DAYTONA BEACH, Fla – The weekend may have been a soggy one at the Daytona International Speedway. Thursday say the first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice sessions shortened by lightning. It also has the final NASCAR XFINITY Series practice canceled.
On Friday, the Cup Series qualifying round was canceled for lightning again. Then, later on in the night, the Circle K Firecracker 250 was delayed by over 3 hours due to a heavy rain storm.
Saturday, saw more rain, this time canceling the Coke Zero Sugar 400 in general. The race was delayed by a full day, as for the second time in the 61 year history of the race, the race was moved to the next day. Even on Sunday, the race was rain shortened.
But, when it was all said and done, we had two underdog winners and both couldn’t have been more popular.
Ross Chastain wins Friday night’s Circle K Firecracker 250 in Daytona
On Friday night, Ross Chastain piloted Kaulig Racing to their first career NASCAR win. It was a very popular win for the organization as at the time, they finished 1-2-3. They also led 86 of the 100 laps and won all three stages too.
Kaulig, came around for the first time in the 2016 season. Blake Koch drove the car to a 16th place finish in the final standings on the heels of five top 10 finishes.
In 2017, they came back together for a second full time season. Koch, had five more top 10 finishes with a best career result of sixth in the season finale at Homestead.
2018 saw some changes. Ryan Truex replaced Koch as Martin Truex Jr’s younger brother scored 10 top 10 finishes and finished 14th in the final standings. Also, the team brought out a second car for one race in which Austin Dillon finished eighth at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The team entered 2019 with 20 career top 10 finishes but none in the top five. They also hired rookie Justin Haley from the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series to replace Truex in the No. 11 Chevrolet and entered an “all-star” car for select races in the No. 10 Chevrolet.
Entering this weekend in Daytona, Haley had 11 top 10 finishes including a top five at Charlotte (5th). The No. 10 car had run in seven races with three top 10’s. The best result was a fourth place run by Austin Dillon in Vegas.
This weekend, the team brought out a third car for Ross Chastain to join AJ Allmendinger and Haley for Daytona. When a team with two career top five finishes ends up winning and going 1-2-3 in the process, it’s a big deal.
Plus, it’s a big deal for Chastain too. He was a NASCAR journeyman just trying to find his way. The talent was there to shine. He just needed a team to shine with. No offense to his teams before 2018, but they just didn’t have the budget to contend.
So, Chastain bet on himself and NASCAR. Instead of take his money to another racing series, he took it to a three race deal with Chip Ganassi Racing in the XFINITY Series. It paid off. He won a pole at Darlington in his first race and even led the most laps in the process. His next start, he won in Vegas. When Ganassi had offseason problems with a sponsor, they had to cut their NXS program. That meant Chastain no longer had a full time ride for 2019.
In came Kaulig.
They hired Chastain for select races, one of which being this Daytona race. Chastain, paid them back and won. It was his second career NXS win but his first win in his homestate.
Kaulig and Chastain both liked the direction NASCAR was going and it paid off.
Justin Haley climbs out as the leader in the Coke Zero Sugar 400 in Daytona
Same can be said for Chastain’s Kaulig teammate Haley as well as the team he drove for on the Cup side this weekend.
Spire Motorsports is in their first year in NASCAR. They took out a loan to buy Furniture Row Racing’s Charter. 18 races later, they’re celebrating an unlikely victory at Daytona.
“We made that choice, right,” said team owner T.J. Puchyr. “Jeff Dickerson and I are not wealthy people, right. Went and got a $6 million loan from the bank, so you could have done it, too, okay.
“To sit here and say, I don’t understand it, I don’t know what these guys are doing, you’re here, and it’s like — you know, this is NASCAR, right? A lot of us grew up in this. To finish first, your first finish, you’ve got to be in the field.
“I mean, back in the day when we were kids, all of us, how many — all these guys from short tracks growing up racing in the sport — Ross Chastain — it’s like, we’re all just trying to fight and claw every day and make it. But it’s our passion, and we love it. You know, just trying to build something here that we can have, that we can go compete with the lions of the sport, the Hendricks and the Ganassis, the Penskes, the Stewart-Haases.
“We’re not there today, but today for whatever reason, I can take you down a thousand things. Destiny, I don’t know if Leffler was toying with me all day, right; he drove for me for seven years with Todd Braun. I don’t know if he couldn’t wait until he thought I was going to have a heart attack and he let the skies open up. Clauson, a lot of guys that have been around us and what we’ve done, this isn’t new for us. This stage and this win is new for us, but this sport and this garage, man, we get up and we breathe it every day, and we fight.
“That’s what we’re going to do tomorrow, too. I’m going to enjoy this a little bit for sure, but tomorrow is Monday; we’ve got to get to work, you know.”
The team believes in NASCAR and the direction that they’re being taken in. That’s why they’re doing this. They make it known, this isn’t a get rich scheme to put a field fuller on track.
“It’s just — it’s a huge deal for us. We just wanted to be in control of our own destiny, and we’ve put a lot of money in a lot of people’s pockets in this garage, and there’s a lot of people out there that this we’re doing this as a cash grab the way the charter system works, and quite frankly that’s not true.
“Jeff Dickerson and I said we believe in the sport, we believe in the platform that NASCAR provides, right; this is the American dream. I’ve been coming here sitting on that lawn since I was 10 years old, saying one day we’re going to do this.
“Is this PC in here? How is that going to work? Like f— it, we did it, right? It wasn’t pretty. I’ve lost my fair share of races. We’ve dominated races. I grew up working for Todd Braun. That was my first big job. But I’ve been in racing all my life. My dad was a chassis guy for the Rapid Roman Hall-of-Famer Richie Evans.
“So this isn’t new to us. We’ve been doing this a long time, and we’re trying to build something, but the way that this shook out in November of last year, 5-Hour was a client of ours, Furniture Row was a client of ours, so this is bittersweet. Love Barney Visser, love the Visser family. Joe Garone is sitting somewhere. I hope he’s on his boat enjoying this, but it’s hard. Those were — that’s our family, you know.
“So yeah, this means a lot. It’s a big f—ing deal. But this is — we did it early, and look, it’s not lost on me that luck was on our side today.
“But I’m not going to feel bad about it at all. I’m going to love it. We’re just going to continue to be the Little Engine That Could and build this thing as best we can and go from here.
“We want to compete with the big dogs. That’s why we’re here, right? The messaging from the France family in my opinion for, I don’t know, the last 18 months is a good one. They’re trying to rebuild this thing. They’ve taken a ton of hits, right, but I’m also smart enough to know that this is their sandbox and we want to play in it.”