From beginning to end Brad Keselowski left no doubt he was the driver to beat Saturday night, dominantly winning the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.
Two restarts over the final 11 laps -- including a two-lap shootout -- provided the competition an opening, but each time Keselowski repelled charges by brothers Kurt and Kyle Busch and Team Penske teammate Joey Logano to maintain his advantage. Overall, Keselowski led 115 of 161 laps in winning his third race of 2016.
"Restarts are so critical, and I got a great push from my teammate Joey Logano that helped put me in position to kind of establish the lead and be able to make the moves you need to make to hold off the lanes," Keselowski said. "Kurt had a couple really good runs, I thought he might have had me one time and I was able to get up in front of him at the last second."
The win carried significance for Keselowski, who has four victories at NASCAR's other restrictor-plate track, Talladega Superspeedway, but was winless in 14 previous Daytona starts. Keselowski's five combined wins at Daytona and Talladega since 2009 are the most by any driver on ovals where NASCAR limits airflow to the engine to reduce speeds.
"The wins are never easy to come by, and I think this one means a lot to me for sure because looking at our past here, it hasn't been all that rosy," Keselowski said. "I've had very, very little success here. It's been one of our worst tracks."
Kyle Busch finished second, with Trevor Bayne third, Logano fourth and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. fifth. Busch, the defending Sprint Cup champion, thought he had could get by Keselowski had someone pushed him, but that helped never materialized.
Completing the top 10 were Kyle Larson, Austin Dillon, Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer and Michael McDowell.
"At the end of the race the 2 (Keselowski) car was really, really fast; really, really strong," Busch said. "It's really hard to get by him. I tried just about everything. The only thing I didn't quite have was a big enough push one time to just try to make a move. He was really good at making that thing pretty wide."
Five cautions, including a 22-pileup in Turn 1, slowed the annual Fourth of July weekend event for 28 laps. The "Big One" initiated when Jamie McMurray appeared to cut a left rear tire following contact with Kyle Larson causing McMurray to spin.
With no avenue to escape McMurray's prone car, a pileup commenced that collected several notables. When the smoke cleared, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth were among those sustaining damage.
A strong run by Tony Stewart that saw him running in the top 10 with 20 laps left, fizzled when he lost control and crashed in Turn 1. He finished 26th, but still earned enough points to climb to 30th in the standings and provisionally qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup playoff.
"We knew we might be able to gain points here, but you know it's a coin toss that you might get in a wreck here," Stewart told NBC Sports. "For us it was more trying to take care of us, and when that big wreck happened, that really opened the door for us to really take care of us. Two of the three guys around us in points got caught up in it."
Coke Zero 400 Results
|5||4||Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.||Ford||161||running||0|
|21||16||Dale Earnhardt, Jr.||Chevrolet||161||running||0|
|29||15||Martin Truex, Jr.||Toyota||127||running||1|