Kyle Busch won his second NASCAR Cup series Busch Clash Tuesday night. Or rather he was in the right place at the right time. Ryan Blaney started the 35-lap race from the pole and was leading on the final lap on Daytona’s road course with reigning Cup champion Chase Elliott in close pursuit.
Elliott, who had started from the back of the 22-car field for improper adjustment pre-race, had led 4 laps earlier but Blaney grabbed the lead with 2 to go and hoped to hold his good friend off on the final circuit. Coming into the final chicane however Elliott dove under Blaney and the two made contact; Blaney’s Ford was sent spinning and up into the outside wall.
Elliott was forced to slow and Busch was able to rocket by and on to victory.
“I knew to keep my head down and keep focus ahead and see if I could keep hitting my marks to get close enough to have a shot like that – if something like that were to materialize,” Busch, who won his first Clash at Daytona in 2012 said. “Fortunately, it did for us. I can’t say enough about Ben Beshore (crew chief) and this whole M&M’s team – this new M&M’s team. I appreciate what they do for me, everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota, TRD. It’s awesome to start off the year with a win a non-points win, but I would love nothing more than to be right here this Sunday.”
Elliott held on for second, Joey Logano, Tyler Reddick and William Byron rounded out the top five. The non-points race was held for the first time on Daytona’s 14 turn 3.61-mile road course in its 43-year existence.
“It didn’t work out for either of us,” Blaney said. “We were just racing hard and I had a little bit fresher tires there. We saved a set and got back to second there and his car was really good. I had to use up a lot to get to him and I kind of tried to protect and I drove into the last corner really deep to try to make sure I didn’t get dive bombed like that, but we just came together there. What are you gonna do?”
Elliott apologized to his friend after the race.
“Obviously, I don’t mean to wreck anybody, especially him,” Elliott said. “Some guys I wouldn’t mind. But he’s not one of them. Hopefully he’s not too mad at me. I feel like you’ve got to go for it here in an event like this in any situation. I can’t be sorry about going for the win, but I certainly didn’t mean to wreck him. I drove in there and, just that corner gets so tight and I didn’t want to just completely jump the curb to the right. But I feel like I tried to get over there as far as I could.”
The race was not segmented into stages, but a competition caution after the 15th lap split the race into two portions. Kevin Harvick spun twice in that opening part, first looping his No. 4 Ford in the bus-stop chicane after a measure of dirt had been kicked up on the racing surface. His second off-course excursion came after a jumbled restart, complicated by Blaney’s attempt to rejoin the racing line after overshooting Turn 1.
Martin Truex Jr. led on two occasions but found trouble each time, shortly after going to the front. He was the leader at the competition-caution break, but he skipped the track’s final chicane during the caution period while looking for the pace car to pick up the field. His No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota restarted the race at the rear of the pack after the penalty. “I don’t know why I did that,” Truex said. “Terrible job, sorry.”
He was apologetic again after crashing into the outside retaining wall, spinning while exiting the other chicane and sustaining heavy damage. He finished 20th in the 21-car field.
When the race was first announced last year, no one could have predicted the chaos that would be caused by COVID 19. Due to the shutdowns caused by the pandemic, NASCAR raced on the road course with all three of its top touring series last August. After a reconfiguration back to the oval, NASCAR will spend the race of the week racing on the traditional 2.5-mile oval culminating with Sunday’s first points race of the season the Daytona 500.
With the pandemic still raging and a trip to California for the second race of the season out of the question all three series will return to Daytona to race on the road course again on February 21. Elliott won the Cup series race on the road course last August.
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