Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona International Speedway
Logano win the Clash after Hamlin and Keselowski collide on the last lap
February 19, 2017: it was almost expected. After Denny Hamlin had led for 47 laps of the 75-lap Chase, Brad Keselowski caught up to him just as he took the white flag. Now Keselowski had the momentum and, going into the second turn, he charged ahead right down on the yellow line under Hamlin. Hamlin had no choice – in this all-or-nothing race – but to swing his wheel to the left in a vain attempt to block him. But Keselowski already was up alongside his rear flank and the two came together and spun. This left it all to Keselowski's teammate Joey Logano who drove past the spinning cars to take the lead and go on to take the win.
Behind him Kyle Busch and Alex Bowman could not organize themselves to draft together up past the leading Ford on that final lap and they took the checker side-by-side right behind Keselowski with Busch scored in second and Bowman third. Meanwhile Danica Patrick had seen her opportunity and she shot up right behind those two take fourth almost alongside them. Kevin Harvick, driving a Ford for the Stewart-Haas team this year, was fifth.
Ths format for the Chase this year was two segments – one 25 laps and the second 50 laps – to make up the 75-lap race distance. NASCAR supposedly does have a formula for who qualifies for this race mostly based on based pole wins but Clint Boyer was left shaking his head after they chose to include the Cup rookie Daniel Suárez (who has replaced Carl Edwards now that he has stepped aside) but not him even though his circumstance as the replacement for Tony Stewart who had retired at the end of the 2016 season seemed similar. In all there were 17 starters including the rookie Suárez.
The first caution flew on lap 18 after Jimmie Johnson half-spun to the left coming over the fourth turn tunnel and took out Kurt Busch. Johnson was able to make repairs and stay on the lead lap while Busch's day was over. A few laps later the caution flew again to end the first 25-lap segment. Kyle Busch, who had been running at the front, had pitted with several other cars one lap before the scheduled yellow flew. It may have been a good strategy but he came into the pits way too hot and was penalized for speeding. Now he was at the back of the field and it took him the rest of the race to get back up into contention among the front runners.
Logano had the lead on the restart but it took only a couple of laps before Hamlin took over the lead – a position he was to hang onto until that fateful final lap. Meanwhile Suárez was looking good having moved up into second behind his teammate, a position he held until the restart after the fourth yellow which flew on lap 62. After the green came out with just 11 laps left, Suárez was overwhelmed by the charging veterans and he had to settle for an eighth-place finish. But this rookie Mexican driver had showed clearly that he is up to the job and that will be able to hold his own with the best of the Cup drivers.
The third caution had come out on lap 50 when Johnson once again lost control of his car and he spun helplessly to the left of the fourth turn again and he bunted the inside wall ending his race.
This race was originally scheduled to run the night before – Saturday night – but it was postponed to Sunday because of rain. In the dark of Saturday night it was hard to see the crowd but there didn't seem to be much evidence of fans in the stands, With Sunday's Daytona 500 pole qualifying on Sunday turned into a double-header by the addition of the Clash, you would expect every NASCAR fan in town for Speed Weeks to turn out. While there were lots of campers in the infield, the big grandstands were pretty empty. Let's hope that next weekend the contingent of true NASCAR fans shows up for the series' "Super Bowl" and that the new-last-year grandstands are filled to overflowing.
MENCS Clash: NASCAR via Getty Images