Monday, July 9, 2012

Rating the Coke Zero 400: 5 Stars *****

The Sprint Cup Series roared back into a drier and less flammable Daytona International Speedway on Saturday night and put on perhaps the best race of the season. The Fourth of July celebration in Daytona gets a 5 Star Rating.
Tony Stewart ran a clean race that was otherwise filled with drivers making those breathtaking moves that fans love when they race inches apart at 200 mph for hours on end. Sometimes those moves create big wrecks that stir the pot and get people talking about what should or should not have happened. Either way, it was exciting.
The first half of the race flew by with no cautions until lap 81 when Sam Hornish Jr., fresh off of an emergency trip to Daytona Beach to replace suspended A.J. Allmendinger in the #22 car, spun after a tire went down.
Yes, the first half of the race was as incident-free as many of the other races this season, but the two-wide, 200-mph pack is exciting regardless of the circumstances.
There weren’t many passes for the lead, but the race certainly had a tension level higher than most every other race this year outside of the Daytona 500, but it also created a don’t-move-from-your-seat-because-anything-could-happen feel that the tandem restrictor-plate races of the past couple of years simply didn’t produce until the end of the race.
The second half of the race, as is the case with many restrictor-plate races, is when the field went mad. Kurt Busch tried to force his way through a hold the size of a beach ball on lap 91 and created the first big wreck of the evening. That was followed by the traditional big wrecks as the laps wind down, including the insanity that gets unleashed when the flagman reaches for the checkered flag.
Stewart, Jeff Burton and Matt Kenseth crossed the line in front of a massive wreck that collected most of the front half of the field, creating an interesting finishing order that included Michael Waltrip in ninth and Bobby Labonte in 10th.
Although Stewart won the race, Kenseth had the best car of the night. He and Greg Biffle have dominated the restrictor-plate races this year the way Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt Jr. used to during their days at Dale Earnhardt Inc.
Kenseth could have won all three of the restrictor-plate races this season, but the crazy circumstances that surround those races don’t often reward the driver with the best car. In any case, Kenseth again extended his points lead to 25 over Earnhardt Jr. and is on his way to cruising to the Chase with the points lead.
It’s too bad Kenseth will leave at the end of the year because that group is clicking as well as it has since Robbie Reiser was atop the pit box for the “Killer Bees” in the first half of the 2000s.
As for Stewart, the Daytona win gives him three victories on the season and moves him up to fifth in the points standings. That #14 team might not be the most consistent team in the field, but it certainly has the power to be as good as anyone in the sport every given week. That will make Stewart a strong contender for the championship again this season.
Next up is New Hampshire, where Stewart and teammate Ryan Newman dominated a year ago. Newman won the pole and the race, and Stewart finished second. Lookout folks, those Stewart-Haas Racing cars have Hendrick Motorsports power, and those engines have won five of the last eight races, including the All-Star Race.
This could be a fun rest of the season between Hendrick power and Roush-Fenway Racing power if the Fords can keep up on the intermediate tracks.
Have a great week, everybody.


  1. Really now your calling a race with 8 or 9 lead changes a great race!!! Maybe you were whatching the firework show after the race??? Kelly

  2. 5 Star rating??? You have GOT to be kidding me!!

  3. What race, aside from a few demo derby moments, and a finish that took out the rest of the field, there was absolutely no racing.
    If the writer thinks this was a 5 star race, I'm sure he thinks a Big Mac would make a feast for 20 people. Bill

  4. MMCC must be a franchised group owned by b s france.

    Oh, I wrong he's describing the Nationwide race with the wrong names.


  5. Was surprised by the 5 rating, it's a solid 4 in my book. The first half was boring but the second half was loads of fun.