Washed out by rain on Saturday, the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway was deferred to Sunday where, nineteen laps into the race a dramatic multiple car crash put several NASCAR Sprint Cup contenders out of the race. The crash reportedly started with Ricky Stenhouse Jr getting loose from the field, resulting in Jeff Gordon moving to the left in an attempt to avoid a crash and connecting with Tony Stewart, causing a chain reaction. While there were no injuries, several cars sustained damage, including those driven by Stenhouse, Gordon, Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Larson, Carl Edwards, Trevor Bayne, Marcose Ambrose, Danica Patrick, AJ Allmendinger, Matt Kenseth, Michael Waltrip, Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
A caution had been scheduled for the end of lap twenty to allow teams to check wear on their tires, due to green race track conditions. Tiny particles of rubber from tires are left on the track improves the traction on the track surface. When these rubber particles are washed away by heavy rain, the track behaves differently, and is considered ‘green’, until rubber is laid down again.
While some drivers, including Stewart, are of the opinion that Stenhouse triggered the crash, in a post-race interview Stenhouse disagreed, saying he got loose and straightened back out when he got hit in the left rear by Gordon. Cars spun into the grass field separating the front stretch from pit road, where many sustained damage.
First place in the Coke Zero 400 was claimed by Aric Almirola (#43 Ford), followed (in order) by Brian Vickers (#55 Toyota), Kurt Busch (#41 Chevrolet), Casey Mears (#13 Chevrolet) and Austin Dillon (#3 Chevrolet) in the top five. His win puts Aric Almirola in the running for a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
The top five in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings (in order) are Jeff Gordon (#24 Chevrolet) with 651 points, Dale Earnhardt Jr. (#88 Chevrolet) with 624 points, Jimmie Johnson (#48 Chevrolet) with 596 points, Brad Keselowski (#2 Ford) with 586 points and Matt Kenseth (#20 Toyota) with 580 points.
Driving the #99 Ford Fusion for Roush Fenway racing, Carl Edwards clocked up his second victory of the season by winning Sunday’s Toyota-SaveMart 350. This was also his first win at Sonoma Raceway, a 2.52-mile road course featuring 12 turns and up to 160 feet of elevation change. With 509 points, and two wins, Edwards is a serious contender for the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. The current top ten in the Sprint Cup standings are Jeff Gordon (580 points), Jimmie Johnson (560 points), Dale Earnhardt Jr (555 points), Matt Kenseth (515 points), Brad Keselowski (512 points), Carl Edwards (509 points), Joey Logano (483 points), Ryan Newman (473 points), Kevin Harvick (472 points) and Kyle Larson (470 points).
Born in Columbia, Missouri on August 15, 1979, Carl Edwards was brought to the attention of Jack Roush when he was driving for MB Motorsports in the 2002 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. He also drove for Bost Motorsport in a Busch Series race that year. In 2003, Edwards started driving the Superchips-sponsored #99 Ford F-150 in the Truck Series for Roush. He won Rookie-of-the-Year in 2003, won three races, and finished 8th in the points standing. In 2004 he won three more races, including the season-opener – Florida Dodge Dealers 250 – and in August that year made his NEXTEL Cup Series debut in the Roush Racing #99 Ford Taurus.
On the weekend of March 19/20, 2005, Edwards won both the Busch series Aaron’s 312 and NEXTEL Golden Corral 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, becoming the first driver to win both Busch and NEXTEL events on the same weekend at this particular venue. In June 2005, Edwards won the NEXTEL Pocono 500 and had intended to compete at the Busch Series race at the Nashville Superspeedway, but due to weather-related rescheduling was unable to do so which lost him valuable points in the standings. Nevertheless, he finished the season third in points.
Edwards failed to win any races in 2006, but he claimed his first NASCAR Busch Series Championship in 2007, and finished second to Jimmie Johnson in the 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. 2009 was not a good year for Edwards in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series, but he finished the NASCAR Nationwide Series in second place, having scored five wins. After a slow start to 2010, Edwards broke the track record at Phoenix International Raceway on November 12 for the fastest qualifying lap, and went on to win the Kobalt Tools 500 two days later. Edwards won eight races that season, the most in his career at that point. In 2012 Edwards stopped competing in the Nationwide Series in order to concentrate on the Sprint Cup, but failed to qualify for the Chase. In the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup, Edwards finished in 13th place.
2014 has been an exciting season for Edwards. He won the 2014 Food City 500, leading for the last 78 laps of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Race. Starting on the pole for the All-Star Race, Edwards came in second to Jamie McMurray who passed him to hold the lead for the final eight laps of the race. In addition to being his second win of the 2014 season and his first road win, Edwards’ victory at the 2014 Toyota Save-Mart 350 was his 23rd NASCAR Sprint Cup career win.
Six-time Sprint Cup Series champion, Jimmie Johnson, notched up his first win of the 2014 season in the longest race of the series on Sunday. Starting from the pole position in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Johnson led 164 laps of the 400 lap race, holding the lead for the final nine laps of the race, crossing the finish-line 1.273 seconds ahead of Kevin Harvick. Matt Kenseth took third place, followed by Carl Edwards and Jamie McMurray in fourth and fifth positions.
Despite back pain that saw him skip Saturday’s final practice, Jeff Gordon finished in seventh place, maintaining his position in the lead with 432 points – no easy feat considering the length of the race. With 421 points, Matt Kenseth is second in the standings, followed by Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards, both with 408 points.
Among fans, there are both critics and proponents of the length of the Coca-Cola 600, but most drivers seem to agree that it is a good thing that it is the only event of its kind. It’s very likely that this one-of-a-kind status adds to the attraction of a race that starts in the bright light of the sun, and ends under lights after sunset. The race is generally just over four hours long, during which time the track undergoes a number of changes as the blistering daytime temperatures drop dramatically after sunset, presenting drivers with challenges that require constant and consistent concentration.
Kurt Busch‘s bid to compete in the Indianapolis 500 (where he finished in sixth place)and the Coca-Cola 600 on the same day ended on a disappointing note as his car’s engine blew with 129 laps to go at Charlotte. Nonetheless, Busch noted that his experience of driving a stock car right after driving an Indy car was something he would never forget.
As the ninth 2014 Sprint Cup Series race, the 400-lap Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway on the weekend was jam-packed with excitement, with the final laps seeing four drivers battling for first place right up to the finish line. Joey Logano took the checkered flag, with Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski following in second, third and fourth place respectively. Having started in 17th position, Logano led for 46 laps during the race, and was in the position to take advantage of a caution that bunched up the field by passing and moving into first place. In a post-race interview Logano made reference to the new Sprint Cup emphasis on winning, saying “The heck with it! If we crash, we crash! We’re going for wins!”
The Saturday night race started with a first-turn crash, where Clint Bowyer rear-ended Kyle Larson sending him into the wall, and included at least five cars experiencing flash fires thought to have been caused by the new Goodyear rubber compound. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but the safety of Goodyear’s new product is in question. As a NASCAR sponsor since 1954, Goodyear has been the sole tire supplier for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, NASCAR Nationwide, and NASCAR Camping World Truck series since 1997. Acknowledging the problem, Goodyear Racing executive Stu Grant noted that the company would have to work on a solution.
After the race, four time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon was quoted as saying: “That was one of the wildest races with ten to go I’ve ever seen.” Gordon led 173 laps in the race and finished in second place. Kyle Bush moved from sixteenth place to third in the last eight laps of the race, after failing to lead any laps in the race. Brad Keselowski started in second place, led 114 laps and finished in fourth place.
By taking the checkered flag in the Bojangles Southern 500 at Darlington Speedway Saturday night, Kevin Harvick became the first driver of the season with more than one win. He also became the first NASCAR Sprint Cup driver to win from pole position at Darlington since Dale Jarrett in 1997. In his first season with Stewart-Haas Racing, Harvick won the 2014 The Profit on CNBC500, the second race of the season. This early-season victory was followed by a number of misfortunes for Harvick, include a hub failure at Las Vegas resulting in a 41st place finish; a cut oil line at Bristol resulting in a 39th place finish; a blown tire at Fontana resulting in a 36th place finish; and an engine failure at Texas resulting in a 42nd place finish.
While Harvick started the race in pole position, his win certainly wasn’t a done deal. After the 258th lap caution, Harvick reportedly decided to get four new tires on his next pit stop. Other drivers, including Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson took two, giving them a slight time advantage which dropped Harvick to fifth position. By the time Kurt Busch wrecked on the 369th lap, resulting in another caution, Harvick had maneuvered his way into second position. Then, passing Earnhardt on the green-white-checker flag, Harvick held his first place position to the finish line, and it appears very likely that his decision to take four tires when he did helped him to victory.
With the new scoring structure, where ultimately victories have more value than points, Harvick is in the lead for a place in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Jeff Gordon is in the lead with points, but remains eighth in the standings as he has not yet scored a win. The minimum requirement to qualify for the Chase is one trip to Victory Lane, so two such trips has a clear advantage for Harvick.
2014 Sprint Cup standings according to victories and points thus far (in order) are Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Kurt Busch. The next NASCAR Sprint Cup race is the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway on Saturday, April 26.