Brake lockups, missed chicanes and dirt racing were on full display Tuesday evening as the 2021 NASCAR season unofficially began with the Busch Clash exhibition race in the Cup Series.
In the end, Kyle Busch was victorious after Chase Elliott and leader Ryan Blaney got together on the final lap, allowing the No. 18 Toyota to get in front of Elliott out of the frontstretch chicane.
The road course benefitted from the low-downforce aero package that was installed for the race vs. last season’s race on the road course that saw only 13 lead changes. There were 14 lead changes in the 35-lap exhibition.
In the opening laps, drivers kicked up dirt through the backstretch chicane and drivers became frustrated with the amount of dirt on the track making their cars nearly impossible to drive through the section of the track.
Kevin Harvick’s late 2020 woes bled into the start of 2021 as he suffered two early spins, making his day obsolete from the rest of the field.
On lap seven, NASCAR called a caution to sweep some of the dirt off the backstretch.
During the restart, Blaney locked up the brakes on entry to turn one and came back onto the track in the middle of traffic. This began a wild day for Martin Truex Jr. as he collected damage from Blaney’s re-entry. Harvick’s second spin also came during this sequence.
The competition caution came out at lap 16 with Joe Gibbs Racing and Blaney pacing the field at the halfway point. However, Truex Jr. voided the frontstretch chicane as the caution came out and was penalized, forcing him to restart at the tail-end of the field.
The ensuing restart saw more brake lock ups as Kurt Busch drove all the way to Homestead-Miami Speedway as he went way off course.
The caution came out again on lap 21 as Cole Custer couldn’t get going after missing the frontstretch chicane. He tried re-firing the car, but then the brakes caught fire and his day was done.
As the race wound down to 10 laps left, it looked as though it would be a three-way battle for the win between Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin and Blaney. However, the backstretch dirt took a toll on drivers again as Truex’s wild day came to an end as he spun and slammed the wall coming out of the chicane.
Pit strategy came into play as Elliott and Chris Buescher were among few drivers that stayed out, while Blaney and 13 other drivers came down pit road to get fresh tires.
Elliott pulled away from the field as some of the cars behind him were on the same strategy, but Blaney eventually chased down Elliott and passed him with two laps to go. With Blaney on fresher tires, he had everything he needed to pull away, but Blaney struggled on corner entries while Elliott was a lot more aggressive. Blaney held the advantage on corner exit to keep Elliott at bay.
On the final lap, Blaney locked up on the backstretch chicane allowing Elliott to get to his bumper. With Elliott right on his bumper, Blaney had to defend going into the frontstretch chicane, but Elliott got to his inside, which got them together and caused Blaney to spin out and hit the outside wall. Due to Elliott having to slow up and get around Blaney, Kyle Busch took advantage with the momentum and passed Elliott to take the win.
Elliott finished second after the contact and Joey Logano finished third. Blaney ended the night in 13th after the last-lap incident.
The racing will continue Wednesday evening with Daytona 500 qualifying to set the front row for Sunday. Qualifying begins at 7:30 p.m. EST on Fox Sports 1.