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Keeping Pace

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Wins NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400

Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Stars and Stripes Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway on July 6, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images) (Patrick Smith / Getty Images North America)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Stars and Stripes Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway on July 6, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images) (Patrick Smith / Getty Images North America)

By Bill Speros

Dale Earnhardt Jr. endured a weekend of rain, a three-hour-plus pre-race delay, and nine caution flags to win the Coke-Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway early Monday morning.

The race ended at 2:41 a.m. and concluded with a large crash featuring Austin Dillon's No. 3 Chevrolet going airborne and smashing into the catch-fence near Turn 1 after he crossed the start-finish line. Dillon walked away from the wreck, the fourth major crash of the night. After being released from the infield care center, Dillon said he suffered a bruised tailbone and forearm.

Pole-sitter Earnhardt dominated the night, leading 96 laps in his No. 88 Nationwide Stars and Stripes Chevrolet. He also had the convincing support of the fans remaining at the track following the 154-minute rain delay. The delay was a harbinger for the race itself, which included four multi-car crashes and those nine caution flags that covered 43 of the scheduled 160 laps before the green-white checkered finish. It was Earnhardt’s fourth NASCAR Sprint Cup career victory on the 2.5-mile Florida track.

"I had a lot of fun tonight," a somewhat subdued Earnhardt said after the race. "We have such great motors and good cars. We ran Very fast. I had to block a lot, get a lot of pushes from everybody. I had to run real hard to win this race here. We got shuffled back a few times."

Driver Paul Menard could have been speaking for everyone at the speedway when he said on his radio during the race that Earnhardt’s No. 88 was "ridiculously" fast. Earnhardt consistently outran the competition on re-start after re-start.

Earnhardt’s crew raced onto the track after the last-lap crash to check on Dillon’s condition. The catch fences at Daytona International Speedway were reinforced following an accident in 2013 during a NASCAR XFINITY Series race.

Denny Hamlin finished third, with Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch rounding out the top five. Harvick leads the Sprint Cup points standings by 63 points over Earnhardt.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series moves to Kentucky Speedway this week where it will debut its new aerodynamic package in the NSCS Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network). 

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race - Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola
Daytona International Speedway
Daytona Beach, Florida
Sunday, July 05, 2015
1. (1) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 161, $308040.
2. (12) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 161, $248616.
3. (35) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 161, $194530.
4. (34) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 161, $196280.
5. (28) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 161, $152130.
6. (23) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 161, $169406.
7. (2) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 161, $166756.
8. (17) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 161, $151320.
9. (5) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 161, $156820.
10. (3) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 161, $149028.
11. (15) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 161, $144843.
12. (8) David Ragan, Toyota, 161, $139049.
13. (22) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 161, $110960.
14. (31) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 161, $137874.
15. (9) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 161, $139701.
16. (4) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 161, $116235.
17. (13) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 161, $154176.
18. (21) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 161, $130818.
19. (30) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 161, $113810.
20. (25) Greg Biffle, Ford, 161, $136493.
21. (7) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 161, $132868.
22. (33) Joey Logano, Ford, 161, $147293.
23. (20) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 161, $139746.
24. (37) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 161, $113743.
25. (29) Cole Whitt, Ford, 161, $110882.
26. (41) Matt DiBenedetto #, Toyota, 161, $102085.
27. (14) Brett Moffitt #, Ford, 161, $99835.
28. (43) Brendan Gaughan(i), Chevrolet, 161, $96210.
29. (32) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 159, $144426.
30. (11) Sam Hornish Jr., Ford, Accident, 154, $125655.
31. (42) Josh Wise, Ford, 154, $99135.
32. (10) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 149, $113510.
33. (39) JJ Yeley(i), Toyota, 139, $95360.
34. (36) Aric Almirola, Ford, 137, $132146.
35. (27) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, Accident, 126, $103035.
36. (40) Jeb Burton #, Toyota, 121, $94885.
37. (18) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 110, $94641.
38. (19) Martin Truex Jr., Chevrolet, Accident, 105, $115648.
39. (16) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, Accident, 103, $113148.
40. (6) David Gilliland, Ford, 96, $89240.
41. (24) Carl Edwards, Toyota, Accident, 85, $77240.
42. (26) Brian Scott(i), Chevrolet, Accident, 85, $73240.
43. (38) Bobby Labonte, Ford, Accident, 2, $69740.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 134.941 mph.
Time of Race: 02 Hrs, 58 Mins, 58 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.122 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 9 for 43 laps.
Lead Changes: 22 among 12 drivers.
Lap Leaders: D. Earnhardt Jr. 0; A. Dillon 1-8; D. Earnhardt Jr. 9-26; C. Bowyer 27; R. Newman 28; J. Johnson 29; D. Earnhardt Jr. 30-32; J. Johnson 33-54; D. Hamlin 55; J. Yeley(i) 56; D. Earnhardt Jr. 57-75; J. Johnson 76-78; M. Kenseth 79; J. Johnson 80-86; M. DiBenedetto # 87; J. Wise 88; K. Kahne 89-93; D. Hamlin 94-102; D. Earnhardt Jr. 103-111; B. Moffitt # 112; D. Earnhardt Jr. 113-114; J. Johnson 115-116; D. Earnhardt Jr. 117-161.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): D. Earnhardt Jr. 6 times for 96 laps; J. Johnson 5 times for 35 laps; D. Hamlin 2 times for 10 laps; A. Dillon 1 time for 8 laps; K. Kahne 1 time for 5 laps; M. DiBenedetto # 1 time for 1 lap; R. Newman 1 time for 1 lap; B. Moffitt # 1 time for 1 lap; C. Bowyer 1 time for 1 lap; M. Kenseth 1 time for 1 lap; J. Yeley(i) 1 time for 1 lap; J. Wise 1 time for 1 lap.
Top 16 in Points: K. Harvick - 656; D. Earnhardt Jr. - 593; J. Johnson - 589; J. Logano - 581; M. Truex Jr. - 569; J. Mcmurray - 526; B. Keselowski - 520; Kurt Busch - 508; M. Kenseth - 501; J. Gordon - 500; K. Kahne - 496; D. Hamlin - 480; P. Menard - 480; R. Newman - 472; C. Bowyer - 465; A. Almirola - 441.




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Keeping Pace

Motorsports correspondent Doug Pace keeps up with motorsports news and notes from around the region.