Who… gets my shoutout of the race?
Only one driver this season used Daytona 500 pole criteria to qualify for NASCAR’s revamped Clash: Danica Patrick. The former pole winner of the Great American Race suffered through a difficult offseason, one that featured Stewart-Haas Racing filing a lawsuit against Patrick’s sponsor Nature’s Bakery for pulling their 25-race sponsorship deal. But Patrick, despite that and a change from Chevrolet to Ford finished an impressive fourth in The Clash.
Denny Hamlin led for much of the second segment of the race before mistiming a block on Brad Keselowski and spinning out of turn two on the white-flag lap. The incident all but handed the race win to Keselowski’s teammate Joey Logano, but the race for second ended in a three-wide photo finish. Kyle Busch finished just ahead of Alex Bowman (Who also kind of deserves a shoutout for making the most off one more opportunity to sub for Dale Earnhardt, Jr.) Then… it was Patrick, who came in fast on the outside to close a strong fourth. Patrick ran midpack for most of the race and didn’t really make much noise until she almost beat both Busch and Bowman to the line.
Darrell Waltrip, truly one of the great scholars of our time, probably put it best in the NASCAR on Fox booth: “Where did she come from?”
What… is the takeaway from this race?
The racing itself was fine. It featured just about all that one could expect from a modern Daytona race; teammates in the top two, three, or four blocking the rest of the field and then a pretty great finish when that monopoly got broken up, allowing somebody else to make a closing move.
However, the racing in general proved the Clash really needs to be run at night; it’s a shame the original time got rained out. It’s kind of cool that NASCAR ended up racing in the daytime the first year they brought the Clash name back because that’s how it used to be, but this race just doesn’t work as well under those conditions. Some teams have traditionally treated the Clash as a bit of a practice session for the other races throughout Speedweeks. The racing, in general made it seem like that instead of teams having special setups for nighttime conditions.
Obviously, NASCAR was in a bit of a bind here and really didn’t have much choice but to run the race Sunday morning before Daytona 500 qualifying. However, this race pretty much guarantees that nobody at NASCAR is going to suggest scheduling a daytime version in the future.
Also, it was a bit of a disappointment there wasn’t an insane save by Kyle Busch from certain doom this year. That should be a rule next season for this race; get a panel of judges and the driver who makes the best save of the night as determined by the panel gets $50,000 for the charity of their choice. TV could even cut to them in an insert whenever a big save happens and they could give their scores live, like in figure skating.
Where… did the pole sitter and the defending race winner end up?
Brad Keselowski was the only driver who really seemed to have anything for Toyota, leading 18 laps in the first segment and then leading the charge against Hamlin on the final lap. Unfortunately for Keselowski, he dropped back to sixth due to the incident with Hamlin at the end of the race.
Denny Hamlin led all but three of the final 50 laps en route to a 13th-place finish. The first two laps of the second segment were led by Logano, accomplished before the pits opened under caution. The third lap? That was the one that counted as an ill-timed block on Keselowski, a move which ended with the defending winner of both this race and the Daytona 500 spinning out. Still, Hamlin and the other members of the “Toyota Tribe” that dominated the 500 last year proved they are still a dominant force at Speedweeks even with the loss of Carl Edwards to retirement in the offseason. The five Toyota drivers pitted on the final lap of the first segment, didn’t pit in the caution between segments, and held their now trademark stranglehold on most of the top five for much of the second segment of the race.
When… did it all get sideways?
One of the reasons why NASCAR returned to a smaller field for this year’s Clash was the large amount of accidents from last season’s 25-car field. There were only four incidents this year, with the last one on the final lap not even causing a caution. Compare that to last year, with seven cautions and six being for multi-car accidents.
Still though, the race wasn’t completely free of trouble. Monster Energy’s first unofficial race as title sponsor of the series featured the Monster Energy-sponsored car of Kurt Busch wrecking exiting turn four just 18 laps in. Busch hit the outside wall but was thankfully cleared of injury in the speedway’s medical center after getting out of the car. Busch’s Ford, however, was injured beyond repair; it went behind the wall and did not return to the racetrack.
As the NASCAR on Fox team covering the event for FS1 weren’t shy to point out, Jimmie Johnson’s wreck into the inside wall off turn four on lap 49 marked six straight Clash races for Johnson that he did not finish. Johnson didn’t hit anybody; he simply got a bit loose under Chase Elliott and self-spun.
Finally, on lap 63, Kevin Harvick was moving to the inside in the middle of the pack and Martin Truex, Jr. tried to follow him. Truex, however, didn’t quite clear the No. 42 of Kyle Larson and got spun out. Truex tapped Chris Buescher, causing Buescher to spin as well as both wrecked. It was a bit ironic for Buescher, considering the Texan had spent the first segment out of the draft in the back to avoid accidents. Buescher was able to recover and finish ninth while Truex crashed out to 15th. Larson, meanwhile became the first victim of NASCAR’s new rule limiting the amount of repair work teams can do, having to bow out in 14th after limping to pit road.
Why… did Joey Logano win?
He was at the right place at the right time. Hamlin and Keselowski’s incident doomed everybody in the inside lane and ensured Logano the win in virtue of being the first car on the outside of the two leaders. Less than a week away from “The Great American Race”, it’s looking like a war between the six Toyota-supported teams and the two Team Penske cars up front. Those eight will decide who will put their name in the record books on Sunday alongside the other great champions of the Daytona 500.
Is… there such a thing as fast friends anymore?
Kyle Busch and Alex Bowman had a bit of a discussion on pit road following the race. Busch wasn’t happy Bowman raced him for second on the last lap, feeling he and Bowman could have teamed up and gotten around Logano.
The chances of them both catching Logano were a bit low to start with, though considering Logano’s lead out of turn two on the final lap. The chances both could get around Logano, then Bowman could somehow beat Busch to the line were even lower.
Bowman doesn’t know when he’ll be in a race car again in competition. His job on Sunday was to get the best result he could get, not help Kyle Busch. If it was Hendrick teammates Chase Elliott or Jimmie Johnson, maybe there would be a better argument here. But there’s no real reason to fault Bowman for trying to steal second instead of probably settling for third.
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