Aric Almirola wins the 2014 Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Aric Almirola wins the rain-shortened Coke Zero 400 at Daytona.

Avoiding two big wrecks and finding himself in an opportune position when heavy rain began falling, Aric Almirola won Sunday at Daytona International Speedway.

Almirola was leading when persistent showers and an unfavorable forecast prompted NASCAR to call the Coke Zero 400 -- 48 laps short of its scheduled 160-lap distance.

Driving the No. 43 Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports, the win was Almirola's first. And it comes on the 30th anniversary weekend of Petty's 200th -- and final -- career victory, which came in this race.

The No. 43 Petty car last won with John Andretti in 1999 at Martinsville Speedway.

"I grew up two hours away from here in Tampa, and I grew up in those stands watching Daytona 500s and Firecracker 400s and grew up dreaming about what it would be like to win here," Almirola said. "I can't believe I just took the 43 car to Victory Lane here at Daytona. This is amazing."

Brian Vickers finished second, with Kurt Busch third. Casey Mears and rookie Austin Dillon placed fourth and fifth, respectively.

Two sizable crashes decimated the field. The first occurred on Lap 19 and involved 16 cars. The second wreck entangled 26 cars and saw Kyle Busch roll on his roof and Jamie McMurray get airborne.

Only six drivers managed to miss both incidents: Almirola, Vickers, Kurt Busch, Dillon, Mears and Martin Truex Jr. No one was injured in either wreck.

Weather was a constant factor all weekend at Daytona. Friday qualifying was shortened due to rain, which also caused Sunday's race to be rescheduled from Saturday night.

The decision to end the race early wasn't without controversy. With Daytona having lights and the Coke Zero 400 originally to be held at night, some drivers thought NASCAR should have waited before declaring the race over.

Denny Hamlin, Michael McDowell, Danica Patrick, Clint Bowyer and Marcos Ambrose completed the top 10 finishers.

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