What an absolutely unpredictable, hectic and ridiculous mess today was for NASCAR.
First off, Daytona 500 qualifying was fine. An underdog claimed the pole for the 62nd running of the Great American Race with JTG Daugherty Racing product Ricky Stenhouse Jr. taking it. Stenhouse moves over from Roush Fenway Racing to join the two-car team with new teammate Ryan Preece. No one was able to make a run at Stenhouse except for Alex Bowman, who will join Stenhouse on the front row barring a crash or mechanical issue during the Duels on Thursday.
Justin Haley and Brendan Gaughan are locked into the 500 based on speed in qualifying. This is Gaughan’s final season and final Daytona 500. Haley is the defending winner of a Daytona points-paying race after winning the rain-shortened July race. This leaves five drivers fighting for the last two spots: JJ Yeley, Timmy Hill, Chad Finchum, Reed Sorenson and former Stewart-Haas racer Daniel Suarez. They will try to race their way into the 500 with the Duels on Thursday.
Now, onto the Busch Clash…..Lord, have mercy.
The first 45-50 laps were uneventful with cars running single-file. The Chevys laid at the back of the pack trying to work together, but could not get anything going, while the Fords and Toyotas remained single-file at the front.
The only passing we saw for the lead came from Martin Truex Jr. falling back to the pack to get debris off his grill.
Then, a race that should be a fun, non-strategic battle turned into a fuel-milage run as the Fords and Toyotas had to pit and the Chevys for banking on saving fuel to make it to the end. We did get action on pit road as Erik Jones overshot his pit stall. The Chevys were too slow on the track trying to save fuel and the Fords and Toyotas, going at full throttle, caught the Chevys with around 20 laps to go and all hell broke loose.
Joey Logano and Kyle Busch got together and took themselves and Brad Keselowski out of the race. Keselowski was visibly frustrated when he got out of the car and was not happy with Logano in an interview with Fox Sports. “Dumb, dumb racing. Dumb moves being thrown out there. Guys don’t know what they are doing throwing crazy a** blocks,” Keselowski said.
After that, we would see more chaos as William Byron and Ryan Newman would spin the tires on the restart and take out nearly half the field, including Martin Truex Jr. Numerous cars were damaged, but were able to stay in the race until the next restart.
Denny Hamlin would cut a tire going into turn three and would take out 75 percent of the field. He was leading and there was nowhere for anybody to go. Jimmie Johnson took a hard, head-on hit into the wall and Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Ryan Blaney and Logano were involved as well.
The two non-damaged cars left, Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott, would take each other out on the first overtime attempt, leaving fans at the track with about three cars left in the race.
The race finally ended with a great battle between Newman, Jones and Clint Bowyer as the three duked it out for the win. On the final lap, Jones got a great push from teammate Denny Hamlin, who was a lap down at the point, to lead Jones to victory.
Hopefully, today was just an example of drivers trying to knock the rust off and not a trend we will see come the Duels and the Daytona 500.
If you have the time, we will leave two links down below to our podcast recap of today’s events. Make sure to check it out!