Written by Adrian Beecher
Daytona, FL- In what was deemed Dale Jr.'s final race at Daytona, turned into an early exit for the #88 crew, in one of the wildest Coke Zero 400 races in history. With a record 14 caution flags and the longest race in the history of the event at Daytona, the race was more of a marathon that anything, as cars tried their best just to get their car's to survive the carnage. In the end, it was Ricky Stenhouse Jr. making it to the Checkered flag first with just 24 cars left on the track as the flag waved.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. started out on the pole for just the 2nd time ever at Daytona. However, it was Chase Elliot in the #24 NAPA Patriotic Chevrolet making the early pass and overtaking the lead on lap 1. Brad Keselowski in the #2 Detroit Genuine Parts Ford claimed the lead on lap 4. Then on lap 9, the caution flag came out as Cole Whitt in the #72 RTIC Coolers Chevrolet and the #83 of Ryan Sieg had engine problems that caused some fluids to leak onto the track.
That was cleaned up quickly, and they got back to green flag racing on lap 11 with Keselowski still out in front. Then on lap 15, DJ Kennington in the #15 Xchange of America Toyota lost control down the front stretch causing the 2nd caution of the night to come out. Lap 19 saw the field get back to green flag racing with Keselowski still leading the pack.
On lap 28, Kevin Harvick in the #4 Jimmy John's Ford took over the lead from Keselowski by half a car length. Then on lap 30, Keselowski passed Harvick by .012 of a second for the lead. In a back and forth battle, it was Harvick regaining the lead on lap 33. Then it was Dale Jr. taking the lead on lap 35 by .004 of a second over Keselowski. Then on lap 36, it was Keselowski back out in front. Brad was able to hold the lead until lap 40 to claim the stage 1 victory.
After yellow flag stops and stage 2 had gotten underway, it was Erik Jones in the #77 Sports Clips Toyota out in front as they got back to green flag racing. The next three laps were a battle between Denny Hamlin and Jones as they traded the lead.
Then on lap 52, Dale Jr. hit the wall as he had a right side tire go down. This caused him to go down two laps. While this was going on, Hamlin held onto the lead throughout. Then on lap 58, the caution came out as Jeffery Earnhardt in the #33 Hulu Chevrolet blew his engine, and he went behind the wall.
After yellow flag stops, Hamlin was still in the lead as they got back to green flag racing on lap 62. He was passed by teammate Matt Kenseth in the #20 car on lap 68. Shortly after, on lap 69 on the back stretch, Kyle Busch in the #18 Interstate Batteries Toyota got sideway's as a tire run caused a flat. That caused Kyle to spin and collect Joey Logano in the #22 along with a multitude of other cars.
As they get back to green flag stops, Kenseth was in the lead. Also, the caution helped Dale Jr. as he got a lap back, slowly crawling his way back into the mix. Kenseth would win stage 2, while Kyle Larson would get a lap back and Jr. stayed 1 lap down.
Then on lap 86 after getting back to green flag racing, it was Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in the #17 Fifth Third Bank Ford out in front. Lap 90 saw Brendan Gaughan hit the outside wall in turn 4, which caused the caution come out. This put Dale Jr. back on the lead lap.
After yellow flag stops, it was Daniel Suarez in the #19 Subway Toyota out in the front of the pack as they got back to green flag racing on lap 94. Shortly after it was another caution flag as Michael McDowell in the #95 WRL General Contractors Chevrolet got into Chase Elliott who had to cut left and clipped Trevor Bayne in the #6 Liberty National Life Insurance company Ford and they found themselves in the grass on the backstretch.
As we got back to green flag racing on lap 101, it was Suarez still out in front. Then on lap 102, Jimmy Johnson in the #48 Lowes Chevrolet took his first lead of the race. Meanwhile, Dale Jr. had made his way all the way to 7th. On lap 105 came with a huge wreck that started with Kevin Harvick and collected a slew of cars, including Dale Jr. That would end Jr.'s day as he went behind the wall with tears of emotion in his eyes.
With just 45 laps to go, it was Stenhouse Jr. out in front. Our 10th caution of the day came out on lap 116 as Brad Keselowski blew a right rear tire, causing him to hit the wall in turn 4. That would end Keselowski's night.
The field got back to green flag racing with Kenseth out in front on lap 120. However, before the field could get back around the track, Kasey Kahne got spun around on the backstretch, bringing out the 11th caution of the night.
Lap 124 saw the field back under green flag racing with Kenseth still out in front, with Ty Dillon in the #13 Geico Military Chevrolet in 2nd. Then on lap 126, Ryan Blaney in the #21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center Ford took his first lead of the race.
The 12th Caution of the day came out on lap 129 as Matt DiBennedetto in the #32 Incredible Bank Ford blew a right front tire. Lap 132 saw the green flag drop again with Blaney still in the lead. Then on lap 136, Kasey Kahne took over the lead as he made a move to the bottom of the racetrack.
As the battle continued, it was Daniel Suarez taking over the lead on lap 137. Then Kahne regained the lead on lap 138 as the excitement continued! Kahne was able to maintain the lead until lap 148 when Stenhouse Jr. took the lead. Then with just 9 laps to go, it was Dillon regaining the lead.
Then on lap 153, Kyle Larson got loose and was lifted in the air by Stenhouse Jr. This crash collected multiple cars and resulted in a red flag that lasted 8 minutes and 41 seconds. We got back to green flag racing with Ty Dillon out in front, with just 3 laps to go.
Then on the restart, Jamie McMurray in the #1 McDonald's Chevy got into Erik Jones and spun him out on the backstretch. This sent us to overtime. With the restart, David Regan in the #38 Shriners Hospital for Children 95th Aniversary Ford was out in front and Ty Dillon in 2nd.
They were able to make it around the track the first lap with no incident. At this point, Stenhouse Jr. had taken the lead. Then as the white flag flew, Elliott Sadler in the #7 Golden Corral Chevrolet spun out going into turn 1. However, the caution didn't come out, and they were able to race to the start-finish line.
As they jockeyed for position, no one was able to get past Stenhouse Jr. as he took the checkered flag for his 2nd career Monster Energy Cup Series victory. Behind Stenhouse Jr. was Clint Bowyer in the #14 Mobil 1 Ford in 2nd, with Paul Menard in the #27 Menards Chevrolet closely behind in 3rd.
Written by Erik Slaby
After pit stops, Erik Jones in the #77 Sports Clips Toyota, started off Stage 2 in the lead. There was some drama early on while the yellow caution flag was down. Ryan Blaney, in the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center Ford, missed his pit entrance and while heading back to the track, bumped Joey Logano, in the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford. Luckily, there was no damage.
After lap 49, there was a near wreck as Michael McDowell, in the #95 WRL General Contractors Chevrolet and Daniel Suarez, in the #19 Subway Toyota seemed to lose control but they regained control and screamed through Pit Road to avoid wrecks.
On lap 52, Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet, hit the wall on the right side and had a tire go down. That caused him to go to the pits and change out two tires. Unfortunately though, it also cause him to go down two laps. On lap 58, the fourth caution came out as Jeffery Earnhardt, in the #33 Hulu Chevrolet ran into engine problems. This was also the fourth time tonight a car has run into engine problems.
After 60 laps, Denny Hamlin, in the FedEx Express Toyota led the race. On lap 69, Matt Kenseth, in the DEWALT Flexvolt Chevrolet took the lead but it was quickly take away by Trevor Bayne, in the #6 Liberty National Life Insurance Company Ford.
On lap 69, on the backstretch coming out of Turn 2, Kyle Busch, in the Interstate Batteries Toyota seemed to slow down slightly and was bumped by his brother, Kurt Busch, in the Monster Energy/Haas Automation Ford, causing him to spin out and cause a multiple car wreck. Logano suffered extensive damage to his car and ended up being finished for the night. The caution flag came out shortly after that wreck.
As the green flag came back out after lap 76, Kenseth led the pack and after Hamlin took the lead after lap 79, Kenseth was able to quickly comeback, retake the lead and win Stage 2.
Written by Erik Slaby
Daytona, FL- Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet started in the pole position for the NASCAR Monsters Energy Series Coke Zero 400 and led all cars to the start finish line. However, after one lap, Chase Elliot in the #24 NAPA Patriotic Chevrolet had taken the lead.
Nine laps into the race, the first caution flag came out when both Cole Whitt, in the #72 RTIC Coolers Chevrolet and Ryan Sieg, in the #83 Dustless Blasting Toyota ran into mechanical problems. Also, after those nine laps Brad Keselowski, in the #2 Detroit Genuine Parts Ford led all cars.
The second caution flag came out after lap 14 when DJ Kennington, in the #15 xchange of America/LordCo Toyota ran into engine problems when he veered off the track after Turn Four and his engine caught on fire. After 14 laps, Keselowski continued to lead the pack. After lap 28, Kevin Harvick, in the #4 Jimmy John’s Ford, took the lead from Keselowski. After lap 31, Keselowski quickly retook the lead. Harvick jumped back into the lead after lap 33.
From laps 34 to 40, Earnhardt raced back into the top three and led at various points but Keselowski managed to get past him before the end of each lap. After 40 laps, Keselowski won Stage 1. Keselowski was able to use great blocking techniques to get in front of every car that came close to passing him.
Written by Erik Slaby
Daytona, FL - Despite the excitement heading into Independence Day weekend and the Coke Zero 400, there is a bit of a bittersweet and somber tone surrounding the events throughout this week. This could be the last NASCAR race at Daytona International Speedway for the popular Nationwide 88 driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr. He stated earlier this year that this would be his final season before retiring.
Earnhardt has been one of the most popular NASCAR drivers throughout his whole career and is third on the all-time victory leaders list at Daytona with 17 victories. He is third on the list behind his father, Dale Earnhardt, and Tony Stewart, with 34 and 19 victories respectively. Earnhardt was honored by Daytona International Speedway Friday with a painting of some of his memorable races and he also took the time to speak with the media about a variety of topics such as his history with Daytona and his future in racing.
Earnhardt spoke reverently about the Daytona race track and its importance and impact on the sport. “Daytona has been so important to NASCAR, you know, the Daytona 500 is so important to our sport, the health of our sport” said Earnhardt. “A lot of great things have happened here, a lot of drivers have made their careers here. It’s just something to be proud of, I think, if you’re in the industry.” Earnhardt also spoke about the remodel that was done on the track and how overtime, the driving styles have changed.
“This was a great, great place to race in the early 2000s,” said Earnhardt. “The repave changed the track quite a bit but I’m sure some drivers loved it. Not to say they changed it for the worse, but as the track ages, in my opinion, it just gets better and better as the grip goes away and handling becomes more and more important, so skillfully, it’s a very fun track. It’s a challenging track even though it’s a superspeedway and we kinda run wide open. When the handling becomes an issue you can’t run wide open, you have your hands full and I appreciate and admire that about the track.”
Earnhardt also spoke about his decision earlier this year to retire and how he feels about it. “This decision to retire, it wasn't a spur-of-the-moment [decision], it was sort of building inside me because of the things that we've been through over the years” said Earnhardt. “What I mean by saying that is I'm quite comfortable with it, maybe more than anyone else, I guess."
On Friday, Earnhardt also won the pole position in the qualifying races for the Coke Zero 400. The crowd cheered louder than they had all day once he won. This was the first time since 2013 that he had won a pole. This win also guaranteed him a spot in the exhibition Clash at Daytona in 2018. When that was mentioned to Earnhardt, he smiled and quipped, “I'll talk to my boss (Rick Hendrick) and see what he has in the shed.”
Even though Earnhardt may come back and race in the Clash, this will likely be his last race in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series here at Daytona, so NASCAR fans should cherish this last race.
Written by Adrian Beecher
Daytona, FL- In his final race at the Daytona International Speedway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet won the pole for the 59th annual Coke-Zero 400. It is his first pole at Daytona International Speedway since 2013, which was his only other pole at Daytona.
Qualifying 2nd was his Hendrick Motor sports teammate Chase Elliot in the #24 NAPA Patriotic Chevrolet. Elliot was asked about the preparation of his teammate and weather he feels like Jr. was more focused this week. His reply, “I do think he has been very determined to make sure his car is driving exactly how he want’s it.”
Qualifying 3rd was Brad Keselowski in the #2 Detroit Genuine Parts Ford. 4th was Kasey Kahne in the #5 UniFirst Chevrolet, with Kevin Harvick in the #4 Jimmy Johns Ford rounding out the top 5.
This is Jr.’s 18th career Monster Energy Cup Series Pole. The last time he won the pole at Daytona in 2013, Jr. captured the Daytona 500 victory. The Pole win automatically qualifies Jr. for the 2018 Advanced Auto Parts Clash at Daytona. When asked if he would participate in that race next year Jr. said only, “I’ll talk to my boss and see what he’s got in the shed.”
You can watch Jr. go for his 18th career win at Daytona in the 59th annual Coke-Zero 400 Saturday, July 1st, 2017 at 7:30 pm EST. on NBC.
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