It was supposed to be the last great July 4th beach/racing week at Daytona as the tradition rich race date that has been held at Daytona International Speedway since 1959 will be leaving the sunshine state for Indianapolis beginning next season.
The racing portion of the holiday week suffered at the hand of Mother Nature as qualifying was postponed and the race itself ended up being moved from Saturday night to Sunday afternoon because of rain.
The postponement from Saturday to Sunday may have been an inconvenience for the race fans but it did not deter the action that took place on the track once the green flag finally waved on Sunday. The manufacturers made sure that the intensity level of the race would be as high as any stop on the schedule as the Ford, Chevrolet and Toyota teams all had a game plan that would hopefully see one of their drivers end up in victory lane.
Drivers were told to stick to the game plan and it became evident that every driver took the orders seriously as each manufacturers' teams lined up to draft together and entered pit road together. Each manufacturer had their moment in the race where it looked like their strategy was going to pay off but the one factor that could not be accounted for when the strategy was being devised was the fickle Florida weather that can produce a rain storm at any time of day or night.
It was the threat of rain that eventually decided the outcome of the race as the dark storm clouds began to roll in as the third segment of the race started. On lap 120 with rain approaching it became "go" time for every driver on the track as the race was already past the half way point so if the race was called, whoever was in the lead would be declared the winner.
The "Big One" as it is known in the sport began when Austin Dillon and Clint Bowyer were in the front battling for the lead when the two made contact and it ended with both drivers spinning in front of the field. The collision between the two eventually collected eighteen drivers including many who were considered to be favorites to take the checkered flag.
While the multi-car crash had a big hand in the final finishing order of the race, it was actually what took place once the caution flag waved that determined the finishing order. With the threat of rain coming closer and closer to the track, it became a gamble for every crew chief to decide when or if to bring his driver down on pit road for a final stop during the caution period.
Kurt Busch ended up with the lead during the caution and stayed out in case the race was stopped due to the weather but decided to pit when the one lap to go signal was given by NASCAR. As soon as he entered pit road, NASCAR red flagged the race when lightning was detected in the immediate area near the track.
When the cars were brought down pit road on lap 127 to wait out the weather delay, Justin Haley in his No. 77 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet was in the lead.
The 20-year old Haley is not a MENCS regular but in only his third start in the series he found himself having to wait 2 hours, 12 minutes before NASCAR called the race and made him the winner.
He becomes the first driver this season to post the first win of his career and normally that would automatically put a driver in the 16-driver playoff field but since his is running for the Xfinity title, he will not move into the playoff round.
PIT NOTES: Hyundai and NASCAR have been in high-level talks that could lead the Korean manufacturer competing in NASCAR in 2021 or 2022. The MENCS will be switching to the Gen-7 car in 2021 and that would give Hyundai almost two years to work on putting together a program for the new car and the changes that are expected in the series concerning both the length of races and the schedule.