church sunday at 11:45 and saw the red flag, knew it was going to be one of those days. also knew that there was a 50% of rain most of the day at daytona. they just had flat out lousy weather all weekend long. i guess the anemic attendance is because fans didn’t go back on sunday cause of the weather forecast. thunder and lightening on top of rain, no thank you.

    what a royal mess….2 wrecks take out majority of the field. and we all know princess finished with top 10 finish cause her car was not damaged to the point where it dramatically affected her handling.

    when the first “big one” happened, i knew it was going to be one of those days, with it being at the front of the field, and then the 2nd “big one” at the front of the field.

    never saw a car get on it lid more slower than the 18 did on sunday. at least the fans that were there were polite and cheered when he got out of the car.

    oh well…..next week new hampshire, think i’ll pressure wash the house cause if i don’t i will be all but guaranteed that i’ll get a nap in during the race.

  13. I agree with Bill B… Nascar owes me a beer, too. I feel like I watched a demolition derby, not a race. While I have nothing against Almirola and agree that it’s nice to see the #43 car win a race, his win was 5% strategy and 95% luck.

    This qualifying format is a joke, and not a funny one. Please, Nascar, go back to old format that worked fine for 60+ years. What we have nowe is a convoluted mess. Who dreams this stuff up?

    I’d like to thank Kyle Petty for mentioning Bobby Labonte when he was up front. No one else seemed to want to do it.

    Finally, I have no problem with Nascar calling this race 48 laps early. In fact, they called it 112 laps too late.

  14. Plate racing. Too much speed, too close together, and too little acceleration to have any chance of avoiding trouble. What could go wrong? It took the death of Dale Sr. for NASCAR to finally get serious about safer barriers. I wonder if it will take a multiple fatality “big one” before plates are finally abandoned. Boring as plate racing is I give this one a case of beer. No one died (yet) so as fans of NASCAR we all won.

  15. Alright, since you seem to be stating that fans ask for pack racing let’s set the record straight. What fans want is to have the restrictor plates gone. We don’t want pack racing nor tandem racing. Since we are only given the choice between the two, I vote for pack racing because tandem racing isn’t racing at all. The pack is an equal opportunity proposal. While no one can do it alone, you can’t exclude someone from having a chance. Tandem racing is exclusionary and requires direct help from another driver which means the pushing driver has to abandon all hopes of winning in order for it to work. Hell, there are an odd number of drivers to begin with so someone is without a partner right from the beginning and is destined to fall off the lead lap (see Denny Hamlin in whatever year the tandem racing was taking place).

    In essence most fans have decided that pack racing is the lesser of the two evils with providing some semblance of every man for himself racing instead of date night at the high school prom.

    Even as RP races go this one sucked. Between the weather the entire weekend being a constant PIA, the ridiculous qualifying process, and the field clearing big ones, they got the race in but I sure never felt like I got to see a race. I don’t know what the eff that was but it wasn’t a race.

    NASCAR needs to totally re-examine the qualifying process at RP tracks. It doesn’t work, period and turns the entire process into a joke. Both NASCAR fans and those who don’t follow the sport have to wonder what the eff the point was.

    0 cans for the entire weekend. In fact, negative one. NASCAR owes me a beer.