Busch Clash

Race of survival at Daytona: Will drivers keep blocking despite risk?

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Taller spoiler, larger closing rates, brand-new aero ducts.

Same wrecks.

Sunday’s caution-plagued Busch Clash offered a preview of how Sunday’s 62nd running of the Daytona 500 and Thursday nights’ Duel qualifying races likely will unfold under a new speedway package introduced last year.

Though the rules were in place for both races last season at Talladega Superspeedway, its implementation at Daytona International Speedway was delayed until July in a caution-plagued race that was shortened by 82 miles because of rain.

So Speedweeks 2020 will be the biggest test yet at Daytona International Speedway of a package that already has produced calamity on the much wider surface at Talladega.

With 80% of the cars in the past three Daytona 500s having already been involved in crashes, Sunday’s race in particular could be more about attrition than ever – even drivers have become well aware that blocking is a much riskier strategy.

“You are going to have to survive,” Kevin Harvick said. “I think survival will be more talked about this year than any year in the past. We have all been programmed to block and do things with the old package for so many years, and this is not the old package. The runs are happening faster. The cars are kind of lining up and spin out really easy to the right when you push them wrong. They are fast compared to where we were before.”

The increased speed has come with the virtual evaporation of the so-called “air bubble” that drivers said existed between the leading and trailing car is gone.

That makes it much more difficult for the leader to control the two lines of cars because blocking is much less effective in blunting the momentum of a charge through the field.

“It’s changed a lot since last year,” Chase Elliott said. “Then the guy who got the lead with 20 to go was probably going to be your winner. Now the runs come fast, and the lead car will have a much harder time controlling the race.”

Said Kyle Busch: “The runs are not the same as what they used to be. So the old package, there used to be this bubble. You’d catch up to a guy and then half a car length away, you’d start to push him back away. That bubble is less. … The leader has to be careful about what he’s doing, especially when you’re on older tires.”

Though blocking has been a hot topic since Brad Keselowski criticized teammate Joey Logano for a multicar wreck in The Clash, it likely will remain prevalent in the last 50 laps of the crown jewel race of the season because so much is at stake.

“I don’t think it’ll change for the Daytona 500,” defending winner Denny Hamlin said. “This race is just too big, and people think they have to make the bold move to win the race. I think differently on it. I think you can get to the finish in a different kind of way and stay at the front in a different kind of way.

“With this package, we’ll continue to get smarter and evolve on how to manage these races to get to the finish but right now, people are trying to use the same technique they’ve used for many, many years, and it just isn’t working.”

Said Clint Bowyer: “At the end of the day, you block because it works. It works until it doesn’t. That’s the only unfortunate difference between when that works and one that doesn’t is a crash. That’s successful until it’s not, and then you’re the bad guy. You’ve wrecked the whole field because it was an untimely block, and you wrecked everybody, but if you didn’t, you should have, and you’re going to lose the race.

“So it’s a tricky thing to judge. It puts you on the spot. And it’s do or die, and it’s a decision that has to be made that fast.”

Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski meet to discuss Busch Clash incident

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski didn’t run into each other at Disney World earlier this week when they were there with their families, but they have talked since Keselowski’s blistering comments about his teammate’s blocking after a crash in Sunday’s Busch Clash.

“We’re going to have different opinions on a lot of things,” Logano said Wednesday morning at Daytona 500 media day. “It’s a part of racing and things like that.”

Said Keselowski on Wednesday afternoon: “I think I’ve been pretty consistent on blocking on the racetrack, I don’t really have anything that I feel different about in respect to that. As far as the comments specific to Joey, I’ll keep those between him and I.”

Asked what he would say to those who could view his comments about Logano as sign of a rift between them, Keselowski said: “I”m glad you all got something to talk about. Just want to sell papers and drive clicks for NASCAR. Again, the comments between Joey and I, specifically, I’ve said what I want to say, anything further than that I’ll just keep between he and I.”

Keselowski was livid with Logano after Logano and Kyle Busch crashed late in Sunday’s Busch Clash. Keselowski was collected in that incident.

“It’s the same thing,” Keselowski said Sunday after being eliminated. “Somebody throws a stupid block that’s never going to work and wrecks half the field and then goes ‘eh’. Maybe we need to take the helmets out of these cars and take the seat belts out. Somebody will get hurt and then we’ll stop driving like assholes. I don’t know. We’ll figure it out I guess.”

Logano said it was good to talk to Keselowski this week.

“That’s all you can do is just try to explain your side of the story of what happened,” Logano said. “There are different perspectives on the whole thing and I had no clue. I was like, ‘Hey, what are you mad about? Let’s talk about it.’ 

“There were things that I had no idea about and I just explained my side of the story. That’s all you can really do. I think once he understands the whole side of the story, and you know how it is, you get out of the race car, you’re frustrated, you’re mad, your emotions are running high, you haven’t re-watched anything yet and they stick a microphone in your face and ask you what happened. You don’t really know until you go back and study it and figure it all out. 

“That stuff happens, but, like I said, we’ve been friends for a long time. We’ve been able to figure stuff out before he said afterwards. I’m not really that worried about it. It’s going to be OK.  We’re gonna figure it out. Everything always blows by. Everything gets better all the time.”

Bump and Run: What should be done with the Clash?

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What should be done to the Busch Clash: Eliminate it, change the format or keep it the same?

Nate Ryan: A new format is needed because (as Kurt Busch wisely noted) when an exhibition race billed as no-holds-barred devolves into an exercise of analytics and strategy, something is amiss. Either shorten it to a trophy dash-style distance as it originally was intended. Or turn it into a series of heat races, or better yet the first in a series of heat races over several days to eliminate the unnecessary down time and re-emphasize the qualifying races in Speedweeks.

Dustin Long: If there’s still a value in the event — and I have some questions about that — then the race should be at least 35-40 laps. It’s still short but it’s long enough that handling can play a role in the race. If you don’t want handling to be a factor than go shorter.

Daniel McFadin: Simple: make it shorter. 75 laps is too long and in no way does the event feel like an intense shootout. Monday morning on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, Chase Elliott‘s crew chief, Alan Gustafson, explained why for much of the race the Chevrolet teams were in their own group lagging behind the Ford and Toyotas. He said there was no reason to race then. Turn up the heat by turning down the lap total. And as Kurt Busch suggested, throw in cash rewards at certain lap intervals (which was done in the early days of the Busch Clash). 

Jerry Bonkowski: After 41 years, I think the Clash has run its course. As we saw Sunday, it almost always and needlessly destroys a number of good cars and doesn’t really serve a true purpose in that the winner – or anyone else in the race – gets little more than a trophy and cash for winning. They receive no points, no automatic berth in the Daytona 500 or anything else. What I would like to see is the Clash be eliminated and see the Duels take more prominence.

Name a driver who failed to make the Cup playoffs last year that you think will make the playoffs this year and why.

Nate Ryan: Jimmie Johnson. Even if he doesn’t win, crew chief Cliff Daniels already has safeguarded the No. 48 against missing on points, and it just won’t seem right if the seven-time champion doesn’t have at least a shot at going out with an eighth title.

Dustin Long: I’m intrigued with the combination of Chris Buescher and Luke Lambert at Roush Fenway Racing. The organization needs to take a step forward but these two can help lead that charge.

Daniel McFadin: I’m going with Jimmie Johnson. He and Cliff Daniels showed enough progress late last year that I believe they’ll have no problem making the playoffs in Johnson’s final full-time season.

Jerry Bonkowski: Jimmie Johnson will make the playoffs in his last season as a full-time Cup driver. After missing the playoffs last season, my sense is that Johnson, his team and all of Hendrick Motorsports will do everything they can to get the No. 48 into this year’s playoffs.

What do you think is the biggest change entering this season?

Nate Ryan: The schedule. The first warning will come next week as teams head directly to the West Coast instead of getting their usual breather of a short hop to Atlanta. Homestead-Miami Speedway will be another significant signpost next month, and the need for acclimation will continue to ratchet up (Indianapolis in July; two consecutive weeks off in midsummer) until the final 11 weeks, which will force completely new approaches with a new regular-season finale, two fresh cutoff races and a first-time championship at Phoenix.

Dustin Long: The schedule. For all the reasons listed by others here.

Daniel McFadin: The playoff schedule. It’s teed up by the regular season finale at Daytona and then we get a playoff run that includes: Darlington, Richmond, a little track called Bristol, the Roval, Talladega, a penultimate race at Martinsville and then the finale at Phoenix. If not for the third round featuring consecutive races on 1.5-mile tracks, I’d say that’s the best playoff lineup you could ask for.

Jerry Bonkowski: Not having one series entitlement sponsor for the first time since Winston came into the sport in 1971, followed by Nextel, Sprint and Monster Energy between 2004 and last season is the biggest change in my mind. Instead, there will be four sponsors who will share segments of this year’s season, while the overall series will be simply called the NASCAR Cup Series.

 

Who is your favorite for Cup Rookie of the Year?

Nate Ryan: He won’t be regarded as the favorite, but Tyler Reddick would be my pick.

Dustin Long: Christopher Bell to win a close battle.

Daniel McFadin: My gut tells me Cole Custer. I have more confidence in Custer competing for an organization like Stewart-Haas Racing right now than Tyler Reddick at Richard Childress Racing or Christopher Bell at Leavine Family Racing, a satellite of Joe Gibbs Racing. SHR’s Cup operation is just stronger right now than the other two.

Jerry Bonkowski: This is a tough one. All three of the top rookies – Tyler Reddick, Cole Custer and Christopher Bell – are worthy candidates. Reddick won six Xfinity races last season for Richard Childress Racing, but stepping up to the Cup Series is another story: RCR went winless in Cup last season, won just one race in 2018 and has only three total Cup wins since 2014. Reddick – and RCR – will have to take their game up several notches if Reddick is to win Rookie of the Year honors.

Winners and Losers after opening weekend of Daytona Speedweeks

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WINNERS

Erik JonesLet’s see, overshoots his pit stall, involved in three accidents … and wins the Busch Clash a year after finishing last in this event. Even he couldn’t believe it. “I don’t know if it’s the biggest win,” Jones said of his career, “but definitely one of the coolest. I mean, just from an aspect that me and my friends will laugh about this one for a long time looking back at it, wondering how we won.” They won’t be the only ones.

History repeating (sort of) — Credit Erik Jones and his team for attempting to duplicate the victory lane photo of Terry Labonte and his team after Labonte won at Bristol in 1995 with a smashed car. Jones’ damaged car wasn’t too far off from Labonte’s.

JTG Daugherty Racing — Ricky Stenhouse Jr. gets the accolades for winning the Daytona 500 pole with his new team, but let’s also give credit to the team for the car and its alliance with Hendrick Motorsports that gave the car Hendrick power.

Brendan Gaughan and Justin HaleyBoth are guaranteed a starting spot in the Daytona 500 after being the two fastest among the non-chartered cars in qualifying.

Hailie DeeganMichael Self won his second ARCA race at Daytona on Saturday but Deegan finished second in her first series race at Daytona. Her finish ties the highest result for a female driver in series history.

LOSERS

Team (Penske) camaraderie — Brad Keselowski was livid with teammate Joey Logano for blocks that led to both crashing, along with Kyle Busch. Said Keselowski of Logano’s blocking: “We were in a position to finish it off, and we got destroyed for no reason. You would think these guys would be smarter than that. … Somebody throws a stupid block that’s never going to work and wrecks half the field and then goes ‘eh.’ Maybe we need to take the helmets out of these cars and take the seat belts out. Somebody will get hurt and then we’ll stop driving like assholes.”

History — Never before in the history of the Busch Clash has the eighth-place car finished 10 laps down. That’s where Ryan Blaney placed because of a crash. Only six cars were running at the end of Sunday’s event.

Martin Truex Jr. He was eliminated by a crash in the Clash for the third time in the last four years.

Brad Keselowski upset with teammate Joey Logano’s blocking

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Brad Keselowski criticized teammate Joey Logano for “throwing a stupid block” and grew angrier about such moves, saying “maybe we need to take the helmets out of these cars and take the seat belts out. Somebody will get hurt and then we’ll stop driving like assholes. I don’t know. We’ll figure it out I guess.”

Keselowski was upset after his Team Penske teammate blocked Kyle Busch multiple times in Sunday’s Busch Clash at Daytona International Speedway before Busch and Logano made contact and collected Keselowski.

Keselowski was still livid after exiting the infield care center.

“Just got wrecked for no reason,” Keselowski said. “Dumb, dumb racing. Just dumb moves being thrown out there. Guys that don’t know what they’re doing, so they throw crazy-ass blocks. It’s ridiculous. We shouldn’t be wrecking all these cars. I’m not Tony Stewart. I’m not as smart as he is. He can say it a lot better than I could. This is just dumb. We had a good race car.

“We were in a position to finish it off, and we got destroyed for no reason. You would think these guys would be smarter than that. We all cause wrecks. I get in wrecks all the time and I cause them. The same one over and over again. It’s the same thing. Somebody throws a stupid block that’s never going to work and wrecks half the field and then goes ‘eh’. Maybe we need to take the helmets out of these cars and take the seat belts out. Somebody will get hurt and then we’ll stop driving like assholes. I don’t know. We’ll figure it out I guess.”

Asked if that was his teammate he was talking about, Keselowski said “yeah.

“It was just a dumb move. There was no reason to make that move. It was never going to work. It didn’t. So here we are. We’re wrecked out of the race. A Ford is not going to win most likely and a Toyota is. It was just dumb to take out the best car for a move that was never going to work.”

Asked if he would talk to Logano, Keselowski said: “I’m going to Disney World with my family. I’ll worry about that later.”

Logano later said: “I’m going to Disney World too, so I’ll see him there. I’m sure he’s all right. We get along fine. I don’t think he’s mad at me.”

Logano explained what happened in his incident with Busch that also involved Keselowski.

“Kyle had a run. I blocked it to the bottom,” Logano said. “I blocked him back got the top. … He go to the inside of me and there really wasn’t a hole and just hooked me around.”

Told Keselowski was upset about the blocking, Logano said: “Apparently we all suck at this because there’s only like three cars running right now. I would say no one is any good.”