The Sprint Cup Series kicked off the second half of the season with a bang at Daytona International Speedway for the Coke-Zero 400 Saturday night.
Paul Menard earned his first-career pole in the Sprint Cup series and gave Dale Earnhardt Inc. its first pole at Daytona as well. DEI also swept the front row, with Mark Martin starting along side Menard in second position.
Menard proved that his qualifying lap was no fluke, as he led the first 19 laps of the race. Menard would then be passed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. on lap 20 for the lead.
Just seconds after Earnhardt Jr. took the lead away from Menard, the first caution flag of the race flew for a cut tire on A.J. Allmendinger’s car. All the leaders would come down pit road, with Kyle Busch winning the battle out of the pits.
Busch would restart as the leader and led the race until lap 37 when Earnhardt Jr. muscled his way around for the lead. Earnhardt would be the leader when the second caution waved for a spin by Ryan Newman on the backstretch.
Jamie McMurray pushed up the hill in turn two and got into Newman before he could save it. The leaders would once again come to pit road with Kyle Busch leading again.
Busch would lead a handful of laps before being passed by Earnhardt for the lead once again. Earnhardt would lead the race until another caution came out for a crash involving Greg Biffle and Juan Pablo Montoya on lap 71. The leaders would all come to pit road with Earnhardt leading them off in first.
Under this caution flag, Tony Stewart exited his car and was replaced by J.J. Yeley. Stewart was not feelings well before the race and had to exit the car early. Stewart had to have been feeling really ill. He is the kind of guy who will stick it out till the end. He must have pretty upset to exit his car before the halfway point.
On the restart, Jimmie Johnson took the lead away from Earnhardt with help from Kyle Busch. Johnson’s lead would be short-lived though as his teammate Jeff Gordon passed him on lap 79. Gordon would lead a good amount of laps before being passed by Earnhardt on lap 103 for the lead.
Earnhardt would once again be the leader as a caution flag came out for a blown tire on Elliott Sadler’s car. The leaders would come down pit road for service with Earnhardt holding the lead.
Earnhardt would take the restart as the leader, but was soon passed by Denny Hamlin on lap 144. Hamlin would lead a few laps before Earnhardt passed him back on lap 117. Earnhardt would only hold the lead for one lap though as Hamlin regained the lead on lap 118.
Earnhardt Jr. mounted another charge at the lead and passed Hamlin on lap 121. Soon after Earnhardt was back at the front of the field, the caution flag waved for a crash by David Gilliland of turn four.
Jeff Burton was also involved, but he had minimal damage and continued on. The leaders would again come to pit road with Hamlin winning the race off on a two-tire stop.
Hamlin did not restart as the leader because Boris Said stayed out under the caution to take the lead. Said was quickly passed by Earnhardt after the restart, causing him to fall back to the rear of the field. Shortly after the restart, another caution came out for a spin by Jamie McMurray on lap 130.
The race was restarted and shortly after, Jeff Gordon passed Earnhardt for the lead on lap 133. Gordon was now the leader when the seventh caution flag flew for a crash involving both Hamlin and Newman on lap 136. Most of the leaders would stay out, but some of the cars at the rear of the field would take advantage by coming to pit road for fresh rubber.
The race was quickly restarted and quickly halted by two cautions within nine laps of each other. One was for a crash involving Casey Mears and the points leader Jeff Burton, and the other was for a crash by Boris Said.
After the race was restarted, Kyle Busch passed Gordon for the lead with five laps remaining. Shortly after that, the caution came out once more for an incident involving Jimmie Johnson, David Reutimann, J.J. Yeley, Regan Smith, Paul Menard, and Denny Hamlin with just four laps to go.
The race would be restarted under a green-white-checkered condition, which means that if a caution flag waves within the final two laps, the field is frozen and the race is over.
So as the race restarted, Jeff Gordon was spun out of the second position by Carl Edwards. The race would stay green, which allowed Edwards to mount a charge at Busch for the lead coming around for the final lap. Edwards and Busch were side by side when a caution came out for a big crash involving Michael Waltrip, Sam Hornish, Dave Balney, Travis Kvapil, Terry Labonte, and J.J. Yeley.
NASCAR would look at the videotape and determined that Kyle Busch was leading the race at the time of caution.
I disagree with the decision by NASCAR. It is true, Busch was leading at the time of caution but I think that NASCAR should have allowed the race to be restarted and finish the race that way.
I just think that would be the only fair way to decide the winner, but that’s just my opinion.
Busch was awarded the victory and Edwards ended up finishing second. It was Kyle’s sixth win of the season and his first at Daytona.
The top ten finishers were Kyle Busch, Edwards, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, David Ragan, Robby Gordon, Kasey Kahne, Earnhardt Jr., Clint Bowyer, and Mark Martin.
Other notable finishes include: Kevin Harvick in 12th, Bobby Labonte in 13th, Terry Labonte in 16th, Tony Stewart in 20th, Johnson in 23rd, Hamlin in 26th, Jeff Gordon in 30th, Burton in 37th, and Biffle in 43rd position.
The top 12 in points are: Kyle Busch, Earnhardt Jr., Burton, Edwards, Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Hamlin, Kahne, Kenseth, Bowyer, Biffle, and Stewart.
Harvick is 13th in points, just two points out of the top twelve. Martin Truex is in 14th and David Ragan is in 15th position.
Daytona is now in the history books, and we can all look forward to a great weekend of racing action under the lights at Chicagoland.