Surprising and Not Surprising: Coke Zero 400By Mary Jo Buchanan
In addition to a dose of roof flap drama, here is what else was surprising and not surprising from the 55th annual Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.
Surprising: Who knew that the magic between driver Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus, leading to their record-setting night of sweeping both the 500 and 400 at Daytona in the same year, all started over a beer and a game of horseshoes?
“People make the difference,” five-time champ Johnson said. “Chad and I have a relationship since the first time we drank beer in my backyard throwing horseshoes.”
“It was the start of many good things to come,” Johnson continued. “The relationships, the people make the difference.”
“That’s where the magic lies.”
Johnson also gave Team Hendrick its first sweep at Daytona since 1986 when Geoff Bodine and Tim Richmond accomplished the same feat. This was Johnson’s 64th career Cup Series win and his fourth victory of the season, tying competitor Matt Kenseth in the win column.
Not Surprising: While Tony Stewart finished runner up in his No. 14 Bass Pro Shops Ducks Unlimited Chevrolet, regaining the six spots in the point standings to the tenth position, he finished off the night ‘testy’ in the media center after the checkered flag flew.
When asked whether or not his retreat to the rear of the field for much of the race was pre-planned, Stewart showed his dismay for what he considered perhaps not the best question of the evening.
“You guys act like you’ve never seen me do that before,” Smoke answered. “I’ve been doing that for 15 years and we’ve had good results on it.”
When next asked about whether or not he liked this type of racing at this stage in his career, Stewart again reverted to past practice.
“Go back to your old notes,” Smoke said. “My opinion hasn’t changed in 15 years.”
“If you don’t have them, somebody else in the room will have them, you know that.”
Surprising: Rookie of the Year contender Ricky Stenhouse Jr. thought that he had successfully broken a barrier in his 2013 career. Unfortunately he was unpleasantly surprised after NASCAR showed him the photo finish, realizing that he still had more work to do.
“We’ve been working all year long and we’ve got a couple of 11ths, 12ths, and it’s good to break that barrier of top ten,” Stenhouse Jr. said, before learning that he had really finished in the 11th spot. There is no doubt that he will be aiming for that barrier again at New Hampshire and with a vengeance.
Not Surprising: Kevin Harvick was not happy in spite of being the third place finisher in his No. 29 Budweiser Folds of Honor Chevrolet.
“Yeah, we didn’t win,” Harvick said. “That was our expectation coming here.”
“I felt like we were in the right position,” Harvick continued. “We couldn’t get everything lined up to get going.”
Surprising: Probably the most surprised driver at Daytona was Paul Menard, who lost an engine with absolutely no warning in the early going on Lap 22.
“Something just let go,” the driver of the No. 27 Rheem/Menards Chevrolet said. “I felt the heat come up.”
“It gave no indication,” Menard continued. “I haven’t had a motor failure in forever.”
Not Surprising: NASCAR’s biggest loser in addition to Menard was Joey Logano, who brought out the second caution of the race with a tire failure and a crash into the wall. The driver of the No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford fell hard in the point standings, losing five positions and dropping from the 10th to the 15th position.
“It was a big hit,” Logano said of his trip into the wall. “But it was a bigger hit in the points really.”
“We’ve lost a lot but we’re not out of it by any means.”
Surprising: While Daytona is known for its share of ‘big ones’, there were some particularly hard hits in this version of the Coke Zero 400, including crashes for Denny Hamlin, A.J. Allmendinger, and Kasey Kahne.
Hamlin was involved in two crashes, the second just a few laps away from the checkered flag. The two wrecks added insult to his already injured back, as well as a sore knee and head from a crash just last week at Kentucky.
Allmendinger, in the No. 51 Phoenix Construction Chevrolet for James Finch, described his wreck as a ‘Days of Thunder’ moment, one that injured him in his ‘man parts’ and sent him stumbling out of his car in pain.
“Everybody moved down and Denny (Hamlin) appeared right in front of me,” Allmendinger said. “I just hit him as hard as I could unfortunately.”
One of the most bizarre but hard wrecks occurred at the end of the race, knocking a strong player out of contention. On Lap 155, Kasey Kahne got slammed while running at the front of the field, crashing hard into the inner wall.
“I got slammed and shot to the left,” Kahne said. “It’s kind of how these races go.”
“You don’t have a lot of control over what happens.”
Not Surprising: Michael Waltrip, behind the wheel of the No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota often driven by Mark Martin, scored a top-five finish. Waltrip, who has a stellar resume on plate tracks, pulled off another good finish in spite of being a bit rusty behind the wheel and having some struggles in the pits.
“We were just really fortunate after getting into a wreck on pit road,” Waltrip said. “I’m just happy for the team because it was a well-deserved finish.”
Surprising: MWR teammate Clint Bowyer also had such a surprisingly good run, finishing fourth in his No. 15 Blue DEF Diesel Exhaust Fluid Toyota. And with that finish, he ousted Carl Edwards from second place in the point standings, sitting 49 points behind leader Johnson.
“I was pushing Michael and got him passed,” Bowyer said. “I looked in the mirror and all hell broke loose.”
“That’s Daytona,’ Bowyer continued. “But I’ll take a top-five anytime in one of these races.”
This was Bowyer’s third top-five finish in a row.
Not Surprising: With team owner and driver Tony Stewart setting the bar in the runner up spot, the rest of the Stewart-Haas Racing team also finished well at Daytona, in spite of final lap mishaps.
Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 Outback Steakhouse Chevrolet, scored bloomin’ onions for all with a top-ten finish. This was Newman’s sixth top-ten at Daytona and his eighth of the season
“I’m glad we got a top-10 for Outback Steakhouse, but I hate that we destroyed another race car on the final lap,” Newman lamented. “That just seems to be the norm for us when it comes to restrictor-plate racing.”
SHR teammate Danica Patrick was also involved in the multi-car melee at the end of the race, finishing 14th in her No. 10 GGoDaddy.com Chevrolet.
This was her fourth top-15 finish of the 2013 season.
“Well a green-white-checkered finish is always exciting,” Patrick said. “All in all, it was a solid day.”
Surprising: Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet, continues to amaze with his performance, finishing sixth and putting himself in Chase contention with a five spot move up in the point standings to ninth.
This is the highest in the point standings that Kurt has been so far in the 2013 season. This was also his third straight top-ten finish and his eighth top-10 finish of the season.
“We stayed out of trouble, had smooth pit stops and had a big points night for our Furniture Row team,” Busch said. “These guys are working hard and it’s paying off.”
Not Surprising: Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished top-ten at Daytona, in spite of some challenges with his race car.
“I had fun,” the driver of the No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet said. “We just didn’t make our way to the front.”
“We had a problem with the car,” Junior continued. “Something broke and we could hardy steer it coming into the pits.”
The eighth place finish at Daytona moved Earnhardt Jr. up one position in the points standings to fifth.