Almirola wins rain-challenged Coke Zero 400

July 6, 2014 No Comments

AlmirolaBrian Wiggins, Senior Writer 

On this weekend thirty-years ago, Richard Petty won his two-hundreth and final Cup Series race at Daytona International Speedway in the Firecracker 400.

Since that day, the famous No.43′s trips to victory lane have been rare. The last time that famous number was first to the checkered flag was back in 1999 when John Andretti won at Martinsville Speedway.

Through manufacture and team changes over the years since that win, the No.43 has found only mixed results. The driver’s seat had become a revoking door of drivers, with names such as; AJ Allemdinger, Bobby Labonte, Christian Fittapaldi, and Jeff Green all taking turns behind the wheel.

In 2012, the team now called Richard Petty Motorsports, announced that Tampa, Florida native Aric Almiorla would be the next driver to sit behind the wheel of the famous No.43.

Since taking over, Almirola’s results have been mixed. He’s contended for top-fives and top-tens, but never a win.

The restrictor plate tracks of NASCAR (Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway) are the most even playing grounds when it comes to who can win. And with NASCAR’s new Chase format, a win in the Coke Zero 400 could put you in the Chase come September.

After rain fell for most of the weekend including during the scheduled time of Saturday night’s 400-mile event, NASCAR moved the start time of the Coke Zero 400 to 11:13 a.m. ET, making for the first time the race would be run in the daytime since July,1997.

Throughout the course of the race, teams and drivers plotted their strategy knowing that rain was imminent. That led to urgent racing throughout the field, creating for one of the wildest Daytona races in recent memory.

After a brief, 26-minute rain-delay, a sixteen-car crash on the front straightway took out many contenders for the win, including; Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

As the halfway mark approached and the weather stayed away, strategy was thrown out the window as the race could seemingly end at any moment. That aggressiveness was never on display more so than when Kasey Kahne and Greg Biffle touched on the backstretch, causing  a twenty-six car pileup in the third turn, putting the race under the red flag.

When the race restarted, Almirola was the leader and held off the charing Kurt Busch and Brian Vickers to the caution for rain.

After efforts to dry the track, another rainstorm hit the speedway and Almriola was declared the winner of the Coke Zero 400 after 112 of the scheduled 160 laps.

“Man, this is so awesome,” Amirola said in victory lane as the rain fell on him. “The amount of effort that has gone into this race team this year with everyone at Richard Petty Motorsports trying to get better and trying to build this race team back to a winning race team, the way it deserves to be, has been so cool.”

When Richard Petty won his final race at Daytona in 1984, Almirola was a mere 112 days old. Thirty years later, he drove the No.43 into victory lane at Daytona International Speedway.

“I was so grateful that they [Richard Petty Motorsports] could help get the No.43 back to where it could be and back to victory lane,more importantly,” Almirola said.

“Just to get to victory lane and to get this race team to victory lane after all that they have been through and to get this 43 car back to victory lane, that was a challenge that I kind of put out in front of myself and said, ‘ OK, if I’m going to drive that 43 car, I don’t want to hear about the last win being John Andretti at Martinsville in 1999, I want people to remember the last time the 43 car won was whenever we win.”

The victory was the first of Almirola’s career and the first for Richard Petty Motorsports in 2014.

With the win, Almirola virtually locks himself into the Chase for the Sprint Cup, marking both the first time he and Richard Petty Motorsports have qualified for NASCAR’s postseason.

Coke Zero 400 Unofficial Results 

1: Aric Almirola

2: Brian Vickers

3: Kurt Busch

4: Casey Mears

5: Austin Dillon

6: Denny Hamlin

7: Michael McDowell

8: Danica Patrick

9: Clint Bowyer

10: Marcos Ambrose

11: Terry Labonte

12: Jeff Gordon

13: Alex Bowman

14: Dale Earnhardt Jr.

15: Martin Truex Jr.

16: Paul Menard

17: Joey Logano

18: Brad Keselowski

19: Matt Kenseth

20: Michael Waltrip

21: Michael Annett

22: David Ragan

23: Josh Wise

24: Ryan Newman

25: Justin Allgaier

26: Bobby Labonte

27: Kasey Kahne

28: Kyle Busch

29: Greg Biffle

30: Jamie McMurray

31: Landon Cassill

32: Ryan Truex

33: Reed Sorenson

34: Cole Whitt

35: David Gilliland

36: Kyle Larson

37: Carl Edwards

38: Trevor Bayne

39: Kevin Harvick

40: Tony Stewart

41: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

42: Jimmie Johnson

43: AJ Allmendinger

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