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article imageNASCAR: Five race stoppages can't keep No. 43 from Victory Circle

By John Duarte     Jul 7, 2014 in Sports
Daytona Beach - Thirty years after NASCAR legend Richard Petty won his 200th career race, his iconic number 43 race car was back in Victory Lane after the very same race at Daytona International Speedway.
This time, it was Aric Almirola who outlasted the field in a shortened race marred by a postponement, two rain delays and two major wrecks involving a total of 42 cars. It was the first victory by a car with arguably one of the most recognizable numbers in NASCAR history since 1999 and the first to win at Daytona International Speedway since Petty won for the final time of his career on the same track and the same race, then known as the Firecracker 400, in 1984.
“Man, I just took the 43 car to Victory Lane at Daytona,” said a jubilant Almirola. “Thirty years to the weekend that Richard Petty got his 200th win is really, really special. I couldn't have dreamed of a better place to get my first win.”
Almirola not only now drives Petty's old car, he is the 43rd racer to drive a car sporting the No. 43. He thanked Petty, who celebrated his 77th birthday on July 2, for the opportunity to drive “without a doubt the most famous car in our sport's history” and added that it's been a special ride since he turned his first laps in it in 2011.
“All I wanted to do from the very first time I drove it was to get it to Victory Lane,” he said. “It took two and a half years, I guess, but I finally did it.”
The tensest part of the afternoon for Almirola were likely the last 15 or 20 minutes before NASCAR officials called an end to the race. The driver praised the work of crew chief Trent Owens and the rest of the team for giving him a “really fast car” that he felt could have won the race had it gone the distance. But was thankful all the same when decided to end the race early.
“I was doing a lot of hard-core praying, hoping that the good Lord would just open the skies up and let it rain,” said Almirola. “I just sat there with a lot of anticipation and me and Trent were really hoping that it would rain so we could just hurry up and go to Victory Lane.”
Brian Vickers finished the Coke Zero 400 in second place and Kurt Busch was third.
The race was scheduled to be held on Saturday evening (July 5), but severe weather caused NASCAR to postpone the start to Sunday morning. Although rain showers lingered, the Coke Zero 400 got underway just before 11:30 a.m. (local time). The cars had barely lapped the track six times when the caution flag came out due to rain. By 11:36, cars were called on to pit road and parked to wait out the weather. That delay lasted 25 minutes, when drivers were called back to their cars and engines fired.
The field got racing again on Lap 12 and everything seemed to running smoothly until the first major wreck of the race took out several contenders. A total of 16 cars were involved, including Jimmie Johnson, but the reigning Sprint Cup champion returned to racing, after the mandatory exam at the infield care centre, in hope of collecting championship points. Twenty laps later, he officially retired from the race.
Kyle Busch ended up upside down after 26 cars were involved in a huge wreck on Lap 98. The race was stopped once again, while track workers righted Busch's car and the driver climbed out, apparently none the worse for wear.
“It felt like a slow carnival ride. I guess that's fitting for the Fourth of July weekend, but not here in Daytona,” Busch said. “I just got T-boned there at the end and it just kind of toppled me over.”
Almirola was at the front of the field as the race got underway once again, but the Coke Zero 400 was all but doomed. The rain came again, around 2 p.m., and all cars were called on to pit road. Workers worked feverishly to dry the track, but it was a futile effort. NASCAR officials ended the race shortly before 3 p.m. (local time) when severe weather once again made it impossible to race safely. A total of 112 of the scheduled 160 laps were completed, with Almirola declared the winner of his first ever Sprint Cup race.
Jeff Gordon holds a 27-point lead in the Sprint-Cup standings over teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. with another teammate, Johnson, in third place. Johnson's three wins this season, however, have him at the top of the Chase grid. Sixteen drivers will make it to the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Drivers will be ranked for the 10-race shootout for the NASCAR top-level championship in order of race wins first then by total points. Almirola is the 11th different driver to win a Sprint Cup race this season.
The Camping World RV Sales 301 is the next race on the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule. The race runs July 13 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
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