By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
The Coke Zero 400 at Daytona was an unusually mellow restrictor plate race, until it wasn’t.
On lap 89, all hell broke loose when Jamie McMurray received a tap from Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet. McMurray broke loose and spun into an entire field of drivers going 200-miles-per-hour. In all, 19 drivers couldn’t avoid piling into what turned out to be ‘the big one.’
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Among those involved were several drivers who have ran well all season long, but are still searching for their first win. Drivers like: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chase Elliott, Kasey Kahne and rookie Chris Buescher — who honestly looked like a contender for the win — were all swept up in the crash.
According to Buescher, there was nothing he could do to miss the carnage.
“It all happened in front of us. I tried to get on the brakes and just slid right in to it. There was nowhere to go,” said Buescher.
Things happened so quickly, that Elliott didn’t actually know what triggered the chaos.
“I don’t really know what happened because I was in the top lane and just saw everybody start checking up and starting to come up in our groove. So I was just kind of along for the ride,” Elliott said.
Earnhardt, who was feeling the heat of dropping out of the Chase after a horrible summer, stayed on track in an effort to salvage a decent points day. Earnhardt’s car, which had suffered from a loose condition all race long, didn’t get any better after the crash. He limped home to a 21st-place finish.
Elliott, Kahne and Buescher were all less fortunate.
Kahne and Elliott spent many laps in the garage but came back on track to finish 30th and 32nd respectively. Buescher’s best race in Cup Series competition unfortunately ended with a last-place finish.
As a result, Elliott — who has slips to 12th in the Chase Grid.
After eight finishes outside of the top-10 in the last nine races, Earnhardt’s championship hopes are now on life support as he slips to 14th in the Chase Grid.
If Earnhardt’s championship hopes are on life support, Kahne’s have flat-lined. Kahne now sits 19th in the Chase Grid. Of course, only 16 drivers make it into NASCAR’s version of the playoffs.