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Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2021 Busch Clash at Daytona

What happened?

Kyle Busch won the Busch Clash at the Daytona International Speedway road course on Tuesday (Feb. 9) after Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney collided in the frontstretch chicane while battling for the victory. Busch led just one lap, and he held the top spot for about 300 feet of that lap.

Elliott, Joey Logano, Tyler Reddick and William Byron rounded out the top five, as Blaney finished 13th.

How did it happen?

Blaney and Alex Bowman led the field to green in the first NASCAR Cup Series event of 2021, and Blaney held the lead for a brief moment until Denny Hamlin took over on the backstretch. The story of the first few laps was dirt, as the backstretch chicane started to look like a preview of the Bristol Motor Speedway dirt race next month. Kevin Harvick was the first victim of the mud, as he went for a spin on lap 3.

A caution was called on lap 9 to clear the dirt, as most cars hit pit road to clear off their windshields. On the ensuing restart, Harvick again spun through the grass, this time after some contact. At the front, Blaney locked up his brakes and overshot turn 1.

At the end of the first 15-lap stage, Martin Truex Jr. led Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch and Cole Custer. But under the caution, Truex missed the frontstretch chicane and was forced to start the final segment at the rear.

Hamlin took the lead on the next restart after leader Kurt Busch overshot turn 1. By lap 22, there was another caution as Custer stalled on the track and a fire broke out under his car.

Hamlin and Truex, the latter of whom had quickly raced his way back through the field, battled for the lead with 10 laps to go before the No. 19 ultimately took over. However, just one lap after getting back to the front, Truex lost it in the dirt and spun into the outside wall.

Elliott, who worked his way up to fourth before the yellow, was the only one near the front to stay out. Blaney, Hamlin and Kyle Busch pitted, as Elliott and five others stayed on the track with five laps to go.

The No. 9 stretched out his lead to a decent margin on the first lap or two after the restart, but a hard-charging Blaney took the position with an incredible pass with two to go.

Even on his older tires, Elliott remained at Blaney’s bumper and forced him into a few mistakes. The defending champion took his buddy side-by-side into the tight frontstretch chicane on the final lap, and both got out of shape before Busch snuck by Elliott for the victory. It was Busch’s second career win in The Clash, having scored his maiden victory in the event back in 2012.

Who stood out?

Kyle Busch didn’t have the best car on Tuesday, but he had something he lacked throughout all of 2020 – luck. They say it’s better to be lucky than good, and that was certainly the case on the final lap. An uneventful third-place finish would’ve been a solid start for Busch with new crew chief Ben Beshore, and the win is even better.

Elliott was a non-factor for most of the evening and still found himself in position to win in the end. Starting in the back after unapproved adjustments, Elliott was mired in the middle of the pack for most of the race. His car came to life in the penultimate green flag run, and it was definitely strong enough to win. Second place isn’t what Elliott’s become accustomed to on road courses, but he’ll without a doubt be a major factor in the seven points-paying road events this year.

Reddick looked like a vastly improved road racer, which could be a huge factor for his sophomore season. In 2020, he finished 18th and 12th at the two road races. On Tuesday, he was in the mix for most of the night, fighting inside the top 10. Richard Childress Racing’s road course program hasn’t been up to par in recent years, so this was a good sign of potential for 2021.

Who fell flat?

In contrast to Kyle Busch, it seems Harvick left all his good luck in 2020. He spun in the dirt early, then again on a later restart. Fortunately for the No. 4 team, this race (and his 15th place finish) means nothing. Still, it’s not the way he wanted to set the tone in 2021 after a disappointing end to his dominant 2020 season.

Kurt Busch similarly struggled at multiple points throughout the race. He was the leader on two separate restarts due to pit strategy, but he locked up his brakes and overshot turn 1 on both occasions. Busch ended the race in 19th, the last car on the lead lap.

Ty Dillon has to make the most of each opportunity in 2021, and he didn’t do that in The Clash. In the first race for Michael Jordan’s and Denny Hamlin’s 23XI Racing, Dillon was irrelevant all night and finished 18th. Granted, it was the first race for a brand new organization, but this team expects to be better than that right off the bat. Dillon will run for Gaunt Brothers Racing in select Cup races, as well as for Joe Gibbs Racing in select NASCAR Xfinity Series races this season, after Germain Racing shut down concluding the 2020 season.

What did this race prove?

The Clash should be run on the road course permanently. Overreaction? Possibly. But look at the factors. First, not as many cars get torn up in the massive superspeedway wrecks, which saves car owners money and limits potential injury. Second, strategy comes into play with various pit opportunities in such a short amount of time. Third, road courses make up more of the schedule than superspeedways nowadays, so this race is better preparation than running on the oval.

Add that all up, and I think NASCAR has found a winner in its new format.

Fresh tires are crucial on road courses. All throughout the night we saw cars restart outside the top five with fresher tires and seamlessly work their way to the front. With road courses being so long, it gives tires much more importance as they can help make up positions. Even with just a few laps to go, Blaney got straight to the front and was in position to win until the final corner. Keep an eye on who pits at what time in the road races this season.

Paint scheme of the race

The Clash is a nice taste of what’s to come in the upcoming season — not only with on-track results, but also on-track looks. Over the course of the first few columns of the season, I’ll be highlighting some of the best new-look schemes for 2021. Starting with the Clash, no scheme stood out more than Byron’s No. 24 Axalta Chevy.

I wasn’t sure about the scheme when it was first released, but the design looked clean while in action. It’s a unique, modern twist on the classic rainbow design.

Better than last year?

This is the easiest yes I’ve had since taking over Thinkin’ Out Loud. Six cars finished the 2020 Clash. Six. Erik Jones won it with a completely destroyed racecar after being pushed by Hamlin, who was a lap down. It was so bad that it prompted the move to the road course this year. OK, next topic.

Playoff picture

The Clash doesn’t count for any regular season points, but drivers will have an opportunity to start scoring points in Thursday’s Duels. The top 10 finishers in each of those races will receive points like at the end of a stage in a points race.

What’s next?

The Bluegreen Vacations Duels at Daytona will begin on Thursday (Feb. 11) at 7 p.m., with the two 60-lap qualifying races setting the field for Sunday’s Daytona 500. Starting lineups for the Duels will be set in the traditional single-car qualifying session on Wednesday (Feb. 10) at 7 p.m.

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Bill B

It was OK.
I agree. It was nice not to see a bunch of car$$$$ torn up in a race that doesn’t matter.
Blaney owes Elliott some payback.

janice

as always, whomever the leader was, out in fresh air they took off.

elliott and blaney were just racing hard for the checkers, what racing is supposed to be.

harvick will be ok.

be interesting to see who the pole winner is……i’d say kyle larson or bubba. you know how na$car is with the happy story lines.

Stu Pidphukor

I’m predicting that Bubba will be on the front row and that is all we will hear about. NASCAR will be happy with the publicity and the wokeness and the majority of the fans will be sick of it before the race even starts.

Jo

Whoever (not whomever) had the clean air did not pull away when the driver behind had fresher tires. Blaney easily came through the field and made the pass for the lead because he had better tires at that point. That’s something crew chiefs will have to note for the next road course race at DIS.

I see Bowman or Byron winning the pole. Neither Larson nor Wallace has ever been a great qualifier, but it won’t make much difference for the race in any case.

Harvick is going to have to step up his game on road courses this year with seven on the schedule.

Bill W

I am probably in the minority, but I had ruther see them run the road course at Dega and Daytona than run the big track. Some body is going get killed . Ryan N. was lucky to walk away from the wreck last year.

Carl D.

The Clash was okay for a pointless race. I was pulling for Blaney there at the end, but I’m not going to blame Elliott for their tangle… with nothing but cash and no points on the line, you do what you can to get that win. And while I’m no fan of Rowdy, he put himself in position to steal a win, and he walked away with the prize money.

Nice wrap-up, Logan. Especially the props for Tyler Reddick. He continues to impress.

Janice is right… Harvick will be fine.

DoninAjax

The best racing during Speedweeks is never at DIS.

KU

I sort of disagree – I think the idea of the clash was to run all out no holes barred. Not a road course. However the race was very good. So I am wavering.
I thought the 10’s paint scheme was the coolest. It looked bad ass and like a race car. Not the flashy colors.

Dan

Sure wish Blaney would have won. Hoping this is not a season like the previous for him. I believe 2019 was a year he just couldn’t catch a break most of the season. We saw what happen last year when he made the run for the championship.Bad luck right off the bat put him in a hole he could never get out of. Fingers crossed he wins a few races this year and has better luck.

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