A wild race at Daytona included three rain delays, two massive crashes and a first-time winner after the rain-shortened event. That, my friends, is a busy holiday weekend for NASCAR.
The Coke Zero 400 was initially supposed to run Saturday night but was moved back to Sunday due to rain. When the race finally got started, two "Big Ones" that collected a total of 42 cars quickly became the story in between more rain delays.
At the end of the day, it was Aric Almirola winning for the first time in the No. 43 machine since 1999. The 30-year-old also steered the car to Victory Lane on a historic date for Richard Petty Motorsports, as the NASCAR Hall of Fame notes:
Following the victory, Almirola is now on the Chase Grid despite being 21st in points. With an emphasis put on winning this season, the RPM driver now sits 10th on the Chase standings just ahead of Kurt Busch, who also made some headlines this week.
As the Sprint Cup circuit heads to New Hampshire this week, here's a look at the latest team news, current rankings and drivers to watch in the Camping World RV 301.
Camping World RV 301 Information
Site: New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Loudon, New Hampshire
Date: Sunday, July 13
Start Time: 1 p.m. ET
Live Stream: TNTDrama.com
|Pos.||Driver||Points||Wins||Top 5||Top 10|
|2||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||624||2||9||12|
Latest Team News
While several teams came away from Daytona upset, Richard Petty Motorsports clearly had the best weekend.
Almirola won and somehow Marcos Ambrose found his way back to a top-10 finish despite being involved in the first accident. The King spoke about the team's strong performance on Sunday, per Jeff Gluck of USA Today:
We've had so many disappointments, and finally it rained on us. But it rained on us at the right time. …
Just winning one race doesn't overcome it. But it puts you in a higher-speed track, and you know you can do it. … I think it's just going to make it that much easier to go from here.
Though RPM experienced a great weekend, the results for Stewart-Haas Racing were not quite as memorable.
In the first accident of the race, both Kevin Harvick and team owner-driver Tony Stewart were severely damaged and finished 39th and 40th, respectively. As for the other two drivers, both came away with top-10s.
But for Danica Patrick, her eighth-place result came after her boyfriend, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., knocked out her team owner. Stewart shared his thoughts on Stenhouse following the wreck, 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
There will certainly be some interesting conversations this week for SHR.
As for Busch, the third-place finish was met with controversy after his post-race inspection revealed he had a track bar separation of more than three inches, per Bob Pockrass of Sporting News. Busch lost 10 points in the standings and now sits 11th in the Chase Grid following Daytona.
With the hits continuing to come for SHR, the team will need to turn things around at New Hampshire.
Drivers to Watch
One of the living legends in the sport just so happens to hold one of the best driver ratings at New Hampshire.
The four-time Sprint Cup champion has a 109.2 rating at New Hampshire, and in 38 races at the track, he's posted a staggering 22 top-10 finishes. After an up-and-down week at Daytona, the Hendrick Motorsports driver might be thankful to return to a track where he's had so much success.
Despite being involved in the opening wreck in the Coke Zero 400, Gordon still wound up finishing 12th in his Pepsi car. While Stenhouse took much of the blame for the first accident, Gordon tweeted about the wreck following the race:
With plenty of experience, three wins and 16 top-five results in Loudon, expect Gordon to once again be in the running at the one-mile track. Coming in with the overall points lead in the traditional points standings, the Hendrick driver might also move up on the Chase Grid after New Hampshire.
Since his switch over to Richard Childress Racing this season, Ryan Newman hasn't posted a victory. But heading to a track where he's more than comfortable, this might finally be the week.
During his career, Newman has three wins and 15 top-10s at the track in only 24 starts. But after switching over to RCR, the veteran is still looking to establish himself with the new team.
Newman spoke about the expectations for the team earlier in the year, per David Caraviello of NASCAR.com:
Our average is good, which is still a part of getting yourself into the Chase if there are not 16 winners. So, we have to win. We want to win. If you're going to win the championship, you’re probably going to have to win something. I don't see that the winner of the championship doesn't have a race victory under his belt.
This late in the season, getting a win is looking like a must to make the Chase. With 11 different winners at this point and just eight races remaining in the season, there very well could be 16 drivers with victories before the Chase begins.
With both Newman and teammate Austin Dillon currently hanging on in the Chase Grid, a win for either could nearly secure a spot. Thanks to his success over the years at New Hampshire, a victory looks much more likely for Newman.
Who will win the race at New Hampshire?
Daytona was rough for Jimmie Johnson, but he now heads to a track where he's never bowed out of a race.
Johnson has started in 24 races at New Hampshire and has never finished the race with a DNF. Both Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch have done the same at the Sprint Cup level, but neither has more than 20 races heading into the weekend.
Of his 24 races, Mr. Six-Time has three victories, nine top-fives and 17 top-10 results at the track. Oh, and his average finish at the track is a ridiculous 9.2 coming into Sunday's race.
While finding out that Johnson is good at a certain track is clearly nothing new for NASCAR fans, the three-time winner this season might have another after the weekend. As the only driver with three checkered flags this year, he might run away with the Chase Grid lead at New Hampshire.
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