William Byron (No. 24, above) finished second at Daytona, but would have liked the opportunity to “win it” the way he wanted to. Others were happy to take their unexpected finishes and head to the house. Matt DiBenedetto oozed disappointment.
Reaction to the Coke Zero Sugar 400 being declared official after 127 of its scheduled 160 laps varied throughout the finishing order. Justin Haley and Spire Motorsports led just one lap and pulled off an unlikely upset. NASCAR initially halted the race at 3:18 p.m. because of lightning in the area.
When NASCAR called drivers back to their cars, lightning again struck within eight miles of the track, causing another delay.
Then came the rainstorm.
“You’re up and down a lot here,” said Byron. “It would have been cool to win, for sure. But it would have been a really weird way to win. So, I’m glad that we got the day out of it that we did.
“I would have liked to go back racing and win it the way I wanted to,” Byron continued, “but our team did a great job this week managing all the chaos, and finishing second with a backup car is pretty good. Overall, it was a good race for us.”
Jimmie Johnson finished third, his second consecutive top-five.
“If it did go back to green, I think there were only a handful of cars still in good shape,” he said. “We were certainly willing to do everything we could to get a Hendrick car to victory lane, but it is what it is. The race has been called and we’ll take the third-place points and head home.”
Johnson, like Byron, was one of a few drivers who missed the big crash that put the race under caution before the red flag was displayed.
Ty Dillon finished fourth and said he wasn’t disappointed the race didn’t get going again. The finish is a career-best for Dillon in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, and his first top five. It tied a career-best result for Germain Racing.
“I would have liked the chance to race for a win but first top five, best finish ever, I’m pretty pleased with that too,” said Dillon. “I’m thrilled for our Germain Racing team; this is a nice little shot in the arm for our team to get the second half of the season going. It’s been a little bit disappointing the last couple of weeks, so to have a good finish here is going to catapult us (forward) and hopefully, we continue to build off that momentum.
“Proud of our effort today, and sometimes it seems to work out.”
Sixth-place finisher Corey LaJoie laughed and said, “Hell yeah” he was going to take his result and run.
“We could have probably made a little run at the end because we never really were aggressive all day, but if you’d told me sixth when we first started, take it or leave it, I would have taken it because that’s just the way these things shake out,” said LaJoie. “So, we’ll take it and go to Kentucky and do the best we can.”
LaJoie said his No. 32 Go Fas Racing team celebrates small victories like Sunday. The finish was the team’s best of the season and best in its history as well as LaJoie’s career best and fourth top-20 of the season.
“Obviously, it’s a good payday on the back end to the team, and it’s a good points day, too, because we’re racing around the Front Row guys and we beat all three of them again today,” he said. “We had a couple bad weeks — at Sonoma, and then last week we had a good car at Chicago but had a couple loose wheels; so it’s good to rebound with a good finish here.
“We had a couple really good finishes and anytime you got something fun to drive, and it’s got a little bit of speed in it, it makes my job a lot easier.”
Dejection was clear in DiBenedetto’s voice when asked about the race being called early. After having the strongest car in the Daytona 500 only to be wrecked late, DiBenedetto was looking forward to getting a chance to make something happen. He finished eighth.
“Oh, disappointed for sure,” he said. “Not happy, but that’s Mother Nature; the race started so late. Needed to get the whole race in for us. It was fast. We worked on the car and got the handling good, and it was really good at the end. I could lead the train and pull them up to the front — that’s why I was really hoping to go back green because we were sitting pretty (with) four tires, fuel. Car was super fast.”
DiBenedetto was even optimistic despite not having any Toyota teammates around.
“Yeah, that was going to be the obstacle to overcome that we were talking about, being stuck around all the Chevys and Fords,” he said. “But the speed of our car was just so good I was hoping to kind of wedge my way up there and get to the lead. Car had speed, that’s for sure.”
Ninth was Matt Tifft, who also scored a career-best result.
“Honestly, we’ll take it,” he said with a smile. “I think we would have been in a good spot going back because we didn’t have any damage and we were inside the top 10, we knew we had a shot at it. But, shoot — for us, a top 10 for Front Row Motorsports and where we’ve been, this is a huge finish for us.
“Our strategy was to see if our car could be in the pack and if it could, hang in there; and if we didn’t feel great about it, just try and get back and play smart. We were able to do that and execute it and get a top 10 out of it, which is huge for our group.”