The Coke Zero 400 began with a lot of calm and a lot of Matt Kenseth, but ended with smoke and Smoke. Kenseth, the soon-to-be former driver of the 17 Roush Fenway Ford, was the poler winner and held on to first place for a race-high 89 laps. It appeared that Kenseth and teammate Greg Biffle could drive anywhere on the track. The two cars were even able to pass cars in the outside lane, while no other drivers could make that line work.
The Keseth-Biffle dominance came to an end on Lap 125. As drivers were making what could have been their final pits stops of the night, Jimmie Johnson was spun, when he slowed down to turn onto pit road. Just ahead of him, leaders Kenseth and Biffle had committed to pit road and were caught by the caution created by Johnson’s wreck. That caused Kenseth and Biffle to restart the race in the middle of the pack. The two drivers made their way back to the front, but they were unable to maintain their dominance.
Tony Stewart, with drafting help from Kasey Kahne, was able to somehow power past Kenseth on the surprisingly tough outside lane to collect his fourth win in a Sprint Cup car at Daytona International Speedway’s July race. Stewart, aka Smoke, began the race in 42nd place, but avoided all the mayhem to be in the right place at the right time to utilize his driving talent. Stewart’s 14 Mobil 1 Chevrolet has now visited Victory Lane three times in 2012. He is assured a spot in The Chase and will be one of the favorites to win the Sprint Cup.
Last night’s race was a lot like most of the other races in 2012. There were very few cautions, at least in the first half of the race. Despite the wildness of restrictor-plate racing at Daytona, there wasn’t a caution until Lap 81, and that was only for a flat tire on the Penske Racing 22 Pennzoil Dodge.
Lap 91 began four multi-car cautions that saw a lot of regular smoke and damaged cars. At least eighteen cars were caught up in wrecks, including one on the final lap that collected some of the leaders, including Kahne. The driver of the 5 Hendrickcars.com Chevrolet managed to finish in 11th place despite the wreck. When Stewart took the Checkered Flag, half of the twenty-two cars on the lead lap were involved in a crash that caused them to limp to the finish line.
Approximately two hours before the race began, news broke that A,J. Allmendinger, driver of the Penske Racing 22 Pennzoil Dodge, had tested positive for a banned substance and would not be driving in the race. The positive test result came from a random screening earlier in the week. As of the writing of this blog, no additional details are known.
When Penske Racing was informed of the failed drug test, they immediately called Sam Hornish, Jr., who was in Concord, N.C. working on a TV show for SPEED. Hornish, a former Sprint Cup and current Nationwide Series driver for Penske, was flown to Daytona. The 22 team made seat and pedal modifications to the car, and Hornish arrived just in time for the race. All things considered, Hornish’s 33rd place finish wasn’t that bad. The previously mentioned blown tire was not his fault, and Hornish drove well when the car was at full strength.
The shocking failed drug of “The Dinger” is another major blow to Penske Racing. After dealing with Kurt Busch’s antics last season that led to firing him and hiring Allmendinger, Penske appeared to be headed in the right direction. The organization’s other driver, Brad Keselowski won his third Sprint Cup race last week, and Allmendinger’s team has been flirting with the 20th spot in the standings and collected three Top 10′s in 2012.
Now, Penske could be facing the possibility of losing Pennzoils as a sponsor. Stay tuned.
Jeff Gordon was running third and heading toward pit road when the Lap 125 accident occurred. The cars crashing behind the 24 Dupont Chevrolet somehow found a way to hit Gordon. The damage required multiple pit stops, but he was able to make repairs and race for a Top 10 at the end. The final lap wreck collected Gordon, but he finished in 12th.
Perhaps, this is a sign that Gordon’s season is turning around. The 24 team has been very competitive with three straight Top 10 finishes (6th, 6th, 5th) prior to Daytona. Nevertheless, Gordon still needs at least two and possibly three wins in the next seven races to make The Chase.
- Jimmie Johnson’s bad-finish streak at Daytona continued, when he was crashed out of the race on Lap 125 while attempting to pit.
- Jeff Burton earned his second Top 5 by finishing in 2nd place.
- Kenny Wallace was officially on back-up duty to drive Kevin Harvick’s 29 Budweiser Chevrolet. Harvick’s wife, DeLana, was flown back to Charlotte due to complications with her pregnancy, so the 29 team was prepared for Kevin to have to get out of the car during the race. All appears to be OK with DeLana, as Kevin finished the race.
- Nationwide sensation Austin Dillon was first selected to be Harvick’s back-up. However, NASCAR wouldn’t allow that, since Dillon hasn’t raced or practiced a Sprint Cup car at Daytona.
- David Reutimann finished in 11th place. That helped keep the 10 car’s points high enough to guarantee Danica a spot in her next race.
The Sprint Cup Series will be in Loudon, New Hampshire next Sunday. The coverage begins at 12:00 Eastern on TNT with the Green Flag scheduled for around 1:15 Eastern.