Call the outcome of the 2019 Coke Zero Sugar 400 whatever you like. Justin Haley lucked into this win, his Spire Motorsports team strategized its way into Victory Lane, and/or Mother Nature made the decision for NASCAR when to end the race at Daytona International Speedway.
Regardless, Haley won the Coke Zero Sugar 400, his first career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory in his third career start.
William Byron finished second as the race was made official 33 laps short of its scheduled distance. Jimmie Johnson, Ty Dillon and Ryan Newman rounded out the top five, with Corey LaJoie ending up a career-best sixth.
The race revolved around three different storylines. The drivers raced each other, but they also often worked together with others from the same manufacturer. And the constant threat of inclement weather added to the aggression level of this race, which had already been postponed from Saturday night to Sunday afternoon.
The first stage featured the drivers of all three manufacturers working together. The Ford drivers did that the best, and Joey Logano won the first stage
The first caution for on-track action came on lap 58. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was the race leader, and drove down to block Kurt Busch. However, Stenhouse got tight, barely slid up, and Busch spun him. Stenhouse slid through the grass, but he continued racing his No. 17 Roush Fenway Ford. On lap 75, Busch made contact with the wall. He couldn’t regain control and he spun. As he spun down the apron, he made contact with the right-rear quarter-panel of Brendan Gaughan.
On lap 82, Kevin Harvick bumped Brad Keselowski, who was unable to keep his car straight. As a result, he made contact with the wall. The domino effect caused several cars to spin. The damage to Keselowski’s steering was beyond repair, so his Coke Zero Sugar 400 race ended early. Four of the cars involved in this caution were Ford drivers, so it became the first manufacturer to lose some of its best cars on track.
Winning the second stage was Austin Dillon. He led a caravan of Chevrolet drivers who all stayed in their positions, giving Chevrolet teams stage points in the second stage.
Impending weather ramped up the blocking once the final stage began.
On lap 119, the Big One occurred. Austin Dillon received a shove from Clint Bowyer, and the two drivers rocketed past leader Denny Hamlin. Dillon drove down to block Bowyer, but there wasn’t enough room for both cars. The Big One eliminated plenty of the frontrunners, including Dillon, who later remarked that he blocked because he knew inclement weather was close to the superspeedway.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) July 7, 2019
Kurt Busch stayed out and assumed the lead, awaiting NASCAR to give the one to go signal. When NASCAR did, he pitted, but a lightning strike forced NASCAR to throw the red flag. When NASCAR flew the red flag, Haley was scored as the leader.
NASCAR waited out the lightning, and the drivers were called to their cars. But another lightning strike forced NASCAR to call the drivers back in, and a continuous wave of heavy rain caused the race to be ruled official at 5:35 p.m. ET.
In interviews during the weather delay, Haley, who finished second in the Xfinity Series race on Friday night, said his stomach was turning as he awaited a decision. The 20-year-old could be heard saying “I didn’t do anything” while being congratulated before he moved over to victory lane, which was moved indoors to the media center.
We won @NASCAR.
— Spire Motorsports (@SpireMotorsport) July 7, 2019
Spire Motorsports earned its first Cup Series win in its first season as a NASCAR team. Spire bought the charter from Furniture Row Racing following its closure at the end of last season. Incredibly, Haley has helped ensure Spire Motorsports can say it’s a race-winning organization, something hardly anyone would have expected before the cars unloaded this week at Daytona.
“Do we have to be PC?,” Spire Motorsports co-owner T.J. Puchyr said. “No? F–k it, we did it … This is a big f–king deal.”