NASCAR is finally back!
The Busch Clash has never been more than an exhibition race for purse money and bragging rights, but it has always been the kickoff event of the NASCAR season. This Tuesday (Feb 9), over 20 of the best drivers in the NASCAR Cup Series will put on their brand-new firesuits to once again compete in this rather obscure tradition at Daytona International Speedway.
But what exactly is this mystifying race that has continued to occupy the first bullet point on the NASCAR Cup Series calendar for over 40 years?
In the late 1970s, an executive from Busch Beer thought a season-opening exhibition race would both energize racing fans and promote his brand. He brought his idea to NASCAR, and the Busch Clash was born soon after
The 2021 edition will mark the 43rd consecutive Clash. Usually held the week prior to the Daytona 500, this year’s edition will be held on a Tuesday for the first time. It will also mark the first time the race will utilize the road course at Daytona instead of the usual oval configuration. This was a rather surprising change to the tradition, but don’t be mistaken, the Clash has been prone to its fair share of alterations.
When the race first debuted in 1979, the nine-car field was comprised of just pole winners from the previous season plus a wildcard driver. Over the years, pole recipients remained a common theme, but eligibility requirements progressively evolved. At one time or another, eligibility into the Clash has also included playoff drivers, former Clash winners, previous Daytona 500 pole winners and the top 25 drivers in points from the season prior, among others.
This variance has allowed Clash field sizes to be as few as seven (1981) and as high as 28 (2009).
Because of the effects that the COVID-19 pandemic put upon NASCAR, this year’s eligibility requirements have once again been altered. Drivers who are eligible to compete are:
- Pole winners from the five races when qualifying was held in 2020
- Previous Clash winners who raced full time in 2020
- Daytona 500 winners who raced full time in 2020
- Daytona 500 pole winners who raced full time in 2020
- Playoff drivers from 2020
- 2020 race winners
- 2020 stage winners
24 drivers meet the criteria, but as of press time, only 21 are slated to compete in the 35-lap event around the road course. This year’s edition will be broken down into two segments, with the first being 15 circuits before a 20-lap run to the checkered flag.
Like eligibility, the race format has evolved quite substantially since its inception. Of the 42 editions of the oval, the Clash has consisted of as many as 75 scheduled laps and three segments to as few as 20 laps across one segment. Pit stops have been both mandatory and not (as the case in 2021).
The format variance has proved to have had a significant impact on the racing product in the Clash. Most of the early editions were quick, caution-free sprints. However, carnage like Ricky Rudd’s devastating tumble in 1984 and Jeff Gordon’s barrel roll in 2012 has been prevalent, too.
It came to a head last year when every car in the field was involved in at least one crash. Erik Jones won the event in a car with a huge hole in its nose.
We had 28 amazing wins in 2020. Follow along while we relive each win throughout the rest of December.
Win #1 – @Erik_Jones survived four wrecks in the final 22 laps and three overtime restarts to win the Busch Clash @DAYTONA! @SportClips | #TeamToyota | #NASCAR pic.twitter.com/vf9PCL9qWY
— Joe Gibbs Racing (@JoeGibbsRacing) December 4, 2020
Jones joins six other previous winners of the Clash in the 2021 field. Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin have the most active wins with three apiece. It’s little surprise that Dale Earnhardt has most Clash wins at six.
Drivers Slated to Compete in the 2021 Busch Clash
|Aric Almirola||No. 10 Stewart Haas Racing Ford||2020 Playoff Driver|
|Ryan Blaney||No. 12 Team Penske Ford||2020 Playoff Driver|
|Alex Bowman||No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet||2020 Playoff Driver|
|Chris Buescher||No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford||2020 Stage Winner|
|Kurt Busch||No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet||2020 Pole Winner|
|Kyle Busch||No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota||2020 Pole Winner|
|William Byron||No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet||2020 Playoff Driver|
|Cole Custer||No. 41 Stewart Haas Racing Ford||2020 Playoff Driver|
|Matt DiBenedetto||No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford||2020 Playoff Driver|
|Austin Dillon||No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet||2020 Playoff Driver|
|Ty Dillon||No. 23 23XI Racing Toyota||2020 Stage Winner|
|Chase Elliott||No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet||2020 Pole Winner|
|Denny Hamlin||No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota||Former Clash Winner|
|Kevin Harvick||No. 4 Stewart Haas Racing Ford||Former Clash Winner|
|Erik Jones||No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet||Former Clash Winner|
|Brad Keselowski||No. 2 Team Penske Ford||Former Clash Winner|
|Joey Logano||No. 22 Team Penske Ford||Former Clash Winner|
|Ryan Newman||No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford||Former Daytona 500 Winner|
|Tyler Reddick||No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet||2020 Stage Winner|
|Ricky Stenhouse Jr||No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet||2020 Pole Winner|
|Martin Truex Jr||No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota||2020 Playoff Driver|
Eligible Drivers Not Expected to Compete in the 2021 Busch Clash
|Clint Bowyer||2020 Pole Winner|
|Jimmie Johnson||Former Clash Winner|
|Matt Kenseth||Former Clash Winner|