By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Anything can happen at Daytona International Speedway and it usually does.
Once again, it was the case in Sunday’s rain-shortened Coke Zero Sugar 400. Only this time, it involved two Ford camp regulars on the bottom of the points table.
After dodging the 18-car big one and some pitting before the red flag, both Corey LaJoie and rookie Matt Tifft were in excellent spots for a strong outcome. Then Mother Nature reared its ugly head for good and after 127 laps, they each scored their maiden top-10s in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
While Xfinity Series regular Justin Haley is getting all the buzz for winning his first Cup race, LaJoie is beyond pleased by just getting a sixth-place result at a track that’s been known for surprises.
“Sixth for us, no matter what the circumstance, is a good day. If you told me I could take a sixth-place finish before we even started I would have taken it to the bank and ran with it,” said LaJoie. “That’s cool for Justin. That’s obviously not how he wanted to win his first race, but at the end of the day there’s no asterisk in the record book and there’s no asterisk in the record book for finishing sixth, either.”
If there was one regret about Sunday’s race, it’s no doubt pitting with some of front cars before lightning caused the scheduled 160-lap race to stop and ultimately never resuming.
“We had a good Shine Armor car. Our tactic was just to ride and try to miss those big ones and that’s what we did,” LaJoie on his race. “In hindsight, we shouldn’t have pitted and we probably could have ended up second, but coulda, woulda, shoulda.”
LaJoie’s first top-10 comes in his 75th Cup start and marked the third straight year Go Fas Racing’s No. 32 Ford Mustang they’ve achieved a top-10 finish. He also moves up from 30th to 29th in points.
Meanwhile Tifft, who has two 20th place finishes as personal bests in his rookie campaign, quietly got through the big wreck which wiped out the top contenders. This led him to be one of a few drivers without damage and saw himself in a nice spot of snatching a top-10 as he was in ninth.
After the race was called, the rookie got his first top-10 at Daytona in his 18th Cup start.
Similar to LaJoie, it didn’t matter how the man 31st in points got a top-10 because in his eyes, it’s a tremendous deal for his career and his No. 36 team of Front Row Motorsports
“Honestly, for us it doesn’t matter how we get it a top 10 is huge for our team and for Front Row Motorsports any top 10 is awesome,” Tifft commented. “It’s definitely one we’ll celebrate here and a ninth-place finish for our team is awesome. We put ourselves in spots through the race to make sure we were not getting caught up in the big ones and it worked out for us to get a good finish out of it.
“I probably would have liked to have gotten back going because I felt like we were one of the cars that didn’t have damage, but our Ron Jon Surf Shops Ford Mustang was there at the end inside the top 10, so that’s awesome.”
Tifft led the FRM trio as Michael McDowell, who pitted before the stoppage, was credited with 13th and David Ragan crashed in an earlier wreck, winding up 38th.
Also, Tifft became the first driver since J.J. Yeley in the 2013 Daytona 500 to score a top-10 result for the No. 36 and the 125th overall for the car number.
Aside from both drivers, Sunday’s outcome also brought career-highs for race winner Haley, runner-up William Byron, and fourth-place finisher Ty Dillon.