The second visit to Daytona this season was a typical plate race – rain delay, crash, red flag, crash, last minute bumpdraft to victory. Though as superspeedway races go, the attrition rate was very high.
After waiting almost 2 hours for the track to dry out, the race finally got underway. Bar a couple of early victims of the usual argy bargy in the middle of the pack, it was quite settled – the green track was causing almost everyone to run very loose – and it showed when David Ragan spun out on the entry to Turn 1 and collected Jamie McMurray and Martin Truex Jr after slamming into the wall.
Kyle Busch was looking racy in the first part of the race but wrecked after Juan Pablo Montoya spun him out, with Busch looking absolutely livid at the Colombian as he drove back past under caution.
David Stremme‘s accident with Robert Richardson Jr. brought out another caution with just 23 laps to go, and everyone headed to pit road for what they though would be their last stop before the finish, with Kurt Busch winning the race off pit road. However the race had barely got going again when Matt Kenseth and Elliot Sadler clashed and brung out yet another yellow flag.
However this was just the prelude to ‘The Big One’ that is now just an inevitability of plate racing. Some big ones look the part but take out few cars, others start innocently enough and end in utter carnage. This was the latter.
As Kurt Busch and Jeff Burton made contact it started a chain reaction further down the field – the two main instigators survived the incident (despite a trip through the infied for Busch) but 20 cars were eliminated in the chaos, including front runners like Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart and Juan Pablo Montoya.
The strangest part however is when the mayhem settled down and Mark Martin slowly made his way to pit-lane – only to park outside team-mate Johnson’s pitbox and his Chevy burst into flames. He was quickly hauled out of the flaming car by the #48 crew and was unharmed by the flames which had quickly engulfed the car.
“The fire was outside. It wasn’t inside,” Martin said. “It wasn’t as bad as it looked. No big deal. I wish we hadn’t been in that wreck. There was no way. I couldn’t see anything and I couldn’t get down. My spotter said get down. Well, I was going too fast.”
There was a 20 minute red flag period to clean up the mess left behind by the Big One – and the the herd had been considerably thinned going into the final 12 lap dash to the finish.
There was a big beneficiary of the Big One though – Richard Childress Racing. All three of their cars were at the front, so they had the advantage of someone to give them a bumpdraft near the end. Jeff Gordon was also in contention for the win and had team-mate Dale Earnhardt Jr. a few places back to try and get a bumpdraft from. Kasey Kahne was looking racy too, but the only team-mate he had for company was Matt Kenseth, way at the back of the pack of lead lap cars and struggling for pace. If he wanted to win, he would have to fly solo.
The RCR cars ran in formation for the next 10 or so laps, duelling with Gordon and Kahne, with David Reutimann also in the mix. Just as Harvick broke away from Gordon going onto the last lap, Sam Hornish Jr. spun out team-mate Busch, setting up a green-white-checker finish.
At the restart Harvick instantly bolted away and held Kahne and Gordon at bay, but team-mate Clint Bowyer was spun out into the infield, costing him a Top 5 finish. Instead Dale Jr. came home 4th and the third RCR car of Burton held on to take 5th.
There were some rather unusual faces in the Top 10 – with Reed Sorensen, Mike Bliss and Scott Speed finishing line astern and completing the Top 10. Rookie Kevin Conway even took his best Sprint Cup finish in 14th, just behind Steve Park, another driving who manage a surprisingly good result after the earlier mayhem.
“Obviously it was a good night,” said Harvick. “Same old Daytona, cars moving around and bouncing around, and handling came into play, and you saw a lot of passing and shuffling, and then there at the end we had the big wreck and we were fortunate to be in front of it.
“Coming to the white I thought it was going to be [Bowyer] first and us second, and then the caution came out and we could see the white flag. I was content about that. I knew those guys needed a good day, and I knew you never know what’s going to happen on the last lap with people pushing and shoving from the back. But on the last restart, once [Gordon] pulled out and slowed those outside two lines down, that was pretty much the end of it.”
|4.||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||Chevrolet||166|