NASCAR Race Weekend Central
(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2020 Busch Clash at Daytona

The Headline(s): A crash-filled Busch Clash had six cars competing for the win Sunday (Feb. 9) by the end of several green-white-checkered finishes. The one that stuck saw Erik Jones score the victory in a junked Toyota Camry, his first-ever win in this 75-lap NASCAR exhibition. Jones rode a steam-engine push from teammate Denny Hamlin to end the event 13 laps after its regularly scheduled distance at Daytona International Speedway.

According to Hamlin’s team radio, Jones’s car was so torn up it couldn’t even turn by itself. Instead, the No. 11 just shoved it the length of the final half-lap to Victory Lane. 

How It Happened: Though polesitter Ryan Newman led the first lap, it didn’t take long before Martin Truex Jr.’s JGR Toyota picked up where the team left off last Speedweeks, assuming the point as nearly the entire field went single file by lap 5. With the Chevrolets all deliberately dropping to the back on the start, the only real mover in the opening 20 laps was Hamlin. The 2019 Daytona 500 winner continually made unassisted moves trying to “island-hop” through the pack. 

With the Chevrolets isolated in the back, lap 25 saw the all the Fords sans Newman pit coming to the last lap of the first segment. The Chevrolets and Newman proceeded to pit under the scheduled caution, and it was Brad Keselowski who led the field back to green for the final segment.

For the opening few laps of the second segment, the Fords and Toyotas were feverishly racing for position, though by lap 35 the entire field had again strung out single file. With fuel mileage on the minds of every race team, by lap 48 the strategies were clear. All Toyota teams and Ryan Blaney pit for fuel on lap 47, then all but one came in a lap later. Meanwhile, the seven Chevrolets plus Joey Logano stayed out and tried to play the mileage game.

Their gambit failed. A speedy pack of Ford and Toyotas, even while ruthlessly racing for position until lap 55, were gaining two seconds a lap on the Chevrolets. By lap 63, Keselowski caught Chase Elliott at the back of the lead eight-car draft. 

That’s when the Busch Clash officially became the Busch Crash. The first wreck of the day struck when Joey Logano and Kyle Busch collided in turn 4, collecting Keselowski’s Ford with them on lap 66.

The ensuing restart on lap 73 saw another wreck strike. Both Newman and William Byron spun their tires at the flag drop, turning in front of oncoming traffic in the tri-oval.

By this point, the race had launched into NASCAR Overtime with no plans to end anytime soon. Lap 78 saw the leaders make a mess again. This time, Hamlin spun while leading after cutting a right front tire in turn 3; the resulting carnage finally brought out a red flag.

At this point, there were less than 10 cars actually running. But both Elliott and Kyle Larson didn’t let that stop them, wrecking on yet another restart while racing for the lead.

A lap 87 restart, triple overtime, proved to be the charm. Hamlin shoved Jones for over a mile from the backstretch to the start/finish line to score the win for Joe Gibbs Racing, their ninth total in the Busch Clash.

DRIVERS WHO ACCOMPLISHED SOMETHING

For Jones, there’s no doubt luck played a hand in this one. 27 laps short of the (scheduled) checkered flag, he was the only car on-track off the lead lap after overshooting his pit box during a lap 47 stop. That anyone was able to win a Cup Series race with the front hood flapping in the breeze is possibly the definition of luck. But, having said that, the No. 20 team probably needed a trophy as much as any team in the field, and they got one. Crew chief Chris Gayle has been honest this Speedweeks that his No. 20 team was fourth-best at JGR in 2020. That level of performance was not acceptable but winning cures all ails, right?

Austin Dillon, Clint Bowyer, Larson and Newman were the only four other drivers to finish on the lead lap in the 2020 Busch Clash.

It didn’t happen in the Clash, but Ricky Stenhouse Jr. delivered Chevrolet’s only accomplishment on the day by securing the Daytona 500 pole. Hendrick Motorsports’ Alex Bowman secured the outside pole, his third consecutive front row start in the Great American race. Shout-outs as well go to Brendan Gaughan and Justin Haley for locking their non-charter teams into the Daytona 500.

Hamlin still finished sixth after literally wrecking in front of the entire field. In doing so, he pushed a team car to victory, perhaps the least aerodynamic winning tandem draft in history. That’s a positive spin to put on the day…

DRIVERS WHO ACCOMPLISHED NOTHING

…because he certainly wasn’t putting in a convincing performance during the opening 60 laps. Throughout the first stage, Hamlin looked liked corporate teammate Riley Herbst did in the ARCA race yesterday. Time and time again, he tried to pass cars without drafting help… and accomplished nothing by doing it. Lap 14 was a prime example of this pattern; trying to island-hop Blaney and Newman, Hamlin hung out his teammate Truex, then failed to pass either car doing it.

The same story played out on lap 20 when Hamlin failed to complete a solo pass on teammate Kyle Busch. The failed pass left Kyle vulnerable, allowing both Blaney and Newman to jump the No. 18. This continual insistence to play by himself made Hamlin’s comments around lap 55 ring hypocritical.

Speaking of Keselowski, Speedweeks 2020 has been an unmitigated disaster. Forced to spend hours in the garage with his team into last night after he clipped a fence post during Daytona 500 practice (more on that later), Keselowski saw another superspeedway race blow up in his face when he was collected in the Kyle Busch/Logano melee on lap 67. Much was made of Keselowski’s harsh comments directed towards teammate Logano in the immediate aftermath of the wreck, though I’d argue the more telling image was of Keselowski slamming his hands against the ambulance after exiting from his wrecked car.

Bad blood with his longtime Penske teammate isn’t the story. Instead, it’s frustration of how superspeedway racing, the kind that made Keselowski the winningest active driver at Talladega Superspeedway, is now biting him in the ass every time it gets. Our own Matt McLaughlin believes that nerves are getting to Brad this weekend. It’s hard to argue with that assessment… seeing him speak without composure about a Penske teammate is decidedly out of character.

Despite being the official “pole-sitter” for the Clash, Newman spun out unassisted on a lap 73 restart, blamed oil on the track that was never proven to exist (more on that later), and then failed to keep a field of six mostly damaged cars at bay for the final lap when all the chips were on the line. Maybe it’s unfair to pin that on any leader of a superspeedway race in the closing laps, but Sunday felt like a squandered opportunity for the No. 6 team.

All the drivers in Chevrolets took a page out of Ford’s 2019 playbook, simply squandering this one away on strategy. Opting to ride in the back for the opening part of the first segment, the Bowtie Brigade accomplished nothing in learning about the draft or working together to catch rival Fords and Toyotas. Then, the fuel mileage strategy the manufacturer pulled for the second stage blew up in their face long before the tanks ran dry, as the Fords and Toyotas caught those Chevys even while they were fighting amongst themselves for positions in the draft. Byron pulled the same stunt as Newman on the lap 73 restart. And despite all that, with the lead of the race firmly in hand on lap 83, both Elliott and Larson blocked each other into a wreck. Dulling the nose of those Camaros seems to have dulled more than just the front of their racecars…

INSIGHTS, OPINIONS AND FAKE NEWS

Did anyone else think that when Newman stayed out as the rest of the Fords pit on lap 25 that his No. 6 team was stuck in playoff mode, trying to bank points in anticipation of another season on that bubble? Stage racing is confusing even for those of us with college degrees.

With Chevrolet sweeping the front row, Hendrick Motorsports continues to prove their engines are as stout as they come without drafting help. That’s valuable for the Camaro… so few of those cars sell these days, any owner better get used to being alone.

The first Shootout/Clash/whatever the hell you call it that I watched was back in 2004. Perhaps the most memorable storyline from that race was watching Boris Said wheel the Army car and all the time, effort and coaching the MB2 Motorsports team put into helping the road ace play stock car racer at Daytona. Said was effusive after the race in praising his team for their work, because they knew what making the Shootout meant to him as a driver.

Contrast that to the spot Daniel Suarez is in, where his Gaunt Brothers Racing outfit voluntarily skipped the Clash. The reasons for GBR’s decision are myriad and valid (insufficient payout, limited cars for the season, focus on qualifying for the 500 as a non-charter team). Their No. 96 team is also not an established Cup operation the way the No. 01 organization was for Said. Having said that, it is Daytona, and the Clash is of the very few races on the calendar where the entire field actually had to accomplish something on track to qualify. It’s not an indictment on driver or team, but it still says something about the diminished prestige of an event that’s been remade more times than Little Women.

This heart monitor gimmick on FOX has to stop. Heart rate monitors are far from advanced technology. Besides, we all know Jimmie Johnson is alive and well. It’s his relevance that’s on life support. And why do fans want to see the heart rate of a man that’s so ridiculously fit? Put the monitor on an excitable beered-up fan in the grandstands instead. We’ll get some real medical numbers to scare us….

Kyle Busch’s spotter was quick to say “you can only block once” in the immediate aftermath of his lap 67 scuffle with Logano. Two things here. One, Logano did only block once… even Kyle Busch caught onto that when he watched the replay.

Second, NASCAR is NOT Formula 1. Even if Joe Gibbs Racing is now a “Toyota works” team…

Newman was adamant following his spin on lap 73 that there was oil on the track. It certainly looked like he had a case, given the synchronized spin he and Byron put on. But the fact that there was no speedy-dry put down in the tri-oval, and that no other drivers on the next three restarts had issues in that spot, unravels his case. Hearing that story, it reminded me more of the fall 2007 Charlotte race, an event where Newman was adamant that he had blown a tire when spun out while leading inside of five laps to go – a statement Goodyear publicly denied.

Just like Keselowski was reported to have insisted that someone jumped in front of him when he hit the fence post on Saturday (though he did change his tune speaking to FOX’s Bob Pockrass Saturday night), and just like Kyle Busch’s spotter insisted Logano threw six blocks before their lap 67 wreck when the replay showed only one, there seem to be phantoms running wild. Note to the Cup Series field: we’re at the other superspeedway, not Hallowdega.

After the ARCA Menards Series endured a similar crashfest in 2018, the series adopted new rules that limited its green-white-checkered attempts to one. After the Cup Series made the Clash look like a bad ARCA race, maybe they should follow that series’ direction and cap the GWC attempts. Given how cost-sensitive NASCAR is cutting down on cool things like live pit stops, saving racecars seems completely in line with their objectives.

NASCAR made a much-ballyhooed announcement about stage lengths that broke down Cup races roughly into thirds for 2020 instead of allowing for a long, green-flag final stage that was (allegedly) supposed to preserve old-school racing in the stage era. Yet, the segment lengths for the Clash were left unchanged, meaning that the race that is dubbed a sprint race for Cup cars had a 50-lap stage that matched up perfectly with the fuel capacity of a Cup car, leading the shortest race of the year to hinge for a while on fuel mileage. This could be easily fixed by going back to the original 20-lap sprint distance. After all, we’re already calling it the Busch Clash again, and the field has (mostly) been scaled back to pole winners as intended. Why not finish the (re)transformation? 

On that same note, I didn’t see any of the FOX telecast this Sunday as I was watching from the press box with a radio headset on. But I’ve changed my tune on wanting Larry McReynolds back in the booth. Listening to a man that’s a truly accomplished crew chief stooge on SIRIUS about how NASCAR’s stage alterations were necessary because a 164-lap final stage at Texas was just too damn long made me sick to my stomach. Just look at Daytona. Last year, the best racing of the 500 came from a long green-flag run when Matt DiBenedetto’s conga line was lapping the field on a superspeedway. In today’s Clash, the race got good when the Fords and Toyotas managed to run down the Chevrolets thanks to pitting for fuel and cutting their cars loose. Amazing what happens when green-flag races are allowed to play themselves out.

We’ll give the best paint scheme of the Clash award to Jones. Not because the Sport Clips scheme is anything new or exciting (nothing was really new or exciting in the Clash field), but damn if that’s not an impressive-winning image…

YOU’VE HEARD IT HERE BEFORE

New for this year, we’ll go back to a previous iteration of Thinkin’ Out Loud from the weekend’s race and revisit a prognostication from our many talented authors.

“Well, if they haven’t figured out how to sell tickets again (and to be fair, there looked to be a pretty fair crowd on hand Saturday night for the Shootout) Daytona management has at least found a way to make the stands look fuller. The multi-color lower grandstand seats give an impression at speed that those empty seats are full.” – Matt McLaughlin, 2011

I figured out the ticket sales issue while driving south down I-95 to the racetrack. On the highway, there are at least two billboards for the Daytona complex that direct fans to take exit 261. Problem is, with all the work that’s been done at the interchange of I-95 and Speedway Boulevard, exit 261 doesn’t exist anymore. No wonder the crowd was still sparse on a chamber of commerce weather day… all those retail-happy race fans shopping under the Fontana grandstands took the wrong exit.

What’s the Point(s): There are none. One of the few remaining perks this race has going for it.

Where it Rated: Back by popular demand, we’ll give this one two cans of Busch Light. I still think this race is completely unnecessary and too long, plus the wreckfest it turned into was laughable. Still, the green-flag run that saw Ford and Toyota overpower Chevrolet’s fuel strategy was worth watching.  

Dust Off the DV-R: The Cup Series gets down to real business on Thursday night with the Duel qualifiers for next Sunday’s Daytona 500. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1. Until then, for those of us in Florida, here’s to three days bouncing between the Winternationals and World Series of Asphalt.

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About Bryan Keith

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17 comments

  1. Avatar

    Just horrible racing. Period.

  2. Avatar

    a mess and more to come later this week and next weekend.

  3. Avatar

    The blocking at plate tracks has gotten out of hand. Has anyone told these idiots that it’s OK to lose the lead when there are still 25 laps left? It’s all about selfishness and a lack of respect for anyone else on the track. BTW, Keselowski blocks as much as anyone else on the track so he has no right to whine about someone else doing it.
    Well at least the race wasn’t boring, train wrecks are a lot of things but never boring. Although, I suppose, if you watched a 2hour video of non-stop train wrecks, it could become boring. NASCAR is at that point.

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      Bill B – i was scratching my head at the same thing. they were blocking and there was still a lot of racing left to go. i can see it on last few laps.

      i did like how logano’s car plowed up the sod.

    • Avatar

      I’ve become numb to the wrecks at Daytona and Talladega. A big wad of cars plowing into a giant mass of metal, maybe one rolls a few times. Seen it all before, usually about 4 times per year for the last 25 years, so it’s not really that exciting to see anymore. At least not for me.

      I get it, people love demolition derbies. People won’t admit it, but that’s the only reason Daytona and Talladega are the highest attended/rated races of the year – they come out of the woodwork to see “The Big One”. It’s not racing they’re after, otherwise they’d be watching the other 32 races too.

      So NASCAR, in their grand wisdom, noted “People love restrictor plate racing, so let’s do that at EVERY track!” Only problem is, the smaller tracks don’t generate the giant pile-ups that the 2.5 milers do, so it doesn’t work.

  4. Avatar

    We haven’t even had a real race yet this year and a whole field of cars have been destroyed, teammates are mad at each other, and the busiest turn at the track is the one into the infield care center. But the real question after the race was what is Jimmie Johnson’s blood pressure? And how about his cholesterol numbers?

  5. Avatar

    Dillon was the only car without damage and he still couldn’t beat a car with a parachute for a hood. Granddads car or not, he should have been fired years ago.

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      Richard’s last name should be Childless. He’s have more-deserving drivers.

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      I think Tyler Redick is one of the better drivers to come up from Xfinity in quite a while. I wonder what Richard will do when Tyler starts showing up Austin on a weekly basis.

  6. Avatar

    Wow, sounds like I missed … NOTHING. It was a nice day. I looked to see when this race was supposed to be on TV and didn’t find it in the guide so I went outside and enjoyed the weather.

    So now races are broken into thirds, rather than segments? LOL oh boy that’s another why should I care? I think NASCAR should stop trying to manipulate the races into being “exciting” and go back to let the races proceed in a normal fashion.

    they didn’t care about my opinion when I was a die-hard fan so they won’t care what I think as a casual one that’s for sure.

  7. Avatar

    BTW Cole Custer is the silver spoon driver at SHR. Harvick has to put up that until the end of 2023.

  8. Avatar

    I think Custer will easily eclipse anything Suarez has done in the last 2 years. No prob.