Friday night’s Nationwide race at Daytona seemed to have the best of both worlds for restrictor plate fans. Yes, the outcome was ultimately decided by tandem drafting. But in the process, there was more than enough pack racing to whet fans’ appetites, turning the event into a wild competition of record-setting proportions.
How good was it? The race featured a Nationwide Series-record 42 lead changes amongst 16 drivers. That broke the previous mark of 38 changes from the February event, even though the July one is 50 miles shorter. No one driver led more than eight consecutive laps all night.
Early on, during the first stint of tandem drafting, you had some of the big names up there in the mix, like Danica Patrick, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and others. However, underdogs Mike Wallace and Joe Nemechek were once again able to show their might at a plate track. This group of ten drivers drove away from the rest of the field to the tune of an eight-second lead.
However, Sam Hornish, Jr. coming back up to speed after pitting on Lap 41 destabilized the front runners. Wallace had to make an evasive move to avoid Hornish, positioned on the inside lane instead of below the yellow line. That caused a swerve and a spin off the nose of Bryan Silas, who had just been lapped by the leaders.
Following the caution, the top drivers tried to get back into their tandem drafts and draw away again, but they could not do so. The pack of nearly 30 cars stayed compacted together. Wallace, despite sparking heavily at the start of the run after his spin, was still very competitive. He even got back to the lead and was still going to be a factor in the outcome of the race. However, an ill-timed swap resulted in James Buescher running into the back of him and sparking the Big One. According to ESPN, 16 different cars were involved in the crash, including Cup veterans and Nationwide regulars alike. Brian Scott (already laps down due to a fuel pump cable failure), Buescher, Wallace and Brad Keselowski were eliminated.
Tandem drafting in the latter stages of the race took out multiple potential contenders. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. managed to get Brad Sweet loose on Lap 77, spinning the Great Clips Chevrolet hard into the inside wall driver’s side first. Sweet was OK, but it was a nasty, flush hit. Stenhouse then did the same thing to Jeffrey Earnhardt a few laps later off of Turn 2. This hard wreck eliminated Earnhardt and Danica Patrick, while Blake Koch spun as well.
After a tire casing came off of John Wes Townley’s wounded car to bring out a yellow late in the race, the event concluded with a green-white-checkered finish. Logano stamped out his advantage on the actual restart, but got out too far in front, allowing Kurt Busch to overtake him for the win. It was Busch’s second victory of the season and the first for his Cup-based program, Phoenix Racing in NASCAR’s Nationwide division.
*Kurt Busch* was able to go from zero to hero on Friday night. Yes, he’s a Cup regular, but his performance showed a couple of very important things. First: how determined he is to succeed. For multiple laps, Kurt’s No. 1 was spraying water out of the overflow while pushing Stenhouse. But despite the overheating, he refused to leave the Ford driver’s bumper until a yellow flew for debris off of John Wes Townley’s car with a few laps to go. Secondly, he appeared to be quite humble during the post-race press conference. Busch was quick to say that he didn’t really want the victory for himself, but for his team that works so hard. It’s the continuance of recent form (Ex: Sonoma) for Kurt, and we’ll see if it holds up long-term.
*Michael Annett* put up a career-best finish for the second week in a row, finishing third. However, it was a trying night. Annett received significant damage in the “Big One” on Lap 66 and made multiple stops to address the situation under that yellow. Towards the end of the race, though he put the No. 43 car in position to battle for the win. Annett hooked up with Austin Dillon to try to get past the duo of Kurt Busch and Stenhouse, making progress over the final two laps but just couldn’t pull it off. The contact that caused Dillon’s crash was unfortunate — the two made contact heading to the start/finish line, sending the No. 3 sideways heading to the checkered — but you didn’t see any anger from Dillon about it. Both drivers did a press conference together afterwards and joked around with each other.
*Joey Logano* was quite strong as well on Friday night, leading 12 laps and finishing in fifth. In retrospect, he may have made the final move just a little bit too early. He took the lead on the green-white-checkered restart and led at the white flag. However, Kurt Busch’s run with pushing help from Stenhouse was more than enough to push through for the win.
_Note: In post-race technical inspection, Logano’s car measured too low in the front end. Penalties are quite likely and will be announced on Tuesday._
*Danny Efland* managed to lose a lap early in the race, get it back via the Lucky Dog, then get caught up in the Big One. However, the team persevered and repaired the damage, keeping the car competitive enough to hang with the field. Efland then avoided more wrecks and brought the No. 4 TradeBank Chevrolet home in 13th. This ties Efland’s career-best finish, set in February’s DRIVE4COPD 300 at Daytona in February.
The pack racing segment of the event was fairly beneficial to drivers like *John Wes Townley.* Long known for an unfortunate propensity to crash, Townley actually has a fairly decent record of being competitive at plate races, either in the Camping World Truck Series, Nationwide, or ARCA. He was beginning to come to the front when Mike Wallace’s swapping error resulted in James Buescher running him over and causing the Big One. Townley had nowhere to go and ended up in the wall, ruining his night. The team did repair the Barberitos Toyota and got Townley back on track, but a 25th-place finish could have been oh-so-much better under the right circumstances.
*Jeffrey Earnhardt* competed in a one-off for Rick Ware Racing in their No. 15 Mustang. For awhile, it looked as if Dale Earnhardt’s grandson was going to put together an exquisite run for the underdog RWR team. However, a mistimed bump from Stenhouse sent Earnhardt spinning into the backstretch wall from third on Lap 83. Earnhardt was mighty displeased with Stenhouse and greeted him trackside with the universal racing symbol for unhappiness. You know what that is… however, while it’s little consolation Earnhardt did very well up until the crash.
*Austin Dillon* gets two ugly mentions this week. First, he originally snagged the pole position for the race. However, in post-qualifying technical inspection, an uncapped cooling hose was discovered. According to NASCAR, this “mistake” would create an aerodynamic advantage for Dillon; they disallowed the qualifying time and forced him to start in the rear of the field. Penalties will come early next week. Since this incident marks the second week in a row Dillon’s car has failed an inspection, expect a hefty fine and for crew chief Danny Stockman to be suspended.
Despite this setback, Dillon was clearly in the hunt for the win. However, coming to the line, he was turned by Michael Annett and went through the grass before coming on to the racing surface. There, he was first hit by Kyle Busch and Johanna Long, then went up to the outside wall and got clouted by Robert Richardson, Jr. It was an ugly-looking wreck, even though all drivers ended up OK. For Dillon, he was still credited with a fourth-place finish, but his car clearly paid the price.
*Danica Patrick,* despite leading 13 laps and running strongly all race long, ultimately had a quite disturbing end to her evening. On Lap 83, Jeffrey Earnhardt spun out exiting Turn 2, the recipient of an inappropriate bump from Stenhouse. Patrick was trying to avoid the incident when she was tapped by Eric McClure. Her car then slid hard into the inside wall on the backstretch, left front first. The crash collapsed the steering column so that the bottom of the wheel was nearly at Patrick’s helmet level. According to tweets during the race, this destruction also happened in McClure’s car when he had his big hit at Talladega. Very scary to watch from the in-car camera; luckily, Patrick walked away uninjured from the crash and simply bummed out with her 31st-place result.
*Underdog Performer of the Race: Timmy Hill.* Much like in the February race at Daytona, Hill didn’t have a really fast car. However, he was able to keep himself out of trouble for the entire race, avoiding the big wrecks. In a race like this one, that’s really all you need in order to put up a good finish. For Hill, that performance resulted in a ninth-place result and a clean Poynt Chevrolet (yes, they went with the Bowtie instead of the Blue Oval this week) for Rick Ware Racing to take back to their shop.
*Underdog Note:* Morgan Shepherd was entered in the race, but ultimately withdrew on Thursday morning. This change left the event with only 43 teams attempting to qualify. Shepherd will be back at New Hampshire next weekend, but it just goes to show how much of a shoestring that Shepherd Racing Ventures actually runs on.
Start and park teams comprised five of the 43 starters (Jeff Green, Stephen Leicht, Josh Wise, Chase Miller and Mike Harmon) in Friday’s race. These drivers took home $66,984 in purse money.
Sprint Cup regulars comprised six of the 43 starters in Friday night’s race. Two of them (Kurt Busch and Joey Logano) finished in the top 10 and collected a total of $169,935 in purse money.
192 of 688 starting positions occupied
$3,923,632 dollars won
8 of 15 trophies collected (53.3 percent)
*The Final Word*
– Prior to the event, the skies were quite ugly near Daytona. There was a strong thunderstorm hovering over the Pine Barrens roughly ten miles west of the track just dousing parts of Volusia County with heavy rains. However, this cell remained stationary and never affected the race before dissipating.
– Kyle Busch had a pretty bad night in his No. 54. Yes, he led five laps, but the driver was also penalized on pit road for an uncontrolled tire. Then, he got wrapped up in the Big One before getting caught up in Dillon’s crash at the finish. Kyle was seen walking away, a little bit upset after the final wreck but I don’t blame him.
– Friday night’s race was the qualifying event for the Nationwide Dash 4 Cash. Stenhouse, Annett, Dillon and Elliott Sadler will be racing for $100,000 next Saturday at New Hampshire. This year, the competition is being held over consecutive races instead of being spread out over a couple of months. If one eligible driver for the Dash 4 Cash manages to win the next four races in a row, he will take home a $1 million dollar bonus.
– After Friday night’s cavalcade of drafting, the series next heads up to New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the F.W. Webb 200. Coverage begins at 2:30pm EDT on ESPN.