NASCAR’s COKE ZERO 400:
Under The Lights At Daytona .
At roughly 7:50 pm the green flag fell on Sprint Cup’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona and, with the exception of a driver change in the #22 car of Penske Racing, it appeared to a smooth beginning with possibly little fireworks until the Victory Lane celebration after the race.
Indeed, the first 35-40 laps was unusually quite and calm. There were a few lead changes and for the most part, Roush drivers’ Matt Kennseth in his #17 car and Gregg Biffle in the #16 seemed to be the class of the field.
From the moment the two teamed up it was obvious that it was going to take divine intervention or dynamite to blow them apart! They routinely proved that out of all the Sprint Cup cars blazing through the Daytona night, this was the only tandem that could drift to the rear and make a come back. Before race end, they would need just that kind of knowledge to set themselves up for a dash to the checkers.
With seemingly everyone on their best behavior, the teams made their first round of green flag stops with an almost mishap had the #39 of Ryan Newman caught in the middle of the #24 of Gordon and the #5 of Kasey Khane leaving Newman a little ruffled as the trio bounced off one another.
This action on pit road was the spark that appeared to light what had been a extensively long fuse for a restrictor plate night race.
The Fuse Gets Shorter:
On laps ending in “Zero”, title sponsor for the night race, Coke Zero, was offering prizes for individuals that text the word “Taste” to a certain number that was scrolled across the screen. Apparently Jimmie Johnson was trying to claim his prize by texting while driving because as a few drivers began to peel off the track for a set of pit stops on lap 130, all Hell broke loose and Johnson spun sideways and drove straight into the inside retaining wall just prior to the pit road entrance.
This set off a chain reaction that created a malee of cars spinning as the leaders had already committed to pit lane. Gordon’s bad luck continued as he was minding his own business running 3rd and coming in for gas and tires, he gets slammed hard by Bill Elliot in the “Walmart” #50 car and he, the #24, #16 and a host of others went spinning through the infield and down pit road.
Kennesth, seeing the yellow light appear at the entrance of pit road meaning “closed”, kept going and went back out on the track. Unfortunately, his teammate and ‘all night running partna’ Gregg Biffle stopped in his pit for tires/fuel.
Call it divine intervention, or call it a dynamite explosion, either way the ensuing penalty sent Biffle and his #16 to the rear and broke the bond of the #17 / #16 tandem.
The field took the green with roughly 24 laps to settle the NASCAR Sprint Cup Coke Zero 400 at Daytona. It took less than a lap for the field to split into a 3-wide battle’royale that looked like a traffic jam in downtown Atlanta.
For the next 8-10 laps, nobody could move anywhere. Rarely did one see a car gain more than one position. It was utter gridlock on the Speedway. Yet a two cars looked as though they were starting to make some headway.
The Roush brigade of Kennseth and Biffle had found a way to hook back up and was mounting a charge through the field.
Meanwhile, upfront, the #14 of Stewart and the Gibb’s ride of #18 Kyle Bush was holding tough on the bottom and was not letting anyone get a peak of the inside line. However, keeping the high side under wraps would prove interesting to say the least.
As the Biffle/Kennesth tandem began its charge on the outside with less than 12 laps to go, the #18 of Bush would skate up the track between them to try and break the Ford’s momentum. It seemed to work for the next 2-3 laps, when suddenly, as if shot out of a cannon, the Roush duo made an incredible charge to the lead passing Bush and only having the #14 to deal with.
Everyone, including the #14 knew that if the two Roush Ford got by, it was all but over. That is when the fuse hit the blasting cap!
With the #11 of Denny Hamlin sliding up to take position on the outside of Bush in 4th, he had to make a quick cut back to the left, clipping the #18 and sending it spinning, while the #11 darted straight back up the track as 36 other Sprint Cup cars came plowing through the blockade.
Cars were spinning everywhere and the #21 of Trevor Bayne and #9 of Marcos Ambrose went flying up the track missing the #24 on both ends by inches and slamming into the outside wall. Gordon would be involved in another close call on the last lap before limping home to an impressive 12th considering the troubles.
All in all there were about 14-17 cars involved in some way or another. Taking quite a while to clear the track of debris and carnage, by the time the pace car cut off the flashing lights indicating “green next time by”, there were only 2 official laps of regulation left, setting up a no holds barred, checkers or wreckers fight to the finish.
As expected the Rousch tandem once again blew through their gear boxes and were settling in on point. To the outside, as the cars took the white flag, was the #14 of Stewart pulling the Hendrick #5 of Khane behind.
Just as they entered turns 1-2 for the last time, Khane gave the #14 a massive shot in the rear, sending him alongside the Roush ‘fellas and barely cutting down in front of the #17 for the lead going into 3-4.
Coming through to take the checkers the #14 was all alone in front as another explosion of wreckage went on behind him. This time catching Earnhardt Jr, Biffle and virtually anyone else not already crashed from earlier wrecks.
In victory lane, Stewart climbs from the cockpit and declares the final laps were like running a “Fgure 8 race”. It marked Stewart’s 3rd win this season and ties him with #2 Brad Keslowski for the most this season and moves him up to 5th in the points standings.
1st: #14 Tony Stewart
2nd: #31 Jeff Burton
3rd: #17 Matt Kenseth
4th: #20 Joey Lagono
5th: #39 Ryan Newman
6th: #99 Carl Edwards
7th: #5 Kasey Khane
8th: #2 Brad Keslowski
9th: #55 Micheal Waltrip
10th #47 Bobby Labonte
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