Feb. 18, 2001: A Daytona 500 that ended in sorrow after Dale Earnhardt’s passing


NBC Sports will take a look at the life, legacy and long-lasting impact of Dale Earnhardt who died 20 years ago this week on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500 on Feb. 18, 2001. This is the fourth chapter in an oral history series that remembers “The Intimidator” though the voices of those who knew the seven-time Cup Series champion who remains one of the biggest icons in NASCAR history.

After Kyle Petty’s son, Adam, died in a crash during practice at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in May 2000, Kyle Petty noticed a difference in Dale Earnhardt toward him.

“I could see Dale walking through the garage area,” Petty said. “If I was walking straight at him, he would turn and go the other way. He never acknowledged it. Never spoke from May of that year for the rest of the year, I never spoke to him. Never said a word to me. If we were in the drivers meeting, he would nod, and I would nod at him. He was not the only one. There were a lot of people that were the same way. So I’m not singling him out by any stretch.”

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Things changed in early February 2001. Petty and Earnhardt competed in the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway for different teams. After both completed a shift in the middle of the night, Petty saw Earnhardt walking ahead of him.

“I thought, 2:30 in the morning, I’m going to make him talk to me,” Petty said. “I just ran up beside him. I said ‘How it’s going down here man?’ You could tell it caught him off guard. He said,
“It’s good. It’s different.” We just chit-chatted about the race, how these cars were driving at night, what it was like in the infield. Just nothing.

“As we got to the gate to get to the bus lot, he said, ‘Come on here for a minute,’ so I followed him over to his bus, which was on a different row. We sat outside his bus and probably talked for an hour or hour and a half just about everything.

“He had watched Adam grow, he had a son and it hits so close to home, he just didn’t know what to say (after Adam’s death). He just didn’t know what to say. It was painful for him. It was painful for him to talk about it. It was painful for him to acknowledge it. It was painful for him to talk about it a year later almost.

“It was just something that he didn’t ever want to think about, never wanted to have to confront and he had watched me confront it. It was incredibly emotional. I will say that. For both of us in some way.”

Fast forward two weeks to Feb. 18, 2001. Shortly before the Daytona 500, Earnhardt and Petty met again. This time it was before driver introductions.

“Standing behind the stage there, and he comes over,” Petty said of Earnhardt. “I’m going to tell you, I’m not going to lie. When he came over to say something, I just started crying. He said, ‘Listen, dude, it’s going to be all right.’ He said, ‘I know you feel bad. It’s going to be all right. Just hang in there.’ ”

A few hours later, a last-lap crash would claim Earnhardt’s life.

This is that day 20 years ago told by those who were there:

Richard Childress (Coffee with Kyle in 2019): In 2000, we had finished second to Bobby Labonte. We didn’t miss that championship by much. I remember  Dale was in Daytona had run the 24 hours, he called me from down there and he said … “We’re going to win this championship in 2001.” He said, “I’m going to be better on every track I go to.” He said, “I picked up a lot down here.” I don’t really know what it was he picked up, but I will never forget that conversation. I sat in my trophy room that night and I said, “We’re ready.” We were set to win the championship.

Dale Jarrett: Dale and I, our motorhomes were parked right across from each other at Daytona. … On Thursday after the 125-mile qualifying race, I’d gone to take the trash out, and he was sitting outside his motorhome. I’d started to wear the HANS device. And literally the Bud Shootout was the first time I really wore it in competition. I had experimented with it in testing at the end of 2000. So I wore it in the 125-mile qualifying race also. That was the longest period of time I had it on.

So I saw him outside, he said “Come over.” We sat down and were drinking a couple of beers, and our conversation turned to him asking me why I was wearing the HANS device. We’d had conversations about it, how it was uncomfortable. He didn’t like it. He didn’t think it was something he would ever get used to because of the way he liked to feel and be in the race car. I appreciated and understood that.

But something that always stuck out to me then, especially after Sunday happened in that Daytona 500, was that we were sitting there and one of his questions to me was “Are you wearing this HANS device because you’re afraid of dying?” And I said, “No, I don’t think about that side of it in that respect, Dale. I think it gives me a better chance in a crash at an angle that might stretch you further than what your body can withstand.” We talked about that for another six to eight minutes. It was a conversation that at the time just seemed like a conversation. It obviously took on a whole new meaning a few days later.

Dale Earnhardt signs an autograph after Daytona 500 qualifying on Feb. 10, 2001 (Kelly Jordan/News-Journal)

Don Hawk (president Dale Earnhardt Inc. 1993-2001): Saturday night (the night before the race) … he’s getting in his yellow Corvette in the driver/owner lot of Daytona International Speedway. You look across Turn 4 and can see the roof of the Hilton Garden Inn, where Dale almost hit at that point. I was staying there. He looks at me and says, “You get everything done you wanted?” I said “Yeah.” He said “You have a good week?” I said “Really good.” He said “Why don’t you surprise Cindy and pack your (stuff) and head on home because tomorrow you’re going to see something you’re never going to forget.” That’s the last words I heard out of Dale’s mouth.

Dale Jarrett: My Sunday morning started with doing hospitalities on that race morning. I had to go outside (the track), and the majority of us had to go outside to do ours. Earnhardt had hospitalities brought to him because he could do that. He was in the motorhome lot with a group of 20-25 that had come to talk to him. He was signing autographs.

I told the people with me as we were getting ready to go on a golf cart outside the track, I said “Watch this, he’s just signing away and talking and not paying attention.” This was the first time they had UPS hats. I walked over, took my UPS hat off and handed it to him. He signed it and was literally handing it back and realized it was me. I had just a couple of years ago given it to Dale Jr., the only signed UPS Dale Earnhardt hat. That’s how the day started.

The Daytona 500 

Kurt Busch: I was a rookie in the wrong spot according to Senior. I think I was in the wrong spot. I was running in the top 10. On my right side, the 3 car comes scrapping by and drove up to the front of me and I’m like, “What did I just do?” Then I see his finger out the window. “OK, I was probably 99% wrong there.” Unfortunately, I never got to talk him afterwards about it. But, again, he’s the Intimidator. He was a force on the track just in those few short races (Busch ran with Earnhardt in 2000-01). Anytime the black 3 car was running around you or in the mirror, he had that presence. He was the Intimidator. Again, it was a privilege to race against him. He was taken away from us too soon.

The caution comes on Lap 175 for a 19-car accident on the backstretch. As Tony Stewart’s car goes airborne, Dale Earnhardt drives by and is not among those involved in the incident. Stewart is taken to a local hospital. 

Daytona 500 Stewart
Tony Stewart rolls down the backstretch late in the 2001 Daytona 500. (Robert Laberge/ALLSPORT)

Tony Stewart (2011 interview with AOL Fanhouse): It’s like, if I could have just nicked him on the way by, would it have changed things just enough to keep his accident later from happening? There’s no way anyone would ever wreck and think about hitting someone else believing it would do any good. I was along for the ride. But, it was just like, what if? If you looked at the two wrecks, you would have swore I was the one. … that if one of the guys passed away, you’d have swore it was from my crash, not his.

As Michael Waltrip leads Dale Earnhardt Jr. through Turn 4 on the final lap, Dale Earnhardt Sr. is among a group of cars, including Sterling Marlin and Ken Schrader. There’s contact and Earnhardt’s car shoots up the track into the concrete wall. 

Mike Joy (calling final lap on the Fox broadcast) Big Trouble! Big wreck behind them!

Official Accident Report No. 3 Car (Volume 1 of 2): At the time of the impact with the wall, the No. 3 Car was traveling at approximately 157-160 mph.

Kyle Petty: I was behind it, so after he hit and came off the wall, we raced through it back to the line. It just didn’t look that bad.

Don Hawk: (Watching from home) I saw the car hit the wall and immediately took my fist and smacked it into the table next to me. I was drinking a club soda that flew all over the room. My wife looked at me. My son was scared. She asked what happened. I said that’s all the wrong hit at all the wrong angle in all the wrong way. I don’t like it. I started pacing the room.

They started putting up the barriers and flipping the TV away, and Darrell Waltrip going, “Man, I hope Dale’s OK.” I dialed Kenny Schrader on the phone. “I said Kenny, I’ve got a problem,” and he said, “We all do, pal. Get to the hospital.” I said, “Kenny, I’m in North Carolina.” He said “I’ll call Earl, we’ve got another plane up there, you need to get here right away.” I said “I don’t know who’s with (Earnhardt’s mother) Martha tonight. Am I smarter to try to get to Daytona or go to Martha?” “Hawk, I can’t tell you what to do. There’s a plane available, but I hope to heck someone is with Martha.”

Jerry Freeze (then team manager of Petty Enterprises): I remember Kyle had a really good run. We were buried in the points and needed to get off to a good start that year. (Kyle finished 16th). A lot of times I would ride back and forth with Kyle from the airport. I saw Kyle driving into the garage and he kind of gave me a thumbs up and he was smiling, which was unusual that he was happy after a race. I walked over to the car and I said, “Hey, I’ll go get the car and meet you at the bus.” He said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, let’s get out of here.” I just went and got the rental car and got them and we were just sitting on the airplane. There was nobody chattering on the Petty plane about anything going on with Earnhardt.

Dale Jarrett: When I went by the scene of the accident, it looked like another crash on the last lap of a restrictor-plate track race and didn’t think that much about it. I went on about my business going in the garage area, getting changed. My family knew things didn’t go well. I was ready to get out of there. I was literally walking in the motorhome lot and saw Dale Jr. coming toward me. I said “Hey, your dad is OK, right?” He said “Yeah, I think so. I’m just going to check.” I said “OK.”

Daytona 500 Waltrip
Michael Waltrip beats Dale Earnhardt Jr. to win the 2001 Daytona 500. (Robert Laberge/ALLSPORT)

Dale Beaver (Motor Racing Outreach chaplain 1999-2005): The only reason I even went to Victory Lane was because Michael told us (MRO chaplain Max Helton and Beaver) that if he won that race, he was going to sing “This is the Day that the Lord has made.” He was going to sing it in Victory Lane. I went to Victory Lane because I wanted to make sure he did it. If you go back and look at that footage, he didn’t sing it, I think he forgot how to sing it, but he quoted a few lines of it. We laughed about it. I remember patting Max on the back. No sooner had I patted Max on his back … but the NASCAR official came over to me and said “We need for you to get over to the care center.”

I walked into the infield care center and the lights were kind of out. By the time I got in there, everybody was already out. I was a bit stunned because I thought “This is good news.” … About the time I got to the door, one of the doctors walked in and said “Dale, we’ve got a car here for you. Need you to go to the hospital, and I want to prepare you. It’s not good.” At that point, I still didn’t know who they were talking about. I went out and I sat down in the back seat of a law enforcement car. In front of me, I  saw Dale Jr. get into the back of an ambulance. I knew at that point then, “Oh goodness, this probably has something to do with Dale.”

Tony Stewart (who was sent to the hospital after his wreck earlier in the race, told AOL Fanhouse): They pushed me in the door and put me in the same room with him for just a second. Then they realized it and pulled me out right away and told me it was Dale in there. I was like, “You could have left me in there. I know him real well, it’s okay.” They were like, “No, I don’t think so.” I didn’t know he had passed, but I knew it wasn’t good. I was made aware shortly after that what happened. Teresa was there and Dale (Earnhardt Jr.) hadn’t gotten there yet.

Dale Beaver: Dale Jr. and I got to the (hospital) at the same time. Went to the waiting room there. I don’t know how Max had gotten there. Max was with Judy and Richard Childress. I went in and just stayed with Dale Jr. At that time, it was really, as I can remember, just us in there and Teresa had gone to talk to the doctors.

Tony Stewart (in 2011 interview with AOL Fanhouse): “I don’t know Teresa very well, but I can tell you one thing, that’s a strong woman. I mean, she lost her best friend, her husband. .… At that time, that was the strongest woman I had ever met and she still is to this day as far as I’m concerned.

Mike Helton (Coffee with Kyle in 2019): Between the moment of the accident and the announcement, there was a lot of dialogue and a lot of conversations that I’ll probably just take to my grave, but there was that moment we were sitting saying, well, by then most of the industry had figured out, but we had to authenticate and make it official. I got picked to do it (as President of NASCAR at the time). I said — I used some adult words — “We just lost the biggest thing in our sport, what am I going to say?” Brian France or maybe Paul Brooks or somebody said, “Well that’s what you say, we just lost the biggest thing in our sport today.”

Mike Helton (2001 news conference at Daytona): This is undoubtedly one of the toughest announcements that I’ve ever had to personally make, but after the accident in Turn 4 at the end of the Daytona 500, we’ve lost Dale Earnhardt. … Our prayers and wishes and our effort right now at this moment is with Teresa and the Earnhardt family, Richard Childress and his family and Dale Earnhardt Inc.

Dale Earnhardt Memorial
Fans gathered at a memorial for Dale Earnhardt at Dale Earnhardt Inc. (Photo by Sporting News via Getty Images)

Dale Jarrett: We landed (in Hickory, North Carolina). I saw a guy who worked for me quite a while. I knew as soon as I saw him there, there was no reason for him to be there, and I knew something bad had happened. There was nothing that told me that the outcome was what had happened before I left Daytona. I certainly would have stayed around, not that there was anything I could have done, but just as this was my friend. … I had Kelley and my kids on the plane with me. It was just then that the world changed. I didn’t know what to say to them. He was good to my kids. They appreciated him and everything he’d done for us.

Jerry Freeze: We walked into Piedmont Aviation in Greensboro, North Carolina (after flying in from Daytona) and a guy had the TV on in the lobby and they were just looking at it dumbfounded. … It does seem like that Mike Helton had just made the announcement because it seems like the guy at the FBO was like, “Man, did you hear? Earnhardt was killed in that wreck.” I can remember all of us just sitting around. … Here we are at the Pettys coming off Adam’s accident just the year before. It was just bringing back a lot of bad memories.

Dale Beaver (MRO chaplain): Right before we left (the hospital), Dale Jr. said, “Do you mind going back to the track and getting my guys together?” I said “Absolutely. What do you want me to do with them?” (Dale Jr. said) “Bring them to my motorhome. … Max (Helton) took me back to the track and immediately to the garage and I got Tony (Eury Sr.) and the team to come to the hauler. Tony … he was just, bless his heart, he could hardly stand. Got them over to Junior’s motorcoach. I prayed with them and got out of there. I didn’t feel like that was my place. Then Dale met with them.

I headed back to our motorcoach. (Wife) Andree and I, because we had been there for two weeks, we had a motorcoach. My family was there. Of course, the MRO Community Center was there. I will never forget this. They had pulled out all of the toys in the community center and set up chairs. They said, “Dale, nobody was leaving.” … People were just hanging around because they didn’t know where else to go. … The whole driver/owner compound, they were shoehorned into that tent. I got up in front of them and just tried to comfort them the best I could. …

(Afterward) I can remember getting into the motorhome and going back there and sitting on my bed and looking at my watch. I remember pinching myself just to feel something because I was numb … and I just burst into tears.

Nate Ryan contributed to this story

Corey LaJoie calls fourth-place finish ‘huge’ for him, Spire Motorsports


HAMPTON, Ga. — With about 30 laps left in Sunday’s Cup race, Joey Logano looked around and suddenly saw Corey LaJoie’s car near the front.

“Oh, there he is,” Logano, the eventual winner, said he thought to himself. “Where has he been all day?

“Corey just kind of popped up there.”

LaJoie took a methodical approach — he ran in the top 10 for only 13 of the first 167 laps — and found himself toward the front for the third consecutive race since Atlanta Motor Speedway was reconfigured. 

His career-best fourth-place finish Sunday continued his strong runs at Atlanta, but also showed the growth in his Spire Motorsports team. While it’s only five races into the season, LaJoie is 14th in the points. He’s never finished better than 29th in Cup.

LaJoie placed fifth at Atlanta in March 2022 and was passed by Chase Elliott for the lead two laps from the finish in the July 2022 race there. Sunday, his push launched Logano on the final lap to pass Brad Keselowski for the win. 

While LaJoie continues to seek his first career Cup win, he was excited about his result.

“Hell, yeah, there’s moral victories,” he said after Sunday’s finish. “If you get … smashed 35 weekends out of the year, here’s an opportunity where you can win. When you can run fourth, there are so many good things wrapped up in that. … For me, it’s huge. For our team, it’s huge.”

Also significant was that LaJoie was the top-finishing Chevrolet.

“That’s a really big deal for us,” crew chief Ryan Sparks told NBC Sports. “Just kind of prove ourself and hopefully continue to build a relationship with Chevrolet. It’s always great to be (Chevrolet’s) top finisher. Obviously, we want to win the race. We’re getting closer. I think we’ll get up there for the year is done.”

After failing to make the feature in the Clash at the Coliseum exhibition race, LaJoie finished 16th in this year’s Daytona 500. He followed that by placing 14th at Fontana, California and then was 20th at Las Vegas and 26th at Phoenix before Sunday.

He has an average finish of 16.0 in the first races of the season. He’s never had an average finish better than 24th in his previous full-time Cup seasons. 

His performance this year has him in a playoff spot and ahead of in the standings:

  • Three cars from Stewart-Haas Racing
  • Both cars from 23XI Racing
  • Both cars from Legacy Motor Club
  • Both cars from Front Row Motorsports
  • All the Hendrick cars (although their penalties will be appealed)
  • Both Kaulig Racing cars

“We’ve started the year off really, really solid,” LaJoie said. “I don’t think we could have started any better. We messed up at Phoenix, but we came back and rebounded and put a good payday in the bank and a couple of points around the guys we are racing as well.

“It’s inevitable that a lot of the guys we’re in front of are going to catch us, those guys are the ones that run top 10 and top 15 consistently, so we have to get to where we can, on any given intermediate or any given short track, run in the top 15 a little bit better. We’re getting there. Days like this give us more confidence.”


Sunday’s race matched two drivers who are among the best in the sport at speedway style racing dueling for the win in former teammates Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski.

It marked the first time they had finished 1-2 in a speedway style race, as Logano passed Keselowski on the last lap to win Sunday at Atlanta.

“I feel like Brad is one of the top five best speedway racers on the racetrack,” Logano said. “I feel like I’m in there. A few others that are in there that you just know are really, really good at it.

“We were kind of duking it out back and forth, side by side, side drafting each other. Okay, this is what you would expect. It’s fun going up against the best like that.

“He works really hard at it. He studies it. He’s really smart at speedway racing, for sure. When you think of driver and spotter combinations, you’re going against two of the best right there, right? Whether it’s T.J. (Majors) and Brad or myself and Coleman Pressley) , if I’m picking a couple pairings of people that understand the draft, those two groups are the best at it. So it was fun to kind of go back and forth there at the end.”

Said Keselowski of racing Logano: “We know each other’s moves pretty well, for sure, but it’s just a matter of how the cookie crumbles and it kind of came his way there at the end and he made a good move. Kudos to him.”

It was a much different ending from their duel on the final lap of the 2021 Daytona 500. Logano led Keselowski when they made contact, triggering a multi-car crash and allowing Michael McDowell to win the race.


Brad Keselowski’s runner-up finish continued his improved start to the season compared to last year. 

“We’re right there, though, as our team just continues to improve and show what we’re made of,” Keselowski said, “so I’m proud of that.”

A look at how much better this season has started for Keselowski compared to last year:

His average finish in the first five races of this season is 13.2 compared to 19.2 at this time last year.

He’s run in the top 15 in 85% of the laps run this season compared to running in the top 15 in 37.4% of the laps in the first five races of last season.

His average running position in a race is 9.5 this year compared to 18.3 at this time last year.




Several Cup drivers running extra race at COTA


Seven Cup drivers will do double-duty this weekend at Circuit of the Americas.

Four Cup drivers are entered for Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at the road course in Austin, Texas. They are:

Aric Almirola (No. 08 SS Green Light Racing)

AJ Allmendinger (No. 10 Kaulig Racing)

William Byron (No. 17 Hendrick Motorsports)

Ty Gibbs (No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing)

Three Cup drivers are entered for Saturday’s Craftsman Truck Series race at COTA. They are:

Alex Bowman (No. 7 Spire Motorsports)

Ross Chastain (No. 41 Niece Motorsports)

Kyle Busch (No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports)

In the Cup Series, there are 39 entries that includes a few road racing specialists:

Jordan Taylor (No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports)

Jenson Button (No. 15 Rick Ware Racing)

Kimi Raikkonen (No. 91 Trackhouse Racing)

Also entered this weekend is Jimmie Johnson in the No. 84 for Legacy Motor Club and IndyCar driver Conor Daly in the No. 50 for TMT Racing.

COTA Cup Entry List

COTA Xfinity Entry List

COTA Truck entry list





Winners and losers at Atlanta Motor Speedway

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A look at winners and losers in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway:


Joey Logano — Logano had won 31 Cup Series races entering Sunday’s 400-miler, but none had come at Atlanta. He changed that statistical column in a big way, leading 140 laps and making a risky move around leader Brad Keselowski on the final lap to record win No. 32.

Brad Keselowski — Keselowski’s struggle to return RFK Racing to prominence has taken many months, but he has had impressive runs this year. He led 47 laps Sunday and was on the verge of victory.

Christopher Bell — With better organization from the Toyotas at the front, Bell would have had a shot at a win. He finished third and has been in the top six in four of the season’s five races.

Corey LaJoie — Sunday’s fourth-place run was LaJoie’s best in 205 Cup starts, and his smart start to the season is an indication that better things might be ahead.


William Byron — Byron’s two-race winning streak ended with a thud — literally — Sunday as he was involved in a multi-car crash and finished 32nd.

Kevin Harvick — From one instant to the next, Harvick fell from first place to out of the race. He lost control of his car in tight racing with Ross Chastain and hit the wall. He finished 33rd.

Kyle Larson — Larson fought the good fight with the more dominant Fords much of the day in the top 10, but his car was damaged in a crash with Aric Almirola. Larson parked and finished 31st.

Long: One lap, 30 seconds of action with so much at stake at Atlanta


HAMPTON, Ga. — As they began the final lap of Sunday’s Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Brad Keselowski led Christopher Bell by a car length. Joey Logano ran third, with Corey LaJoie on his rear bumper in fourth, and Tyler Reddick beside LaJoie in fifth.

So much was at stake over the final 1.54 miles and would be determined in the next 30 seconds on a brisk day at a track that looks like an intermediate speedway but races like Daytona and Talladega. 

Here’s what mattered for each:

  • Keselowski sought to end a 66-race winless streak that stretches nearly two years.
  • Bell looked to score his third win in the last nine Cup races, which would have been more than any other driver in that span.
  • Logano sought a win in a season that Fords have had few chances to do so.
  • LaJoie was focused on winning his first Cup race.
  • Reddick looked to earn his first victory with his new team.

It started with Keselowski, who is in his second year as owner-driver at RFK Racing. The organization fought through struggles last year before teammate Chris Buescher won the Bristol night race. 

Keselowski was going for his first Cup victory for his team in what has been a markedly better start to this season compared to last year.

“You need days like this,” Keselowski said afterward. “You just wish they were wins. We were right there, just didn’t come together at the end.”

Bell is proving to be the under-appreciated ace in the Cup series. 

He twice needed to win to advance in the next round of the playoffs last year — and did so. Both victories were overshadowed. The focus at the Charlotte Roval was on Chase Briscoe eliminating Kyle Larson from the playoffs instead of Bell’s win. Ross Chastain’s video game move was the talk of Martinsville instead of Bell’s triumph that day.

Nobody had won this year in Cup except Chevrolet drivers. That made this a key race for Ford and Toyota drivers. 

“We haven’t had the start to the season we’d want or hope for,” said Paul Wolfe, crew chief for Logano. “The West Coast swing was pretty rough on us. We had speed at times, but not really where we need to be on any of those tracks. So we’ve got our work cut out for us.

“We know the speedways with all the aero changes to all the manufacturers, the speedways are probably the strengths for the Fords right now. I think we saw that in Daytona as well. If you look at qualifying (Saturday), that will probably point to that same sign.

“We have to take advantage of these races right now. If this is our strength, we got to make sure we execute. That’s probably what I’m most proud of, is we were able to come here and get the win. Now we’ve really have to squeeze hard to get more speed out of our cars on the downforce tracks.”

LaJoie finished fifth in this race a year ago and was passed for the lead with two laps to go. He entered Sunday’s race winless in 204 career Cup races. He had three top-20 finishes in the first four races of the year, solid performances for his Spire Motorsports team. He’s gained some attention for those efforts.

“If we have a good car like we saw at Fontana or Las Vegas,” LaJoie said earlier this week of his 14th at California and 20th at Las Vegas, “then I can go get the job done and be up front. So, certainly a crucial beginning part of the season for me with the future of my career. I want to make sure people know what I’m capable of, no matter whether it’s an intermediate or a short track or superspeedway.”

Reddick is in his first season with 23XI Racing and it has been a rough start to the season. He was eliminated by accidents in the first two races of the year. He scored his first top 10 of the year last week at Phoenix and looked for even more Sunday.

It is what all those situations hovering as the white flag waved to begin the final lap.

The key moment came with LaJoie planted on the back of Logano’s rear bumper on the inside lane.

“Joey got such a huge run down the frontstretch,” Keselowski said. “There was nothing I could do to stop it other than wreck all of us.”

Logano said that LaJoie “clobbered me at the start/finish line, gave me such a big run.”

That energy allowed Logano to go from the bottom lane to the top lane — while narrowly slipping between Keselowski and Bell.

“When you get a run like that on the last lap, you can’t lift, you just can’t,” Logano said. 

He knew he needed to move up the track to avoid having Keselowski block him on the bottom lane.

“I had to get up there and slip to his outside,” Logano said. “Ultimately, that’s the move that was going to win the race.

“If I got to his inside, you have a chance, maybe a 20% chance of winning the race depending on what kind of push you get down the backstretch. Most likely we were not going to win the race.”

He did and Keselowski finished second.

“We know each other’s moves pretty well, for sure, but it just matters how the cookie crumbles and it kind of came his way at he end and he made a good move,” Keselowski said. “Kudos to him. We’re right there, though, as our team just continues to improve and show what we’re made of, so I’m proud of that.

Bell finished third and was left to wonder what if.

“I had the position (Logano) had and I decided to bail on it and go to the top,” Bell said. “To come so close is disappointing.”

LaJoie finished a career-best fourth.

“Hell, yeah, there’s moral victories,” LaJoie said after Sunday’s finish. “If you get … smashed 35 weekends out of the year, here’s an opportunity where you can win. When you can run fourth, there are so many good things wrapped up in that. … For me, it’s huge. For our team, it’s huge.”

For Reddick, a day that started with John Hunter Nemechek on standby because Reddick wasn’t feeling well, ended with Reddick scoring his second consecutive top five.

“I was trying to create an opportunity to where myself Christopher Bell and Denny Hamlin could all break away and take advantage of momentum,” Reddick said. “It didn’t quite work out timing-wise where it needed for that. All in all, an OK day.”