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Last-Lap Accident Leaves Dale Jr. 15th at Daytona

By Mike Davis, JR Motorsports | Race Report Published 7/7/2012
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Race: Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway
Track Specs: 2.5-mile superspeedway / 160 Laps
Weather: Partly Cloudy
Race Winner: Tony Stewart
Dale Jr.’s Finish: 15th

It was a familiar site, Dale Earnhardt Jr. with his No. 88 National Guard/Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet in contention to win at Daytona. Only on this night a big wreck with the checkered flag in eyeshot collected Earnhardt’s specially painted red-white-and-blue car and sent it home with a 15th-place finish in the Coke Zero 400.

Earnhardt was on the bottom of a three-wide tussle for fifth place coming off turn four when Kevin Harvick and Greg Biffle tangled in front of him. All the front-runners bottled up and – in attempt to right the situation – bounced off each other to trigger a much bigger issue. Even with chaos around him, Earnhardt appeared steady on an escape route when Biffle’s out-of-control Ford clipped the No. 88’s rear bumper, turning Earnhardt straight into the wall about 200 yards from the checkered flag. Heavily damaged and out of control, Earnhardt hit a second time but managed to keep his Chevy pointed in the right direction to limp across in 15th.

Until then, Earnhardt had methodically worked his way up the leaderboard from his 24th-place starting position, finding comfort in the top-10 before the halfway point. He had reached as high as third but, despite attempts to work in the outside line, could not find a way to overcome the lead Roush Fenway Racing draft of Matt Kenseth and Biffle.

The running order was shaken up, however, with the third caution – a wreck that damaged four cars including Jimmie Johnson’s. The 88 team took only two tires under that stop and packed in enough fuel to go the rest of the way. Junior had climbed back into the top five when a monster wreck with seven laps to go ignited a furious scramble. The No. 88 Chevy would have been one of the 13 cars collected had Earnhardt not made two incredibly instinctive moves – the first to narrowly miss Denny Hamlin and the other to avoid Kyle Busch.

Unscathed, Dale Jr. took the restart with two laps to go in sixth position. Ryan Newman attempted to push him from behind but could muster nothing. Earnhardt darted to the inside line in front of Carl Edwards to attempt a run on Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne, Kenseth and Biffle. The front four were scrambling in front of him on the final turn when the final wreck started, hence taking a potential top-five finish away with the checkered flag in sight.

Stewart, who started 42nd after having his qualifying time disallowed, held on to win the race. Jeff Burton finished second and Kenseth – the race’s dominant driver with 89 laps led – finished third.

Dale Jr. Quotes
“It was a crazy race. It usually is. We were going into (turn) three, and it looked like – I couldn’t tell what was going on in front of Harvick – but it looked like everybody was coming apart. We came up on him real fast, and Harvick went inside the 16, and the 16 either came down or was shoved down into Harvick. I don’t really know. We were all kind of shoving each other at the same time from that point on. I was lifting (off the throttle) to avoid Harvick but got shoved into him at the same time, just turning left and then clipped by the 16 going by. It was pretty wild. We were all running into each other. Just crazy at the end, but I’m proud of my team. We could’ve been caught up in a number of wrecks, and I’m happy to have been around at the end. I know we didn’t get the finish we wanted, but we didn’t take too bad of a points hit either. That’s always in the back of your mind when you come to a restrictor-plate track, because you know the possibility is there. I think we ran a smart race, but just didn’t get it to the stripe.”

Daytona Race Report
Start 24th
Finish 15th
Laps Completed (Led) 160 of 160 (0)
Standings (from leader) 2nd (-25)
Pit Stops Laps 42, 82 and 127 (2 tires)
Condition Wrecked but on lead lap
Standings
After Pure Michigan 400
Rank +/- Driver Points Behind
1 +1 Jeff Gordon 816 0
2 -1 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 813 -3
3 +1 Brad Keselowski 733 -83
4 +1 Joey Logano 714 -102
5 -2 Matt Kenseth 709 -107
6 +2 Kevin Harvick 687 -129
7 -- Jimmie Johnson 686 -130
8 -2 Carl Edwards 679 -137
9 -- Ryan Newman 679 -137
10 +1 Clint Bowyer 672 -144
11 +1 Greg Biffle 660 -156
12 +1 Kasey Kahne 651 -165
Full Standings