Daytona Crash in the Rain Has Potential Playoff Implications

Austin Dillon is poised to win his way into the playoffs at the expense of Ryan Blaney.


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The Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona, not to mention the final spot in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, appears to have hinged upon a crash that was triggered by a large majority of the remaining field crashing in the rain in Turn 1.

While the entire race to that point had been contested under the threat of rain, with no shortage of showers popping up around the track, the heaviest shower of the day had started to fall near the track inside of 30 laps to go.

The entire field hit the slickest part of the racing surface, the leaders spinning and most everyone else piling into the melee, with Austin Dillon dropping to the apron to be declared the leader at the time of the caution and what became a red flag for a downpour.

If the race does not resume, Dillon will be declared the winner and it will net him entry into the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs for the fourth time in his career, not to mention his fourth career victory in Richard Childress Racing No. 3. That would come at the expense of Ryan Blaney, who is currently 12 points behind Martin Truex Jr. as they run, after both drivers were involved in crashes earlier in the race.

But the circumstances are not without controversy as several drivers, including those racing for the lead at the time of the incident believe that race control should have called a caution at least a lap before everyone collided into Turn 1.

That included Justin Haley, who had stayed out without refueling to take the lead and had played the role of blocker the two previous runs and felt like the field should have been stopped. Of course, he was leader at that point and would have benefitted had the race called.

"Yeah, it was raining for a good lap before we got down into Turn 1,” Haley said. "My spotter said coming out of [Turn] 2, 'don't lift, it's raining,' the previous lap and we all went into 1 and it was really raining.

"So, they had about one lap to call the caution so, pretty unacceptable."

Also involved in the incident and will not finish as a result of it were Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott, Ricky Stenhouse, Chris Buescher, Todd Gilliland, Bubba Wallace, Aric Almirola and Daniel Hemric.

Hamlin immediately complained of pain, with crew chief Chris Gabehart running to the infield care center to check on him before he was ultimately treated and released, speaking to the media about what he felt.

"My whole body, literally my jaw hurts," Hamlin said. "I feel like my jaw was one of those boxers who gets his whole face demolished. That was certainly the first real big one I’ve had in this car. Everything they’ve been telling us (about the impacts), all the other drivers, it’s true."

Hamlin was also critical of the decision to hold the yellow flag until after the crash. He said it was raining down the frontstretch as they entered Turn 1.

"Better officiating, that’s all we can do … we’ll learn from this, I’m sure," Hamlin said.

On the other hand, Kyle Busch, who escaped without major damage, told the NBC Sports television crew that there was no previous indication of rain on the track until it suddenly came down in Turn 1.

"That lap … it just dropped," Busch said. "What do you do? You can’t check-up that fast. You’ve just got to try to drive through it. Thankfully, I was on the high side. I saw water and saw everything and everybody wrecking in front of me."

Suarez suggested NASCAR should have acted sooner though, although, he was scored as the leader at one of those points.

"We knew the rain was coming," Suarez said. "It was raining next door. It’s just a matter of time. Why wait for it? I don’t know. I’m a little biased because I was in the front. … They have a lot of technology up there (in the officials’ booth) to know it is very, very close. If it’s very, very close, I don’t think they should put us in those positions."

NASCAR senior vice president of competition appeared on the NBC television broadcast to say it was in a tough position and didn’t feel like they could have done anything differently.

"We were on top of the weather, monitoring with all of our turn spotters, in touch with the spotters up top, the pace car," Miller said. "We had all the information that we thought. We had been dodging a little bit of weather, obviously, for a little while. Nothing had hit. All of a sudden there was that shower.

"The pace car, sitting down there on the inside, it was still dry when they wrecked. If you watch the in-car (camera), you can see that some rain definitely started right before they wrecked. We really couldn’t do anything about that, and it was not something that you can predict when it is going to start raining.

"Just a super-bad situation for everybody."

Dillon came from outside of the top-15 to become the leader by virtue of dropping to the apron. He had just earned the free pass to get back on the lead lap from the previous caution, a fact echoed by Buescher.

"We were definitely in a good spot and it was raining when we got to Turn 1 and we all wiped out," Buescher said. "We wiped out all the lead cars, so whoever wins this race wasn’t even in contention. It’s just ridiculous from my point of view."

Todd Gilliland summed it up succinctly.

"Track conditions seemed fine, I guess, up until they weren’t," Gilliland said.

Austin Dillon is the leader, and at the time of the delay is sitting patiently in the makeshift backup victory lane should the race be called.

Meanwhile, Kevin Harvick believes he should be the leader because he was up front and pointed straight at the time of the caution, albeit right before the figurative seas closed and he drove into the pile-up.

"I saw the bottom two cars starting to come back up the race track so I gassed it up," Harvick said. "The car maintained plenty of speed but I guess it’s subjective what is minimum speed. We are the leader when the caution light comes on. If you, I don’t know …"

NASCAR placed Harvick behind Dillon because, in determination of race control, says he blended in after the crash behind Dillon. Does Harvick plan to have a conversation with NASCAR about that decision?

"Well, I think they’re making it up as they go," Harvick said. "It’s just one of those deals."