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NASCAR: Opinions differ on calling Coke Zero 400

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Chris Graythen - Getty Images
DAYTONA BEACH, FL - JULY 06: Cars sit on pit road as track drying equipment works on the racing surface during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 6, 2014 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. One thing is certain at the conclusion of a rain-shortened race: The winner thinks it was called at the right time, and those who didn’t win wish it could have continued.

That was the case Sunday at Daytona International Speedway, where Aric Almirola won a Coke Zero 400 that was called on the 112th of scheduled 160 laps when rain settled in around the track.

“The rain came at the wrong time for us and the right time for them,” runner-up Brian Vickers said. “It’s unfortunate. I was hoping they would wait it out. We’ve got lights. But I guess they felt the need to call it, so it is what it is.”

The race, which had been postponed from Saturday also because of rain, was red-flagged at about 2 p.m. for the weather, then called off for good at 2:56. The wet weather didn’t let up as the afternoon progressed, so a timely restart for the race would have been unlikely. It was the second time this season rain played a major role in a race at Daytona: The season-opening Daytona 500 was delayed six hours by wet weather in February, but the entire race was run.

For drivers, the race-within-the-race was figuring out how hard to compete with rain approaching as the event passed its halfway point (80 laps) and became official.

“It was tough, because I thought we were racing to 80 there for a while,” said rookie Austin Dillon, who finished fifth. “It’s tough not knowing if you’re going to get to 160 because you’ve got guys saying, ‘Oh, it’s going to rain out.’ There are so many opinions, so you’ve just got to trust yours when it comes down to the end.”

Almirola passed Kurt Busch for the lead on Lap 106, which turned out to be six laps from the end. Busch had led a race-high 36 laps.

“It seems early to call a race,” Busch said. “It’s Sunday, and the majority of our fans were going to use this day to travel back home. Maybe we could have run later and finished and everybody could have made it back home and to work on Monday.

“It’s a tough call to make. But I didn’t do my job as the leader for when the race was going to get called.”

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