NASCAR Barometer: Haley Wins Rain-Shortened Coke Zero 400

NASCAR Barometer: Haley Wins Rain-Shortened Coke Zero 400

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Justin Haley stayed out of trouble for more than 100 laps in Sunday's rain-delayed Coke Zero Sugar 400, cycling to the front of the field when Kurt Busch pitting for fuel. That move was fortunate as lightning then struck and ground the track action to a halt. As time passed, the race was nearing its resumption only for lightning to strike again, which then led to heavy rain. NASCAR called the race after some time, handing Haley his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series win and the first for Spire Motorsports since purchasing the Furniture Row Racing charter at the end of 2018. The team entered six different drivers so far this season, but it was Haley who handed them their greatest moment on Sunday.

Sunday's trip to Daytona will have given fantasy players very little information to help them next week or even when the series returns to Talladega later this season. It was an unpredictable weekend, hampered by poor weather and with jumbled results given the rain's arrival so soon after the biggest crash of the race. Next week, the series is likely to return to a more predictable form with Kentucky Speedway and the Quaker State 400 on Saturday night.

UPGRADE

Justin Haley – Haley had the good fortune of Kurt Busch pitting under caution for fuel as lightning halted proceedings at Daytona on Sunday. After the lightning passed, rain eventually came and swamped the speedway putting Haley in position to win his first Monster Energy NASCAR

Justin Haley stayed out of trouble for more than 100 laps in Sunday's rain-delayed Coke Zero Sugar 400, cycling to the front of the field when Kurt Busch pitting for fuel. That move was fortunate as lightning then struck and ground the track action to a halt. As time passed, the race was nearing its resumption only for lightning to strike again, which then led to heavy rain. NASCAR called the race after some time, handing Haley his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series win and the first for Spire Motorsports since purchasing the Furniture Row Racing charter at the end of 2018. The team entered six different drivers so far this season, but it was Haley who handed them their greatest moment on Sunday.

Sunday's trip to Daytona will have given fantasy players very little information to help them next week or even when the series returns to Talladega later this season. It was an unpredictable weekend, hampered by poor weather and with jumbled results given the rain's arrival so soon after the biggest crash of the race. Next week, the series is likely to return to a more predictable form with Kentucky Speedway and the Quaker State 400 on Saturday night.

UPGRADE

Justin Haley – Haley had the good fortune of Kurt Busch pitting under caution for fuel as lightning halted proceedings at Daytona on Sunday. After the lightning passed, rain eventually came and swamped the speedway putting Haley in position to win his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series race in just his third start. He races full time for Kaulig Racing in the Xfinity series and finished second in that race Friday night. He already had three Camping World truck series victories under his belt, but Sunday's triumph will be his biggest accomplishment to date. He sits eighth in the Xfinity standings and the world will be watching to see what comes next for this unlikely Cup series winner.

Joey Logano – Logano started Monday's rain-delayed race on pole after poor weather eliminated qualifying. The Ford teams then lined up and played teamwork to perfection until the final lap of the first stage when it was every man for himself. Logano came out on top to add more valuable championship points to his haul. In the final stage, he was one of the many fast cars up front that was collected in the big crash of the afternoon. When the rain came shortly after, the car was in 27th position, and Logano and team were likely already looking ahead to next week's race. Logano has finished in the top 10 in five of the last six Kentucky races and will continue to try to build momentum for his playoff push.

Austin Dillon – Sunday's story of teamwork continued in the second stage as Chevrolet got the better of Ford and helped to push Austin Dillon to the stage win. It was a battle between Chevy and Ford to close out the segment, but the Chevrolet train got the job done and put one of theirs out front for the finish. Dillon's joy didn't last long, though. While in the lead and making a move to the bottom line, he collided with Clint Bowyer, triggering a multicar crash that ruined his chances for the win and ruined the chances for several of the fastest cars in the field. In six tries, Dillon has never scored a top-10 finish at Kentucky. His best finish is 16th, which he has done twice.

Michael McDowell – McDowell picked up a strong top-15 finish in the Cup series when rain ended Sunday's race at Daytona with less than 40 laps remaining. McDowell had two previous top-five finishes in the series and both came at Daytona. The first was a fourth-place run in the July race in 2017 and the most recent was this February when he finished fifth in the Daytona 500. His ninth-place finish in last year's Daytona 500 combines to make him a driver who wise fantasy players would have on their radars at superspeedways. Sunday's finish will continue to forge that reputation, and he should be someone to watch out for when the series visits Daytona for the second time this season.

Jimmie Johnson – Johnson wasn't one of the strongest Sunday at Daytona, but he kept out of trouble and was in sixth position when weather struck. The top-10 finish was his second in a row and his eighth of the season. With about half of the season remaining, he is only three top-10s shy of his tallies from 2018 and 2017. Momentum continues to build for him and Hendrick Motorsports. Kentucky Speedway is one of the few tracks at which he hasn't won, but he has started on pole and finished as high as third. He was 14th in last year's race and led three laps. Fantasy owners should not overlook Johnson as the season continues. His current form suggests he could sneak in a win at some point before the year ends.

DOWNGRADE

Brad Keselowski – Keselowski was one of the Ford machines that teamed up to begin Sunday's rain-delayed race at Daytona. He was a fixture in the top five throughout the race until a heavy push from Kevin Harvick made him lose control and slide into the wall. After contact with William Byron in practice, Keselowski said that he would not lift if someone tried blocking him, but this time it was he was who was the victim of Harvick not lifting. Keselowski has three Kentucky wins on his resume and finished third in this race last season. The impact of Dayton's wreck won't impact his playoff charge, but it will potentially cost him some momentum heading into this weekend's race.

Clint Bowyer – Bowyer is taking up permanent residence in the downgrade portion of this column. His run of bad luck began in Michigan and rolled right through last weekend at Daytona. Bowyer and the Ford-powered teams looked poised to have a good afternoon, but in a heated battle at the front of the field, Bowyer attempted to make a move on Dillon, but the two made contact. The contact set off a massive crash from which Bowyer did not emerge. Four consecutive races without a top-10 finish have put Bowyer in a dangerous position in the standings, too. A good points finish this weekend in Kentucky is the bare minimum requirement for this team. His average finish at the track is 18th.

Chase Elliott – Elliott was one of the drivers fantasy owners may have had their eyes on at Daytona after he came away with the Talladega win earlier in the season. Things were looking bright for the Hendrick Motorsports driver, as he was among the top Chevrolet cars and was helping to push the manufacturer ahead of the Ford contingent. Unfortunately, Dillon and Bowyer's contact happened right in front of Elliott and ended his day. He won't have to worry about the crash affecting his playoff chances, but what could have been a good afternoon ended with a missed opportunity. Elliott finished third in Kentucky in 2017 and was a mid-pack runner last season, finishing 13th.

Kevin Harvick – With just one Daytona points win and a rough season so far, a good top finish for Harvick might have been enough to feel satisfied last week. The chances of that happening evaporated when a push to the bumper of Keselowski got the No. 2 loose and into the wall. As Keselowski came off the wall, he connected again with Harvick's fender. The No. 4 was then off the pace and out of the hunt for a top finish, which prolongs his wait to make his way into Victory Lane in 2019. In eight career starts at Kentucky, Harvick has only finished outside of the top 10 twice — his first two visits. He has never won there, but another top-five finish this season could earn him back some redemption after Sunday's disappointment.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

The 2019 Coke Zero Sugar 400 – While unpredictable results are a staple of racing at Daytona, no one could have predicted Sunday's events. First, qualifying was canceled after persistent rain. The field was set by points only for the scheduled start of the race Saturday night to be postponed to Sunday afternoon. Once racing got underway, it was a battle between manufacturers with Ford and Chevrolet fighting for stage wins. Then we had the "big one," which took out many top contenders only to have more rain set up a flurry of career-best finishes for drivers as the race was called. Justin Haley, Michael McDowell, Landon Cassill were some of the biggest surprise finishers with J.J. Yeley also snagging a great run. With too many surprise finishes to name, the entire race made the grade as one of the most surprising in memory. Fantasy players should expect a return to normalcy this week in Kentucky.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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