What to make of Sunday’s rain-delayed, rain-shortened finish
to the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway?
• Justin Haley, first-time Cup winner. Deserving? Well, he
was leading when NASCAR officials declared the race official with 127 of 160
laps completed. That’s pretty much all that’s required.
A driver doesn’t have to lead a certain number of laps or
pass a certain number of cars or anything other than be in the lead when the
race officially ends to be declared the winner.
That’s the way it’s always been (OK, there ARE exceptions.
The winning car has to pass post-race technical inspection; and years ago,
there were instances of drivers protesting race results and NASCAR officials
correcting the official finishing order.).
A quick search of the record book fails to unearth any
instances of drivers turning down victories because they happened to be leading
the race when it ended short of regulation for one reason or another.
Had Kurt Busch not pitted under caution and handed the lead
to Haley, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver would have been your winner.
Had Busch and Haley both pitted, runner-up William Byron
(Hendrick Motorsports) would have celebrated career win No. 1.
It could have been Jimmie Johnson (third) or any one of
several others who chose to remain on the track during the sixth and final
But it wasn’t.
Lightning in the area forced officials to halt the action
twice before rain eventually arrived and soaked the track.
And Haley, the 20-year-old Xfinity Series competitor, became
the first non-Cup regular to win a race since Trevor Bayne won the 2011 Daytona
500 while driving for Wood Brothers Racing.
Spire Motorsports is a first-time winner as well after just
18 starts in the series. The last time there was a “first-time” organization
winner? Probably 2014 when A.J. Allmendinger won for JTG Daugherty Racing at
Watkins Glen International.
Maybe it matters to others that Haley was making only his
third start in the series or that the Spire organization had exactly one top-25
finish before Sunday.
But he was out front when it counted.
That’s what matters to me. Mr. Haley, too, I presume.
• If I was disappointed about anything, it was that the weekend marked an end to the July 4th holiday race week at Daytona.
It’s been a staple for so long. From the very beginning in
’59 up through ’87 the race was held on July 4 no matter what day of the week
that happened to fall on.
Talk to some garage veterans and they’ll tell you about the
1969 season when teams raced at Daytona on Friday, the 4th, then
beat it up the east coast for the inaugural Mason Dixon 300 at Dover held just
two days later.
Put that on your 2021 schedule …
Even when the Daytona race was moved to be contested on the
holiday weekend, there was still something unique about it.
Going forward, the race will be held in August and it’s the
cutoff race for the playoffs and maybe that will spice it up somewhat, but
it’ll be tough to top its predecessor.