Polesitter Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the rain-delayed Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola early Monday, leading a race-high 96 laps en route to the 16th Daytona International Speedway victory of his career.
Earnhardt, driving the No. 88 Nationwide Stars and Stripes Chevrolet, dominated much of the race, leading 40 of the race’s first 80 laps. He took the checkered flag ahead of runner-up Jimmie Johnson and third-place Denny Hamlin – and also ahead of a multi-car incident that began with Hamlin’s car turning sideways as it was crossing the line. It was the second Coke Zero 400 victory for Earnhardt, following up on his 2001 triumph.
A tightly packed sprint to the finish initially was set up by a late-race spin by David Ragan, after which the race was restarted on Lap 152 of the 160-lap event. But then, another set-up: a frontstretch spin by Sam Hornish Jr. with six laps remaining. That resulted in a two-lap, “green-white-checker” finish.
Earnhardt then alternated between pulling away and blocking Johnson to earn his second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory of the season. He also won at Talladega Superspeedway in May.
Despite the race start being delayed three hours, 34 minutes due to rain – the green flag waved at 11:42 p.m. Sunday – virtually all of the fans in attendance waited out the weather, taking advantage of new fan-friendly amenities that are part of the ongoing DAYTONA Rising renovation.
They didn’t have to wait long, however, for the first caution as nine cars were involved in a Lap 3 incident, including the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford driven by this year’s DAYTONA 500 champion Joey Logano. Logano’s hopes for a season sweep at Daytona vanished soon afterward, as consecutive pit stops to repair damage resulted in two penalties – both for having too many crewmen over the wall.
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