400

Justin Haley, 20, won the race at Daytona International Speedway after it was red-flagged because of lightning and rain.

So much hand-wringing over one race. You’d think race fans were insulted by the end of the Coke Sugar Free 400, or whatever they call it these days.

Justin Haley, the 20-year-old winner, is being vilified by some who saw the outcome as a travesty, and maybe it wasn’t the best way to end a race. But it’s not Haley’s fault. Give him some credit. He won the race. And give his team credit, too. They made the call to keep him out before the race was red-flagged.

So the backlash of journalists and social media denizens slamming NASCAR and the young driver and his team is completely misguided.

Blame the lightning. Blame the rain. This race was not going to be run under the lights. No way NASCAR was going to send 70,000 race face fans onto the streets and highways of Florida after dark on the July Fourth weekend.

That was never going to happen.

So many events came together to produce the imperfect storm that you simply have to walk away from this one, give the kid the trophy and drive to Kentucky. It’s over.

Wreck

A huge wreck at Daytona involved 17 cars and took out most of the leaders, allowing 20-year-old Justin Haley to steal the 400-mile race.

After the big wreck and then the lightning bolt and then the rain and then the decision, race fans at home watching on television were confused, incensed even, that they’d waited for two days to watch the 400 only to get a shortened event with a fluke winner and an entire evening under the lights left to get the final laps in.

For those fans who actually went to the race, sat through two days of weather, enduring lightning and rain and delays and red flags and Bubba Wallace throwing footballs at them, they were ready to go home.

They got to see a great race.

That’s what so many people are missing here or are loathe to admit, but the race was one hell of a spectacle with some of the closest racing, competitive stages, dramatic passes and blocks and then a huge crash where no one got hurt.

That’s a full race, no matter how many laps were run. NASCAR’s aero package, which has been a failure at so many tracks this year, worked at Daytona, and that seemed to take everyone by surprise.

It was a great race.

So what if it had a screwed-up finish? So what if it had a fluke winner?

The sport actually has some buzz now with two straight weeks of first-time winners, some actual racing worth watching and a little controversy. That’s all good.

Good for NASCAR for not risking everyone’s life at the race track with lightning and footballs falling all around them. Good for NASCAR for not sending them all into the dark streets wet, tired and drunk.

And good for Justin Haley. Y’all shut up, and let him enjoy this.

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Contact Ed Hardin at 336-373-7069, and follow @Ed_Hardin on Twitter.