DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Reigning Whelen Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by Michelin Rookie of the Year and former MX-5 Cup Shootout winner Nate Cicero (No. 83 McCumbee McAleer) survived a last lap frenzy to win at Daytona International Speedway on Friday. He was closely followed across the finish line by his teammate Jeremy Fletcher (No. 22 McCumbee McAleer Racing) making it a McCumbee McAleer Racing 1-2.
The second Whelen Mazda MX-5 Cup race at Daytona played out much like the first, as the draft was key once again ahead of a scrappy final lap.
Connor Zilisch (No. 72 BSI Racing) had an incredible opening lap, going from 11th to fourth. Two laps later, he was in the lead, at the front of an eight-car pack.
Not long after, the dangers of Daytona’s high banks were on display. Preston Pardus (No. 52 Rick Ware Racing), got loose in the draft and hit the wall exiting NASCAR Turn Four. He bounced back down the track to the infield and eventually came to a rest near Turn One. Nathan Nicholson (No. 56 JTR Motorsports Engineering) moved to avoid hitting Pardus, but that turned the car and sent him into the wall at start/finish.
The first and only full-course caution of the race was issued with Zilisch still leading the field.
After four laps behind the Whelen Mazda MX-5 Cup safety car, the green flag was back on display.
Zilisch continued to lead for several laps afterwards, but his strong defense came to a sad end when his car’s ABS failed. He locked up his brakes several times on a single lap before making his way to pit lane.
At the front, Tyler Gonzalez (No. 57 Saito Motorsport), Cicero and Jared Thomas (No. 96 JTR Motorsports Engineering) were working together to stay up front.
On the final lap, Cicero led the field into Turn One followed by Thomas and Westin Workman (No. 13 BSI Racing). Entering Turn Five a chain reaction that started at the back of the pack ended with Thomas and Workman spinning into the grass.
Cicero now had a healthy lead going into the Le Mans Chicane, a spot history says you do not want to be in on the final lap of a Mazda MX-5 race at Daytona. However, Cicero managed to build enough of a gap to prevent Gonzalez, Fletcher and Rollan from drafting by him before the checkered flag.
“I was just watching the mirror the whole time,” Cicero said. “They had a whole train coming but my spotter was saying I had a 10- or 12-car gap. I was just hoping we had enough. The MMR car was absolutely on wheels and the team swept the weekend. To have the DNF yesterday after having such a strong start, we needed redemption today. It never gets old winning races, so I’m so happy to do this today.
“I think there was a small crash behind me and so I ended up with a huge lead and just held on.”
Gonzalez crossed the line in second but was issued a 10-second penalty for an incident early in the race, bumping him to ninth in the final results.
That gave the runner-up spot to Fletcher, who got his second podium finish of the weekend.
“It is definitely nice to be consistent here with two podiums,” Fletcher said. “The car was on fire. I can’t thank the whole McCumbee McAleer team enough, all my sponsors: The Holster Store, Home Decor and More. It has been great. On the last lap, going into the Horseshoe I got hit from behind. Everyone kind of got plowed out of the way. Not sure who it was, but I felt it! For the rest of the season, hopefully I can stay up front and stay consistent and start making new drafting buddies.”
Finishing third, Rollan is still waiting to get that elusive Daytona win, but was happy with third after starting the final lap in 11th place.
“It seemed to be similar to yesterday,” Rollan said. “I tried to get as many positions as I could. I saw Jared [Thomas] spinning up top, so I just stayed tight. I got some pushes and I’m happy to be here getting the first podium for Rollan Racing and BSI.”
Thursday race winner Gresham Wagner (No. 5 McCumbee McAleer Racing) finished fourth and rookie Noah Harmon (No. 99 Spark Performance) completed the top five.
Teams have plenty of time to regroup before Rounds 3 and 4 at Sebring International Raceway, March 13 – 16. For more information visit www.mx-5cup.com.