NASCAR's annual midsummer stop at Daytona International Speedway is now in the rearview mirror, but before we move on to this week's race at New Hampshire, let's take a look at the winners and losers from the Coke Zero 400.
Entering this season, Jimmie Johnson's recent record at Daytona was ghastly with just a pair of top 10s in his previous 13 starts on the 2.5-mile superspeedway. That run of futility has emphatically ended, first with a win in the Daytona followed by a dominant victory Saturday in the Coke Zero 400.
Johnson joins Fireball Roberts, LeeRoy Yarbrough, Cale Yarborough and Bobby Allison as the only drivers to win both Daytona races in the same year. How elite is this group? Three of the five are members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame (Roberts, Allison, Yarborough) and collectively they own nine Cup titles and 278 victories.
Because of the endless stream of sponsor mentions that come out of his mouth and his goofball persona, it's easy to chide Michael Waltrip. But his fifth this past weekend was his second top five finish of the season in three plate races. This is further proof that even in semi-retirement he's still among the sport's best to turn a wheel at Daytona and Talladega.
Finishing ninth may not be significant for some -- especially in a restrictor-plate race where luck can be more of a prevailing factor than anything else. But for Casey Mears, his ninth-place finish was his first top 10 since 2009, a span of 115 races, and is worthy of being included among this week's list of winners.
Critiquing television coverage is always low hanging fruit, but TNT did itself no favors Saturday night.
The most common complaint was the seemingly endless barrage of commercials. However, according to cawsnjaws.com, the amount of ads aired by TNT overall wasn't all that excessive when compared to amount of commercials run by Fox and ABC/ESPN. All three of NASCAR's broadcast partners generally have a 75/25 split of race coverage vs. ads.
But what made TNT's coverage borderline insufferable was its decision to frontload its commercial load in the early and mid portions of the race so that it could run the final 34 laps without interruption. This in theory sounds good -- after all, who doesn't want to watch the last laps of a restrictor-plate race without commercial breaks.
The problem is this decision alienated so many viewers that Twitter and other social media platforms were filled with fans turning the channel in frustration long before TNT's continuous coverage kicked in. And it wasn't just the NASCAR diehards sitting at home who were outraged.
Daytona was the third time in six weeks Denny Hamlin was involved in accident that saw him make significant contact with the wall. And for a driver who is dealing with a problematic back that will likely require surgery in the offseason, it makes for some tense moments as you wait for him to climb out from his severely destroyed car.
This begs the question: All but officially eliminated from Chase contention, is it perhaps time for Hamlin to take a few weeks off to properly heal?
Paul Menard and Aric Almirola
The freefall continued at Daytona for the pair who earlier this season each was ranked as high as eight in the standings and harbored hopes of making surprise Chase bids.
Paul Menard lost an engine 23 laps in and finished 43rd, dead last. This was the 10th consecutive race he failed to record a top 10, and he now sits 20th overall. As for Almirola, he was the victim of a late crash and was 38th in the final rundown. And he now resides in 19th in points.