Looking for the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How behind Sunday’s race? Amy Henderson has you covered each week with the answers to six race-day questions, covering all five Ws and even the H… the Big Six.
Who… gets my shoutout of the race?
Casey Mears deserves the shoutout for delivering his team its best finish ever and his own first top-five finish in six years. Austin Dillon deserves it for scoring his career best Cup finish and first career top five. Michael McDowell deserves it for getting his career best and his team’s best ever result. And Danica Patrick deserves it for tying her best finish while driving her way through two huge multi-car crashes.
That’s one good thing about racing at Daytona: there is usually a plethora of feel-good stories within the scope of the event because so many teams have a chance to showcase a skill set that not all drivers have. Yes, there is a lot of luck involved, but there is also driver skill. Not every driver is good on a restrictor-plate track, but someone who is has a chance to pull off the improbable because the cars are more equal than anywhere else. The usual suspects were, for the most part, absent at the end, and the result is a new face in the Chase and a lot of teams and drivers riding a high.
What… beyond the teams’ control affected the action?
After Sunday’s event, perhaps racing isn’t the best word to describe what happened in Daytona. Restrictor-plate racing became restrictor plate wrecking after a pair of multi-car crashes that involved more than 40 cars in total (16 at lap 20 and 26 at lap 98, it’s hard to call this race an instant classic. It was more a race of attrition and being in the right place at the right time, as restrictor-plate racing often is.
But in the end, it was rain that had the final say, as NASCAR called the race after just 112 of 160 laps, around 3:00 ET. It seems a little odd that NASCAR was so quick on the trigger after waiting for hours to complete races earlier in the season. While there was a threat of rain on and off for much of the afternoon and evening, might there have been a window to run a few laps? It did seem a little too soon to throw in the towel, and while I’m not on the “NASCAR fixes races” bandwagon, it’s hard not to wonder if perhaps they saw the chance to have a compelling storyline in a Richard Petty Motorsports win 30 years after Petty’s final victory and went with that rather than risk an unpopular winner at the end of the day. Whatever the case, there were too many teams and fans who waited around for days. Surely they’d have waited a few more hours for a shot at the ending they all deserved.
Where… did the polesitter and the defending race winner wind up?
David Gilliland‘s weekend started out with an improbable pole and ended in the garage after Gilliland was collected in a 26-car melee on lap 98. Both Gilliland and teammate David Ragan led laps and looked as though they could take home a top-10 finish. Unfortunately for Front Row Motorsports, both drivers were swept up in the same crash, and they went home without knowing what might have been. Gilliland finished 35th.
Jimmie Johnson might have been thinking repeat, but those dreams lasted fewer than 20 laps, ending when Johnson was collected in the 16-car crash triggered by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on lap 19 as the field was heading toward the yellow flag for a competition caution. With three wins, Johnson is locked into the Chase, but the result still stung the driver, who has worked hard to make himself a solid plate racer. Johnson finished 42nd, his worst of the season by 10 spots.
When… did it all go sideways?
The low point of the weekend was more than 24 hours in the rearview mirror by the time the Cup cars even fired their engines, but NASCAR’s non-call in Friday night’s Nationwide Series race has to be at the top of the list this week no matter when it happened. Trying to eliminate tandem drafting simply because some fans were vocal about not liking it, NASCAR created a rule prohibiting cars from pushing one another (though bump-drafting is still allowed). Early in the race, Landon Cassill, who runs for Nationwide Series points, and Josh Wise were black-flagged when Wise pushed Cassill for longer than NASCAR thought proper.
But on the final lap, when it appeared that Ryan Sieg pushed Sprint Cup regular Kasey Kahne from turn 4 to the finish line and the victory, there was no call, though Sieg said afterwards that he “just pushed and pushed” Kahne at the end. “I never got off his rear bumper,” Sieg told the media after the race. It was an ugly end to a race that should have been memorable, instead turning into just another Nationwide race won by a Cup driver. NASCAR had all kinds of excuses for letting the win stand, including insisting it was the camera angle that made it look like Sieg was locked onto Kahne’s bumper and then adding that because Sieg moved back and forth a couple of times, he wasn’t trying to push Kahne. Those are weak, and NASCAR continues to deny what’s obvious to many fans; that the Cup drivers winning so many NNS races are driving fans away from that series. That they made excuses to allow it to happen again shows just out of touch NASCAR has become.
Why… did Aric Almirola win the race?
It’s easy to say Almirola got lucky when the rain came, but that’s unfair. After all, Almirola was leading the race at the time, while 42 other drivers were not able to do that. It might leave some people wondering “what if,” and maybe the outcome would have been different if they had run the final 48 laps. But maybe it wouldn’t have. Almirola has been knocking on the door of his first win for some time. He is credited with a Nationwide Series win in 2007, but he wasn’t behind the wheel at the finish (Denny Hamlin missed the start flying in from his Cup obligations and at the sponsor’s insistence, took over the car while Almirola was contending for the win.). He also has a couple of CWTS wins, but a first trip to Victory Lane in the Cup Series is something else entirely. This one was all his, and it was a long time coming.
How… did the little guys do?
Germain Racing; Mears (No. 13 GEICO Chevy): Mears had a stellar day despite a pit strategy almost backfiring on him when he came down pit lane alone during a round of green-flag stops, having trouble on the stop, and then reporting a vibration on the radio afterward. Mears was able to race inside the top 10 almost all day long, and had a car capable of winning had the race ended under green. He finished fourth, the best Cup finish ever for Germain Racing.
Leavine Family Racing; McDowell (No 95 JPO Absorbents Ford): McDowell narrowly avoided the huge wrecks on lap 20 and lap 98, and found himself with a top-10 finish for his efforts. McDowell finished seventh. That’s easily the best effort of the year for this part-time operation, and important for a team who must make the best of each race they do enter. They did themselves proud this time around.
GoFAS Racing; Terry Labonte (No. 32 C&J Energy Services Ford): Labonte never was known for being loud or brash, so it was fitting that the two-time champion made little noise for much of the day at Daytona. But at the end, Labonte was able to drive through the craziness on track to finish 11th. That’s this team’s best finish in 126 races.
BK Racing; Alex Bowman & Cole Whitt & Ryan Truex (No. 23 Dr. Pepper Toyota & No. 26 Al’s Liners/Scorpion Window Film Toyota & No. 83 VooDoo Barbeque/Armed Forces Motorsports Toyota): Bowman was tops for BK this week, scoring a career-best 13th-place run. Whitt and Truex weren’t quite so fortunate, as both were part of the day’s crashes. Truex was collected in the lap 98 crash, and his day was over in 32nd. Whitt was a part of the same accident and wound up 35th, tweeting after the race,
Well hate plate racing for that reason. Lots of work ahead for a lot of people. Should make the highlights for flipping @KyleBusch over.
— Cole Whitt (@ColeWhitt) July 6, 2014
That’s definitely not the way he wanted to make it.
Tommy Baldwin Racing; Michael Annett & Reed Sorenson (No. 7 Pilot Flying J Chevy & No. 36 Golden Corral Chevy): Sorenson got off to a great start to the weekend, qualifying second. Unfortunately though he’d lead four laps, the No. 36 was one of the cars involved in the lap 98 mess, and he’d finish in 33rd spot. Annett was also in second big wreck of the day, but got away with a little less damage on the No. 7, limping in for 22nd place.
Front Row Motorsports; Ragan & Gilliland (No. 34 Farm Rich Ford & No. 38 Love’s Travel Stops Ford): Gilliland started on the pole and both he and Ragan led laps, but the word of the day at Daytona was Big One, and like half the field, both drivers saw their hopes evaporate on lap 98. Ragan’s 22nd-place result was the team’s top finish, and Gilliland saw his day end in 35th after his promising start.
Phil Parsons Racing; Wise (No. 98 Ford): Unlike many others in this group, Wise was at least listed as running at the end, but the damage was done on lap 98, and Wise had to settle for finishing 23rd after running as high as 11th earlier.
HScott Motorsports; Justin Allgaier (No. 51 Brandt Chevy): This section is beginning to sound a little like a broken record, but like so many others on this list, Allgaier was tangled in the multi-car incident on lap 98 and finished 25th after running inside the top 15 for much of the middle part of the race.
Circle Sport; Bobby Labonte & Cassill (No. 33 Thunder Coal Chevy & No. 40 Newtown Building Supply Chevy): Cassill had a fast start this week with a top-three start, and he didn’t stop there, leading twice for a total of five laps. Labonte also started near the front in fourth and was looking strong early. But like so much of this group, both were wrapped up in the same crash that affected so many others. Labonte finished 26th and Cassill 31st.
Wood Brothers Racing; Trevor Bayne (No 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford): Bayne was involved in the first multi-car pileup of the day on lap 20, and after extensive damage was running at the end after repairs, but it wasn’t pretty. Bayne finished 38th. He’s a Daytona 500 champ, but that old magic hasn’t come back to him lately.
JTG Daugherty Racing; AJ Allmendinger (No. 47 Scott Products Chevy): Collected in the lap 20 crash, the No. 47 got mired in the infield grass and when it was extricated, there was too much damage for Allmendinger to continue. With an ECR engine under the hood, Allmendinger had a shot at a great finish, but it was over almost before it began.
About the author
Amy is an 18-year veteran NASCAR writer and a five-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found filling in from time to time on The Frontstretch 5 (Wednesdays) and her monthly commentary Holding A Pretty Wheel (Thursdays). A New Hampshire native living in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.