Following a weather delay that forced the 2014 Coke Zero 400 to be moved from Saturday night to Sunday morning, Aric Almirola and the No. 43 car stole the show and won the rain-shortened race at Daytona International Speedway.
This is the first career win for Almirola, and it came on the 30-year anniversary of Richard Petty's 200th and final win. For Richard Petty Motorsports, this was a monumental victory that sends the program forward as a member of the Chase for the championship.
In the thrilling on-track showcase, Brian Vickers finished second. Another stellar run for Kurt Busch resulted in a third-place finish, and Casey Mears was fourth. Austin Dillon rounded out the top five.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished in 14th, while Danica Patrick finished eighth on the day.
|Full 2014 Coke Zero 400 Results|
|14||Dale Earnhardt Jr.|
|15||Martin Truex Jr.|
|41||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.|
NASCAR fans should have predicted how wild the weekend was going to be when David Gilliland stunned the sport and won the pole for the event. It only took a few laps before Matt Kenseth seized the lead and the red flag waved for rain once again.
The rain was a theme for the entire weekend.
The race picked up after the extended weather delay but was once again halted on Lap 20 when the first big wreck of the day occurred. The incident collected drivers like Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Marcos Ambrose, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Kenseth, Earnhardt and others.
After a delay, the green flag fell again, and the racing was relatively clean through the halfway point of the race. Green-flag pit stops shuffled the top contenders until the yellow flag fell on Lap 94, and Earnhardt was the Lucky Dog beneficiary.
Once the race restarted, just one lap passed before the second huge wreck of the day.
This was the crash that will be dubbed the "Big One" of the 2014 Coke Zero 400. The crash involved 26 cars, including Kasey Kahne, Kyle Busch, Jamie McMurray, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski and others.
After a long cleanup process, Almirola led the field to the green flag with only 16 cars on the lead lap. Instead of having another long uninterrupted run, the rain once again began falling, and the red flag dropped on Lap 113.
Bob Pockrass of the Sporting News weighed in on the weather and its impact on the track:
Shortly before 3 p.m. ET, NASCAR officials officially called off the race and crowned Almirola the winner.
|2014 NASCAR Sprint Series Standings|
|2||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||624|
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule moves on as drivers and their teams head to the New Hampshire Motor Speedway next Sunday for the Camping World RV Sales 301.
It will take place Sunday at 1 p.m. ET and will be televised on TNT.
Vickers is the defending champion of this race, but he has not found the same success during the 2014 season. With so much previous success at New Hampshire, though, next week's race should be the remedy he needs to get back on track.
With a team like Hendrick Motorsports always a legitimate threat for the win—Earnhardt, Johnson and Gordon are all top-tier drivers looking for a victory in New Hampshire—the resulting battle will have racing fans enthralled.
After a wild weekend at Daytona, NASCAR fans won't want to miss the next race.
*Stats via NASCAR.com.