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Aggressive Driving in Last Stage Eliminates Several Contenders

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Coming into the Daytona 500, everybody was on edge as to whether they’d see an event filled with wrecks, following a pair of wreck-filled events for the Camping World Truck Series and XFINITY Series. While the first two stages only saw one six-car wreck, the last stage was filled with carnage in the form of a pair of big wrecks.

Both wrecks happened near the front of the field, as drivers looked to close in on the opportunity to pick up the victory in the biggest race of the season.

Battling for the third spot on Lap 128, Jamie McMurray peaked outside of Jimmie Johnson, putting Johnson in the middle of four-wide. The seven-time champion then tried to get down in front of Trevor Bayne, but Bayne was already there, resulting in contact.

“They started running into the back of me off of Turn 2 and didn’t stop until I crashed and took out the field,” Johnson said. “I don’t’ know what was going on with the pack behind me, but the whole back straightaway I had, I think the No. 6 (Trevor Bayne) into the back of me. I was just praying that they would let me go and let me get my rear tires back on the ground and it never happened. Just a lot of aggression, way too early in my opinion.”

Ultimately, it turned into a 14-car wreck including Clint Bowyer in his Stewart-Haas Racing debut, Duel No. 2 winner Denny Hamlin, Stage 2 winner Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., and The Clash winner Joey Logano.

“We went down the back three wide, and we got to turn three, and it looked like all of a sudden, we were four wide, we just ran out of real estate,” Chris Buescher said. “Nobody really…I don’t know. It ended up looking like something we saw the last two nights of racing. That is something we didn’t expect to happen here.”

The cautions continued to fly, as shortly after the restart Ryan Blaney made the decision to head down pit road. He put his hand out the window down the backstretch and through turns three and four, as well as Elliott Sadler doing the same to relay the message. However, as the pair slowed approaching pit road entry, the message wasn’t delivered as Jeffrey Earnhardt hit Smith, causing Smith to go sideways and take out both Roush Fenway Racing teammates Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne with him with 64 laps to go.

After a pair of incidents, it was expected the racing would calm down, but that wasn’t the case. A lap after going back to green, an 11-car wreck happened down the backstretch after Jamie McMurray bumped Chase Elliott, getting him sideways and collecting a bunch of drivers behind them including Brad Keselowski, Ty Dillon, Hamlin and Ryan Newman.

“I went to get to the inside of the No. 24 and I got to his left rear and got him turned a little, and then I don’t know who was behind me, but someone got into my left rear, and then I was kind of just along for the ride whenever that happens,” McMurray said.

Daytona is known for big wrecks, but it seems this year it has gone over the edge with at least three big wrecks in each of the events.

“I don’t know what it is about this year; maybe it’s the segments, I don’t know,” Austin Dillon said. “It’s got everybody a little more amped up, but there are not a whole lot of cars finishing. I dodged all of them yesterday and ran out of gas in the end and didn’t dodge them all today. It’s just part of racing here at Daytona. That is why it is one of the toughest races to win.”

“I think Daytona and Talladega are going to be the extreme because, you know, it comes down to trying to get your track position,” A.J. Allmendinger said. “You see people lay back. Now with the stages, there’s points on the line. I think Daytona is the most amped up. It kind of changes how people race.”

Though while the stage format may be to blame, it appears there’s another factor at play, according to some drivers. Daniel Suarez pointed out in his XFINITY post-race comment on Saturday that there was a lot of aggressive driving happening, and people needed to drive smarter,

If you take a glance across the divisions, the theory seems to play out. Three of the wrecks in the trucks, followed by a pair in XFINITY and one of the Cup wrecks were a result of a bump draft gone wrong. While not caused by bump drafting went wrong, the other XFINITY wreck and the second Cup wreck fall under the category in the part of aggressiveness and blocking to try and get in line to not lose ground.

Allmendinger feels the aggressive nature comes out due to drivers not wanting to lose track position, with it being so hard to make-up ground due to the field always being three-wide.

“I think that anticipation level, instead of waiting for 20 or 30 to go, you have to go with a hundred to go. You have to get your track position. If you lose it, it’s hard to get it back,” he said. “To me, that’s the bigger deal. Over the last couple years, it’s kind of hard to make moves through the middle of the pack through the field with 20 to go. Everybody was trying to get up there and make sure they got the track position. That’s what happens here.”

When NASCAR announced the stage “enhancements,” it was meant to bring excitement to the forefront. Based on the three races this weekend, everybody is now wondering if this is a sign of what’s to come for the rest of the season.

“I don’t think any of the other 32 races that we’re going to go to, we’re all driving as hard as we can every lap anyway,” Allmendinger said. “Yeah, you get a caution with eight to go before the stage ends, there’s going to be strategy. Maybe guys on old tires and that that might make some difference when it comes to the stages. I think it’s the extreme of the Daytona 500 and these plate races, the way we have to race. Now with stages, with points being on the line, things are going to happen like that.”

Regardless of the reasoning, it turned out unfortunate for the fans as in the span of three wrecks, a bunch of favorites were left in the garage.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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Ashley McCubbin

Currently the Executive Editor for Popular Speed, Ashley McCubbin also runs Short Track Musings, while handling media relations for OSCAAR. Currently living in Bradford, Ontario, she spends her weekend at the local short tracks in the area taking photos.