Last weekend’s race at Daytona International Speedway is one that will not soon be forgotten. Mother Nature was once again running interference with the NASCAR race, dumping rain onto the track for a good four to five hours. Nearing 10:00 p.m., NASCAR released the Air Titans to dry the track and said they would continue with running the race. With the green flag dropping around 11:30 p.m. on Sunday night, this year’s Coke Zero 400 became one of the latest races ever, or earliest depending on how you look at it.
But perhaps the one headline that gained the most attention was the violent, final lap crash involving Austin Dillon. While the cars were crossing the finish line, Dillon’s car was turned into the oncoming traffic and was sent soaring into the catch fence. Once the car came to a rest on the track, the car of Brad Keselowski was out of control and plowed into what was left of Dillon’s car. With the exception of a few crew members, everyone at the track froze, fearing the worse. Members of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s crew along with members of Casey Mears crew rushed over the pit wall to the carnage of Dillon’s car to check on his well-being. They soon realized he was ok, and signaled with thumbs up to everyone. Dillon walked away with a bruised tailbone and bruised forearm, but will continue to race this week. About thirteen fans in the grandstands were evaluated as a result of the accident. Eight declined treatment, four received treatment on site, and one was transported to a local hospital for evaluation, but was treated and released shortly after.
Aside from the dramatic finish, there was some exceptional racing at Daytona. More drivers ran in a pack versus running single file, and we saw drivers making more aggressive moves. Dale Earnhardt Jr. dominated the night, leading more than 90 of the 160 laps. It was no surprise that he maintained the lead on the final restart to win his second restrictor plate race this season. Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, and Kurt Busch rounded out the top five. Leaving Daytona, Kevin Harvick remains on top of the points standings ahead of Dale Earhardt Jr.
Sad news broke from the former NASCAR driver, Buddy Baker, this week when he announced he was leaving as a radio host on SiriusXM. Baker was recently diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. “Do not shed a tear. Give a smile when you say my name,” was Baker’s advice when signing off of the radio.
NASCAR announced this week that it will be implementing new rules packages for four other tracks this season: Darlington, Indianapolis, Michigan, and Richmond. The Darlington package will be similar to the low downforce package being used at Kentucky, while the other packages will be a high drag package.
It looks as though Mother Nature will continue her beef with NASCAR this week as NASCAR teams have already been sidelined in Kentucky due to weather. Located in Sparta, Kentucky, Kentucky Speedway is a 1.5 mile oval-shaped bumpy track with fourteen degree banking in the turns. Drivers will complete 400 miles over 267 laps in the Quaker State 400. Missing practice sessions would not be as critical at other tracks, but it is especially important this weekend since NASCAR has unveiled a new rules package for this race. The new package, designed for less downforce, includes a reduced spoiler size, expanded splitter, and a reduced size of the radiator pan.
This week’s Fast Five incorporates drivers who have the best chance at adapting to the new package, along with drivers who have solid statistics at this track. Drivers included in the Fast Five for Kentucky Speedway are: Kyle Busch, who has had a rough go of it lately, but will have the determination to have a solid finish; Jeff Gordon, who is still looking for a win this season, and could become the first driver to secure a win at every NASCAR track; Brad Keselowski, who is a two-time winner at this track; Matt Kenseth, who is a previous winner and is tied for the best average finishing position at this track; and Kasey Kahne, who has an average finishing position inside of the top ten. Keep an eye on Ryan Newman as the dark horse pick this weekend.
Tune into the race Saturday, at 7:30 p.m. on NBCSN.