Photo: Chris Owens/ASP, Inc.

Carnage Reigns Supreme Early in Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona

By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Several drivers expected an aggressive race at Daytona on Saturday night and while they were right in their assumptions, none of them could have seen what was coming through the first 66 laps of the Coke Zero Sugar 400.

In three different cautions, a total of 36 cars were involved in some capacity or another, with the majority of them seeing their night cut short following the series of multi-car crashes.

Paul Menard was the first to go for a wild ride after contact from Jimmie Johnson sent Menard’s Ford spinning out of traffic down the backstretch. His car lifted off the ground momentarily before setting back down and plowing through the grass, which caused more damage than the original spin did.

His team was able to make repairs and get him back on track, albeit laps down to the leaders.

Five laps later, all hell broke loose down the backstretch when Brad Keselowski slowed due to a block from William Byron, causing Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. to get into his rear bumper and turn him back into the oncoming field. By the time all was said and done, 25 cars were officially involved.

Needless to say, Keselowski, who many consider one of the best restrictor plate racers, was not amused by seeing his night brought to an early end and threw out an ultimatum for the next restrictor plate race at Talladega.

“Ricky was doing the best he could to give me a good push and had a great run to take the lead and the car in front of me just threw a late, bad block,” Keselowski said. “I made the mistake of lifting instead of just driving through him and that’s my fault.  I know better than that.  I’ve got to wreck more people and then they’ll stop blocking me late and behind like that.  That’s my fault.  I’ll take the credit for my team and we’ll go to Talladega and we’ll wreck everybody that throws a bad block like that.”

While it would make sense that the drivers would want to settle down after a crash like that, they did the exact opposite when the race went back green and by lap 64, more cars were crashing and spinning off of Turn 4. This time around, Stenhouse tried to side draft Kyle Busch, making contact with him and turning him into William Byron, both of whom made hard contact with the wall.

“Disappointing to get crashed out by the same guy that caused the first crash,” said Kyle Busch. “Our Interstate Batteries Camry showed some good speed and patience there in that first stage. We were able to come home second and grab some points there. You always come to Daytona waiting to crash and figure out when or where, and hope you can walk away from it. That’s really frustrating and disappointing to have to race these races like that on the fence or line of when are you going to wreck. But we’ll move on to next week.”

After their cars came to rest before the entry to pit road, Busch got out of his car and walked over to Byron to check on the rookie, making sure he was OK after their hits.

“I wanted to make sure he was okay because I hit him. I caused him to go spinning. I didn’t know if he hit the wall the same way I did. I know mine was a heck of a hit. I just wanted to check and make sure he was all right.”

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.