Gordon: SHR reached out before Daytona 500
RELATED: Full schedule for Indianapolis " Gordon through the years SPEEDWAY, Ind. -- Jeff Gordon 's "un-retirement" from competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series began in earnest Friday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The four-time Sprint Cup Series champion is filling in for Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Indianapolis and next weekend at Pocono Raceway while Earnhardt recovers from concussion-like symptoms. Almost as surprising as Gordon's return to the driver's seat -- he retired from full-time competition after the 2015 season -- was his disclosure that he had been approached about filling in for the injured Tony Stewart in this year's Daytona 500 . Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Chevrolet and co-owner of the four-car organization, missed the first eight races after suffering a broken back in an off-road driving incident prior to the start of the 2016 season. Gordon's role as a FOX NASCAR analyst (the network provides coverage of the season's first 16 points races) prohibited him from returning to competition. "The crazy thing about all of this (is) I was asked to drive Tony Stewart 's car in Daytona to start the season," Gordon said Friday. "I wasn't able to do it because of my commitments to FOX. Now Rick (Hendrick, team owner) has some amazing ways to convince people into things that the average person might not be able to. I don't know, maybe he could have called Eric Shanks or something, but no, I don't think so." Shanks is President, COO and Executive Producer of FOX Sports. Stewart is competing in his final season as a driver. Sunday's Crown Royal Presents the Combat Wounded Coalition 400 at the Brickyard will be his final appearance at the famed 2.5-mile track, where he has earned two of his 49 career victories. That Gordon was asked about filling in earlier this season was news to Stewart. "I wasn't (aware)," Stewart said, "but that would have been awesome. That probably would have been one of the coolest things to happen this season. If that happened, I would have been all for it. … "I wasn't aware of that, but that would have been a really cool deal for us." MORE: Dale Jr. out, Gordon in No. 88 at Indianapolis, Pocono
Gordon: 'I was asked to drive Tony Stewart's car in Daytona'
Jeff Gordon talks to the media at Indianapolis Motor Speedway about being asked to fill-in for an injured Tony Stewart for the DAYTONA 500.
Hamlin returns to site of Daytona 500 win, eyes sweep
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Since Denny Hamlin first arrived in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series full time in 2006 he had an immediate positive relationship with Daytona International Speedway winning his first-ever Budweiser Shootout as a rookie in the days leading up to the season-opening Daytona 500 . Since then, Hamlin has won that event two more times including this February -- just 8 days before he pulled off an amazing last lap pass to claim his maiden Daytona 500 victory in the closest finish in the race's great 58-year history. A win in Saturday's Coke Zero 400 would give Hamlin another unique claim to Daytona fame -- a season sweep of the Sprint Cup events plus a win in the Shootout giving him three victories (including both points races) at the track in a single season. Only Bobby Allison (1982) and Fireball Roberts (1962) have swept both Daytona premier series races and won an exhibition event too. Jimmie Johnson (2013), Cale Yarborough (1968) and LeeRoy Yarbrough (1969) are the other drivers to win both Sprint Cup races in a year. "It was about five years ago that something happened on the restrictor plate race tracks where I just -- it clicked and I got it," Hamlin said Thursday. "I can name a few instances it's really helped me, but I don't want to necessarily say that, but I just feel comfortable. I feel like I know what I'm doing and the results have showed it." The driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota hasn't finished worse than sixth in his last five Daytona starts, including a runner-up in the 2014 Daytona 500 and a third place showing in last year's Coke Zero 400 -- a streak of success even better than one of the track's true superstars, Dale Earnhardt Jr . Earnhardt has a pair of Cup race wins during that same five-race span -- including the 2014 Daytona 500 and this race last year -- but finished 36th in this year's Daytona 500 and 14th in this race in 2014. Despite the impressive numbers, Hamlin is well aware that his current success streak is a rare outcome at a restrictor plate track. "Eventually, we're going to get in a wreck," Hamlin allowed with a slight smile. "I think we did at -- yeah, we did at Talladega, but I've just been very fortunate on superspeedways and the bad finishes that I've had it's not because something I feel like I did. It was something that I could caught up in, so I've been fortunate. "It's been a great battle with the 88 ( Dale Earnhardt Jr .) probably the last four years with me and him. There's been a lot of one-two finishes with us and hopefully I'd love to complete the sweep winning the Unlimited, the 500 and the July race. I feel like I gift basket-ed him that dual win on Thursday this year, so I'd like to get him back here in July." A win this weekend would be key not just in Daytona historical context. Other than a fantastic runner-up finish to Tony Stewart on the Sonoma Raceway road course last week, Hamlin hasn't posted the kind of consistently good showings he might have liked. Especially with the way the season began. In the last seven races, Hamlin has three top-10s and three finishes of 30th or worse -- two of those sub-par finishes, a result of crashes. But just looking at Hamlin's face and his demeanor, it's easy to tell he brings an unmistakable confidence to Daytona Beach. And he's earned it honestly. He'll start ninth in the Coke Zero 400 -- surrounded by all his three Joe Gibbs Racing teammates who qualified second ( Carl Edwards ), third ( Kyle Busch ) and seventh ( Matt Kenseth ). Toyota driver Martin Truex Jr ., who Hamlin edged for the Daytona win in February, will start 15th. "Anytime we can work together, I try for sure," Hamlin said of his Toyota teammates. "I don't know that it was a plot to take out one car by any means. I thought we showed a lot of speed with just our cars in practice looking at lap times with what we would run as a group of five. Simple math says what the pack was going to run and I knew that if we could stay in a line and commit to each other, it would be tough for others to pass us. It worked out well. "Legitimately there were five Toyotas out to win on the final lap and that's really all we could have asked for. It was something that was in the works for a long time and it was executed perfectly by our whole organization and it worked out. Obviously any time you are successful like that you try to repeat it, but the competitors have a lot of say in that, so there are others who are going to have issue with what our plan is." "Really this track has been very good to me throughout my career," Hamlin said. "We hope to complete the sweep this weekend."
Brad Keselowski captures first Daytona victory
RELATED: Full race results " Standings SHOP: Winner gear DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Brad Keselowski had an excellent solution for the massive wrecks that scrambled the finishing order of Saturday night's Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway . He stayed ahead of all of them. Leading 115 of 161 laps in the No. 2 Team Penske Ford, Keselowski sped away from his pursuers after a restart in overtime and posted his third victory of the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season in thoroughly convincing fashion. The victory was Keselowski's first at Daytona and the 20th of his career, and it reinforced his mastery of restrictor-plate racing -- Keselowski already had four wins at sister track Talladega. When the race restarted in overtime, after a caution for a four-car wreck on Lap 155, eventual runner-up Kyle Busch simply couldn't keep up with Keselowski, once he lost his push from third-place finisher Trevor Bayne . Keselowski's teammate, fourth-place finisher Joey Logano , shoved the No. 2 car to the front on the Lap 160 restart, and then it was over. " Joey Logano was a huge part of this today," Keselowski said. "We had two great cars here with Team Penske and worked together really well. Joey has won here and he's really a pro, especially on that restart. "He gave me that push I needed to get to the front, and here we are at Daytona in Victory Lane. I don't care if it's not the 500. It's Daytona . This is huge. I love this place, and here we are in Victory Lane with the Detroit Ford." That there were 27 lead changes between 13 drivers belied Keselowski's dominance. While in the lead, the 2012 series champion was able to block both the inside and outside lanes, moving back and forth at will to impede the progress of whichever line developed momentum. With a daring move to the inside of race runner-up Kyle Busch on Lap 145, Keselowski took the lead for good and held it through two subsequent cautions for multi-car wrecks. The first wiped out Sonoma winner Tony Stewart , who was running in the top 10 at the time. The second was the coup de grace for Carl Edwards , who had qualified second but finished 25th. Busch, who tried in vain to regain the top spot, could only admire the handling of Keselowski's Ford. "He definitely just had way more maneuverability it seemed like than anybody, but especially than I did," Busch said. "I don't know how he got the kind of run that he got (to make the decisive pass), but when he got that run down the front stretch getting into Turn 1 and was able to turn to the bottom, my car would be kind of loose doing that. "It would just over rotate on me a little bit, and I just never really had that opportunity from behind me besides Trevor, and I never was in the right position when I had that big of a run in order to get the lead back. "Really, it took a lot of guys ganging up and getting together in order to make a move on him. He was pretty smart about where he positioned his car on the race track, and I could see that, and I tried to do some of those same things, but, man, it just never really worked for me as good as he could handle it." The race ran without major incident for the first 89 laps, with a competition caution on Lap 21 and a black flag to Danica Patrick for driving through too many pit boxes on a Lap 67 green-flag pit stop first providing the bulk of the excitement. But that was the calm before a violent storm. As the field roared into Turn 1 on Lap 90, Jamie McMurray 's Chevrolet got loose, made side-to-side contact with Ganassi Racing teammate Kyle Larson , got out of shape and veered sharply into the outside wall after contact from Jimmie Johnson 's Chevrolet. That was the spark that ignited a wreck that collected 22 of the 40 cars in the field and eliminated McMurray, Johnson, Paul Menard and series leader Kevin Harvick , while heavily damaging the cars of Sunoco Rookie of the Year leader Chase Elliott , Martin Truex Jr ., Matt Kenseth and Patrick, among others. Harvick said he was expecting the powder keg that is restrictor-plate racing to explode at any minute -- and on Lap 90 it did. "You really think it's going to happen from Lap 1," said Harvick, who now leads the Cup series by 14 points over Keselowski. "It's hard to make ground, so you have to be pretty aggressive when you start making ground. "Just kind of riding there, just maintaining until that next pit stop so we could get my car off the ground and then really start being aggressive. I really couldn't be aggressive, and unfortunately, I was in the back of that front pack and ended up getting in the wreck." But Keselowski was ahead of the wreck, as he was throughout the night, and in staying at the front he earned owner Roger Penske his 100th victory in the series.
Allgaier comes up short in Daytona's reviewed finish
RELATED: Results " Chase Grid " Standings DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The fast and furious finish in Friday night's Subway Firecracker 250 Powered by Coca-Cola didn't go Justin Allgaier 's way, but the JR Motorsports driver still managed a smile afterward. "When you come home second two restrictor-plates races in a row with fairly non-torn up race cars, it does make it nice," the No. 7 Chevrolet wheelman said. "But still this one's going to hurt for a little while." Aric Almirola and Allgaier were running first and second, side-by-side during an overtime finish when the caution flag appeared for the final time at Daytona International Speedway . Officials didn't immediately throw the caution when an eight-car crash on the backstretch unfolded on Lap 103 of the originally-scheduled 100-lap race, and it appeared the battle for the win might go all the way down to finish line in the NASCAR XFINITY Series event. But eventually the yellow caution lights flashed, and Allgaier was left to wonder if he or Almirola was out front at the crucial moment. WATCH: Final XFINITY Series restart at Daytona "The last restart was crazy," Allgaier said. "Coming down to the end of the race there we knew it was going to be all out and everyone was going to do everything they could to get to the end. T.J. Majors, my spotter, he called the crash off of Turn 2. I pulled to the outside of Aric just trying to get any run that I could and actually had some momentum and then kind of stalled out in the middle of (Turns) 3 and 4. "Had some momentum coming back and unfortunately the (caution) light switch flipped maybe a 16th of a foot too early for me to get the win." Teammates Chase Elliott and Elliott Sadler finished ninth and 18th, respectively. Had Allgaier been flagged the winner Saturday night, it would have been a sweep of the plate tracks for JRM. Elliott won the season-opener here in February while Sadler scored the victory at Talladega Superspeedway . "I told them before the race this is the best race car I've ever had at a superspeedway," Allgaier said. "We came really close to sweeping all the restrictor plate races this year at JR Motorsports and that's a testament to the guys back at the shop, the Hendrick engine department, everybody that's involved in these cars. It's a lot of fun when you know that your race car is capable of winning every week." Ryan Sieg , Joey Logano and Brendan Gaughan completed the top five. The race was slowed by eight cautions and was red-flagged for nearly eight minutes for a 14-car crash -- the "Big One" -- on Lap 16. Friday's race rekindled memories of the Talladega finish, which also required video evidence to determine a winner after the caution appeared as Sadler and Brennan Poole battled for the lead. Allgaier said he did not question the timing of Saturday's final caution call but he wasn't in a hurry to lift and possibly throw away a win either. "I think Aric and I ran the whole rest of the lap, even after we got through the debris, trying to just be a little bit faster than other one, stay out in front, maybe that would be the determining factor," he said. "It's so hard. At the point we were at, I don't know if it would have been better to (race) back to the line. It's the same scenario as Talladega. … If they call it a little bit before, we're ahead, if they call it a little bit later, we're ahead. But right where they called it we were behind. It is what it is. "When they come down to the end like that you know it's going to be crazy. … Unfortunately, we were just a little bit behind." The runner-up finish kept Allgaier fourth in points. Daniel Suarez remains the points leader in spite of a 32nd-place finish caused by a crash that sidelined the Joe Gibbs Racing driver after just 48 laps. He now leads Sadler by six points (499-493).
Biffle earns first Coors Light Pole Award of '16 at Daytona
RELATED: Starting lineup " See all 40 cars DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Greg Biffle came out of nowhere. Winless since 2013 and without a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pole since the fall Charlotte race in 2012, the driver of the No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford scorched Daytona International Speedway on Friday to claim the top starting spot for Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400 (at 7:45 p.m. ET on NBC). In the second and final round of knockout qualifying, Biffle toured the 2.5-mile restrictor-plate track in 46.643 seconds (192.955 mph) to wrestle the Coors Light Pole Award from former RFR teammate Carl Edwards (192.748 mph) by .050 seconds. The pole was Biffle’s second at a plate track, the first coming when he led the field to green in the 2004 Daytona 500 , not quite eight months after Biffle won the only plate race of his career -- the 2003 Coke Zero 400 . Both were career-firsts for the Biff. All told, Biffle has won 13 poles in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, but Friday’s was particularly significant because of the boost it give his organization, which has been struggling for the past few years to find speed in the wake of the departure of veterans Matt Kenseth and Edwards to Joe Gibbs Racing . "It is a huge confidence-builder, and coming out of here with a good finish, that’s a lot of momentum for the team," Biffle said. "Qualifying on the pole, getting a good run and moving on to the next race -- we need that. "We need those good finishes and momentum and encouragement. Winning the pole is all smiles on those guys pushing the car up there and getting the pictures. They’re pumped right now. We’ll be ready to go tomorrow night." In a backup car with no practice laps because of a wreck in Saturday morning’s practice, Kyle Busch (192.336 mph) qualified third. Biffle’s teammate, Ricky Stenhouse Jr . (192.320 mph), earned the fourth starting spot, followed by Brad Keselowski (192.254 mph) and Austin Dillon (192.254 mph), who lost the fifth spot to Keselowski on an owner points tiebreaker. Defending race winner Dale Earnhardt Jr . failed to make the top 12 and will start 16th. Jimmie Johnson (eighth) was the only Hendrick Motorsports driver to advance to the second round, just as Kurt Busch (10th) was the only Stewart-Haas Racing entry to do so. Earnhardt, however, wasn’t particularly concerned about his starting position. "I think we’ll be good," he said. "We worked on our car to try and help it drive better. That might take some straight-line speed out of it, but it’s going to hopefully help us be able to make moves we need to make in the race. "It's going to be slick in the race, and handling is going to be real important. I'm more concerned really with the car driving good. Might not be the fastest car out there, (but) that's not the car that is going to win the race. I think (that’s going to be) the guy that's got the best handling package. This place is going to be pretty slick." Biffle was fastest in both rounds of qualifying, pacing the first session at 192.629 mph. "After that first session, I knew we had to be worried about (Greg)," Edwards said. "We ran a really good lap in the second session, but those guys were fast. They put the hard work in, they deserve it and I know how hard those guys work over there. "And I guess in a way, it’s cool to see them have success. You hate to get beat by anyone, but knowing those guys and knowing how much they work, it’s good to see them have this day."
Weather delays Friday's on-track action at Daytona
RELATED: Live weather updates from Daytona Inclement weather rolled into Daytona International Speedway on Friday, interrupting NASCAR XFINITY Series Coors Light Pole Qualifying midway through the first of two scheduled rounds. Twenty-two cars attempted laps before NASCAR halted the session for lightning with David Ragan atop the leaderboard. Qualifying did resume shortly after 3:30 p.m. ET NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coors Light Pole Qualifying got underway at 4:50 p.m. ET (NBCSN, Live Extra). Weather washed out most of Thursday's on-track activity, as only one NASCAR XFINITY Series practice was completed. Two Sprint Cup practices and XFINITY final practice were canceled on Thursday. The Sprint Cup cars were on the track Friday morning for a rescheduled practice, the only practice before Saturday's Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola (7:45 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Brian Scott t led that practice, a 45-minute session during which Kyle Busch wrecked hard into the outside wall. Busch was evaluated and released from the infield care center, but he will have to go to a backup car. The XFINITY Series' Subway Firecracker 250 Powered by Coca-Cola is scheduled for Friday night at 7:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
'Big One' takes out big names midway through Daytona
RELATED: Hear Harvick's in-car audio during the 'Big One' DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- After a relatively calm start to Saturday's Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway , the "Big One" came just after the race's midpoint when more than half the field was caught up in a chain-reaction accident in Turn 1 involving many race favorites. Jimmie Johnson , Kevin Harvick , Martin Truex Jr ., Dale Earnhardt Jr , Kasey Kahne , Jamie McMurray , Chase Elliott and polesitter Greg Biffle were among those involved in the 22-car accident on Lap 89 of the 160-lap race. Several of the cars were so badly damaged they couldn't return to competition. McMurray's Chip Ganassi Racing crew was among those working feverishly to repair his No. 1 Chevy so it could at least collect points to help him contend for a top-16 position in the Chase postseason scenario. He finished 34th. His car was involved in the incident that triggered the chain-reaction accident. McMurray and Johnson had a private conversation about the incident outside the infield care center once the two were checked out and cleared medically; both said individually that they were trying to assess exactly what happened. "I only saw one replay but it looked like the 48 got into my left rear quarter panel and it shot me down the track and I got into the 42 and I just didn’t have any control of the car," McMurray said from the garage while his team worked on his car. "I got the car straight and thought I was just going to just lose my momentum, but the 48 ended up hooking me again and sending me into the outside wall. "First off, no one really knows what happened. You have to look at the replay because it happens so quick out there. Jimmie just asked me what I thought happened." Johnson said he was still trying to figure out what exactly happened and wanted to see video of the accident. Nonetheless, it was frustrating after he had worked his way into the top 10. "The 1 (McMurray) car was on the outside lane and came across my nose and got to the 42 ( Kyle Larson ) a little bit and we were all straight and fine, but they slowed up more than I could and my momentum carried me back into the back of 1 and around we went," said six-time Cup champ Johnson. "Just hard racing, the cars are slipping and sliding a lot, the race track is aging, the handling is becoming an issue. I'm excited about that and think it's going to put on a good race, but those slips turned into a big crash for everybody. We were in a big wad." It was a rough outcome for so many contending cars -- several like Johnson's and Harvick's were loaded onto the team transporters unable to continue. Others returned to the track to finish the race multiple laps down. "Just a bunch of cars crashing -- pretty much that was it," said Matt Kenseth , whose No. 20 DeWalt Toyota was among the wrecked cars. He returned to the race, however, 34 laps off the pace to finish 28th. "I was just trying to make my way back toward the front a little bit there. We had a bad pit-stop exchange and came out way, way behind everybody. "Carl (Edwards) was up toward the front and we were running with him before the pit stop. I probably should have just hung in the back, hindsight, but who knows when they're going to wreck, you never know if they're going to wreck. Just trying to get back toward the front and there was a wreck somewhere a few rows up in front of me and just nowhere really to go." Championship points leader Harvick suffered a 39th- place finish -- his worst result of the season. He's only finished out of the top 10 four times this season, and his previous worst showing was 17th at Martinsville, Virginia. This is Harvick's first DNF (Did Not Finish) of the year. "You really think it is going to happen from Lap 1," Harvick said of the "Big One." "It is hard to make ground, so you have to be pretty aggressive when you start making ground. "Just kind of riding there just maintaining until that next pit stop so we could get my car off the ground and then really start being aggressive. I really couldn't be aggressive and unfortunately I was in the back of that front pack and ended up getting in the wreck."
Tony Stewart wrecks late in final race at Daytona
RELATED: 'Big One' takes out big names Tony Stewart wrecked with 12 laps remaining in Saturday night's Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway . In an event that led to the race's fourth caution, it appeared last week's race winner at Sonoma Raceway had a tire go down on his No. 14 Chevrolet, causing him to get loose and spin into the wall. Stewart was running fifth at the time, but had to bring his ride to the garage. This story will be updated.
The Rundown: Daytona driver grades
Breaking down the full field for the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway : 1. Brad Keselowski , No. 2 Ford, Team Penske . What a night for Keselowski and Team Penske . Total domination by Keselowski, who led 115 of 161 laps for his fifth restrictor-plate win but first at Daytona . Grade: A+ 2. Kyle Busch , No. 18 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . Busch recovers from yet another hard crash at Daytona to score his series-best 10th top five of the season. Grade: A 3. Trevor Bayne , No. 6 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing . Bayne avoided being collected in Tony Stewart 's wreck to finish in the top five for the second time this season and third time in his career. You haven't forgotten the first, have you? Grade: A 4. Joey Logano , No. 22 Ford, Team Penske . It was a tale of two pushes for Logano. Teammate Brad Keselowski loved his on the final restart; Kurt Busch had no love for Logano after he went from 2nd to sliding across the start-finish line in 23rd. Grade: A- 5. Ricky Stenhouse Jr ., No. 17 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing . Stenhouse came into the year with three career top-five finishes, one in each of the past three seasons. Now he has two in 2016. This also was his third top 10, equaling his total for all of 2015. Well done. Grade: A 6. Kyle Larson , No. 42 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing . Larson's finishes at Daytona this year: 7th and 6th. In his first four starts: 38th, 36th, 34th and 39th with three DNFs for crashes. Grade: A 7. Austin Dillon , No. 3 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing . In seven starts at Daytona , Dillon has five top-10 finishes. It's only a matter of time before he puts the No. 3 in Victory Lane. Grade: A 8. Greg Biffle , No. 16 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing . Biffle started from the pole for the first time since 2012 and picked up his first top 10 since last September at New Hampshire. Nicely done. Grade: A 9. Clint Bowyer , No. 15 Chevrolet, HScott Motorsports . After his quick exit last week at Sonoma (five laps), Bowyer got his third top 10 of the season and led a lap for the first time in 2016. Grade: A+ 10. Michael McDowell , No. 95 Chevrolet, Circle Sport-Leavine Family. McDowell scored the third top 10 of his career (196 starts) and first since 2014. Oh … all three top 10s are at Daytona . Grade: A+ 11. Cole Whitt , No. 98 Chevrolet, Premium Motorsports. Witt just missed the first top 10 of his career (101 starts) but still posted his best finish. Grade: A+ 12. Casey Mears , No. 13 Chevrolet, Germain Racing . Despite being collected in Tony Stewart 's wreck on Lap 149, Mears recovered for his best finish since finishing 11th in last year's Coke Zero 400 . Grade: A 13. AJ Allmendinger , No. 47 Chevrolet, JTG Daugherty Racing . Allmendinger restarted 10th on Lap 155 and was running ninth when Kyle Larson and Clint Bowyer came together, pinching Allmendinger high and he brushed the wall. That could have been disaster. Instead he cut his deficit to 16th place from 20 points to 12. Grade: A 14. Ryan Blaney , No. 21 Ford, Wood Brothers Racing . Blaney was involved in the incidents that brought out the final two cautions but prevailed to post his best finish in three starts at Daytona . Grade: A- 15. Aric Almirola , No. 43 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports . One day after winning the Xfinity Series race, Almirola gets his best Cup finish since the second week of the season. Grade: A 16. David Ragan , No. 23 Toyota, BK Racing . Yet another driver to post his best finish of the season. Grade: A 17. Denny Hamlin , No. 11 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . Hamlin was penalized for driving through too many pit boxes on the last caution, costing him a better finish. Grade: B- 18. Ryan Newman , No. 31 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing . Newman's car sustained damage in the Big One on Lap 90, but his crew fixed the nose of the No. 31 and Newman increased his cushion over 17th place to 26 points despite dropping a spot to 14th in the standings. Grade: B 19. David Gilliland , No. 35 Ford, Front Row Motorsports . Gilliland avoided trouble and has now finished 17th (Talladega) and 19th in his only two starts of the season. Grade: A 20. Michael Annett , No. 46 Chevrolet, HScott Motorsports . Annett was one of 22 drivers officially caught up in the big wreck. He also was one of the drivers to post his best finish of the season. Grade: A 21. Dale Earnhardt Jr ., No. 88 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . Earnhardt sustained damage in the big wreck but survived and just missed the Carl Edwards wreck on Lap 155. Despite that good fortune, he was not happy with his car. We can't print what said about it over the radio. You'll have to trust us on this one. Grade: C 22. Reed Sorenson , No. 55 Chevrolet, Premium Motorsports. A familiar refrain: Sorenson posted his best finish of the season. In fact, it's Sorenson's best finish since Talladega in October 2014 (14th). Grade: A 23. Kurt Busch , No. 41 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . Not that Busch would have caught Brad Keselowski , but he was running second when Joey Logano turned Busch as the field approached the finish line. Busch's 0-fer continues in restrictor plate races, but we give him some love on his grade. Grade: A 24. Bobby Labonte , No. 32 Ford, GO FAS Racing. Labonte was in line for an even better finish until he was collected in Carl Edwards ' crash on Lap 155. Grade: B 25. Carl Edwards , No. 19 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . Edwards checked up when AJ Allmendinger touched the wall on Lap 155. Unfortunately Ryan Blaney couldn't do the same and Edwards was turned into the wall. His eight laps led were third most in the race. Grade: B- 26. Tony Stewart , No. 14 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . By design, Stewart ran in the back for most of the race and looked golden as he totally avoided the big wreck -- he was running 34th -- and found himself running sixth on Lap 149 and staring at a big points jump in the standings. Instead, he got loose in Turn 1, overcorrected and smacked the wall, ending his day. "Definitely my fault," he said after the race. Still, because of the big wreck, he could finish no worse than 26th. And a 26th-place finish with a DNF was a gift. Grade: C 27. Danica Patrick , No. 10 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . Danica was caught up in the big wreck but returned to the track and finished 31 laps back. Grade: C 28. Matt Kenseth , No. 20 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . Temptation got the better of Kenseth on Saturday night. A bad pit stop put the No. 20 in the back of the field, and he said that should have been a sign to stay back there. But when it appeared the racing had "settled down," temptation wooed him forward. Right into the jaws of the Big One. Kenseth returned to the track and finished 34 laps back. Grade: C- 29. Martin Truex Jr ., No. 78 Toyota, Furniture Row Racing . Truex also sustained damage in the Big One, and like his Toyota brethren Matt Kenseth , also returned to the track and finished 34 laps back. Grade: C 30. Kasey Kahne , No. 5 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . The Big One made Kahne a big loser. He went from 16th in the standings, with a three-point cushion over Ryan Blaney , to 18th in the standings, nine points behind 16th-place Jamie McMurray . It could have been worse, but the No. 5 team worked hard to get Kahne back on the track. Grade: C 31. Landon Cassill , No. 38 Ford, Front Row Motorsports . An early electrical issue cost Cassill 42 laps in the garage, but to the team's credit the car returned to the track and Cassill finished 31st rather than 40th. Grade: C- 32. Chase Elliott , No. 24 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . The rookie is now 2-for-2 at Daytona . Two races, two wrecks. This one wasn't his fault. The Big One did him in. Grade: C 33. Matt DiBenedetto , No. 83 Toyota, BK Racing . DiBenedetto also was collected in the Big One. He returned to the track and avoided a fifth DNF in his past eight starts. Grade: C 34. Jamie McMurray , No. 1 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing . McMurray was at the epicenter of the Big One. He was running eighth when he came down the track and made just enough contact with the side of teammate Kyle Larson 's No. 42 to cut his left tire. McMurray said that caused him to lose control of his car. Jimmie Johnson then tapped McMurray from behind, and just like that, half the field was in pieces. Grade: D 35. Jimmie Johnson , No. 48 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . If you're not skipping around, you just read Jamie McMurray and know what happened to Johnson. Saturday's race was Jimmie's second DNF 35th-place finish in the past four races (Pocono). Grade: C- 36. Paul Menard , No. 27 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing . Three words: The Big One. Grade: C 37. Brian Scott , No. 44 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports . Scott had the wildest ride of drivers caught up in the big wreck. His car ended up atop Kevin Harvick 's Chevrolet. Grade: C 38. Regan Smith , No. 7 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing . Three words: See Paul Menard . Grade: C 39. Kevin Harvick , No. 4 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . Harvick spent a lot of time running in the back, looking to avoid the Big One. Turned out he didn't stay back there long enough. Grade: C 40. Chris Buescher , No. 34 Ford, Front Row Motorsports . Buescher has three DNFs this season -- in each of the three restrictor-plate races. Grade: C