NASCAR Cup Series

Ryan Blaney draws pole for Busch Clash

4 Mins read
Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

While not a points race, Ryan Blaney will begin the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season leading the field to the green flag. In a random draw conducted Monday afternoon, Blaney won the pole for Tuesday night’s Busch Clash on the Daytona International Speedway road course. The draw was conducted virtually on Zoom in the afternoon, but was not revealed to the public until later in the evening on a delayed stream.

Blaney, who qualified for the exhibition race as a playoff driver, is in his fourth career Clash as his starting position marks his first in the top five for the event. He finished thirty-first in the Cup Series’ inaugural race on the Daytona road course last August, but is no stranger to infield RC success as the inaugural Charlotte Roval winner in 2018.

Alex Bowman drew second for his first race—albeit unofficial—in the #48 car recently vacated by the retired Jimmie Johnson; while the front-row start is his best in the Clash, Bowman has enjoyed much qualifying success in the Daytona 500 as he has started in the top two for the last three years, including winning the pole in 2018. Bowman finished twelfth in the Cup Daytona RC event.

2020 Championship Round drivers Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski are in the third row. A three-time winner of the Clash, Hamlin finished runner-up on the RC, while 2018 winner Keselowski was thirteenth.

Row #4 features a pair of former Xfinity Series champions in William Byron and Tyler Reddick. Byron, who finished eighth on the RC and was the 2019 Daytona 500 pole winner, qualified for the Clash after securing his spot in the 2020 playoffs in the final race of the regular season, and will start fifth in his second career Clash; he was among the many victims of wrecks in the 2020 edition on the oval. As a rookie in 2020, Reddick won Stage #1 at Talladega in June, and the Clash’s expanded criteria to include segment winners enabled him to participate.

Reigning champion and road course king Chase Elliott will roll off seventh. Elliott had never started in the top ten in the Clash, while he enters the race on a four-race win streak for road courses, including Daytona; he also finished eighth overall in last Sunday’s Rolex 24. Sophomore Cole Custer, who pulled off a surprising victory at Kentucky to make the playoffs and Clash, will start eighth. Custer finished twenty-second on the RC.

Erik Jones and Joey Logano, both former Joe Gibbs Racing drivers, round out the top ten. Jones recently moved to Richard Petty Motorsports from JGR and enters as the defending winner of the Clash; he finished eleventh on the RC. Logano, a Championship Four driver last year, finished two positions ahead in the road race and won the Clash in 2017.

Ryan Newman was eligible for the Clash as a 2020 full-time driver and former Daytona 500 winner, taking the victory in 2008. Besides him will be fellow Ford driver Matt DiBenedetto, who qualified for his maiden Clash as a playoff driver. Newman and DiBenedetto finished nineteenth and fifteenth in their first foray on the RC, respectively.

Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

In Row #7 are a duo who won stages in 2020 and uncommon faces in the Clash. Chris Buescher, whose lone start in the Clash came in 2017, won the opening stage at Talladega in the fall and finished fifth on the RC, while Ty Dillon earned his stage victory on the Roval. Dillon makes his Toyota début as technically the first-ever driver of the #23 car for 23XI Racing, serving as a substitute for the ineligible Bubba Wallace. Dillon, who finished twentieth on the Daytona RC, will head to Gaunt Brothers Racing for the 500 and the RC points race the following week. He is also the only driver in the field to not be running for Cup points as he has declared for Xfinity points in accordance with his part-time schedule in that series with Joe Gibbs Racing.

The Busch brothers Kurt and Kyle comprise Row #8. The brothers clinched their eligibilities through the traditional method of winning a pole, with Kyle doing so early in the season at Phoenix and Kurt at the Coca-Cola 600 in May. Kurt’s pole was the lone qualifying session held after the season resumed in May, with all qualifying being replaced by a draw and formula; the latter will continue to be used for all but eight Cup races in 2021. Kurt finished ahead of his younger brother on the Daytona RC in fourteenth while Kyle retired in thirty-seventh after a wreck. The two also have Clash wins in consecutive years, with Kurt winning in 2011 and Kyle in 2012.

Kevin Harvick, who is tied with Hamlin for the most Clash wins among active drivers with three, starts seventeenth; the 2020 regular season champion finished in the same position on the RC. Martin Truex Jr. is eighteenth and hopes to turn his Clash misfortunes around, having wrecked out or finishing at the bottom in the last five races. Truex was third in August’s RC event.

Austin Dillon and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. make up Row #10. Dillon, the 2018 Daytona 500 winner and 2020 Clash runner-up, did not run the Cup race on the RC after testing positive for COVID-19, but he was able to record track time on the layout in the Rolex 24; joined by fellow Cup driver Cody Ware, he finished finished tenth overall and fourth in the LMP2 class. Stenhouse, who won the Daytona 500 pole last year, finished sixteenth on the RC and will be running his first Clash since 2018.

Aric Almirola closes out the field as the twenty-first and final driver. He finished twenty-fourth on the RC.

Clint Bowyer (pole), Jimmie Johnson (former Clash and 500 winner), and Matt Kenseth (former Clash and 500 winner) were also eligible for the Clash but have all retired from Cup racing. Tuesday’s Clash will be the first held on the road course.

Starting lineup

112Ryan BlaneyTeam Penske
248Alex BowmanHendrick Motorsports
311Denny HamlinJoe Gibbs Racing
42Brad KeselowskiTeam Penske
524William ByronHendrick Motorsports
68Tyler ReddickRichard Childress Racing
79Chase ElliottHendrick Motorsports
841Cole CusterStewart-Haas Racing
943Erik JonesRichard Petty Motorsports
1022Joey LoganoTeam Penske
116Ryan NewmanRoush Fenway Racing
1221Matt DiBenedettoWood Brothers Racing
1317Chris BuescherRoush Fenway Racing
1423Ty Dillon*23XI Racing
151Kurt BuschChip Ganassi Racing
1618Kyle BuschJoe Gibbs Racing
174Kevin HarvickStewart-Haas Racing
1819Martin Truex Jr.Joe Gibbs Racing
193Austin DillonRichard Childress Racing
2047Ricky Stenhouse Jr.JTG Daugherty Racing
2110Aric AlmirolaStewart-Haas Racing
* – Ineligible for Cup points
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