The Coke Zero 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Daytona on Saturday night was the seventeenth in the series and gave us our twelfth different winner. Can a series be more open than this one? And victor David Ragan is the third first time winner this season following on from Trevor Bayne‘s fabled win at the opening round, also in Daytona, and Regan Smith‘s victory at Darlington in May.
The race followed what has recently become the format for restrictor plate events at Daytona – and Talladega – where the cars pair up, one pushing the other and swapping places to help the cooling at regular intervals. The other feature of these races is that the wise ones sit near the rear of the field for about three quarters of the laps, avoiding any potential wrecks along the way and then in the final quarter work their way forwards to fight it out for the win – assuming they can avoid “the big one”, for at the super speedways there is always a big one near the end and Saturday was no exception.
It was on lap 158, just two before the intended checkered flag, that Jeff Gordon was turned and miraculously held the spin although minor damage was caused to four other cars in the mÃªlÃ©e. The caution flags were thrown setting up a green-white-checker finish which will always be a recipe for disaster in NASCAR racing at the faster tracks.
The green flag was waved on lap 163 but just over a lap later Mark Martin was turned in the midst of the marauding pack, with fifteen cars getting caught up in the carnage.
Another g-w-c finish was necessary with the green given on lap 169 and this time the lead cars were on the approach to the checker when two separate wrecks accounted for another fifteen cars.
NASCAR threw the yellow and checkered flag at the same time and David Ragan was first across the line pushed by teammate Matt Kenseth. Joey Logano and Kasey Kahne followed, again running in tandem chased by the pairing of Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon.
For Ragan it was a chance to redeem himself from his faux-pas at Daytona in February when he removed himself from a virtually certain chance of winning the 500 race committing the schoolboy error of changing lanes on a restart before reaching the start/finish line.
For Trevor Bayne, winner after Ragan’s error five months ago, Saturday night was to be an object lesson in the highs and lows of the sport. Earlier in the weekend he had described the thrill of driving in to the infield and looking at the track realising his last lap here had been his victory lap. This time he only made it as far as lap five before he was turned into the wall, victim of another of those incidents that happen with bump-drafting when two cars bumpers aren’t quite lined up well enough and the pushing car – in this case Brad Keselowski‘s – inadvertently turns the car it is trying to help.
For Carl Edwards, who has been leading the championship since Texas in early April, it was a night to forget as he too was turned early in the race. The crash damaged the panelling on the right side of the car and allowed the exhaust fumes in causing very real distress to the driver. It took several attempts for his crew to resolve the issue but nevertheless Edwards manfully kept going to eventually be credited with 37th place, sixteen laps down on the leaders and collecting just eight points for his troubles.
Kevin Harvick who was pushed across the finish line into seventh place by fellow Richard Childress Racing driver, Paul Menard,earned enough points to put himself at the top of the table, five points ahead of the luckless Edwards.
Ragan’s win moves him to seventeenth in the table and the win plus top-twenty placing might possibly be enough to earn him a place in The Chase.
With two-thirds of the regular season gone there are just nine races left for the drivers to stake their claim on a position in The Chase to the title. With this year’s new criteria of the top ten in points making it plus either the two drivers placed from eleventh to twentieth with the most wins or, if there aren’t two drivers who fit that description then the eleventh and/or the twelfth in the points going through the time is upon them to start scoring some wins. For that reason the number of different winners this season stands a good chance of increasing. As the clichÃ© goes, it really is all to play for.