Heading into Saturday night’s NASCAR Cup Series Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway, respected blue collar racer BJ McLeod had never scored a top-10 finish in his 274 career NASCAR National Series starts.
After a wild and chaotic race at Daytona, which saw three big crashes in the final 15 laps of the race, McLeod notched one for the underdogs as he scored a ninth-place finish in his No. 78 Gatorland Ford Mustang.
In addition to being his first personal top-10 finish in NASCAR, McLeod’s finish also marked the first-ever top-10 finish for Live Fast Motorsports, the team co-owned by McLeod and former NASCAR racer Matt Tifft.
After climbing from the car, McLeod received a hero’s welcome from his team. It was an emotional moment for the scrappy racer, as fireworks popped off in the distance. Sure, the fireworks were meant as a celebration for race-winner Ryan Blaney, but they may as well have been for McLeod and his team as a ninth-place finish is a herculean effort considering their resources.
How did McLeod score the solid finish?
By driving smart. The 37-year old refused to mix it up near the front for the opening two Stages of the race.
At the end of Stage 1, McLeod ranked 34th. At the end of Stage 2, he was still in 32nd and biding his time.
As attrition began to set in through a wave of big crashes beginning with 15 laps to go, McLeod moved inside the top-30. Then when Chase Elliott triggered the big one with four laps left, McLeod moved into the top-20.
With a clean race car, McLeod was able to avoid another round of carnage on the final lap of the overtime finish to scoot through for the impressive finish.
For a driver who has forged his own path to the NASCAR Cup Series, a path filled with hard work, dedication and tireless effort on a shoe-string budget, it’s incredible to see it all culminate in a top-10 finish at the World Center of Speed — Daytona International Speedway.
McLeod, who already had legions of loyal fans heading into Saturday night, undoubtedly gained some more along the way with his smart drive to finish ninth.
Toby is the Founder, Editor and go-to man for TobyChristie.com. He is also the co-host of The Final Lap Weekly Podcast. Additionally, Toby is a NMPA (National Motorsports Press Association) award winning writer, and has followed NASCAR as a fan since 1993.