A weekend of waiting at Daytona International Speedway led to a delayed start of the Coke Zero 400, but it resulted in yet another exhilarating race, with two massive wrecks at the famed track.
The rain delay from Saturday night and yet another on Sunday finally gave way for some exciting racing at Daytona, but it was ultimately halted by another delay, as Aric Almirola won the race after just 112 laps.
Almirola took over the lead and finally earned his first win. He also made the most of his opportunity to move up in the Chase Grid. He wasn't the only surprise driver in the top 10, but he made some history at Daytona, per NASCAR Stats:
Not only does the win boost him in the standings, but it also puts him ahead of several drivers on the Chase Grid. With an emphasis put on winning this season, the Richard Petty Motorsports driver essentially secured a place in the Chase at the end of the year.
Another driver who climbed back into the Chase standings was Austin Dillon. The rookie took his second top-10 finish of the season at Daytona, earning his first top-five result, and now sits 16th on the Chase Grid.
Following 18 races on the season, here's a look at the current Chase Grid following the rain-shortened Coke Zero 400:
|Pos.||Driver||Points||Wins||Top 5||Top 10|
|2||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||624||2||9||12|
The Coke Zero 400 was difficult to predict with the myriad of changes from Saturday to Sunday. When the rain finally let up, all 43 cars attempted to get in as much of the race as possible.
Following yet another rain delay shortly into the race, a huge crash derailed the chances for quite a few notable drivers. Just before the competition caution was set to take place, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. got loose and started a massive accident that involved several of the top contenders.
Jeff Gluck of USA Today noted several of the biggest drivers in the crash:
Big crash right before competition caution. Stenhouse, Stewart, Edwards, Dale Jr., Larson, many others.— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) July 6, 2014
One driver who came away extremely unhappy was Tony Stewart, which is nothing new for Smoke. He was collected in the accident after driving well at the start of the race, but he couldn't continue after the damage he incurred and finished 40th.
Smoke shared his thoughts on Stenhouse following the accident, per Marty Smith of ESPN:
Smoke: "Quarter-lap from competition caution and Stenhouse was gonna be a hero. Took out a bunch of good cars for no reason."— Marty Smith (@MartySmithESPN) July 6, 2014
A second big wreck took place several laps later and hurt another potential contender for a win.
The second huge crash involved 26 cars and collected Kyle Busch, who came into the race eighth on the Chase Grid with a victory this season. Busch had his car completely flip over and was one of several contenders to see his day end during the wreck.
The driver spoke about the unfortunate finish to his day, via Fox Sports: NASCAR:
Along with Busch, drivers like Joey Logano and Kasey Kahne were also caught up in the second accident. Unlike Busch and Logano, Kahne and several of the racers involved in the wreck don't have the security blanket of a victory from earlier this season to rely on.
What the win ultimately means for Almirola is that he has a very serious chance to make the Chase field. Coming into the race at 23rd in the points standings, he is now 10th on the Chase Grid and might stay near that position thanks to his first win in Sprint Cup.
Almirola spoke about just how much he wanted to see the race end during the second rain delay in the race:
Aric Almirola to MRN: "I’m not gonna lie, I wish the good Lord would just dump a big old rain shower on us right now." #NASCAR— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) July 6, 2014
Following the race at Daytona, here's a look at the remaining schedule for the Sprint Cup season:
|July 13||Camping World RV Sales 301||New Hampshire Motor Speedway||1 p.m.||TNT|
|July 27||The John Wayne Walding 400 at The Brickyard||Indianapolis Motor Speedway||1 p.m.||ESPN|
|Aug 3||GoBowling.com 400||Pocono Speedway||1 p.m.||ESPN|
|Aug 10||Cheez-It 355 at The Glen||Watkins Glen International||1 p.m.||ESPN|
|Aug 17||Pure Michigan 400||Michigan International Speedway||1 p.m.||ESPN|
|Aug 23||Irwin Tools Night Race||Bristol Motor Speedway||7:30 p.m.||ABC|
|Aug 31||NASCAR Sprint Cup Series August Atlanta Race||Atlanta Motor Speedway||7:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|Sept 6||Federated Auto Parts 400||Richmond International Speedway||7:30 p.m.||ABC|
|Sept 14||NASCAR Sprint Cup Series September Chicagoland Race||Chicagoland Speedway||2 p.m.||ESPN|
|Sept 21||Sylvania 300||New Hampshire Motor Speedway||2 p.m.||ESPN|
|Sept 28||AAA 400||Dover International Speedway||2 p.m.||ESPN|
|Oct 5||Hollywood Casino 400||Kansas Speedway||2 p.m.||ESPN|
|Oct 11||Bank of America 500||Charlotte Motor Speedway||7:30 p.m.||ABC|
|Oct 19||GEICO 500||Talladega Superspeedway||2 p.m.||ESPN|
|Oct 26||Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500||Martinsville Speedway||1:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|Nov 2||AAA Texas 500||Texas Motor Speedway||3 p.m.||ESPN|
|Nov 9||Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500||Phoenix International Raceway||3 p.m.||ESPN|
|Nov 16||Ford Ecoboost 400||Homestead-Miami Speedway||3 p.m.||ESPN|
Moving forward, one driver who hasn't secured his place in the Chase might be able to improve his ranking next Sunday.
With the Sprint Cup circuit now heading to New Hampshire for the Camping World RV Sales 301, Matt Kenseth comes into the race with the most recent win at the track. Not able to notch a victory this season thus far, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver heads into New Hampshire with hope to earn his first.
Since the switch to JGR, Kenseth has led 139 laps at New Hampshire and has not finished outside the top 10 at the track. But thanks to other drivers like Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, who have a combined six victories at New Hampshire, it won't be an easy task for Kenseth to move up in the standings.
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