It was rain delayed, rain shortened event, and as it turned out left a lot of mangled sheet metal strewn about the garage area at Daytona International Speedway. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 took the green flag Sunday morning after being postponed the night prior thanks to persistent rain showers that have plagued the event since NASCAR team’s arrived on Thursday.
Sunday dawned bright, sunny and with few clouds. Amazingly however just prior to the 11:00 a.m. start a lone rain shower popped up near the speedway. NASCAR was able to only get in 7 laps before the shower skirted the track; the caution period turned into a 25:43 red flag period until the rains stopped and the track could be dried. The field was eventually sent back out. On lap 20 however the day turned to disaster for many teams.
As the field came to the line for lap 20 and a scheduled NASCAR competition caution, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. bobbled; Jeff Gordon reacted behind Tony Stewart exiting turn 4. Stewart was turned down into the field and chaos ensued along the frontstretch. A total of 16 cars were involved including favorites in addition to Gordon and Stewart. Also getting damage was Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Larson, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards and 9 others.
Stenhouse said later he wasn’t sure what set the melee off.
“We had the outside lane working there,” he said. “It seemed like some of the guys were struggling on the bottom and the middle and we got a little loose on the top. I save it and everything was good and then all of a sudden we got hit in the left rear.”
Tony Stewart put the blame on Stenhouse.
“I guess it was just Stenhouse being an idiot,” Stewart said. “It didn’t make much sense when we’re coming to the caution, we’re like a quarter of a lap from getting to the caution and he does something stupid. It tore up a lot of people’s cars and a lot of people’s days. To get here on Wednesday night and sit here all day and run 19 and three-quarter laps and get wrecked by somebody who’s doing something stupid.”
Both Stewart and Stenhouse were able to continue after extensive repairs in the garage. Jimmie Johnson however was not. His day was over and he was scored in 42nd place with a rare DNF.
“I don’t know what triggered it or what happened.” Johnson said. “But I’m just thoroughly disappointed for everybody on the Lowe’s team. 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.”
The crash wasn’t the only ‘bummer’ on the day.
The field was able to make it past halfway, the 80th lap, but with more rain coming and the race in a position to be declared official the race for positions became furious; on lap 97 just after a restart for a caution involving debris as the field entered turn three a lap later Greg Biffle got into Kasey Kahne setting off a massive crash that ended with Kyle Busch on his roof.
“I guess that’s fitting for the Fourth of July weekend -- but not here in Daytona,” Busch later mused. “It’s just unfortunate. I don’t have any clue what happened. Somebody got squirrelly. I saw the 5 (Kasey Kahne) turn sideways across the field there and then all chaos ensued thereafter. And the grass is so wet my stuff just augured in started turning right and going back up the race track. I just wish it would have stayed straight. If it would have stayed straight, I might have had an opportunity to get through there and not be too banged up. But, then I just got T-boned there at the end and it just kind of toppled me over.”
Replays showed that Biffle, thanks to a shove from David Gilliland, was turned into Kahne; in all 26 cars were involved and many were done for the day including Joey Logano, Paul Menard, David Gilliland, Clint Bowyer, Jamie McMurray and Denny Hamlin.
“I felt like I was about sixth or so and I was getting hit from behind and I just started spinning,” Kahne said. “It’s kind of a tough spot to be in there because everybody is trying to get going and I just got hit, started going left to right and spun around. I knew it was going to be big as far up as I was.”
“I don’t know,” Jamie McMurray said when asked what he thought had started the mess. I knew I was going to walk out here and you guys were going to ask me what happened, but from my seat I didn’t see anything. Kasey (Kahne) came over and said that maybe Greg (Biffle) bumped him a couple times and got him squirrelly and he said he couldn’t catch it. When you have a car spin out at the front of the field, there is just nowhere to go. I ran into the guy who was directly in front of me and the guy behind me clobbered me.”
“I will tell you I have never had a car that’s off the ground and it’s a crazy feeling,” he added. “It’s a helpless feeling to have the car do that. I was really lucky that it set back down. You see these big wrecks and those are probably the easiest hits you take all year long because everyone is going the same speed and for the most part, those don’t hurt near as bad as if you have a tire issue or something.”
After another red flag period for the massive clean-up NASCAR was able to restart the race but only for a few laps before weather moved in for good. After an hour NASCAR declared the race official and Aric Almirola the winner; Stewart was scored 40th, Stenhouse 41st and Johnson 42nd.