The first week of NBC’s coverage of NASCAR proved to be a huge success. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series moved back to Daytona where anything can happen … and did.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the big story going into the race as it was the last Daytona Cup race for him as he retires at the end of this season. Earnhardt’s fans were hyped since he was starting at the front as the pole winner. He suffered a flat tire, made contact with the wall, and went down two laps because of a green flag pit stop.
Because of the many cautions (a record of 14), Jr. got two free passes and had driven back up to the top 10 before Kevin Harvick blew a tire right in front of him, causing a multi-car wreck and ended his day, finishing in 32nd place.
The longest green flag run was only 22 laps long, which created plenty of action up front, producing 33 lead changes. Earnhardt was not the only favorite to have problems during the race.
Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr., Harvick, and Brad Keselowski all ended up in incidents that ended their race. When Kyle Larson started “the big one,” Kurt Busch, Ryan Blaney and Denny Hamlin were among the victims.
As the laps wound down, the leaderboard of NASCAR’s Coke Zero 400 read like a Who’s Who of Cinderella stories. One of the bigger upsets in NASCAR history appeared to be unfolding as you had David Ragan in the lead.
Drivers not used to running in the top 10 were contending for the win. Besides Ragan, you had rookie Ty Dillon, Paul Menard, who has not won since the 2011 Brickyard 400, and perennial underdog Michael McDowell all in the top 10.
Brendon Gaughan, racing for a team only running four races this year, was in seventh place. Veterans Clint Bowyer and Kasey Kahne were now in position for the victory, but Ricky Stenhouse Jr., winner of the last restrictor plate race, had other ideas. Stenhouse surged past the underdogs and secured his second 2017 win, which guarantees a spot in the playoffs.
Stenhouse is making a name for himself in restrictor-plate racing, as he seems to have a knack for avoiding the wrecks and putting himself in position for the win. With nine races left in the regular season, the four drivers for Joe Gibbs Racing are winless, as well as drivers like Earnhardt Jr., Chase Elliott, Jamie McMurray, Joey Logano and Clint Bowyer.
All will be fighting for the remaining five playoff slots.