LIGHTNING AND RAIN ARE JUSTIN HALEY’S BEST FRIENDS AT DAYTONA
On Saturday night, no one wanted the rain to come in and disrupt the race; on Sunday night, there was one. The race had been held off a day after NASCAR seeing no chance of getting a full race in.
Justin Haley picked up his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, with a big boost from Mother Nature. It was a bit of payback for the Xfinity racer.
“The stars aligned," Haley said. "I didn’t ever think I was going to get redemption back from last year at Daytona when I got the Xfinity win taken away…and it makes that second-place win on Friday (at Daytona) a lot better.”
The win is the first career Cup win for Haley and Spire and the first time since 2007 that there was back-to-back first-time winners after Bowman’s last week.
The race finally began the next day with Joey Logano on the pole after rained out qualifying and action got strong immediately. Kevin Harvick gave Kyle Busch a big push to get him way ahead on the start; which let Harvick come down behind Logano and join the bottom line. Denny Hamlin got the draft and helped push Busch beside Logano to battle for the lead for a few laps. As the outside line started to falter, many drivers tried to keep making it work as he laps went on.
With 33 laps to go in the first stage, the outside line started to pull up to the leaders right as they caught up to the lapped cars; making a jumble through the field. The top line fell again after it started to fan out and Logano continued to lead with no competition. As the top line made one more run, Logano and the Fords following him went up to make the top nine cars all Fords. Green flag stops began on lap thirty-six as the Fords came down together. On the next lap, the Chevys and Toyotas came down together as there was a near disaster when Denny Hamlin got loose into the pit road and nearly spun into Kyle Busch.
Leaving the pits, the Chevy and Toyota group got quickly passed by the fords, now led by Harvick. On the last lap of the stage, as the Chevy pack started to gain ground, Ricky Stenhouse Jr came down with Logano to block the pack and get a good run to get by Harvick; Logano went on to win the stage after the assist.
Chase Elliott got the lead for the start of Stage 2; leaving him in a sea of Fords. Stenhouse overtook the top spot almost immediately as Elliott had no help and started to fall as the Fords abandoned him. A new group led by Kurt Busch came to front and Stenhouse, seeing them coming, came down to block; resulting in the first caution of the day as Kurt never lifted and spun out Stenhouse through the grass.
Clint Bowyer and Austin Dillon led the pack to the green with Dillon getting the lead after a push from Elliott. Kurt Busch would bring out the caution after getting loose and spinning into Brendan Gaughan right as the lead pack started to calm down. With the Chevys working together on the restart; Dillon would get the lead again. The caution came out again as Harvick runs into the back of Keselowski; sending him into the wall and collecting Daniel Suarez, David Ragan, and Daniel Hemric.
The Chevy contingent worked together again to get ahead on the restart with Dillon still leading. After the Fords got back together, led by Clint Bowyer, they jumped back to the front. With some side-by-side racing for the lead between Bowyer and Dillon; Dillon would go on to win the stage with rain looming on the horizon.
Logano and Newman led the field to green on the restart. Newman got a big push from Austin Dillon to get to the lead until Dillon cut down in time to get to the lead. Joey Logano got the lead back from Dillon after the Fords got back together and pushed to the front. The field went three wide as Menard went up to get to the front. It wouldn’t last long for Menard as Hamlin would cut all the way down in front of Dillon to get the lead. When Hamlin got the lead, the pack started to break up and it would take a few laps to get back together. Bowyer got to the front pack as Dillon got in front of him to get a run. With the push from Clint, Dillon got far out ahead, and Clint came down to the bottom line while Dillon tried to block; bringing out the big one. Dillon got spun, right in front of the whole field, collecting Bowyer, Logano, Stenhouse, Elliott, Blaney, Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Truex, Erik Jones, Larson, and others; ending most of their days.
With a lengthy cleanup and pit stops done, Kurt Busch inherited the lead with Landon Cassill in second with both hoping that the race would be called. The two decided to finally pit right as lightning was in the area, bringing out the red flag and giving the lead to Justin Haley and the first-year team of Spire Motorsports, who took the big risk of staying out in case of more rain.
After a lengthy red flag due to lightning and a sprinkle of rain, the drivers were called to their cars only for the rain and lightning to strike again. After more time spent waiting in the media center, Haley was sitting nervously waiting for the official word. Then the word came, Haley and Spire Motorsports were officially announced as the winner of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Coke Zero Sugar 400.