Tampa's Almirola wins Coke Zero 400 in Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Florida (USA TODAY) -- A funny thing happened while Richard Petty was at home reading the comics: His famous No. 43 car reached victory lane for the first time since 1999.

Thunderstorms washed out the final 48 laps of a scheduled 160 in Sunday's Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway, giving Tampa native Aric Almirola his first Sprint Cup Series victory and a berth in NASCAR's postseason Chase for the Sprint Cup.

The win came on the 30th anniversary weekend of Petty's iconic 200th victory — his last during a record-setting seven-title career — which occurred with President Reagan in attendance at this 2.5-mile superspeedway.

Since then, only two drivers had won a total of three races with the No. 43 since "The King" retired in 1992. John Andretti's 1999 Martinsville win was the most recent, 543 races ago.

"We've had so many disappointments, and finally it rained on us," said Petty, who co-owns Richard Petty Motorsports. "But it rained on us at the right time."

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Despite the big day, Petty wasn't there to see it. He flew home to North Carolina on Sunday morning after NASCAR postponed the scheduled Saturday night green flag because of rain. He spent the afternoon flipping between the race and reading the "funny papers," he said.

Petty, whose wife Lynda died of cancer in March, said he planned to celebrate the win with his family. This victory is especially meaningful given the team flirted with extinction several years ago when it struggled to find new investors.

"Just winning one race doesn't overcome it," he said. "But it puts you in a higher-speed track, and you know you can do it. ... I think it's just going to make it that much easier to go from here."

Though Almirola was appreciative of the car's history — it has been run in a Cup-record 1,898 races and has 198 wins, second to the No. 11 — he said, "I'm a little bit selfish, and I'm more worried about the fact I've won my first Cup race."

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When No. 43 came in No. 1

The previous five wins for the famed No. 43 in Cup:

1999: John Andretti, Martinsville

1997: Bobby Hamilton, Rockingham

1996: Bobby Hamilton, Phoenix

1984: Richard Petty, Daytona

1984: Richard Petty, Dover

Source: USA TODAY Sports research


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