With firecrackers sparkling, patriotism soaring and flags flying high in celebration of the July 4th holiday weekend, here is what was surprising and not surprising from the Coke Zero 400 run under the lights at Daytona International Speedway.
[media-credit name=”David Yeazell” align=”alignright” width=”261″][/media-credit]Surprising: Sentimental favorite Trevor Bayne and points leader Carl Edwards both surprisingly had a world of trouble at the world center of racing.
Bayne, piloting the famed Wood Brothers No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Tire and Auto Center Ford, was making his triumphant return to the superspeedway after winning the Daytona 500 and then having to get out of the car for a bit as a result of a never-diagnosed illness.
The young driver’s high hopes were dashed early, when he was turned by Brad Keselowski, in the No. 2 Blue Deuce for Penske Racing, on Lap 5 of the race. Bayne and team were unable to repair the car and he finished 41st.
“I don’t know if I turned down more getting in or if he (Keselowski) kind of came up across our bumper, but, either way, our bumpers caught wrong and it sent us spinning,” Bayne said. “You know that can happen here.”
“It happens all the time, but it’s tough that it was our car,” Bayne continued. “I hate tearing up a good race car. If I didn’t have my faith and everything else right now, that would be a pretty bad blow I can promise you that.”
Bayne was not the only one that had a tough night. Points leader coming into the race Carl Edwards had his hands full as well behind the wheel of the No. 99 Subway Ford for Roush Fenway Racing.
Edwards was running third, being pushed by teammate Greg Biffle, when he hit the wall on lap 23. Edwards’ car was severely damaged, allowing fumes to get into the car and sickening the driver.
While Edwards did get his car back on the track, he finished 37th, losing the points lead to Kevin Harvick.
“We don’t ever give up and that’s the thing,” Edwards said. “I told my guys to keep their heads up. We’ll take this bad day and keep our pride.”
“We knew coming here we could come out losing a bunch of points and we lost about as many as we could, but that’s OK,” Edwards continued. “We’re still right there. Hopefully we’ll be leading it after next week.”
Not Surprising: There was another Cinderella glass slipper waiting and not surprisingly this one was polished with redemption for one driver who was definitely due one at Daytona.
David Ragan, who had come so close to winning the Daytona 500 but was penalized for changing lanes in the waning laps, was pushed to his first ever Cup victory by teammate Matt Kenseth.
This was Ragan’s first victory in 163 Cup races but his fifth top-10 finish in 2011. The driver of the No. 6 UPS “We Love Logistics” Ford for Roush Fenway Racing scored his fourth top-10 finish in ten races at Daytona.
“It was a tough one in February and coming back here we knew that we’d have a shot to win,” Ragan said. “When we qualified, that’s probably the first time I really felt like we’ve got a car that’s fast enough that we can win this thing, so we made a pact with our teammate Matt Kenseth that we were gonna work together through thick or thin.”
“I just tried to not make any mistakes, tried to put ourselves in good position and we wound up obviously being in the lead on the last restart and that was the winning moment for us,” Ragan said. “I’m happy about the win.”
Surprising: While this year has been one of change on pit road, particularly for the over the wall gang with the new fueling system and the elimination of the catch can man, there was another surprising change on pit road during this race. The gas can man became the grease man as well.
From rags covered in lard to cans of Pam, greasing the bumpers became a part of the pit crew dance. And another pit road command from atop the boxes became “Right side tires and grease the bumpers.”
Not Surprising: With the new style of tandem racing, it was not surprising to see a race record high of 57 lead changes. There was also a track record broken for 25 different leaders, with the previous record being 22 set in this year’s Daytona 500.
It was also not surprising that after all of the racing, the finale came down to the second attempt at a green, white, checkered finish.
Clint Bowyer, who had been at the front of the pack in his No. 33 Wheaties Fuel Chevrolet, ended up finishing 36th, thanks to that final green, white, checker attempt.
“We got some damage in the beginning of the race and laid back in the field with our RCR teammate Jeff Burton until about 30 to go,” Bowyer said. “That last caution came out at the wrong time as we were making a run at the leaders.”
“Nothing we could have done there at the end,” Bowyer concluded. “That’s just restrictor plate racing for you I guess.”
Surprising: The surprising tandem dubbed ‘Harvard’, comprised of Kevin Harvick, driving the No. 29 Budweiser Folds of Honor Chevrolet, and Paul Menard, behind the wheel of the No. 27 Quaker State/Menards Chevrolet, finished strong.
In fact, Harvick’s finish was strong enough to catapult him over Edwards to lead the point standings by five.
“We had a plan to stick with the No. 27 (Menard) all night and I think we ran every lap with him,” Harvick said. “The first green-white-checkered, we had a great run and the timing was perfect.”
“The second one, we just didn’t have quite the timing and got a couple of guys underneath us and then we just got a little bit too far behind,” Harvick continued. “But still, everything worked pretty good.”
Not Surprising: In contrast to the relief of the ‘Harvard’ tandem, it was not surprising to see equal if not more amounts of frustration boil over for many of the traditionally good plate race drivers who did not have the finish they, or their fans, envisioned.
In addition to Jimmie Johnson, who finished 20th in his No. 48 Lowes Summer Salute, fan favorite Dale Earnhardt, Jr. also struggled late in the race, finishing 19th in his camouflaged No. 88 National Guard Heritage/Amp Energy Chevrolet.
“Oh man, I don’t know,” Junior said after the race. “I’m really ticked off. Damnit. I was just trying to get to the finish line.”
“What kind of move can you make in racing like this?” Junior continued. “There ain’t no move you can make.”
“You just hold it on the mat and try not to wreck into each other,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “You see how good we are at that.”
Surprising: In addition to his appearance in the movie ‘Cars 2’, it was a bit surprising to see Jeff Gordon, this week piloting the No. 24 Pepsi Max Chevrolet, starring as the race’s Lucky Dog. Gordon used his veteran skills for an incredible save after a wild spin on lap 157 to finish sixth.
“Somebody got in the back of the No. 4 (Kasey Kahne) and pushed him up into me and I had nowhere to go,” Gordon said. “Then the car came around and luckily I straightened it out somehow and came back and fixed it.”
“Miraculously there on those last two restarts we avoided more wrecks,” Gordon continued. “It was awesome and how we finished sixth is unbelievable.”
Not Surprising: One other driver benefitted greatly from the Lucky Dog phenomenon. AJ Allmendinger, driver of the No. 43 Air Force Ford Fusion for Richard Petty Motorsports, got the distinction after the first green, white, checkered attempt and went on to power his way to a top-10 finish.
“I felt kind of bad because Marcos (Ambrose) and I were racing for the lucky dog, but I was happy the yellow came out twice so we both got our laps back,” Allmendinger said. “After that, it was just trying to miss the wreck.”
“We didn’t quite miss it but I stayed wide open and kind of bulled my way through there and finished 10th.”