DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) – Aric Almirola has won the rain-delayed and rain-shortened NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Daytona International Speedway, putting Richard Petty’s famed No. 43 in Victory Lane for the first time since 1999.
Almirola’s unexpected win came on the same weekend Petty celebrated the 30th anniversary of his 200th win.
Petty wasn’t around for the festivities, having already left Daytona during one of the many delays. He didn’t miss much considering steady rain put a slight damper on the post-race party.
“The amount of effort that’s gone into this race team this year with everybody at Richard Petty Motorsports trying to build this race team back to a winning race team, the way it’s supposed to be,” Almirola said in a rain-soaked Victory Lane.
“Thirty years to the weekend that Richard Petty got his 200th win is really, really special.”
The Coke Zero 400 was originally scheduled to go off Saturday night, but steady rain forced it to be postponed a day. When it did finally get started Sunday, it was interrupted several more times.
There were three red flags, two of them because of huge accidents that took out most of the 43-car field and several top contenders. Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Jamie McMurray, Carl Edwards, Kasey Kahne, Greg Biffle and Kyle Busch were among those knocked out of contention.
Biffle and Kahne started the second massive wreck, a 25-car fiasco that ended with Busch getting flipped upside-down in his No. 18 Toyota.
“It just felt like a slow carnival ride,” Busch said.
The same could be said for the entire weekend at Daytona. Sprint Cup qualifying was a debacle, and then rain affected the entire, four-day event at NASCAR’s most famous track.
Sunday’s race topped it all, with just seven cars avoiding both crashes.
Not surprisingly, Almirola was among them.
He became the first Cup driver other than Petty to win in the legendary No. 43 at Daytona. The previous time the 43 won was with John Andretti behind the wheel at Martinsville in 1999. So Petty’s renowned car went 543 races without a victory.
Brian Vickers was second, followed by Kurt Busch, Casey Mears and rookie Austin Dillon. Danica Patrick was eighth despite a late pit-road mistake, and reigning Daytona 500 champion Dale Earnhardt Jr. was 14th.
Almirola became the 11th different winner this season as drivers jockey for one of the 16 spots in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
“We’re in the Chase! This team deserves to be in the Chase,” Almirola said. “Man, I just took the 43 car to Victory Lane at Daytona!”
In his third full season driving for The King, Almirola went into Daytona with just four career top-five finishes and had never finished higher than 18th in the standings.
But he and teammate Marcos Ambrose have slowly been inching RPM back toward the front, and Almirola had grabbed his previous career-best finish of third earlier this season at Bristol.
The decision to call the race drew mixed reactions from fans and drivers who waited through three soggy days to race.
“Dang miss all those wrecks for nothin. Waited 3 days to race and didn’t get to finish,” Denny Hamlin tweeted moments after the race was called.