ThatsRacin

Race Rewind: Dale Earnhardt Jr. wins Daytona race marked by fence-mangling crash

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and fiance Amy Reimann, right, celebrate after Earnhardt won the NASCAR Sprint Cup series Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway early Monday morning.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. and fiance Amy Reimann, right, celebrate after Earnhardt won the NASCAR Sprint Cup series Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway early Monday morning. AP

Dale Earnhardt Jr. won a rain-delayed Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway that stretched into the early hours of Monday and featured a fence-mangling accident involving Austin Dillon at the end of the race.

Earnhardt, who started from the pole, won for the second time this season.

Dillon was part of a pack of cars immediately behind Earnhardt at the finish and was caught up in a multicar accident. Dillon’s car climbed over another, then it went airborne and into the catch fence.

The 22-foot-high fence kept Dillon’s Chevrolet on the track, but debris from the crash injured four fans in the grandstand. Speedway president Joie Chitwood said three fans were treated with minor injuries. The fourth was transported to a local hospital, then treated and released.

The car was totaled – its motor ended up by itself on the track – but Dillon walked away, seemingly unscathed. He was treated and released from the track’s medical center.

The race was delayed 3 hours, 34 minutes by rain, with the green flag waving at 11:42 p.m. Sunday. It ended at 2:41 a.m. Monday.

It was the second consecutive year Daytona’s July race was impacted by bad weather. In 2014, Aric Almirola won after the race was postponed for a day by rain.

Turning point

After a wreck involving Sam Hornish Jr. and Jamie McMurray on Lap 156 bunched the field, Earnhardt fended off Denny Hamlin on the restart. He took the low line and won in a two-lap, green-white-checkered sprint to the finish before the huge wreck unfolded behind him.

Three who mattered

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Dominated a race that will be remembered for Dillon’s wreck, but in doing so keeps his name on the short list of favorites to win the championship.

Austin Dillon: Survived – and was unhurt – when his car was demolished after careening into the catch fence after crossing the start-finish line.

Jimmie Johnson: When he has as strong a car as he had, he usually wins. This time, it wasn’t good enough against Earnhardt, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate.

Observations

▪ It could have been so much worse. That’s the main thought after watching Austin Dillon’s Chevrolet smash into the catch fence at the end of the race. But Daytona’s fence kept the car from flying into the stands. And car safety measures, such as the mandatory HANS device, allowed Dillon to walk away. Four fans were injured by debris, none seriously, and that can’t be discounted. But it could have been so much worse.

▪ Getting the rain-delayed race in Sunday night and early Monday might have taken on some urgency since this is a short week for Sprint Cup teams. They can practice Wednesday at Kentucky Speedway, where a new downforce rules package will be tested at Saturday night’s race.

▪ One of Daytona’s new safety measures paid dividends early. Carl Edwards’ Toyota spun in Turn 4 on Lap 54, but he didn’t hit the wall after his car slowed down while skidding over an area that recently had been paved. Kyle Busch’s Toyota hit the wall in February when his car slid over that same area, which, at the time, was all grass, breaking his right leg and left foot in the impact.

They said it

“Yeah, that scared the (heck) out of me. I saw the whole thing happen. You are looking in the mirror the whole last lap.” – Earnhardt, on Dillon’s crash.

N@SCAR

Three tweets from Sunday’s race:

Next race

Quaker State 400

Where: Kentucky Speedway, Sparta, Ky.

When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.

TV: NBC Sports Network.

Radio: Peformance Racing Network.

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