Coke Zero 400 at Daytona postponed to tomorrow morning at 11 a.m. ET

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Steady rains this afternoon and early evening have forced NASCAR to postpone tonight’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway. The 160-lap, 400-mile race will instead go off tomorrow morning at 11 a.m. ET with TNT and the Motor Racing Network retaining TV and radio broadcast coverage.

According to Daytona International Speedway, parking lots for fans attending the race will open at 7 a.m. ET and the gates to the track will open at 9 a.m. ET.

Inclement weather moved into the Daytona Beach region this afternoon and caused the track to deploy its Air Titan and jet dryer units. However, as the rain continued, the dryers were told to stop and the originally scheduled green flag time of 7:57 p.m. ET was quietly scratched.

During the 8 o’clock hour, drying resumed again along the 2.5-mile oval in the event of a break in the weather that might have enabled NASCAR to get the race in. But at that time, pessimism appeared to be setting in.

Before NASCAR made the call to postpone the race, its vice president of operations, Steve O’Donnell, admitted that the chances of racing tonight were “not looking good” on his Twitter account:

Additionally, Dale Earnhardt Jr. – who is seeking to become the sixth Sprint Cup driver in history to sweep both Daytona races in the same year – was starting to plan on racing tomorrow.

Finally, a little before 9 p.m. ET, NASCAR decided that enough was enough for tonight. However, tomorrow’s forecast from the National Weather Service also calls for rain, with showers and thunderstorms likely coming after Noon ET.

The Coke Zero 400 now becomes the fourth Sprint Cup event in 2014 to be impacted by rain. A six-hour rain delay pushed the Daytona 500 to primetime, while two rain delays marred the Food City 500 in March at Bristol Motor Speedway. Then, in April, the Duck Commander 500 at Texas was postponed to the following Monday.

This weekend alone, rain has played a major role at Daytona. Both Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series qualifying sessions were cut short, and the start of last night’s Nationwide race was delayed by almost two hours before it was ran in its entirety.

David Gilliland will be on the pole for tomorrow’s race.

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

Follow@KyleMLavigne