Erik Jones spent most of the 2020 Busch Clash languishing outside the draft after missing his pit box. Then, as the laps wound down, he was a pinball in multiple wrecks. But when the curtain closed on NASCAR’s season-opening exhibition turned Demolition Derby, Jones was somehow the last man standing.
Jones crossed the finish line Sunday (Feb. 9) with a crunched-up hood, leading the 88th and final lap on a race that stretched nearly 20 percent past its scheduled distance. It was the only circuit he led at Daytona International Speedway as a boost from a similarly-damaged Denny Hamlin was enough to push him across the finish line.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) February 9, 2020
“It wasn’t the fastest car left in the race but we brought it home,” Jones said after the first Busch Clash victory of his career. “Feels good to get another win. Hopefully, next Sunday we cap it off with another one.”
Jones benefitted from the field being slimmed to just six cars in a race that suffered through four different wrecks in the final 25 laps. The final restart had just five cars on the lead lap but Hamlin, Jones’ teammate, was still running a lap behind. With time running out, the duo got hooked up together and pulled off a tandem draft that blasted by everyone else in the pack.
“Everybody was slicing with that few cars,” Jones explained. “Denny just locked on and we stuck together. My car was so draggy it wasn’t too much for us to stay connected and he was just able to push us home.”
“That was so awesome,” Hamlin added after the race. “I knew he needed to strap in because that last lap, I was going to push him. Don’t care if I was going to push him into a wreck, I was going to push him.
“I had his damaged race car to cover up all the damage to mine. It just worked.”
The bizarre ending was the latest twist in a Busch Clash that never seemed to have any rhythm. The first 65 laps were run with just a competition caution. Cars ran single file while pit strategy, not on-track passing, determined track position.
In the race’s second half, the seven Chevrolet drivers in the field plus Joey Logano chose not to pit, trying to stretch their fuel to the finish. But 10 of the 11 other cars who stopped quickly ran down the others running at 60 percent throttle and slightly older tires. Jones, ironically, seemed out of it after overshooting his pit box under green.
Eventually, that second pack meshed together and the racing went from single-file action to sizzling in a hurry. But a block Joey Logano threw on Kyle Busch, causing both to wreck started a series of incidents that decimated the field and forced multiple overtimes.
Brad Keselowski, caught up in that first incident, didn’t mince words when talking about the racing.
“Dumb dumb blocks,” Keselowski said to reporters. “It’s the same thing over and over again. Someone throws a stupid block and it’s never going to work.”
"Dumb dumb racing."
"Its the same thing over and over again. Someone throws a stupid block and it's never going to work." pic.twitter.com/APKAvnpndA
— Matt Weaver (@MattWeaverAW) February 9, 2020
“These late blocks just don’t work,” Hamlin said. “If you don’t want to finish, you keep doing the same things over and over.”
The field also suffered from drivers shaking off the rust in the season opener. William Byron spun his tires, then spun around in the next restart after the KyBusch-Keselowski-Logano wreck. Half the 18-car field got involved.
Next up was a crash where Hamlin got bumped a little too much by Chase Elliott. Then, on yet another restart, Elliott got burned and put in the wall himself after making too much contact with Kyle Larson.
By then, the field was a mess of banged-up sheet metal. Just five cars were on the lead lap and only Austin Dillon appeared to have a “clean” race car as the field took green for the final time. 12 cars officially failed to finish one year after a major wreck also took out half the field.
Daytona now goes dormant for a few days in terms of NASCAR action. The next NASCAR Cup Series race on the schedule will be Thursday’s (Feb. 13) Duel qualifying races to set the field for next Sunday’s Daytona 500.
POST-RACE BREAKDOWN WITH DAVEY SEGAL
Trying to make sense of what just happened in the #BuschClash?
— Frontstretch (@Frontstretch) February 9, 2020