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Melillo’s Mind – Daytona July Racing Weekend

Erik Jones celebrates in Gatorade Victory Lane at Daytona Int’l Speedway. Photo Credit: Erick Messer/TRE

Erik Jones, in a badly beaten, slightly tore up No. 20 Toyota Camry, celebrated in the aftermath of the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona Int’l Speedway this past weekend.

In the final laps, Jones was able to hold off what may have been the only car left without any damage, that vehicle belonging to the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion, Martin Truex, Jr.

“How about that race, boys and girls?” Jones exclaimed as he brushed his hair away away from his face. It was his first career MENCS victory in his 57th career start, and is also the first non-Kyle Busch victory for his team owner, Joe Gibbs, in the 2018 season.

The 160 lap event was plagued by multiple incidents, with most of the carnage coming in the second stage off of the front bumper of the No. 17 of Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.

The first “Big One” came when Rookie-of-the-Year contender William Byron was leading, and threw a block on Series Champion Brad Keselowski. Keselowski slowed in time to avoid contact with Byron, but Stenhouse, Jr. could not check up in time.

The contact triggered a 20 car pileup that took out many key players, including all of Team Penske, Pole Sitter Chase Elliott, and many more.

A few laps later, Stenhouse, Jr. attempted to side draft the No. 18 of Kyle Busch, but instead pushed up into his left rear. The contact sent Busch hard into the wall, collecting the leader Byron in the melee.

A final “Big One” occurred as the field was coming to take the white flag, collecting Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer, as well as a handful of others. Unfortunately for Truex, Jr., who was leading at the time, the yellow flag was thrown before he could reach the start/finish line, and overtime would be in play.

On the final restart, Jones rocketed out to the lead, and once he took the point, he never looked back. Actually, he may have been looking back the entire time, but mirror driving is just part of the way Superspeedway racing happens.


The final “Big One” of the night coming to the white flag took more contenders out of a chance to win at Daytona in the Coke Zero Sugar 400 in 2018. Photo: Erick Messer | The Racing Experts


It may well have been known as the Coke Zero Sugar Demolition Derby at Daytona International Speedway. Kurt Busch took to twitter after the race to voice his displeasure in being taken out in the #StenhouseDD (Stenhouse Demo Derby).

Keselowski spoke to reporters after exiting the care center and said the next time he gets blocked, he won’t be so nice.

Many other voices echoed the sentiment that this is just how “Speedway Racing” is. Honestly, I’d expect cars to look like this after 500 laps at Bristol, not 160 laps at Daytona.

Wrecking is not racing. The amount of carnage this season at the Superspeedway tracks alone is insane. With how close these cars race for as long as they do, can it really be helped?

I remember the 2012 Talladega fall race where on the final lap, just about the entire field was left to battle for the victory, as they raced four-wide with barely any space in between the cars.

It was an incredible sight to witness, but alas, it was all brought to an end in the blink of an eye as Tony Stewart turned himself across Michael Waltrip’s nose and collected about the entire field.

Those drivers pretty much went 99.9 percent of the entire race without the “Big One” and yet as they concluded the race, just about everyone had collected crash damage on the day.

It was a much earlier “Big One” at Daytona last weekend, coming just before halfway.

NASCAR mandated a larger spoiler which gave drivers more stability, but also allowed more race-ability among the competition, bringing quicker closing rates and reducing the “bubble effect” that usually allows the leader to maintain the lead by shifting back and forth between the lanes.

It was a much better racing package than they’ve had in the past, where the cars were evil and would lose it due to the movement of the air around them. It was more in the driver’s hands this time around, and yet they still managed to tear up the majority of the field.

I guess what I’m trying to get at with all this is that I’m not going to enjoy watching cars get torn up for 400 to 500 miles, but I really enjoy the excellent racing that these races provide. Superspeedway cars looking more beat up than 500 laps at Bristol is the new normal.


Kyle Larson celebrates his victory in the Coca-Cola Firecracker 250 at Daytona International Speedway. Photo: Erick Messer | The Racing Experts


In the Coca-Cola Firecracker 250 on Friday night, Justin Haley crossed the line ahead of the rest of the field, but unfortunately he also crossed the double yellow line, which NASCAR deems “out of bounds.”

Haley, in only his second career NASCAR Xfinity Series start, thought he had won, but NASCAR officials penalized him to the end of the lead lap cars, which handed the victory over to Kyle Larson by inches over Elliott Sadler.

Unlike what feels like the majority, I’m not going to demand that the rule needs to be looked at or changed, because NASCAR, at the expense of Haley and the fans, made the right call.

Drivers cannot complete a pass by going below the line, and even though he was ahead at the point where he dipped below the line, it was still during the process of completing the pass, therefore illegal and properly justified.

I feel for Haley. How cool is it that he was even in that position in his first ever Xfinity start at one of the most prestigious tracks on the circuit?

Haley made a daring move to the front to boot, and had he just held it about a foot higher on the track, would have been celebrating his second NASCAR victory in a week.

Fans will look back at past races and point out times where the rule wasn’t enforced, and that’s OK. NASCAR and it’s officiating body is not perfect. Nothing can ever be perfect, and there are plenty of examples just from NASCAR alone that prove that.

It should be celebrated that a fair race was called on Friday night, and that it was a hell of a show as well.


Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Snickers Toyota, leads Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Toyota and the rest of the field at the start of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts at Kentucky Speedway on July 8, 2017 in Sparta, Kentucky. Photo: 349947Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images


This weekend, all three of NASCAR’s National Series head to Kentucky Speedway, with the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series lighting up the track on Thursday night. The NASCAR Xfinity Series will race on Friday evening, and the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will compete on Saturday Night.



NCWTS: Brett Moffitt

NXS: Kyle Busch

MENCS: Brad Keselowski



Toyota Racing


DISCLAIMER: Opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

Justin Melillo View All

Columnist / Reporter / Photographer / Webmaster for

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