How fitting that the Busch Clash was won by a Busch, and as the result of a clash between the leaders.
The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season unofficially began with the Busch Clash on the Daytona International Speedway road course for the first time in its history. In a race filled with dirt and drivers overshooting the first turn, Kyle Busch capitalised on contact between leaders Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney as they went through the final chicane coming to the finish to steal his second win in the exhibition race.
Blaney led part of the opening lap before being passed by Denny Hamlin in turn six. Two laps later, Kevin Harvick spun through the grass in the Bus Stop backstretch chicane, kicking dirt onto the surface; fellow Ford driver Matt DiBenedetto would also suffer from chicane troubles when he missed the final one approaching the start/finish line on lap six, resulting in a stop-and-go penalty.
The chicane dirt, which basically turned the track into a pseudo-rallycross course, eventually forced a caution on lap eight for cleanup. While Blaney stayed out, others like Hamlin pitted; Joey Logano (too many crewmen) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (crew over the wall too soon) received penalties on their stops.
“Can we run on the Daytona road course? Dirt on the track no problem,” remarked the off-road-savvy Stadium Super Trucks on Twitter. Amusingly, the superspeedway indeed has dirt layouts with the AMA Supercross track in the frontstretch infield and previously welcomed the mixed-surface Global Rallycross Championship from 2014 to 2016. While SST has never raced at Daytona, the series’ winningest driver and two-time champion Sheldon Creed won the Camping World Truck Series‘ inaugural race on the road course last August.
The race resumed on lap eleven, with Blaney overshooting the opening turn while Harvick spun into the grass again, leading to another pit stop. Tyler Reddick briefly took the lead before Brad Keselowski did. The Joe Gibbs Racing team-mates Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. passed him on lap 13, and the latter would claim first from Hamlin when he got loose in the Bus Stop.
With the competition caution looming, various drivers like Elliott decided to pit in advance on lap 16, though they were not allowed to add fuel until the yellow; Bowman suffered a speeding penalty. The yellow came out shortly after, with Truex being penalised for skipping the frontstretch chicane under delay, forcing him to the back for the restart. Reddick missed his pit box and had to reverse into it to be serviced, while Stenhouse was slapped with another penalty for pitting too soon.
Kurt Busch changed two tyres to take the lead for the restart, but went wide into the first corner and Hamlin inherited the position. On lap 22, Custer’s car stopped on the frontstretch chicane before catching fire, resulting in a caution.
Hamlin and Ky. Busch led the field to green on lap 25, though their team-mate Truex rejoined the picture and took first. However, his race quickly took a turn when he went off road through the Bus Stop, causing him to spin upon rejoining the track before slamming into the outside wall. Much of the field pitted, with Blaney being the first off while the top six led by Elliott and Ku. Busch stayed out.
Truex’s caution set up a five-lap sprint, and contact into turn one dropped Busch to seventh while Elliott led; Busch hit pit road after a lap. Riding on older tyres, Elliott faced pressure from Team Penske‘s Logano and Blaney. The latter passed his team-mate in the infield for second a lap later.
On the frontstretch with three laps to go, Chris Buescher spun through the chicane after contact wih Reddick and clipped Bowman, but the race stayed green. Keselowski also spun with no caution.
The fresher-tyred Blaney gave chase to Elliott and made his move through turn five on the penultimate lap. After taking the white flag, Blaney locked his brakes multiple times in the infield, which enabled Elliott to close the gap. Elliott made his move on the final chicane, but slammed Blaney’s right side and sent him into a spin.
With Elliott losing all of his momentum, Ky. Busch slipped by in the tri-oval to take the win. It is Busch’s first Clash win since 2012, coincidentally also a race that ended with a last-lap pass for the victory. For new crew chief Ben Beshore, it was a strong start to his tenure on the #18 pit box.
“I just knew that keeping my head down and keep focus ahead and just seeing if I could hit my marks and get close enough to have a shot like that if something like that were to materialise. Fortunately, it did for us,” Busch said in his post-race interview with FS1. “[…] Awesome to start off the year with a win. Non-points win, but we’d love nothing more than to be right here this Sunday.”
Elliott settled for second, his best finish in the exhibition. He explained he “was close enough to drive it in there. I feel like I’d be mad at myself for not at least trying. Obviously, I don’t mean to wreck anybody, especially him—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 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 certainly I didn’t mean to wreck him. Drove in there and that corner gets so tight, I didn’t want to just completely jump the kerb to the right, but I felt like I tried to get over there as far as I could to it. At that point, we were coming together at the same time. Hate it.”
Blaney had to settle for thirteenth after the spin. Ironically, parallels can be drawn to his win on the Charlotte Roval in 2018: that race and the 2021 Clash were the events’ inaugurals on their respective speedways’ infield road course, while the finish involved him and drivers from Hendrick Motorsports (Jimmie Johnson in 2018) and Joe Gibbs Racing (Truex in 2018), one of whom was the defending champion (Truex). In the Roval race, Blaney was the lucky one as he escaped a wrecking Johnson and Truex in the final chicane.
“It didn’t work out for either of us. Just racing hard,” Blaney commented. “I had a little fresher tyres there, we saved a set and got back to second. The car was really good, I had to use a lot to get to him. I tried to protect and drove into the last corner really deep to try to make sure I didn’t get dive-bombed like that. We just came together there.”
|1||16||18||Kyle Busch||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||35||Running|
|2||7||9||Chase Elliott||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||35||Running|
|3||10||22||Joey Logano||Team Penske||Ford||35||Running|
|4||6||8||Tyler Reddick||Richard Childress Racing||Chevrolet||35||Running|
|5||5||24||William Byron||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||35||Running|
|6||3||11||Denny Hamlin||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||35||Running|
|7||2||48||Alex Bowman||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||35||Running|
|8||9||43||Erik Jones||Richard Petty Motorsports||Chevrolet||35||Running|
|9||20||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||JTG Daugherty Racing||Chevrolet||35||Running|
|10||12||21||Matt DiBenedetto||Wood Brothers Racing||Ford||35||Running|
|11||19||3||Austin Dillon||Richard Childress Racing||Chevrolet||35||Running|
|12||21||10||Aric Almirola||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||35||Running|
|13||1||12||Ryan Blaney||Team Penske||Ford||35||Running|
|14||11||6||Ryan Newman||Roush Fenway Racing||Ford||35||Running|
|15||17||4||Kevin Harvick||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||35||Running|
|16||13||17||Chris Buescher||Roush Fenway Racing||Ford||35||Running|
|17||4||2||Brad Keselowski||Team Penske||Ford||35||Running|
|18||14||23||Ty Dillon*||23XI Racing||Toyota||35||Running|
|19||15||1||Kurt Busch||Chip Ganassi Racing||Chevrolet||35||Running|
|20||8||41||Cole Custer||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||32||Running|
|21||13||19||Martin Truex Jr.||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||27||Accident|