Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2015 Coke Zero 400 at Daytona

Who’s in the headline – You’d think a Dale Earnhardt Jr. victory at Daytona International Speedway would immediately steal all the headlines. Instead? He’ll have to split them with Austin Dillon this week. Dillon’s flight into the catchfence – seriously, his entire car cleared the wall – will be seen around the world for weeks, months and years to come. Dillon was launched over the rest of the contenders when Denny Hamlin spun into him following the checkered flag.

The entire field wrecked, save for a few cars, but Dillon’s wild ride was chilling, injuring four fans and leaving many wondering what would have happened if the grandstands hadn’t been moved back as part of the new Daytona Rising project. Worse yet, Dillon was hit by Brad Keselowski, who lost control of his car with all of the fluid on-track, when his car fell back to the racing surface upside down. The incident was so frightening that Earnhardt’s pit crew stopped celebrating their win and rushed over to Dillon’s car, on a live track, to make sure he was OK.

BOWLES: Dillon Wreck A Safety Success Or Catalyst For Change?

A fan in the stands captured this terrifying view of the wreck.


What happened – Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. It rained at Daytona. Qualifying was rained out on Saturday, leaving a couple drivers stuck watching Sunday’s race on TV. The rain came again on Sunday, postponing the race by more than three hours. Pole-sitter Earnhardt led the field to the green flag when it finally fell at 11:42 p.m. ET. Once the race finally started, three contenders established themselves. Earnhardt appeared to have the best car, but Jimmie Johnson and Hamlin were also in the running.

Three hours and many crashes later, the same three drivers found themselves racing for the win in a green-white-checkered finish. Earnhardt ultimately prevailed, fending off both Johnson and Hamlin as they looked to pass him on the outside and inside, respectively. Behind Earnhardt, Kevin Harvick made contact with Hamlin’s left rear, causing the Virginia native to spin in front of the field. What resulted was a 24-car melee and a section of the catchfence completely torn apart.

Why you should care – Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway have been the scenes of many vicious crashes throughout the years, but Monday’s was unique in the fact that Dillon’s car flew head-on into the track’s catchfence, the ultimate test for the only piece of equipment separating spectators from a 3,500-lb missile flying straight at them. Thankfully, it did its job, but in the safety-cautious state the sport is in right now, this story might star for a long time.

What your friends are talking about – That last-lap crash will be the fodder of safety discussions and YouTube crash compilations for years to come. Daytona officials thought that they had done everything right to make Monday morning’s race a safe event. They added over 4,000 yards of SAFER barrier where Kyle Busch suffered his crash in February and laid down asphalt in many areas that were formerly covered by grass. Now, the track could come under the public eye again for the frontstretch catchfence. At this rate, the Daytona 500 might have to be run in some sort of see-through dome.

Sunday’s race had a lot at stake for both NBC and drivers looking to make the Chase. Looking for a solid start to its new TV contract with NASCAR, NBC brought a great TV crew and new excitement to Daytona. However, the rain-delayed race left even the most loyal NASCAR fan looking at their Monday work schedule and going to bed. The few faithful that did stay up to watch the race were left seeing their favorite drivers speak with obvious fear and disgust, hiding behind their sponsor plugs and false smiles after that final-lap wreck.

NASCAR officials and members of the driver’s council met for the second time Saturday at Daytona. Both sides came out of the meeting sounding positive. Drivers such as Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon, who made his final Daytona start this weekend, praised NASCAR and their willingness to listen. Topics that came up included tires, safety, marketing and rules packages for the Chase, all important to the sport going forward. The meeting seems to have gone well, but the third one might come quicker than NASCAR expects following Monday’s race. Can drivers call an emergency gathering?

Martin Truex Jr. complained to his crew chief during a mid-race caution that he couldn’t close up to the rear of the Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets. He sure wasn’t the only one. Whether the team was just that fast or if they found a secret advantage is unknown, but it sure made for a difficult race for the other 39 drivers in the field at Daytona.

Another week, another light issue. This time, NASCAR officials experienced technical difficulties on a restart. Earnhardt led the field to turn 1 only to see the caution lights running. Many drivers, including Harvick and Clint Bowyer, let off the gas briefly, but NASCAR neglected to throw the caution flag back out, keeping the race green and costing drivers that did the right thing valuable track position as they tried to get back up to speed.

Who is mad – Coming to take the white flag, the answer would’ve been the drivers that were involved in early accidents, such as Truex, Kyle LarsonCarl Edwards and defending winner Aric Almirola. However, following the events of the finish, the honest answer is probably the entire field.

Gordon, Hamlin and even race-winner Earnhardt were all left in shock after the events at the end of the race, trying (and failing) to come up with words to describe what they’d just been through. The entire field was left dumbfounded, angry and confused.

Drivers have long put up with the dangers of restrictor-plate racing, shrugging the risks off and putting on thrilling shows for the fans. However, right now they’d be as likely to strap up and get back on-track at Daytona as Edwards is to miss a sponsor plug.

Who is happy – Dillon is just happy to be alive and in one piece. The driver’s wreck was terrifying, bringing back memories of a similar crash that Dale Earnhardt suffered at Talladega in 1996. That Dillon got out of what was left of his No. 3 Chevrolet with only a bruised tailbone and forearm speaks for the improved safety of the Sprint Cup Series cars.

For some inexplicable reason, Kurt Busch still doesn’t have a restrictor-plate victory. For someone like the elder Busch brother, a former champion who runs well at every racing surface, the stat comes across as an anomaly. That being considered, Busch’s consistent presence up front and fifth-place result offers him some hope for October’s Chase race at Talladega.

Kyle Busch may not be “happy,” but he’s certainly got to be relieved. Returning to the site of his vicious Xfinity Series crash in February, last weekend’s winner looked like he’d killed his Chase hopes early when he got loose and over-corrected straight into the turn 2 outside wall on lap 17. Luckily for “Rowdy,” he was able to take advantage of two free passes and the race’s ridiculous attrition rate, rebounding for a 17th-place finish that’s a lot better than it sounds.

When the checkered flag flew

Earnhardt Jr.’s victory at Daytona is the 25th of his career, coming in his 558th start. The win was Earnhardt’s fourth at Daytona, giving him two victories on the season.

Earnhardt joins Kurt Busch, Harvick and Johnson as multi-time winners in 2015. Johnson still leads the way with four victories.

Matt DiBenedetto was the rookie of the race, coming home in 26th, one spot ahead of Brett Moffitt. However, Moffitt is still the top rookie in points, running 32nd to DiBenedetto’s 36th. Jeb Burton sits 39th in the standings.

Earnhardt’s win is the 11th for Chevrolet in 2015. The bowties hold seven of the top-10 positions in points, and 10 of the 16 provisional Chase positions.

Harvick, Joey Logano, Keselowski, Johnson, Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, Earnhardt Jr., Edwards, Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch all have wins in 2015. Kyle Busch is still outside of the top 30 in points, so he will have to race his way into that points position before he’ll be eligible for the Chase. He currently sits 37th in the standings, 128 points behind 30th-place Cole Whitt.

The drivers who are currently eligible for the Chase after 15 races without wins and their standing in points:

6) Jamie McMurray

10) Jeff Gordon

11) Kasey Kahne

13) Paul Menard

14) Ryan Newman

15) Clint Bowyer

Takin’ it to the Bank

With 17 races in the books, Cup winners this year have pocketed $6,324,965, while the last-place finisher has taken home $1,431,427.

In the Xfinity Series, winners have taken home $1,186,097 with last-place finishers pocketing $221,226 after 14 races.

After nine Truck races the winner has $495,832 while the last loser has banked $92,195.

What is in the cooler – You might want to stay away from the cooler this week; it’s full of negativity. NBC’s choice to delay the Cup race until Sunday night irked fans going into the weekend, but it also trapped the company in a box when rain delayed the event well into the night. Teams couldn’t afford to stay another night and do a 48-hour turnaround to get to Kentucky Speedway for Wednesday’s test session, so instead fans were treated to over three hours of rain-delay coverage, making the race’s primetime slot an over-glorified NASCAR talk show.

NBC’s issues paled in comparison to the events of the race, though. Hoping for a great event, NASCAR was instead treated to another follow-the-leader parade, even if the parade was fighting three-wide. Earnhardt never seemed to be out of control of Monday morning’s race, even with a reported vibration and the strongest competitors in his mirror. While NASCAR could typically spin it into a good story with Earnhardt winning, even he offered little praise for the race following the nearly-tragic last lap. That he and the other drivers stayed composed at all is a testament to how professional and courageous the entire field is. Seriously, watch the crash for yourself, then try to stay positive and plug sponsors:

Typically one of NASCAR’s biggest races, the Coke Zero 400 couldn’t have gone much worse for the organization. Drivers are at their wits’ end after yet-another life-threatening crash and fans, both in the stands and at home, were left holding their hands over their heads in disbelief after a minefield of debris flooded into the lower levels of the bleachers. Even veteran announcer Rick Allen struggled to put a positive spin on the race in the finish’s aftermath. NASCAR needs to make a change, quickly. We’ll give this one two bottles of Coke Zero, since fans needed the caffeine to stay awake until the end.

Where do you point your DVR for next week – The lower-downforce aero package test at Kentucky Speedway will be run under the hidden guise of the Quaker State 400 on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. ET, assuming there isn’t more rain to help fans burn the midnight oil on back-to-back weeks. The race will be broadcast on NBC. It can also be heard live on MRN affiliate stations and Sirius/XM NASCAR Channel 90.

About the author

A graduate of Ball State, Aaron rejoins Frontstretch for his second season in 2016 following a successful year that included covering seven races and starting the popular "Two-Headed Monster" column in 2015. Now in his third year of covering motorsports, Aaron serves as an Assistant Editor for Frontstretch while also contributing to other popular sites including Speed51 and The Apex. He encourages you to come say hi when you see him at the track.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

“who is happy?” ….. richard childress that he does not have to bury his grandson. i cannot begin to imagine how he felt seeing the 3 in such a horrible wreck at a plate track.

latest news has 12 fans hurt, 5 got medical attention and 1 of the 5 went to hospital but was released.

i didn’t see the race, cause i need to go to work, so sleep is important to me. when i turned on the local am news at 4:30 am today (monday), one of the leading stories, besides all the overnight shooting here in atlanta, was the wreck. jr winning was afterthought.

when will na$car finally learn that g/w/c at a plate track is a major recipe for disaster?! how many times over the years have we seen this happen over and over?


Yes, I thought not mentioning Richard Childress as a happy man was also a strange oversight because when I saw the video of the crash that was the first thought I had in mind. It was a frightening looking crash. I watched the start of the race but at 11:30 I needed sleep more than I needed to watch a race so I also turned off the TV and went to bed.

I’m also glad I made the decision to go out with friends Sunday evening, rather than staying home to watch the race. I would have been annoyed to find out it was rain delayed if I had declined the invitation. Just another example of why I no longer make my plans around NASCAR racing.

What small amount I did watch of the race though it was nice to see wide angle shots rather than the Fox method of single car, single car, single car focus and I didn’t mind the voices in the booth.

Thankfully the drivers and it sounds like the fans who were involved sound like they will all be OK but seeing metal shearing off into the crowd is not a fun thing.

I agree with Janice about the g/w/c thing. NASCAR instituted this particular gimmick because they insisted that fans were disappointed if a race finished under caution. I’m not so sure that is actually true and particularly at RP tracks, this IS always a recipe for disaster.


Gotta say it was inadvertent and posted well before the wreck but seeing the “Off the Wall With Richard Childress” headline on FS this morning gave me the shudders.


so did you watch the race after the concert? or where you in chicago?

how could the info been posted before the end of the race, when the end of the race is discussed? T.O.L. wasn’t posted on website til late monday morning.


Sadly I was not able to go to Chicago though my sister would have let me crash at her place (again) Tickets sold out in like a nano-second. But thanks to the lengthy rain delay the race started as the Dead concert was winding down on PPV. I think there was a 45 minute overlap and my friends left noted it was “late”. Well, not as late as it got for me. By fast forwarding through commercials I caught up with the race live by midway and stuck it out.

Carl D.

By scheduling this race on a Sunday night in July, NBC has earned the not-so-coveted Brian France Award for Incompetence. NBC now stands for “No Brain Cells”.


I’m sure they thought “oh people will be out watching fireworks or at parties on Saturday” and that may have been true for some but in my area there were a lot of shows scheduled for Friday night and having that extra buffer of a day on a holiday weekend would have seemed to be logical.

Of course they could always put the race time so it is run in the morning before the thunderstorms tend to fire up in Florida. I would never try and go to this particular race, the odds of it being delayed is huge. I don’t remember the last time this race has started on time or not had a rain delay.


The scariest crash I’ve seen. Thank goodness the fence and the safety features in the car did their job. I’m for NASCAR trying to get the race in. The people who spent hundreds of dollars+ to go to track deserve precedence over TV viewers who can’t stay up that late. I don’t know what to do about plate-racing other than closing Daytona and Talladega (not going to happen). The only thing I can think of is a significantly smaller plate to really slow the cars down. This type of racing is always a moving target, maybe they should go back to a package similar to the 1990s when the cars could separate into smaller drafting packs. However, I’m sure if that happened people will complain the “show isn’t good” (e.g. 2000 Daytona 500). I thought the race was worth staying up for, just happy everyone is ok. On a lighter note, I enjoyed NBC’s coverage all weekend.

Carl D.

I’m all for trying to get the race in too, but this race should have been scheduled for Saturday night or earlier in the day Sunday. Then people wouldn’t have had to stay at the track until the wee hours of the morning waiting to get out of traffic, and more people would have actually watched it on television.


Just a matter of time before a fan is killed. The “Everything worked great!” attitude that NASCAR, the drivers and, sadly, a huge part of the motorsport press has adopted is wilfull ignorance. It won’t be a car that goes through the fence. It will be a wheel, an engine, a caliper, a bolt, etc, that will take someone’s head off. I’m only guessing but I’d say Daytona/ISC went through a tug of war between safety/location (higher/less seating) and profit (lower/more seating) during design of the new stands. Fans are obviously still too close.

Tim Walgren

WTF was Brad K thinking! 3 laps and hundreds of yards behind. Yellow! take your leg out of hit and slow up top.

I am a fan of his but between the practice incident and the last lap fiasco he may have been suffering from a “rectal cranial inversion” this weekend.


So many things wrong with this whole weekend..where to start.

What the hell is wrong with these people having a 3 day weekend and they put all their eggs in one basket on Saturday? And not seemingly to even factor in the rain that is a normal and constant event in July at Daytona for Sunday July 5th. Having the qualifying cancelled and seeing who was placed where due to first practice speeds, I said right then and there this is a recipe for disaster and it was 3 laps in. And hell, it went down hill from there. The NBC employees where no better than Fox (Waltrips notwithstanding). They were nothing but shills for their former employer and ignored most of the field. Brad Keselowski gave them plenty of fodder and story line with the contact with Kyle Busch on Friday, you would have thought he pressed the red button and started World War 3. They never let up on that. We had repeat offenders that never get mentioned when they cause wrecks and they caused large and dangerous crashes during that boring race and crickets…not a word, nada. I am convinced it must be written that they cannot say that Kyle Larson causes crashes (2 last night), Matt Kenseth caused a big one..never a word (pay attention, they can’t bring themselves to say “nice guy” Matt caused this and that..ever) and of course the big elephant in the room is media darling Harvick doing what he does best, get in the back of Hamlin which triggered that horrific wreck and the hypocrite (when Harvick’s lips are moving) gets a pass and not a word. I knew it would happen and it did, I wish I was as good at picking lotto numbers, I would be a billionaire!


Another boring follow the blocker out front race. How many actual lead changes did we have on the track? It’s time for NA$CAR to make a rule that’s once your in the lead you pick a lane and stay in it until your passed. Bring back the plate that went across the roof from the right side to the left that created a bigger hole behind the leader. Do away with the ground effects.


While many, including myself, were horrified at what happened at the end of the ill-fated Firecracker 400, a question is how can something like this be avoided in the future? While it’s true that the cars my need to be slowed down, to me, there are three things that can be done to dramatically lessen the chances of something like this happening in the future. Those three things are:

1. Eliminate the GWC at the plate tracks. Ever since the GWC came into being, huge crashes at the end of plate races have become the rule, rather than the exception.

2. Abolish the double-file restarts, which have made things even worse than they were with the GWC at the plate tracks before the inception of he current double-file restart rule.

3. Adopt the P.A.C.E.R. light system that was used at the Indianapolis 500 for most of the 1970s at the plate tracks. One of the main problems USAC had regarding the P.A.C.E.R. lights was keeping the field from bunching up under caution. That’s not a problem at the pate tracks, since the current rules package keeps the field bunched up. This would also prevent some of the drivers from lagging back, since a P.A.C.E.R. system would prevent those lagging behind from catching up under caution.

While the third of those ideas might be the most radical for NASCAR to adopt for the plate tracks, adopting the other two should not be that difficult. If NASCAR fails to act, the crashes at the end of these plate races will only get worse, and a car WILL get into the stands sometime in the future.


It appears that many of the comments posted about Austin Dillon’s wreck were written by younger folk and the media acting like an accident like this never happened. Bobby Allison at Talladega in 1987 went airborne in the same manner as Austin Dillon and the wreck was just as horrifying. This wreck eventually led to the restrictor plate in 1988 and the roof flaps in 1994. So the plates have been around 27 years and the flaps 21 years and the cars are still flying and hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment torn up and untold manhours wasted. There has been an ongoing disagreement with the drivers and owners and NASCAR for years and granted the cars are safer and the safer barrier works to an extent but until the drivers have the the guts to boycott the plate races to get their point across there will still be follow the blocking leader races. I was at the first Talledega race when the drivers boycotted because of the tire situation. NASCAR took some action then and I feel that some sort of “revolt” on the part of the drivers and owners might get some sort of action now. It might actually result in some racing where someone passes someone on the track and not only in the pits.


Strangling motors to reduce speed is the very antithesis of racing. Add to that complete lack of throttle response an aero package that results in one huge pack of cars all going essentially the same speed and surprise, the result is frightening wrecks. As I have no desire to watch someone die for my entertainment I would not watch plate racing even if it wasn’t a silly caricature of the very concept of racing. I suppose just like safer barriers NASCAR will pretend everything is fine until we lose a few more young men who matter to the profit margin.

Bill B

Lucky me. I was already off on Monday so I stayed up and watched.
What a waste of resources RP racing is. So many twisted cars. So much carnage.
Even though 90% of the cars were mangled wrecks and both drivers and fans could have been seriously hurt, the most important thing was that I didn’t see the confederate flag or Donald Trump anywhere.

Glad Jeff only has to survive one more of these Russian-roulette races.


Amen to only 1 more RP race for Gordon! I will be glad when that race is done.

I agree with the comments as well that NASCAR and the media will make all the right “noises” about safety and looking at blah, blah, blah and nothing will change. Honestly they are probably excited as heck — look at what we got for a highlight reel for ads!

Capt Spaulding

One has to wonder, with as much as Richard Childress has achieved from his racing roots to being an owner, see ing his friend and one of the greatest drivers in NASCAR get killed at a RP race, and being vocal for years of the carnage from this type of racing, how could you continue to field cars and even subject your grandkids to this type of event. I know racing is in the blood, but to continue destroying cars, and subjecting yourself to the heart stopping wait to see if your loved one climbs out alive is insanity. Best thing that could happen is the owners decide to take a bye for the RP events, since the Chase is the equivalent of a lottery ticket, and win your money over the rest of the schedule, David Pearson did.


At least the next time someone dies or is seriously injured at Daytona, it will be in the back drop of the fancy, shiny, new and improved Daytona International Speedway with no Confederate flags.
Not sure I would have watched this if it went off at the scheduled time.


Carl D. ….. You’re right about NBC, great idea to move the race to Sunday nite. LMAO that rain caused the mid-night Eastern start! With the race ending at 2:40 am eastern I do not believe the 2.4 over night rating they are reporting. The Brickyard 400 used to be on Saturdays until after NBC got involved in their first go around, then the start time kept getting later and the race got moved to Sundays. Finally the last 3 years or so the Brickyard start moved back to earlier in the day. This year with NBC involved again the start is 3:30 local. Not sure about this year, but fans in the Midwest also had to put up with the Chicago start times being pushed later by NBC in their first tour. Remember, Brainfart Z. France created the original Chase gimmick for NBC, then they bailed. Now with Brainfart Z. France’s new “winner take all” joke format and all the 10 final races on NBCSN, NBC’s rating will be in the Tiolet from the start, because only a few of us get NBCSN on our cable system.


No coincidence that just as in NBC’s Cup race 2001 and now their first Cup race in 2015, Dale Jr. gets “get’s the Call” and the big Restrictor Plate. Don’t break your arm patting yourself on your back about “safety”, Na$Crap. You dodged yet another bullet and the clocking is still ticking with your stupid plate racing.


I knew that was how it was going to go down when they cancelled qualifying with him having the fastest practice lap… :(


Still funny how those Hendrick cars seem to have some extra HP under the hood. If that were Ford or especially Toyota, Nascar would be running every test available to “find” why so that everything is “fair”.

Oh, and in 2015, with all the technology and testing, why…..gosh darn, we still have issues with yellow lights resulting in certain drivers going and some slowing. There’s a history of strange “coincidences” like this at Daytona. Hmmmmm…..


I am convinced when 2 Fords from one team earned 11 wins…the Nascar Chevy gods and old Rick were not going to satisfied and changes were going to happen…and it did.


This is what’s going to happen. The media and all those “outraged” by the crash will have their say in social media and columns for a week and then it will go away, just as it always does. Nascar will state how the catch fence worked as it was supposed to and how safety is their top priority.

In the end, Nascar won’t do a damn thing and this same thing will happen again and again, until eventually someone does die, maybe even a fan. Secretly, Nascar loves this stuff. They now have their highlight reel for their Chase race in October and they can hear the cash register chiming in their sleep. This happened with Larson a few years ago and Nascar did nothing. I don’t know why people would expect them to do anything this time around.


I think you are exactly right, Steve.


Wow, Matt, you are a real trooper. I watched until the first wreck, decided that being able to functional properly at work on Monday was more important than watching the mayhem and carnage that is RP racing.

Fed Up

The question I have, as it was asked earlier, what was Brad K doing and will the media address it this week?
I replayed the wreck and it was about 20 seconds until he impacted Austin. Some drivers who are not involved in
a wreck refuse to slow down. Shouldn’t NA$CAR being addressing that.

Carl D.

The explanation given is that he was sliding in oil on the track. I’ll buy that; his car was sideways when he hit what was left of Austin Dillon’s car.

Fed Up

Thanks Carl for the update.

Share via