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Almirola wins rain-shortened Coke Zero 400

By By The Sports Xchange
Published On: Jul 06 2014 02:57:27 PM CDT
Updated On: Jul 06 2014 04:00:11 PM CDT
Racing generic, winners flag

Caren Firouz/Reuters

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -

Aric Almirola was the beneficiary of a rain shower that made him the winner of the Coke Zero 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race on Sunday at Daytona International Speedway.

"I grew up two hours away from here in Tampa, and I grew up in those stands watching the Daytona 500s and the Firecracker 400s and grew up dreaming about what it would be like to win here," Almirola said. "I can't believe I just took the 43 car to victory lane here at Daytona. This is amazing."

The race was scheduled for Saturday night but was delayed until Sunday because of rain.

Rain halted action twice Sunday, with the red flag being displayed after the completion of six laps and again after lap 112. The red flag was ultimately replaced by the checkered flag when NASCAR gave up hope of getting the race back under way, declaring the event official at 112 laps.

The win was Almirola's first in 125 career Sprint Cup starts. It also secured a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship postseason.

"Yes, and deservedly so for this race team," Almirola said. "We have had good cars -- top-10 cars. We have been right where we need to be to be competitive but just haven't gotten to that next level.

"This is so cool to get this team and all these guys behind me that have been working on this race team for a long time and haven't gotten to victory lane with the 43 car. This is so special."

Brian Vickers was credited with a second-place finish, followed by Kurt Busch in third, Casey Mears in fourth and Austin Dillon in fifth.

The race was attrition-filled with two multi-car wrecks, the first coming on lap 21 of the 160-lap race and the second on lap 98.

The second involved more than 20 cars and led to a 3 1/2-minute red flag for track cleanup. The first wreck involved at least 15 cars and appeared to start when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. got out of shape and Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon got together in their attempts to avoid Stenhouse.

"We had the outside lane working there and it seemed like some of the guys were struggling on the bottom and the middle and we got a little loose on the top," Stenhouse said. "I save it and everything was good and then all of a sudden we got hit in the left rear. I am not real sure what happened."

The second multi-car wreck looked to start with Kasey Kahne and resulted in Kyle Busch flipping over when hit by Cole Whitt, whose vision was impaired by his raised hood.

"I felt like I was about sixth or so, and I was getting hit from behind, and I just started spinning," Kahne said. "It's kind of a tough spot to be in there because everybody is trying to get going, and I just got hit, started going left to right and spun around. I knew it was going to be big as far up as I was."

Matt Kenseth was a mainstay up front early on, leading 12 laps before the lap 21 wreck. Kenseth was caught up in both multi-car incidents.

Only about six cars avoided sustaining at least slight damage in at least one of the two wrecks. Reed Sorenson, Landon Cassill and pole-sitter David Gilliland also ran up front early on, but all three were collected in the wreck on lap 98.

Jamie McMurray and Greg Biffle each took turns running upfront after the first multi-car incident before Kurt Busch took the lead around lap 60. Busch was still up front at the halfway point.

Almirola, after challenging Busch for several laps, took the lead just before the lap 98 wreck that involved, among others, McMurray and Biffle, and was running up front when the second rain-related red flag waved.

"We led a lot of laps today with our Haas Automation Chevrolet; it's a hard pill to swallow," Busch said, also pointing out that there was plenty of daylight left and lights at the track to possibly get back to racing.

Denny Hamlin was scored sixth at the finish, Michael McDowell seventh, Danica Patrick eighth, Clint Bowyer ninth and Marcos Ambrose 10th.

"We were backwards, sideways and through the grass here," Ambrose said. "The front got torn off and we are still in the top-10."

NOTES: The last time the Coke Zero 400 ran during the day was in 1997 when John Andretti gave Cale Yarborough his only win as a car owner. ... Rain also shortened Friday's qualifying session. ... The Daytona 500 on Feb. 23 was also delayed by rain but was completed later on the day it was originally scheduled. ... Dale Earnhardt Jr. headed into the race as the most recent Daytona winner, winning the Daytona 500. ... Jimmie Johnson swept both Daytona International Speedway races last year. ... Denny Hamlin headed into the race as the most recent restrictor plate race winner, winning at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway in May.