Race Report: Daytona

Rain delayed the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 for 3 ½ hours, but the green flag for the start of the race managed to drop at Daytona International Speedway a little before midnight creating an exciting late-night battle on the 2.5-mile superspeedway.

When it finally ended in thrilling fashion just before 3 AM ET it was Denny Hamlin leading Joe Gibbs Racing with a third-place finish despite being turned from behind and setting off a massive wreck at the finish line. Both Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth would be collected in the wreck after recovering from earlier incidents and finished 17th and 23rd respectively. Meanwhile Carl Edwards was collected in an earlier accident and had his night ended early to finish 41st.

Denny Hamlin started the No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota from the 35th position and was up to 22nd when the first caution of the night came out for a wreck on lap 4. He would connect with his teammate Matt Kenseth to run in the top five prior to a competition on lap 27. The two would work together well on the ensuing green flag run to remain in the top five. Hamlin would take his first lead of the night on lap 55 and then returned to run point on lap 94. He would continue to run at the front of the field all night and restarted third for a green-white-checker finish. Hamlin positioned himself behind the leader on the final lap but the 88 managed to block him to the finish line. As the field approached the finish line the 4 car hit Hamlin from behind setting off a massive chain reaction that collected nearly every car in the top 30. Fortunately everyone appeared okay and Hamlin would be scored in third.

Kyle Busch started the No. 18 Interstate All Battery Center Toyota from the 13th position and was content running toward the middle of the pack through the opening laps of the race. He was running near the top 10 while racing the high line when his No. 18 Camry got loose and hit hard into the outside wall. Unfortunately for Busch and the Interstate Batteries team a caution was not called and he would have to drive to pit road for repairs under the green flag. He would go two laps down while the team made the necessary repairs prior to a competition caution on lap 27. With no cars a lap down and as the only car two laps off the pace Busch would get one of his laps back courtesy the lucky dog when that competition caution was displayed. He would get another lucky dog designation when another caution came out on lap 54 and that would put him on the lead lap. Crew chief Adam Stevens and Interstate Batteries crew would continue to make repairs on his car at every opportunity while managing to maintain his position on the lead lap. Incredibly after 12 trips down pit road on the night the 18 team would manage to work their way back into the main pack to race to the finish. Busch would finish 17th despite being collected in the massive wreck at the finish. He is currently 37th in the point standings, 128 points out of 30th.

Matt Kenseth started the No. 20 DEWALT Made in the USA Toyota in the 19th and would connect with teammate Denny Hamlin just prior to a lap 27 competition caution to make a run to the top five. The two would continue to work together on the next green flag run to remain in the top five. Kenseth would lead his first lap on lap 79 as he moved into the high line and carried the momentum to the front. He would make a four-tire change on the next stop under caution giving up some of his track position, but he was quickly back into the top five by lap 100. Unfortunately Kenseth would be involved in the race’s next “big one.” The 5 car would take the air off his left rear bumper and although the two cars never made contact, the air was enough to cause the 20 to spin. He would go a lap down while the DEWALT crew made the necessary repairs, but Kenseth earned the lucky dog to get back on the lead lap following a caution with 30 laps remaining. He was back in the top 20 with 20 laps to go. He would race in the main pack to the finish but like nearly everyone in the top 30 he was collected in the final wreck. Kenseth would finish 23rd.

Carl Edwards started the No. 19 Subway Toyota 24th but as often the case with superspeedway racing track position can change rapidly and he was seventh when a caution came out early for the night’s first wreck on lap 4. He would race in the top 10 over the next two green flag runs. He was running 13th on lap 54 when he would get loose while running in the middle of the pack and spin down the track. Edwards nearly managed to keep his Subway Camry off the wall, but the rear of his car would hit the inside wall causing damage that required repairs on pit road. He would fall a lap down but a quick caution following the ensuing restart would give him his lap right back courtesy of the lucky dog designation. Edwards was racing patiently in the middle of the pack when the 42 got loose on lap 86 and spun up the track and into the Subway Camry. That set off a chain of events that pushed Edwards into the outside wall and then his No. 19 Toyota was hit from behind and lifted off the ground momentarily. The damage would be too severe to continue and his night was over early. He would be scored in 41st.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. captured the win and was followed by Jimmie Johnson, Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch rounded out the top five. There were nine cautions on the night for a total of 43 laps and 22 lead changes among 12 different drivers.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will head to Kentucky Speedway next Saturday night. NBC Sports Network (NBCSN) will provide live coverage starting at 7 PM ET (race scheduled to start at 7:45 PM ET).