Late-race chaos threw a wrench into everyone’s fuel attrition expectations during Sunday’s Busch Clash at Daytona International Speedway. After a mostly clean race, the exhibition event devolved into major wrecks as the laps counted down. By the end, Erik Jones limped his destroyed car to Victory Lane after a wild overtime session.
Held hours after Daytona 500 qualifying, the race consisted of eighteen drivers, particularly pole winners and playoff drivers from 2019. Ryan Newman, who qualified for the playoffs in 2019, started the pole after a random draw. Daniel Suárez and Daniel Hemric, both of whom won poles last season, did not participate as they had lost their full-time rides for 2020.
“Maybe I’m glad I wasn’t able to fulfill my #BuschClash eligibility this year,” Hemric quipped on Twitter shortly after the race escalated into crashes.
The race quickly organised into single file as Martin Truex Jr. took the lead on the outside line with a push from Brad Keselowski. Keselowski eventually pulled ahead on lap ten as Truex had to manage debris on his grille.
Shortly before the competition caution, the leaders chose to pit; unlike in points races, pit road is not closed before the yellow in the Clash. Keselowski maintained his lead at the restart.
As the race progressed, teams began preparing for a fuel mileage race, with those like William Byron and Chase Elliott leading laps as they attempted to conserve. Eventually, Joey Logano took the lead as the field began forming rows.
With less than ten laps remaining, as Kyle Busch battled with Logano and Denny Hamlin in turn four, Busch and Logano made contact. A brief attempt to save his car failed for Busch, shooting him up into Logano and collecting Keselowski.
“It’s just dumb, dumb racing,” Keselowski said. “Dumb moves being thrown out there. Guys that don’t know what they’re doing so they throw crazy-ass blocks. It’s just ridiculous.
“We shouldn’t be wrecking all these cars. I’m not Tony Stewart, I’m not smart as he is, he can say it a lot better than I could. But this is just dumb.”
Further carnage began even before Hamlin and Aric Almirola crossed the start/finish line to restart the race. Behind them, Newman came down and clipped Truex, sending the two sideways and in front of the field.
“I don’t want to hear anything about [ARCA Menards Series] drivers making mistakes at Daytona,” David Ragan, who is running the Daytona 500 for the first time since his retirement from full-time NASCAR racing, wrote on Twitter. The remark alluded to the stigma surrounding ARCA’s notorious wrecks at the superspeedway. “It happens to the best of them!”
The caution resulted in overtime, which itself was plagued by even more wrecking when Hamlin spun in turn three. Hamlin’s car slid down and hit Almirola, triggering yet another pile-up that took out much of the drivers on the outside line. In addition to Logano, the incident ended the races for Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Blaney, Kevin Harvick, and Kurt Busch. Elliott, who was leading the top groove when the crash occurred, escaped it with a minor wall brush. Jones suffered heavy damage to his hood, but was able to remain on track.
As the race went into red flag conditions for cleanup, only seven drivers remained: Elliott, Austin Dillon, Kyle Larson, Newman, Clint Bowyer, the beaten-up Jones, and Bowyer. When the Clash resumed, Larson took the lead, only to collide with Elliott in turn four and cause yet another crash that also claimed Jones.
Dillon and Bowyer remained the lone clean cars, while Jones and Larson stayed in the race alongside Hamlin, who was a lap down. This time, the restart and overtime went green as Hamlin pushed his Joe Gibbs Racing team-mate Jones to the win.