Editor’s Note: Anyone looking for information on the last-lap crash, which injured 33 fans will find it elsewhere on our website. The following is just a race racap only… check out the links below for the latest information we have — as well as reaction to the incident.
Inside The Nationwide Series: COPD 300
As smoke cleared from a last-lap horror, “Smoke” the driver was wheeling his way into Victory Lane once again at Daytona. Tony Stewart, who had spent most of the day riding comfortably in the back of the pack timed his move perfectly to surge forward during the race’s final stretch. His winning percentage here, as a result in the Nationwide cars has jumped to an absurd 50%, with seven victories in 14 career starts – including five of the last seven.
Sam Hornish, Jr., the top Nationwide Series regular had a nice recovery from losing the draft early to claim second. He spun across the line, along with third-place rookie Alex Bowman as almost everyone behind Stewart suffered severe damage from the Kyle Larson crash. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Parker Kligerman rounded out the top-5 finishers.
For Hornish, the season-opening race was a rollercoaster of ups and downs. Despite his runner-up result, combined with a record 20 drivers who led this race the Indiana native never got up front for a single lap. In the middle of the event, while choosing to hang towards the rear of the field he actually made a rookie mistake, backed off too much and lost the draft to the point he was losing three seconds a lap to the leaders. Penske, in turn issued team orders to have Brad Keselowski slow down and catch the championship contender so he wouldn’t lose a lap. But here’s the good news: down the stretch, none other than Stewart, Daytona’s master who chooses drafting partners wisely trusted Hornish to push him to the promised land. If that’s not a sign of how far this IndyCar convert has come, once criticized for his tendency to wreck “on a dime” in Cup I don’t know what is.
There has been so much talk about Kyle Larson, Kyle Larson, Kyle Larson that it’s easy to forget there’s other promising rookies in this series. Saturday afternoon, from start to finish we learned the name Alex Bowman… and I have a feeling we won’t soon forget it. The 19-year-old, fielded in equipment from constant overachiever RAB Racing dazzled in his fifth career start, mastering the tandems with ease and avoiding precarious situations. While the third-place ending was an “ouch” moment, one of several innocent wreck victims who skidded across the line that’s still an outstanding podium finish. Expect good things from this freshman as the year unfolds.
Joe Gibbs Racing, early in the event was threatening to run away with things, forming a solid 1-2-3 effort with Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, and Brian Vickers. Combined, they led 40 of 120 laps but none of them wound up inside the top 10. Busch blew his engine, with 20 laps left while Vickers overheated badly and had to make several unscheduled stops. Kenseth, as well was touch-and-go before getting involved in a late-race accident which led to a disappointing end for what may have been the fleet of fastest cars.
For supposed championship contenders the season got off to a disappointing start. Trevor Bayne was in position to contend until he broke a driveshaft. Michael Annett started the day’s other big multi-car wreck, an incident that left him in the hospital with a chest contusion. Austin Dillon was the guy Annett made contact with, destroying the No. 3 Chevrolet and leaving him 21st. And finally, Regan Smith, off Turn 4 on the final lap was leading this race. By the checkered flag, his Chevy was in tatters and he was listed 14th in the final rundown.
The last-lap incident. What’s to say that hasn’t already been said? We are so, so lucky this Sunday that we’re not dealing with at least one fatality; things could have been so much worse. The question, going forward is did NASCAR dodge a bullet from a fluke accident or are there fundamental changes that need to be addressed concerning Daytona and Talladega?
Danica Patrick pulled her car into the garage, thinking it was a blown engine. Instead? All she needed to do, in theory was switch to the backup ignition. So many issues here, although not all of them are with the driver. Where’s the crew chief, the spotter explaining to her to try all switches? Why wasn’t the diagnosis quicker, and why wouldn’t they tell her to come to the pit stall so they could look at it? Surely, the driver does not deserve all of the blame here. But in terms of sheer competency, when you’re starting on the pole of the Daytona 500 and don’t know some of the basic troubleshooting mechanisms behind the wheel? You don’t look very good.
Underdog of the Race: Eric McClure. The nephew of former Cup Series owner Larry McClure, who won the Daytona 500 twice with his former No. 4 team has been much-maligned for his driving struggles. In 199 career starts, most with patchwork sponsorship from Hefty Trash Bags that pales in comparison to the big teams he had yet to score a top-10 finish. But all the trials and tribulations, for this Virginian, which included losing his property to his tornado in recent years, were worth it this Saturday afternoon. At or near the front most of the race, the right pushes from Nelson Piquet, Jr., among others left him a formidable force as the event entered its stretch run. Climbing into the top 5 with ease, McClure actually charged all the way to the front on lap 99, just before a yellow came out for fluid on the track. Once the green flag flew again, a flurry of multi-car accidents ensued and while the No. 14 avoided them, it never seemed like McClure was exactly on his rhythm again in terms of finding the right partner to win the race. But an eighth-place result, a career best once the smoke cleared from that last-lap wreck has to have him on Cloud 9 this week.
Sprint Cup Imposters, Second Chances and Surging Stars
New for this year, this category compares those who have been full-time Cup regulars, dipping down into the Nationwide Series for their second chance vs. those who are up-and-coming young stars making their way up the ladder (Austin Dillon and Kyle Larson are such examples). And then, of course especially in races like Daytona we’ve got an abundance of full-time Cup drivers crashing the party.
Here’s the stats you need to know…
Top 10 Finishers Saturday
2 were Sprint Cup regulars
1 was a former Sprint Cup regular (Hornish)
2 were Nationwide Series rookies
5 were Nationwide regulars who have not yet made it to Cup
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