Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Sports

Daytona contenders knock NASCAR for calling race early

DAYTONA BEACH — While Aric Almirola celebrated a rain-shortened win in Sunday's Coke Zero 400, some of his competitors questioned the call that gave him the victory.

"I was hoping they would wait it out," runnerup Brian Vickers said. "We've got lights. It's Daytona."

NASCAR waited about an hour before calling the race at about 3 p.m. Rain had been spotty across Daytona International Speedway but had picked up into a steady downpour on pit road by then. Radar forecasts weren't promising, and the track would need more than an hour and a half to dry.

That explanation didn't please third-place finisher Kurt Busch, who nonetheless blamed himself for not holding off Tampa's Almirola.

"It seems early to call a race…" Busch said. "It's a tough call to make. I didn't do my job to be the leader."

It was still drizzling about three hours after the end.

Track president Joie Chitwood III said Saturday that the stretch of rain at the speedway's Cup events is more of a product of bad luck than bad scheduling and that he's not inclined to consider moving the race from July.

Seeing Smoke: Tony Stewart was among the cars collected in a crash just before a competition caution scheduled for Lap 20, and he was not happy about it.

The wreck began when Ricky Stenhouse got loose on the frontstretch — he said Bobby Labonte had been blocking him — but straightened out his No. 17 Ford.

But that wiggle caused Jeff Gordon to check up and nudge Stewart, triggering a chain reaction. Stewart called Stenhouse an idiot and accused him of trying to be a hero by charging too early in a tight pack.

"I love him like a little brother, but it makes me nervous to be around him on the racetrack," said Stewart, who finished 40th.

The 16 cars involved in that wreck had a combined 20 Cup victories at Daytona.

Daytona Rising: NASCAR chairman Brian France said he's pleased with the developments of the track's $400 million renovation project. The infrastructure is taking shape, with construction fences around the track, and France said he's also excited about its yet-unseen amenities: escalators, social media zones and a retail center across the street.

"It needs to be a spectacular place to come for our fans," France said.

Nuts and bolts: Danica Patrick overshot her pits on a green-flag stop, dropping more than 20 spots to 30th. She recovered to finish eighth for her second top-10 run of the season. Two of her three top-10 Sprint Cup finishes have come at Daytona; she was also eighth in the 2013 Daytona 500. … Only six cars were not involved in either of the two wrecks: Those of Almirola, Busch, Vickers, Austin Dillon, Casey Mears and Martin Truex. Dillon (fifth) had the best finish among rookies. … With a 12th-place finish, Gordon took a 27-point lead in the standings over Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was 14th.

Contact Matt Baker at [email protected] Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

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