Who’s in the headline – The 2017 season took an extra day to kick off thanks to rain on Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway, but The Clash did not disappoint. Joey Logano has proven to be a strong plate racer since joining Team Penske, and it showed again on Sunday. Avoiding the spinning cars of Denny Hamlin and teammate Brad Keselowski, Logano beat Kyle Busch and Alex Bowman to the checkered flag.
Chase Elliott was the final car on the track during the final group of 12 during qualifying for the Daytona 500. His teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. had set the quick time in the run before Elliott, but the No. 24 car knocked him off of the top spot, claiming his second consecutive pole in the Great American Race.
Earnhardt will start on the outside of the front row. They are the only two drivers guaranteed their starting position for the 500.
What happened – The green-flag dropped on The Clash and Keselowski led much of the first part of the race with Hamlin in tow. A pit penalty relegated the No. 2 car to the back of the pack along with Busch, who sped coming into the pits. The rest of the Joe Gibbs Racing brigade played pit strategy and wound up at the front of the field for much of the final two-thirds of the race.
When it came to go time with five laps to go, Keselowski and Logano finally got hooked together on the track and chased down the leaders. Busch also charged to the front with them. On the final lap, Keselowski had a run under Hamlin out of turn 2. Hamlin tried to crowd him to the inside line, but made contact with the No. 2 car. Hamlin spun, Keselowski got out of shape and Logano swept past Bowman followed by Busch.
As a result, Logano ran away for the win, Bowman and Busch bounced off of each other coming to the line with Busch edging out the No. 88 car for second. Danica Patrick kept her nose clean and capitalized on the mayhem of the last lap to make a run to fourth, her first career top-five finish in any Cup Series event, just ahead of her Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kevin Harvick.
Why you should care – They are different cars, but it is still plate racing. The 500 looks like it will be a battle between the Toyotas and the Fords, though Chevrolet swept the front row. While Bowman was in the mix at the end the remaining Chevrolets seemed to be behind on speed.
Seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson was bit by an extreme loose condition that has befallen Hendrick Motorsports cars at Daytona over the last few years. Earnhardt spent the race in the booth, but he’s been installed as the betting favorite for the 500 thanks to the strong run by Bowman.
What your friends are talking about – The 2017 season is the start of the latest iteration of the NASCAR Cup Series. Monster Energy has come on board as the title sponsor. The company has long embraced motorsports and is a stalwart in the energy drink segment. Their appeal in the highly desired 18-34 demographic will potentially wrangle in many new viewers to the sport. While people in Daytona for the Clash said the activation was minimal compared to the Sprint days, it is the first weekend. Expect to see quite a bit of exposure of the brand at the race track, along with lots of fire and explosions in pre and post-race.
The new season for the Cup Series will see a myriad of changes to the rules and the format of the races. Depending on your perspective, they are good or down-right horrible. For those on the bad side, there is no hope for you. Fans have asked for changes to the series for years and, aside from not eliminating the Chase, every other request has been fulfilled. A look at the major changes:
- Racing will matter throughout every race. Fans have complained that drivers ride around too much. As a result the races are now being broken into segments. The first two segments will pay points for the top 10 finishers in each segment. The end of the race will pay points as it always did, with the exception of second place getting 35 instead of 39 and the final five finishers, from 36th through 40th, receiving one point. In addition, the winners of the first two segments will receive a playoff point and the winner will receive five playoff points. Those points will stick with the drivers through the first three rounds of the playoffs, assuming they make the playoffs.
- There will be no more rolling wrecks on the race track. If a car is damaged a team has five minutes to repair it on pit road and return it to the race track at minimum speed. If the car cannot maintain minimum speed then it must be brought behind the wall and retired. Also, any car that goes to the garage will not be allowed to return to the track. With the final five cars receiving the same points, there is little to no incentive to put a damaged car, multiple laps down, back on the racetrack.
- The winner of the regular season will receive additional recognition at the end of the season. There has been frustration in the past about the driver leading the points when the playoffs start receiving nothing for their efforts. There is supposed to be some recognition at the end of the year for the driver who leads the regular season points.
- A bad race won’t kill your title hopes anymore. The playoff points that drivers accumulate all season will carry through for all three rounds of the playoffs leading to the finals. If a driver has a strong regular season and accumulates a large number of playoff points, that will cushion them against a bad finish. Playoff points will be accumulated all of the way through the playoffs so drivers winning races at the beginning of the playoffs will have a benefit throughout the nine races leading to the finals.
- NASCAR will have a traveling safety team. The Verizon IndyCar Series has had a traveling safety crew for years and that team is intimately familiar with the medical history of all of their drivers. That knowledge can be invaluable in those crucial seconds when a driver is in a wreck and the team first arrives at a car. The traveling team will go to all of the races, so a familiar set of faces will greet a driver any time they have an incident on the track. That knowledge and familiarity could save a life at a critical moment.
- NASCAR is also enhancing their concussion protocol. Any driver involved in an incident, whether they can drive back to the garage or not, must go to the infield care center for an analysis to ensure a concussion was not received during the wreck. The sports world has changed and ensuring drivers are as healthy as they can be when they are on the track is smart for everyone.
Earnhardt is going to wait a couple of months before committing to a contract extension with Hendrick Motorsports. The third generation driver, and perennial Most Popular Driver in the sport, wants to ensure he physically can compete at the level necessary for HMS. Assuming he can continue, he feels he can race a couple more years, but has not put a final number on when he’ll hang up the helmet. He has long said that, once he quits Cup racing, he’ll go back to local short tracks and enjoy the racing more than he did on his way up the ladder.
The inspection penalties for NASCAR have been simplified more. There are now only two levels of penalties for teams to deal with as part of inspection failures. The levels are L1 and L2, both include fines and suspensions, increasing with the severity of the violations. Post-qualifying inspection violations will result in a loss of qualifying time.
Who is mad – Johnson has won the Daytona 500 and the Clash in the past. He has three wins at the World Center of Racing, but in reality, he is an average plate racer.
That was evidenced again Sunday when Johnson crashed out of the Clash for the sixth consecutive year. They certainly aren’t all his fault but two spins on Sunday were both caused by losing the air from his racecar. After notching his seventh Cup Series title last season, he was looking to begin the Expedition for Eight with a strong run in the Clash but it didn’t work out that way.
Hamlin was in position for back-to-back wins in the Clash but he was too late to respond to the attempt by Keselowski on the lead coming off of turn 2 on the final lap. Instead of hoisting the trophy he was limping around the bottom of the track while Logano was celebrating. While he’s mad about the finish in the Clash, he has to feel good about his chances at back-to-back 500 wins.
Who is happy – Bowman was rewarded for winning the pole last fall at Phoenix. He made the most of that opportunity and came home in third place. If he had it to do over again, he probably would have pushed Busch to the line and potentially had a shot at the win, but he is thrilled at another strong run in his final shot in the No. 88 car for a while.
Another best for Patrick with her fourth-place finish. While it isn’t a points race, this was still the best finish ever by a female driver in the Cup Series. People were upset at her inclusion in the event based on a rule that is obviously in place for her benefit. She silenced at least a couple of her detractors with her sprint to the finish ahead of her SHR teammate.
When the checkered flag flew:
Logano’s win was his first in the Clash.
This was his ninth start. He has four top fives and six top 10s in those nine races.
Logano is the 22nd different driver to win the Clash in its 39-year history.
Kyle Busch was the runner-up in the Clash. This was his second career top two in the event, also winning it in 2012.
Bowman rounded out the podium in his first career exhibition race.
Daniel Suarez was the Rookie of the Race.
Elliott won the pole for the 59th Daytona 500. Elliott turned a lap of 46.663 seconds and a speed of 192.872 mph to claim the top starting spot.
Elliott’s pole is the third consecutive Daytona 500 pole for the No. 24 car. He is the fifth driver in history to have consecutive poles for NASCAR’s biggest race. Ken Schrader is the last to do it from 1988-1990. The other drivers to accomplish the feat were Fireball Roberts, Buddy Baker and his father Bill Elliott.
The Elliotts are the fourth father-son duo to win the pole for the 500. Richard and Kyle Petty, Bobby and Davey Allison and Dale Earnhardt and Earnhardt Jr. are the other three.
This is Elliott’s third career pole.
Earnhardt Jr. secured the outside front row starting spot with a lap of 192.864 mph.
Ty Dillon was the fastest qualifying rookie.
What is in the cooler (one to six beers where one is a stinker and six is an instant classic) – After the disappointment of a rainout on Saturday night, Sunday’s race did not disappoint. The drivers spent the majority of the race mixing it up with only a short period of the event single-file.
As the laps were winding down it looked like it would be a JGR walkover, but the Team Penske put the kibosh on that. The intensity of the final laps was what you anticipate from the Clash. It was enough to earn the race four out of a possible six cold Some Beach Brown Ales from the Daytona Beach Brewing Company.
Where do you point your DVR for next week – The Great American Race is next weekend. Coverage from Daytona International Speedway begins at 2:00 p.m. ET on your local FOX affiliate. It can be heard on your local MRN affiliate or SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90.