Thanks to pitting before a caution came out on Lap 70, Denny Hamlin finds himself leading at the halfway mark in the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.
Green flag stops had begun at Lap 68, but two laps later, Joey Logano shot up into the wall between Turns 3 and 4 to bring out the second yellow of the evening. Race leader Jimmie Johnson and the rest of the front-runners had not yet pitted, causing a shakeup on the scoring pylon when they made their way down at Lap 71.
When the green returned at Lap 75, the Top 14 drivers – with Hamlin at the front – were those that had pitted before Logano’s incident.
Pole sitter Kyle Busch led the field through Lap 26 pit stops under a caution period (caused by Paul Menard’s engine letting go) and maintained his edge off pit road, but on Lap 33, Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne charged to the front.
That eventually led into the Hendrick duo pulling along a seven-car breakaway line on the low groove that included Jamie McMurray, Brad Keselowski, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and rookie pilot Ricky Stenhouse Jr. So far, the low line has appeared to be the stronger one tonight in contrast to this past February’s Daytona 500, which saw the high line emerge as the lane of choice.
With 80 of 160 laps complete, Hamlin is ahead of Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and the Earnhardt-Ganassi combo of Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray.
Lewis Hamilton believes that this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will be remembered as the last race with good-looking Formula 1 cars ahead of the introduction of the ‘Halo’ cockpit protection for next year.
Officials from the FIA and F1 Strategy Group confirmed earlier this year that the Halo would be fitted to all cars from the 2018 season in a bid to improve safety standards, with the deaths of Justin Wilson and Jules Bianchi putting head protection high on the agenda for the series’ chiefs.
Hamilton has long made his opposition to the Halo clear, believing it will ruin the look of F1 cars, and echoed his thoughts ahead of the final Halo-less race in Abu Dhabi this weekend.
“It’s the last year of looking good I think in the cars. It’s the last race where the cars will look good,” Hamilton said.
“I think next year, it’s all downhill from there in terms of how they look.
“But safety will go up at least, and maybe it could be successful in some way.”
Hamilton’s F1 title rival Sebastian Vettel was less bothered about the change, believing the field will adjust and move on.
“The cars will look different next year. Everything I’ve seen so far looks different, but on the other hand it is something we all get used to,” Vettel said.
“But no doubt the cars look better now, but we’ll get used to it, and we’ll work on the aesthetics so it can be better. It is less of a big deal.”
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo shared Vettel’s view, saying: “I don’t think it’s gonna be as dramatic as most people make it out to be.”