DAYTONA BEACH, Fla – “Big Bill France” weather wasn’t going to happen this weekend at the Daytona International Speedway. You mess with tradition, you get punished here it seems.
When lights came to the World Center of Racing, wildfires hit Florida and delayed the race three months. We went nearly 50+ years without any delays when this race ran in the morning. When it got moved to night, we consistently saw weather delays.
That happened this weekend. Thursday saw lightning end Cup practice early and even cancel final XFINITY Series practice. Lighting on Friday canceled Cup qualifying and rain in the evening delayed the Circle K Firecacker 250 by over 3 hours. The start of Saturday’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 was completely washed out to Sunday. It was the second time in the 61 year history of the event that the race was moved to the next day.
In the race, we saw lightning delay us on Lap 127. Just prior to that, Kurt Busch had pitted from the lead. Justin Haley stayed out with nothing to lose and when he circled around to lead his first lap of his Cup Series career, the red flag was displayed for lightning.
While it appeared that we’d get going, so much so the drivers were called to their cars, lightning, then rain, ended the race short.
So, Haley is scored as the winner of the 2019 Coke Zero Sugar 400. Yes, Justin Haley. He was running 27th before the “Big One” and while he passed zero cars, he wins the race.
It was just his third start of his Cup career too. Now, he’s already a victor. It marks the second straight week that we have a first time winner in NASCAR’s premiere series. Alex Bowman won for the first time of his career last Sunday in Chicagoland while Haley is victorious in Sunday’s rain delayed 400.
It’s not like it’s the first time that we’ve seen a surprise winner in this race. Greg Sacks’ win in 1985 comes to mind. So does Derrike Cope’s 1990 Daytona 500 triumph. What about Jimmy Spencer’s 1994 victory in the July classic? What about Ward Burton’s 2002 Daytona 500 win.
Trevor Bayne won the 2011 Daytona 500.
Moral of the story, fluke winners can happen here. Haley’s just the latest.
Plus, it’s not like this isn’t redemption for him. In last year’s NASCAR XFINITY Series race, Haley crossed the finish line first. Unfortunately for him, he crossed the yellow line in the tri-oval resulting in a penalty instead.
He said this weekend in his return trip to Daytona in July that he still can’t watch the replay of last year’s race.
Now, he can watch the replay of this one, he’s a winner in NASCAR’s premiere series.
As happy as Haley is, Kurt Busch is just as frustrated. He was a half of a lap from having this race won. If they don’t pit, he’s the winner instead and has a guaranteed playoff spot. Now, he’s still winless while Haley steals a guaranteed spot.
Plus, who had Spire Motorsports, a new team in NASCAR, as the first winner of the year of the non Penske, Gibbs or Hendrick camps. Stewart-Haas Racing hasn’t even won yet but here Spire has.
William Byron is scored a runner-up in his No. 24 Chevrolet while his teammate Jimmie Johnson is third.
Ty Dillon and Ryan Newman round out the top five in the rain shortened event.
The race had six cautions, one of which for a 17 car pileup in Turn 1 when Austin Dillon moved low to block Clint Bowyer’s move to the lead. That collected 15 other drivers including Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Erik Jones, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kyle Larson, Joey Logano and others.
A Lap 82 crash with Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Daniel Suarez, Daniel Hemric, David Ragan and Logano again took out more heavyweights.
That’s why some surprise drivers were left out front in the end.