Rookie Roundup: Coke Zero Sugar 400

William Byron led laps, but which of our rookies fared well at Daytona?

After each race, I will take a look at our two Rookie of the Year (ROTY) contenders and any other drivers deemed a “rookie,” such as the case for the Coke Zero Sugar 400.

Like a professor, a grade will be provided for their performance on the track. All things considered, a high finish doesn’t necessarily mean a good grade, as a bad finish doesn’t always result in a bad grade.

Let’s take a look at how our two ROTY contenders fared following the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona.

(Photo Credit: Kathleen Cassidy/TPF)

(Photo Credit: Kathleen Cassidy/TPF)

Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr

Ah… Daytona. The track that can take you from a front-runner to a mangled mess in the garage in a matter of seconds. That’s sort of what happened to Bubba Wallace.

There were a lot of expectations on Wallace after a phenomenal showing at Daytona in February. As everyone knows, just because you ran well last time, doesn’t mean that will happen twice in a row.

Wallace qualified 22nd for Saturday’s race, which at a place like Daytona, that isn’t a terrible place to start.

The team played it safe through the first stage, staying out of trouble and keeping the No.43 in one piece.

Wallace was caught up in a “big one” in Stage 2 and received some damage to the No.43, mainly to the right rear but he was able to continue on and came out P11 to end Stage 2.

The final stage started to look like the end of the Daytona 500. And by that, I mean Wallace and the No.43 in the top-10. Wallace was able to keep his car out of a handful of wrecks through the final stage.

Almost.

After an impressive final stage, Wallace was caught up in a wreck in the closing laps that brought heavy damage to the No.43. His team fixed it up the best they could so he could finish, but his goal of a top-10 was gone.

Wallace ended up bringing home a solid 14th place finish at Daytona.

Coke Zero Sugar 400 Grade: A

Notes: This was classic Daytona. Running well and then getting caught up in “the big one” to ruin your day. Wallace runs well at Daytona. We say that for the 500 and this weekend under the lights. I don’t think it will be long until we see him in Victory Lane here.

(Photo Credit: Kathleen Cassidy/TPF)

(Photo Credit: Kathleen Cassidy/TPF)

William Byron

Hendrick Motorsports usually brings fast cars to a track like Daytona, and while the organization has been struggling this season, they had the speed in Florida.

William Byron put his No.24 18th on the starting grid but quickly worked his way into the top 10 during Stage 1, gaining some stage points with a 4th place finish.

It only got better for Byron in Stage 2 after he took the lead at Daytona on lap 58. It may not have been the Daytona 500, but leading at Daytona in any sense is exciting.

That was pretty much it for Byron. He was caught up in a big wreck on Lap 64 that sent him to the infield care center and ended his night early.

Byron came home with 32nd place finish, not at all a showing of how well he drove in the starting laps.

Coke Zero Sugar 400 Grade: B

Notes: Byron had a typical showing at Daytona. Some really great highs, leading laps, stage points, to being taken out in a wreck not of his making.

Katie Copple

They say the best things are left unsaid. I say, the best things need to be put down on paper...or the internet in this case. I discovered NASCAR and the world of motorsports in college and it changed my life... and my career path. Now, when people ask me to describe myself, I tell them that I am a 20-something that has an obsession with racecars.

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