NASCAR Sprint Cup: 5 Good, 5 Bad at Coke Zero 400
The boys of NASCAR took to the "World Center of Racing" for the second time in 2012 for Saturday night's Coke Zero 400.
Wily veterans led the way to the checkered flag at Daytona while wild card contenders survived the night and an old face made a surprise appearance in the top 10.
But not all was well Saturday night as several drivers were caught up in the calamity that was Daytona while another was sent home before the race even began.
Who was good and who was bad at Daytona? We've got you covered!
Good: Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart reminded the NASCAR world why he's the defending Sprint Cup champ Saturday night.
Stewart drove a smart race, running around the back and staying out of trouble early before making his move towards the front late in the going and surviving two big crashes.
But Stewart's move on the last lap may have been the highlight of the year as Smoke maneuvered past the dominant Roush-Fenway cars of Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle on the outside with no help, and held on as the field wrecked behind him in Turn 4.
Stewart's victory Saturday night marked his third of the year and his fourth Sprint Cup victory at Daytona after winning the July race in 2005, 2006 and 2009.
The win also moved the No. 14 to fifth in the standings as Stewart begins to make his case for the top spot heading into the Chase.
Bad: Roush-Fenway Racing
Never mind that Roush-Fenway teammates Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle combined to lead 124 of the 160 laps Saturday night.
When it counted Saturday night, on the final lap of the Coke Zero 400, school was in session with Tony Stewart playing teacher and Kenseth and Biffle claiming the role of pupils.
Stewart flew past the dominant duo unassisted on the outside, a move that seemed impossible at Daytona where the draft is prevalent and the outside lane was virtually useless Saturday night until the final lap.
To make matters worse, Biffle found himself in the wall after trying to put the squeeze play on Kevin Harvick in Turn 3, which triggered a huge pileup and relegated Biffle to a 21st-place finish.
Kenseth finished third with Carl Edwards in sixth, but the results were uninspired compared to what should have been.
Good: Jeff Burton
Looks like somebody had their Wheaties before the race Saturday night.
Jeff Burton came out of nowhere late in the going at Daytona, rallying from the 20th starting spot to challenge for the win in the closing laps.
Burton made a heck of a save in Turn 2 on the final lap after contact with Kevin Harvick and Kasey Kahne before dodging a crash off the final turn to score his best finish of 2012, bringing it home in second.
Burton was in desperate need of a good run after failing to finish in the top 10 since Talladega back in May, and he hadn't finished in the top five since the season-opener at Daytona.
Burton moves to 18th in the standings heading into New Hampshire, where he's a four-time winner.
Bad: Jimmie Johnson
I'm not sure what was worse: Jimmie Johnson's crash or the fact that he tried to pin it on Martin Truex Jr.
Johnson crashed hard coming on to pit road Saturday night at Daytona after braking in front of the field trying to make pit-road speed.
Truex ran into Johnson, sending his No. 48 car careening into the inside wall hard as five more cars piled up in the front-stretch grass.
Replays showed Johnson slowing down well above the white line, where cars reached speeds well over 190 mph. Yet Johnson pinned blame on Truex, claiming he "didn't see [Johnson's] hand waving" and "hit me from behind."
Johnson finished 36th and has yet to finish a restrictor plate race in 2012.
Good: Wild Card Drivers
What looked like a bad night for Chase wild card contenders turned into quite a solid evening.
Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman and Joey Logano came into Saturday night's race at Daytona tied for the final Chase wild card spot, and each had a chance to lose some serious ground in the standings.
Kahne and Newman tangled on pit road around the halfway point. Logano would be caught up in the Jimmie Johnson crash. Kahne was caught up in the wreck on the final lap.
Yet at the end of the race, Logano came home in fourth with Newman in fifth and Kahne in seventh.
Not a bad night for any of these drivers after such an eventful race.
Bad: The Busch Brothers
While most of the wild card drivers had good results at Daytona, the wild card leader and his brother Kurt did not.
Kyle Busch was caught up in a big crash with seven laps to go after tipping teammate Denny Hamlin around in front of the field. Kyle spun through the grass, damaging his splitter. He finished 24th.
Kurt was a victim of his own aggression as he caused a wreck of his own around the midway point, driving into Turn 1 three abreast with Aric Almirola and Trevor Bayne. Busch bounced off Bayne and into the wall, relegating him to a 35th-place finish.
Kyle still holds a 14-point lead over Ryan Newman for a wild card spot, while Kurt continues to struggle back at 25th in the standings.
Good: Brad Keselowski
B.K. just continues to demonstrate his amazing driving prowess.
After sneaking up on the field to win Kentucky, Keselowski tried to stay out of trouble early at Daytona, but to no avail.
Keselowski would be caught up in a wreck while on pit road and lost his right-rear quarter panel. He would work his way back into the top 10 before spinning with 14 laps to go.
But Keselowski fought his way back with sheet metal missing and calamity all around, earning an eighth-place finish and a nomination for drive of the night.
Keselowski moved to ninth in the standings, putting some distance on the Chase cutoff line.
Bad: Clint Bowyer
Clint Bowyer ran well at Daytona, but a late crash made it all for naught.
Bowyer was caught up in a big crash with seven laps to go as Denny Hamlin spun up the track directly in front of Bowyer's No. 15 machine, destroying the front of the 5-Hour Energy Toyota.
Despite the team's best efforts to get his car back on the track, Bowyer would finish 29th.
Bowyer now sits 10th in the standings, 32 points ahead of 11th-place Carl Edwards. Bowyer shouldn't have to worry about dropping out of the Chase right now, but another bad outing could put his hopes in jeopardy.
The circuit now heads to New Hampshire, where Bowyer has won twice.
Good: Michael Waltrip
One week after finishing five laps off the pace, Michael Waltrip showed everybody why he still gets in the car every now and then.
Waltrip ran in the top 10 most of the night at Daytona. Even after getting caught up in Jimmie Johnson's crash, Waltrip continued to soldier on, putting his No. 55 car in position for a good finish.
When the field bottled up in the final turn, Waltrip drove around the carnage and earned a respectable ninth-place finish.
The result was Waltrip's first top 10 since he earned a seventh at Talladega back in October 2009.
Waltrip has one more race on his schedule, which will be at Talladega in the fall.
Bad: A.J. Allmendinger
It doesn't get much worse than being told to go home before the race even starts.
Such was the case for Los Gatos, Calif. native A.J. Allmendinger Saturday afternoon at Daytona.
The announcement was made 90 minutes before race time that Allmendinger had been suspended by NASCAR for failing a random drug test earlier in the week. Allmendinger was sent home, and Sam Hornish Jr. drove the No. 22 car at Daytona.
Allmendinger may appeal to have a second sample tested. Should the result from that sample come back positive, or should Allmendinger refuse to have that sample tested, his suspension will become indefinite.
Either way, the situation is bleak for Allmendinger as it appears we may not see him in a race car again this year or beyond.
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