As expected, the Chase shuffle was unavoidable in the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday night, as crashes and mechanical mishaps eliminated several championship contenders and offered redemption to others.
Jimmie Johnson won, becoming the first driver to sweep both Daytona races in one year since Bobby Allison in 1982.
The first multi-car occurred on Lap 98 when Martin Truex Jr. lost control and collected Denny Hamlin and Juan Pablo Montoya in the process. Kyle Busch damaged his right front bumper in the melee but was able to continue racing and finished 12th.
Truex, who won two weeks ago at Sonoma, wasn’t so lucky. Truex said he wasn’t sure what caused the wreck, but the No. 56 ended up in the garage and finished 41st.
“I was coming up, off there nice and straight and it almost felt like a left rear tire blew out,” said Truex, who dropped from eighth to 11th in the point standings.
“It was just instant, and I don’t know if it was air or what. It just instantly spun around, so we’ll have to look at the replay, I guess.
“The car was really good all night and it never showed any signs of being loose, and all of a sudden it just turned around. I’d have to think it was contact, but I can’t say for sure.”
But it was the six-car wreck triggered by Denny Hamlin on Lap 149 that collected last week’s winner Matt Kenseth and Chase hopeful Jeff Gordon, who was just two points outside of the top 10 entering Daytona.
Kenseth admitted he didn’t see much before the crashing began.
“I saw the side of the 11 (Denny Hamlin) car get turned and I tried — I was already around the top, so I slowed down as much as I could and just got hit and was just kind of a ping pong ball,” Kenseth said.
“So, I’m not sure what started it, or really what hit me and got it. I just saw the wreck and tried to slow down and miss it. But there’s just not much I could do.”
Kenseth finished 33rd, followed by Gordon in 34th. While Kenseth remained in the Chase Zone at sixth in points, Gordon fell to 14th.
Kasey Kahne appeared destined for a top-five finish until Marcos Ambrose bobbled off of Johnson into the No. 5. Kahne, who is winless this season, shot out of the pack and into the back stretch wall. He was scored 32nd and is now 12th in points.
Joey Logano entered the weekend 10th in the point standings, but a blown right front tire shot the No. 22 Ford into the Turn 2 wall on Lap 70 and out of the Chase Zone.
Logano was able to return the action after the team replaced his right-front suspension, but the Penske racer had to settle for a 40th–place finish and 15th in the standings.
“It was a big hit,” Logano said. “But a bigger hit in the points, really.”
Although Paul Menard was outside the top 10 entering the weekend, the 15th-place driver dropped to 20th after his engine failed 23 laps into the race.
“It wasn’t smoking, it broke and I could hear it,” said Menard, who finished 43rd. “I felt the heat come up. I didn’t know if I was on fire or not. I couldn’t feel it right away. Just unfortunate. We needed a good run and had a really good car today.”
On the flipside, there were three big movers on Saturday night. Clint Bowyer (fourth-place finish) leapfrogged over Carl Edwards to second in the point standings. Kurt Busch gained five spots to move into ninth after finishing sixth. And second-place Tony Stewart, who returned to 10th place.