Coke Zero 400

What Drivers Said after Daytona

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Justin Haley, winner: “It’s absolutely a blessing.  It’s pretty incredible that I have so many great people around me that have given me this opportunity to come to this level and the stage that we’re performing on. …

“I never even saw myself running a Cup race until I got a call a few months ago to do Talladega, and it’s just unreal.  I don’t know how to feel.”

William Byron, finished second: “If a few things went our way under that last caution we might have won. You don’t want to win that way as your first win I guess … It’s not the prettiest way to do it, but I’d still take it. … Unfortunately, that’s wasn’t what the cards played for us today. To finished second with a backup car from the back starting 40th is really good.”

Jimmie Johnson, finished third: “If it did go back to green, I think there’s only a handful of cars that are still in good shape. Certainly William and I were going to do everything we could to get a Hendrick car to victory lane. But it is what is its, the race has been called and we’ll take the third-place points and go home.”

Ty Dillon, finished fourth: “We didn’t have a chance to race for the win but this was a first top five and best finish ever and I’m pretty pleased with that. I’m thrilled for our Germain Racing Team. It’s a nice little shot in the arm for our team to get the second half of the season going. There has been a little bit of disappointment the last couple of weeks. So, to be able to have a good finish is going to catapult us in the second half of the season. And hopefully we continue to build off that momentum. I’m proud of our effort today. Sometimes it just seems to work out.”

Corey LaJoie, finished sixth: “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.  That’s cool for Justin (Haley).  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.  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.  In hindsight, we shouldn’t have pitted and we probably could have ended up second, but coulda, woulda, shoulda.”

Aric Almirola, finished seventh: “It was a crazy day.  I think every time you come down here to Daytona you hope that you’ve got a shot to win and at certain points throughout the race I thought we would, and then at certain points throughout the race I thought we were in big trouble.  To get out of here with a top 10 is a good day and I think points-wise we stayed steady. I think we maybe moved up a spot to 10th in points and we built a little bit more of a gap back to 16th, so that’s important leaving here.”

Matt DiBenedetto, finished eighth: “I couldn’t see anything in the crash other than crap everywhere, so I listened to Doug (Campbell, spotter) 100%. I went wherever he told me. He said go low and I just slammed it down on the apron and hoped no one was underneath me. There wasn’t and we avoided it somehow, so Doug gets credit for that one.”

Kurt Busch, finished 10th: “I feel like we were in a really good position to win the race and it’s just a matter of when the one random lightning bolt comes down to decide when you make the call. It was a judgment call on their part.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., finished 24th: “We were trying to work our way back to the lead and was in the top 10, so we were in decent position, but obviously when the wreck starts on the front row it’s all about luck after that and we weren’t able to get our Fifth Third Ford through that wreck as good as we wanted.  I just spent a lot of time on pit road, go a couple laps down trying to fix it, so, all in all, it was a good first two stages when we were strong and felt good, but it just didn’t work out.”

Joey Logano, finished, 25th – “I thought things were gonna go a little better today than they ended up.  We were able to get a stage win, which was great for our Mustang, but everything was going good until it didn’t.”

Austin Dillon, finished 33rd:  “I got turned a little bit left when (Clint Bowyer) went left and it kind of shot me down there and I just kept coming left. I mean, its part of this kind of racing. I was being aggressive and trying to keep the lead, and that is what you get, its part of it.  I just thought I would try and keep it up front.  We had a fast car and I am really proud of the guys. Hate it went that way and wished we could have worked with the Chevys to finish off what we started.”

Clint Bowyer, finished 34th: “I guess (Austin Dillon) didn’t want me to pass him.  I don’t know.  I got under him and he blocked, and we got together, I got off of him – moved down and got off of him – and here he comes back down even more and just finally wrecked us all.  That’s just part of racing like this.”

Chase Elliott, finished 35th: “I was just kind of on the bottom pushing along there and I saw Austin (Dillon) get turned around. You just hope you can get left enough, and slowed down enough, to miss it.  It’s unfortunate because I thought our NAPA Camaro ZL1 was one of the best ones we have had down here. It’s unfortunate and I hate that happened because I felt like we were doing a pretty good job as a group. Just needed to keep it going.”

Ryan Blaney, finished 36th: “I haven’t seen a replay, but apparently it was a case of someone not being cleared at all, so that part is frustrating.  It’s one thing if you’re kind of pushing each other and someone gets turned, something like that, but when you just chop somebody like that, from what I hear, it’s frustrating, especially since we were rows back.  In both Daytona races this year we’ve been four rows back in the deal and just get absolutely destroyed.  There was nowhere to go and none of our doing, so that’s the way it goes.”

David Ragan, finished 38th:  “I couldn’t tell what happened.  I knew we were in the middle and it was a really big accordion effect.  I would get a really big run.  (Kyle Busch) would push me, I would push (Brad Keselowski), we would surge for half a lap or a lap and then the bottom and the top would surge and we would fall back a little bit back and forth, so I was hoping we could get back in that top lane with a few of the other Fords, where I felt like we could get rolling, but never saw that hole and the next thing I know (Keselowski) is in the wall and (Kevin Harvick) came down and clipped us a little bit.”

Brad Keselowski, finished 39th: “I know I was going straight one moment and the next moment I wasn’t.  It’s unfortunate.  We were all two and three-wide racing and just got tagged from the back.  I’m not sure exactly.  I know we got to three-wide at the top of (Turn) 3 and it looks like Kevin (Harvick) gave me a real straight push.  I don’t know.  It just took off on me.  The Fords were working really hard to run together and Kevin and Joey (Logano) and (Ryan) Blaney and myself, I thought we were doing really good at it, but for whatever reason the car just instantly turned there.  It’s a bummer for everybody, but we’ll move on and hopefully go to the next one and be alright.”

Daniel Suarez, finished 40th : “I haven’t seen the replay. I don’t really know what happened, I just know a few cars wrecked ahead of me.  I was trying to slow down and I bumped (Logano) and someone bumped me from behind and we were starting to get it back straight and somebody spun me out and the track bar broke.  My car was actually fine.  I thought we were going to continue, but unfortunately the track bar broke and it’s something we can’t fix.”

NASCAR America Fantasy League: 10 Best at Daytona in last three seasons

Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images
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Handicapping a restrictor-plate NASCAR race is one of the most difficult things to do. The ever-present threat of the “’Big One” crash is only one of the problems faced. The capriciousness of the draft can play havoc with a fantasy roster just as readily because a driver who makes a move at the wrong time can drop from the top five to outside the top 20.

Still, there are a few drivers who manage to find the front with greater regularity than others, so setting this week’s NASCAR America Fantasy Live roster does not have to be an exercise in frustration.

The biggest thing to note before the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBC) is the absence of the Big 3 among the top 10.

Kyle Busch has not scored a top 15 on this track in his last three starts. Martin Truex Jr. has not finished that well in four starts. Kevin Harvick hasn’t cracked the top 20 in four races. The odds are good that at least one of them will be able to reverse that trend, but fantasy owners who like to play the odds, will find some great dark horses in this week’s top-10 list

1. Bubba Wallace (three-season average: 8.50 in two races)
Before fantasy players discount Wallace’s second place in this year’s Daytona 500, they should note that he finished 15th in this race last year driving in relief for Aric Almirola. Occasionally a driver develops an immediate affinity for a course.

2. Aric Almirola (three-season average: 10.50 in four races)
Streaks are hard to maintain on a restrictor-plate track because of the finicky nature of the draft and the prevalence of “Big One” crashes, so when someone has four consecutive top-15 finishes, fantasy players need to pay close attention.

3. Michael McDowell (three-season average: 10.50 in four races)
Ultimately, it is the finish that matters. The majority of points are paid out when the checkered flag waves, so a driver like McDowell – who may spend a large portion of the race in the back half of the lead pack – is often more valuable to the roster than one who spends most of the race in the middle of a volatile pack.

4. Joey Logano (three-season average: 11.00 in four races)
There are not a lot of marquee drivers in the top 10 this week. None of the Big 3 make the list, so Logano stands out. Anyone can get swept into an accident at Daytona – which is what happened to Logano in this race last year – but otherwise, he’s finished sixth or better since the start of 2016.

4. AJ Allmendinger (three-season average: 11.00 in four races)
Allmendinger tends to be crash-prone at Talladega Superspeedway, but he has been able to stay out of trouble at Daytona. One doesn’t need to know the reason behind this, but if the trend continues, he will be one of the greatest difference-makers in the field.

6. Denny Hamlin (three-season average: 12.40 in four races)
Hamlin makes the list this week based on two stellar finishes in the last three seasons. He won the 2016 Daytona 500 and finished third in this year’s 500. He deserves a spot on one’s roster, however, because of top-10 sweeps in 2014 and 2015.

7. Ryan Newman (three-season average: 12.60 in four races)
Newman has three top 15s in the past five Daytona races. Two of these came in back-to-back races last summer and this spring. The best news regarding the No. 31 is that Newman has been able to stay out of trouble recently and that allows him to be in a position to make late-race moves to maximize his finish.

8. Paul Menard (three-season average: 13.60 in four races)
Menard gained some momentum last week with his Chicagoland pole. That might actually carry over to Daytona this week if it adds to his confidence. Of course, a sweep of the top five last year on this track and a sixth in the 2018 Daytona 500 won’t hurt either.

8. Ryan Blaney (three-season average: 13.60 in four races)
Blaney is capable of scoring strong results when he is able to stay out of trouble. Unfortunately, that has not been all that easy for him because he has been involved in at least 11 accidents in his last eight races. He managed to keep his car running on several occasions and score decent results, but starting him is a lot like playing Russian Roulette.

10. Austin Dillon (three-season average: 14.40 in four races)
Dillon’s victory in this year’s Daytona 500 was only his second top five there, but he has been one of the most consistent drivers during his career. Seven of his 10 starts on this track have ended in top 15s and that is about as good as anyone gets on a plate track.

Bonus Picks

Pole Winner: Hendrick Motorsports has always been solid in qualification at Daytona. Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were perennial threats. Chase Elliott has carried on the tradition.

Segment Winners: Kurt Busch and Blaney won the stages in this year’s Daytona 500, Brad Keselowski and Logano won them in last year’s Coke Zero 400, while Kyle Busch and Harvick won them in last year’s 500. A pattern has failed to emerge about who might repeat, but it seems likely that the stage winner will be a driver with a big name and marquee team.

For more Fantasy NASCAR coverage, check out Rotoworld.com and follow Dan Beaver (@FantasyRace) on Twitter.

Matt Kenseth leads 21 laps at Daytona, only to finish in a wreck (video)

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Matt Kenseth – and for that matter, his three other Joe Gibbs Racing teammates – still have yet to earn one NASCAR Cup race between them in 2017.

Saturday’s Coke Zero was yet another example of what has been JGR’s story thus far this season: All four drivers ran strong – including three that led at some point – but none finished that way.

Kenseth, who led 21 laps, finished 27th after being involved in a wreck six laps shy of the scheduled 160 laps (it wound up adding four laps in overtime).

He talked after the race about his performance and where his team goes from here, knowing there are only nine races to qualify for the NASCAR Cup playoffs.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

NASCAR: Joey Logano says he and his team aren’t in panic mode yet (video)

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With 17 races down and nine more to go to qualify for the 2017 NASCAR Cup playoffs, time is slowly running out for a number of drivers to make the 16-driver playoffs.

Joey Logano is one of those. Even though he won at Richmond, his win was encumbered due to a post-race violation. Ergo, the win may have counted in the NASCAR Cup standings, but it did not count towards Logano’s eligibility for the playoffs.

The only way he’ll be able to make the playoffs is win another race in the next nine (and hope it’s not encumbered), or qualify on ponts.

Right now, Logano is 12th in the Cup standings after Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

However, there are five drivers behind Logano that do have a win — Ryan Blaney, Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (2 wins) and Austin Dillon — meaning they have priority to make the playoffs over him.

If the NASCAR Cup playoffs were to start today, Logano would be 17th in terms of wins and miss the playoffs.

Logano finished a disappointing 35th in last night’s Coke Zero due to a wreck.

Even though he still has a lot to do to make the playoffs, Logano says he and his team are not in “panic mode” at making the playoffs. All he has to do is earn a race win that counts – and the sooner, the better.

Hear Logano’s comments in the video above.

NASCAR: Paul Menard earns career-best finish at Daytona: third-place (video)

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Paul Menard is becoming quite the restrictor plate expert when it comes to racing at Daytona International Speedway.

Menard has two top-fives thus far in 2017, and they both came at Daytona: fifth-place in the season-opening Daytona 500, and third in Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400.

Both are his career-best showings at the World Center Of Racing.

Menard talks about his strong performance in the video above.

Follow @JerryBonkowski