For most of Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400, the question was not would Roush Fenway Racing win the race but which of the RFR drivers would do so.
Matt Kenseth won the pole and led the first 41 laps of the race – until the first round of pit stops. Kenseth, normally not a frontrunner until the final portions of races, led 89 laps (of 160) total, easily the top score in that column for the night.
Greg Biffle was either Kenseth’s wingman or his leader virtually all night. Biffle led 35 laps (No. 2 for the race), placing the RFR duo at the front of the field for 77 percent of the night’s mileage.
But, as is often the case at Daytona, gremlins intervened, and the race’s best car didn’t win. Tony Stewart, making another impressive run at a track he doesn’t particularly like, passed Kenseth on the final lap and won the race.
Kenseth finished third, and Biffle, involved in the race’s final accident in turn four of the last lap, fell to 21st.
“I’m happy to get third, but yet on the other hand I’m incredibly disappointed because I feel like my team kind of deserved to be down there holding the hardware, and I kind of let them down,” Kenseth said. “But, overall, we had a really fast car.”
Kenseth won the Daytona 500 in February but lost a chance to win the season’s second restrictor-plate race at Talladega in May when he and Biffle failed to draft together near the end. Kenseth said that issue impacted his decisions during the final lap Saturday night.
“At Talladega I did the same things I did at Daytona, and we got beat because I didn’t do a good enough job of dragging the brake and keeping my teammate with me, and we got beat by a tandem there,” he said. “This time I was going to make sure I kept Greg with me and did a really good job of that for a lap and a quarter (at race’s end).
“We were locked on there and then somehow Greg got off me just a little bit. But Tony, I think, was separated, as well, and I don’t think he was going to clear me and get in front of me. I decided – because of the Talladega experience – to drag the brake and get back to Greg to try and get hooked up and then make a run on Tony.”
But Stewart was gone. He won for the fourth time in Daytona’s summer race.
The Kenseth/Biffle draft broke up in the final frantic moments.
“I just turned down in front of the 29 (Kevin Harvick),” said Biffle about the start of a massive turn-four wreck on the last lap. “He got a hell of a shove off the front of Junior (Dale Earnhardt Jr.), I just watched the replay, and just shoved him in that hole. I’m like, ‘It’s impossible that somebody could get into that hole that quick,’ but he got squirted off the bumper of the 88 and shot in there.
“It was my fault. We had a good car. What happened was the 17 (Kenseth) caught the 14 (Stewart) and moved up and there was somebody outside of me, and I couldn’t move up. That’s the way it goes.”
Now it’s on to New Hampshire, where Kenseth rides with the point lead and Biffle sits in third, 44 points back.
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.