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 caution.
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.