The Final Word – Rains delayed and shortened the race, but there were still fireworks at Daytona

Holy crap, what was that? If nothing else, the Firecracker 400 in Daytona sure was not predictable. A few yards short of a competition caution, many of the favorites were removed or seriously hampered when all hell broke loose. Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart got involved in a non-romantic triangle that involved some of the circuit’s best. Just past the half-way mark, they took care of a bunch of others with an even bigger demo derby. Greg Biffle caught up to Kasey Kahne, who in turn kissed Joey Logano, which commenced a wrecking orgy. In the end, half of the field was gone and those running up front were folks we usually expect to see running near the back.

Aric Almirola was not favored to return the iconic 43 that Richard Petty won his 200th win the Independence Day weekend thirty years ago, but he did. The rains that delayed the action for a day, and delayed it again early on Sunday, returned to finally put a wash to the proceedings prior to the three-quarter mark. The man in front was the 30-year old Tampa, Florida native, recording his first Cup victory in 125 starts. That goes with his single Nationwide win from 2007 and his two truck series triumphs back in 2010. Better yet, that car is all but entered into the Chase, with eight races to run before they settle on the 16 championship contenders.

Brian Vickers is not in a Chase place, yet finished second. Ditto for Casey Mears, in fourth. Danica Patrick and Marcos Ambrose had Top Ten days. Michael McDowell , who is not even in the Top 30 in points, was seventh on Sunday with Alex Bowman finishing 13th. Even part-timer Terry Labonte, the former two-time champ, was 11th. For some, it was worth the wait to run this thing.


American Muscle

For others, not so much, as barely half the field managed a hundred laps. Our list of likely Chasers who wound up in scrap metal included Jimmie Johnson (42nd), Kevin Harvick (39th), Carl Edwards (37th), Kyle Busch (28th), and Ryan Newman (24th). It is too early yet to get all tight ended about the chances of Kahne, Biffle, and Kyle Larson after they all finished outside the Top 25, but they could have done without this Daytona experience. On the other hand, Stewart and Jamie McMurray might be puckering up a little as both dropped points they could ill afford to lose. It has become even more likely than ever that without a win they will be running the final ten just for fun.

Almirola is the 11th driver to win this season, so as long as no more than five more drivers win their first of the season over the course of the next eight, he and the others will be in the Chase. Matt Kenseth is 90 points to the good in the Top 16, so he is secure as they sit right now. Newman also is strong, but things start to get tight after that. Still, anyone in the Top 20 can still dream of making it in on points, but the next dozen will need a win to even hope of making it.

Next Sunday it is New Hampshire. Sadly, that marks the final race broadcast on TNT before the ESPN gong show returns to test our love of the televised version of the sport. Adam, Wally, and Kyle, thanks for showing us how the job should be done.

Loudon could be the place where some winless drivers can show us how it should be done. Newman and Stewart each have three wins there. Clint Bowyer has a couple, and Biffle, Kenseth, Vickers, and Kahne also know where to find Victory Lane. Now, as long as other former New Hampshire winners, such as Johnson, Gordon, Harvick,  Logano, Denny Hamlin, or one of the Busch brothers do not get greedy…

SWEET SIXTEEN
1 – Jimmie Johnson – 3 WINS – 596 POINTS
2 – Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – 2 – 624
3 – Brad Keselowski – 2 – 586
4 – Joey Logano – 2 – 546
5 – Carl Edwards – 2 – 543
6 – Kevin Harvick – 2 – 514
7 – Jeff Gordon – 1 – 651
8 – Kyle Busch – 1 – 524
9 – Denny Hamlin – 1 – 493
10 – Aric Almirola – 1 – 452
11 – Kurt Busch – 1 – 422
12 – Matt Kenseth – 0 – 580
13 – Ryan Newman – 0 – 534
14 – Paul Menard – 0 – 516
15 – Clint Bowyer – 0 – 509
16 – Austin Dillon – 0 – 494

CONTENDERS & PRETENDERS
17 – Greg Biffle – 0 – 490
18 – Brian Vickers – 0 – 484
19 – Kyle Larson – 0 – 482
20 – Kasey Kahne – 0 – 482
21 – Marcos Ambrose – 0 – 472
22 – Tony Stewart – 0 – 465
23 – Jamie McMurray – 0 – 447
24 – Casey Mears – 0 – 438
25 – A.J. Allmendinger – 0 – 414
26 – Martin Truex, Jr. – 0 – 414
27 – Danica Patrick – 0 – 358
28 – Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. – 0 – 342
29 – Justin Allgaier – 0 – 319
30 – Michael Annett – 0 – 299
31 – David Gilliland – 0 – 256
32 – Cole Whitt – 0 – 254

 


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