Aric Almirola became the first winner for the Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 car since 1999 in Saturday's rain-shortened Coke Zero 400. It is somewhat fitting for that car to have been declared the winner since sine the July classic was forced back in time to when the race used to be run in the daylight after rain showers postponed the start from Saturday night to Sunday afternoon.
Once the engines were fired Saturday morning it wasn't long before Mother Nature had her say again and opened on the track with just five laps having been run. However, NASCAR persevered and dried the track from the light shower, getting the cars running once again to produce a race that was punctuated by massive crashes that took out a number of the top competitors.
Almirola put himself into the top position at just the right time as the clouds gathered and began to dump rain on the racing surface. NASCAR's decision to call the race after 112 laps were complete gave the victory to Almirola, the first of his Sprint Cup career, and one that has arguably been due this season after a few very competitive appearances.
Aric Almirola - Almirola has looked as though he was one of the best longshot options to make the Chase for the Championship this season, and with his victory Saturday at Daytona he may have done just that. The racer put the No. 43 back into Victory Lane at one of the most important tracks on the schedule, and now puts one foot firmly into the Chase. Almirola's best finish so far this season was third at Bristol Motor Speedway, but has been racing very well and was tipped on multiple occasions to be a winner if the cards fell in his favor. They did just that last week, and now he looks forward to New Hampshire. The veteran has one top-5 finish at the track, which came in this race last season.
Kurt Busch - As expected, Busch landed a top finish in Saturday's Coke Zero 400. The former champion has consistently raced well on restrictor-plate tracks, and did so again Sunday, running amongst the top cars as the miles clicked down. He finished third when rain washed away the remaining distance, his fourth top-5 finish of the season, which helps to consolidate his position in the Chase standings. Busch owns three winner's trophies from New Hampshire, and an average finish of 15.3 from 26 career starts at the track. This is a place where his experience can count for a lot, and on the heels of a top-5, fantasy owners may feel a bit safer taking that gamble this week.
Brian Vickers - The top-5 finish from Vickers in Daytona gave him his third of the season, edging him forward in the points standings. Michael Waltrip Racing typically prepares excellent cars for the restrictor-plate tracks, and Vickers probably wouldn't disagree after finishing second on Sunday. The driver of the No. 55 continues to impress this season, and doesn't appear any less likely to find his way into Victory Lane after a strong run last week at Daytona. New Hampshire is a place where Vickers has won at in the past, and he brings an average finish of 18.4 with him this week after racing at the track 17 times. Vickers could be the next surprise winner in the 2014 season, and New Hampshire may be the place that happens.
Austin Dillon - One of the rookies itching to make his mark is Dillon. He did just that on Saturday, scoring a fifth-place finish in Saturday's Cole Zero 400. The Richard Childress Racing driver took his time at the track in February, driving an intelligent race and collecting miles to turn into experience for later in his career. He put those banked miles to use on Saturday to work his way toward the front as the rains came. He avoided major damage in every calamity, and was in a position to capitalize when the weather went south and ended the afternoon. Dillon walks away from Saturday's rain-soaked race with his first top-5 and his second top-10 of his rookie Sprint Cup season.
Denny Hamlin - If it hasn't been a superspeedway, Hamlin hasn't been the driver we're used to seeing. He backed that statement up last Saturday by finishing sixth in the Coke Zero 400. That finish was his first top-10 since he finished fourth in the Pocono 400, and just his sixth of the season. Hamlin entered 2014 with high expectations and plenty of potential, but that hasn't materialized quite yet. As finishes like Saturday's are put in the bank, those expectations rise again, though. Hamlin's New Hampshire resume includes two wins, seven top-5, and 10 top-10 finishes from 16 career races at the track. His average finish is the best in the field at 9.0, and he enters this week's race with heavy expectations on his shoulders as a result.
Jimmie Johnson - Sunday was a terrible end to a lot of work that Johnson and his No. 48 team put in to prepare their car. His was one of the cars with a special paint scheme, but it lasted less than 30 laps into the distance. Johnson was one of the many cars caught in the melee when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. lost control and caused an early wreck. While the trip back to Daytona may not have been what Johnson hoped for, next week offers another opportunity to get back on the horse. Johnson has the second best average finish among active drivers at New Hampshire at 9.2. The No. 48 is one of the few teams than can rebound from a setback almost immediately.
Kyle Busch - Ending the Coke Zero 400 on his roof was probably not one of Busch's goals coming into this race weekend, but that is what happened. He was caught in a multi-car crash midway through Saturday's distance, and the damage was more than enough to end his day. The result is disappointing because Busch had plenty of opportunity to turn in a strong showing at Daytona, but sometimes “the big one” has a bigger say in finishing position than potential. Busch does have a New Hampshire win, though, and his career average finish of 15.1 at the track will be good news for the driver as he attempts to reclaim his mojo before the Chase gets underway.
Jamie McMurray - After running at the point early in Saturday's Coke Zero 400, McMurray was finally claimed by the crapshoot that Daytona sometimes can become. He was caught in one of the race's multi-car crashes, and was hit so hard that his chassis lifted off of the ground, obviously ending his afternoon. The disappointing finish marks two races in a row where the No. 1 failed to finish inside the top 20. This team has not been able to overcome its bad luck yet this season, and despite their speed continues to be a gamble for fantasy owners each week. McMurray's 22 New Hampshire starts have only produced an average finish of 21.5 with three top-5 and five top-10 finishes.
Kevin Harvick - A race at Daytona International Speedway can jumble the pecking order, and Saturday's race did exactly that. Though Harvick has been the fastest car through much of this season, his effort Saturday was cut short extremely early after contact in the multi-car pile up that was sparked by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Jeff Gordon coming together. The Stewart Haas Racing driver lost his chance to shine in a type of racing where he excels, and will now have to work to rebuild some momentum before the Chase gets underway. Saturday's 39th-place finish was among his worst of the season, but he has finished in the top-10 13 times in his 26 career tries at New Hampshire.
Danica Patrick - How Patrick was able to pick her way through the massive pile-ups that Daytona threw at her, we will never know. Luck was definitely on her side as she seemingly drove through the middle of the second multi-car crash that claimed a majority of other drivers. Her prowess through those issues landed her and her team their second top-10 finish of the season. All fantasy eyes are on Patrick's ability to score consistent top-10 finishes. If she is able to continue this trend she will become a valuable option for players. Her two prior New Hampshire efforts have only given her an average finish of 32nd though, and rosters will want to see more before consistent selection.