Coke-Zero 400 Powered by Coca Cola: Winners and Losers

Patti RodischAnalyst IJuly 5, 2009

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - JULY 04: A view of confetti on the #14 Burger King Chevrvolet, after post race celbration in victory lane prior to Tony Stewart (not pictured) winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 51st Annual Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 4, 2009 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

It was hot and humid all weekend long. Heat was playing a factor for the drivers. It was typical Daytona racing, and the action was as hot as the temperature.

So check out this week’s winners and losers.


Tony Stewart

Well, you know, this shouldn’t be a surprise at this point. Tony Stewart had the best car all night long. He was up front and never lost the race of pit road.

His guys were on top of it all night long, going seven for seven winning the race off of pit road. Stewart ran up front all night long and never needed to adjust on the car.

On the final laps, Kyle Busch had the lead and attempted to block Stewart, but ended up going sideways and slamming hard into the outside wall.

Stewart seemed to beat himself up, but when he looks at the replay, he will realize he did nothing wrong. Busch tried to block but lost control, Stewart didn’t really do anything wrong.

Stewart is a lock for the chase, and with two wins he is setting himself up for Loudon.

Points: First

Marcos Ambrose

I am going to be honest—this one is more impressive than Stewart winning.

Why? Because Marcos Ambrose is a single-car organization, he had no teammates to help him, and he's not all that experienced at plate tracks.

Ambrose ran well within the top 15 all day long and patiently made his way through the field. He avoided the multiple wrecks, and the team had great pit stops all night long.

I think the fact that they finished in sixth proves that this team is for real. I, for one, thought for sure that he would have some good finishes on road courses and the short tracks, but he has shown he is able to handle the larger tracks.

Ambrose will not make the chase, but this one car organization is running better than Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr.

Points: 18th

Regan Smith

So, we know Regan Smith is good at restrictor plate races. Smith, who is running a part-time schedule in 2009, is on a streak of now 51 consecutive races of running at the end.

That means in every race he has run since his rookie year, Smith has finished.

Smith ran a good race today. He and his crew were able to avoid major wrecks. They had stellar pit stops, and were able to work the draft to their advantage. In the end, their 12th place finished was a well-earned finish.

Smith knows how to drive, and given the right equipment, he would run in the top 15 most weeks.

The economy hit rock bottom, and there went any oppurtunities he had.

Points: 38th

Denny Hamlin

Denny Hamlin did, and said, all the right things tonight. He led some laps, and was able to hold his own up front. When it counted, Hamlin lined up behind his teammate and helped push him to the lead. Unfortunately for Hamlin and Busch. neither saw victory lane.

Hamlin had a good car all night long. He was up front, and his team had solid stops. They ran into a bit of trouble on pit road, but were able to rebound.

Hamlin is always just a little bit short. He leads a lot of laps at plate races but can never seal the deal.

He finished third tonight.

One of these days, Hamlin will not be the one giving the final push to the win, he will be the one winning the race.

Points: Sixth

Brian Vickers

We didn’t hear much about Brian Vickers tonight, and sometimes that's a good thing. The last time he was at Daytona, he was part of the controversial wreck involving Dale Earnhardt Jr. and some of the leaders.

Vickers was hoping this one would turn out a bit different.

Vickers ran in the top 15 all day long. He worked the draft, and was able to make the right moves, avoiding the numerous wrecks and spinouts.

Vickers seventh-place finish was much-needed. They were falling back in the points, but Vickers has shown that he can run well on plate races. Vickers' chase chances are over, but like we said last year he could build on finishes like these.

The way Vickers season is going, one week he looks like the driver we all expected to see a year ago, and then he has races where you wonder who is behind the wheel. Saturday was the latter.

Points: 17th


Mark Martin

This was the last thing Mark Martin needed. With three wins, if he makes the chase, he would be sitting in second to Kyle Busch in the standings. Right now, he wouldn’t make the chase and he would be like Kasey Kahne in 2008, sitting on the outside looking in with multiple wins.

On Saturday, he was running up front when he started to back out of the throttle and did not realize that Matt Kenseth was on the outside. Kenseth tapped him and Martin went spinning hard into the inside wall.

Martin took full responsibility and said that he made the mistake. They went to the garage and got to work. With points so important, they were able to get back on the track and finished 38th.

Martin can’t afford to have another race like this—not when the top 12 won’t be changing much in the next eight weeks.

Points: 13th

Casey Mears

Casey Mears had a strong car all weekend long. He was top five in speeds, and with qualifying rained out, he was going to have to work his way up front. He did just that. He was climbing to the top 10 when he got tapped and spun out.

He got damage to the back of the car and was forced to work on it in the garage. They finished a disappointing 34th. They had a lot of hope coming into this weekend.

Crew Chief Todd Berrier had found so much success at this track, that this race was circled on the calendar.

Mears is showing some signs of life and improvement. His finishes don’t show that, but the improvement is there.

Points: 22nd

Kyle Busch

Say what you want about Kyle Busch, but he is willing to risk everything for a win.

In the final laps, Busch took the lead from Stewart and was in blocking mode. In an effort to block the hard-charging Stewart, Busch put a block on him and ended up sideways and went hard into the wall.

With nowhere to go, many drivers clipped or hit Busch in the process. Busch, clearly upset, got out of his car and started to storm off. Safety officials scrambled to get Busch in the car, and to get checked by the medical service.

It took four officials to get him in the car but he did end up there.

If Busch wants to blame anyone he needs to look in the mirror. Busch didn't want to comment after the race, which plays into the hands of his haters.

For everyone else, we all want to know what he was thinking?

Points: Eighth

David Reutimann

This wasn't what David Reutimann was hoping for on Saturday. Reutimann considers this track his home track and was hoping for a great finish, but they got caught up in someone else’s mess and were forced to the garage to work on the car.

They did make it back onto the track and limped around the rest of the night. A 36th place finish was not what he wanted.

Already trying to rebound from a poor finish at Sonoma, they needed just to finish the race in a decent position.

Reutimann has used up his mulligans, now he needs top 10 finishes or his chase chances will not happen.

Points: 14th

Lucky Dog…

Jeff Gordon

I know what you are thinking—the favorite coming in, he led one lap, and finished 28th. How is he lucky?

He was involved in the first big wreck. Quickly, though, crew chief Steve LeTarte got to work using the caution laps to work on the car.

They were never good enough to contend up front, but when it mattered, they showed how tough they were when they battled back—no matter how disappointing the finish.

Points: Second

Ryan Newman

At one point, Newman was one lap down and barely keeping up. This team never gave up, and battled back for a 20th place finish.

He was another driver in the first big wreck, and they, too, worked on the car.

It wasn’t flashy, but with points being so important, drivers in the hunt can’t afford to not finish races.

Points: Seventh

Joey Logano

After finishing dead last here in February, anything higher than that would be an accomplishment. They ran very well today, and their 19th place finish doesn't tell the whole story.

They ran well within the top 10, and actually were in contention for most of the day.

During the last lap melee, Logano crashed hard into his teammate Busch, all but ending his chances at a better finish.

Points: 20th

Final laps…

What a race!

We know the critics will be out in full force in the coming days, pleading with NASCAR to do something about cars going airborne. But there is nothing they can do. Nothing NASCAR can really do, because these types of accidents will continue to happen.

I'm not saying I like seeing wrecks like we had tonight and at Talladega, but this is what we get with plate racing.

To be honest, I was more concerned about whether or not everyone walked away, but this is what we get with these cars, and these engines.

I do want to say these drivers are well aware of the procedures after a wreck—that includes Busch. No matter how upset you are, its policy to go see the medical staff at the track. You never know what type of injury you could have suffered.

Busch's antics on pit road just fuel his critics even more. There is no excuse for not following the rules.

Surprisingly, the points didn't change all that much. The only thing that changed was the points spread out more, and that's not good news for the guys on the outside looking in. For the guys who held a position in the top 12, they did exactly what they needed to do.

Next up my home track of Chicagoland, and the final race on TNT.


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