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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup

OBSERVATIONS: Daytona 500

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After the single file affair that broke out through the preliminary events for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, there were worries about the Daytona 500 being a snoozefest. Those concerns were quickly put to bed in the early stages, and then twisted every direction in the final 30 laps.

Through the first half of the event, the field raced double-wide throughout, with groups getting together to get runs that saw the lead change hands on a couple times. Even though the field went single-file for the end of stage two, and the Ford train seemed to be ready to dominate at the halfway point, there was hope about the event.

However, it is worth mentioning that with 33 laps to go, the field ditched the pack racing to ride single-file along the top, making you wonder if drivers really knew how to battle at the end of the events. The caution with 19 to go for Kyle Larson‘s flat tire changed everything, though.

It seemed to wake everybody up through the field, with runs coming from all angles and risky maneuvers, which ultimately resulted in the big wreck. Did we mention carnage? Three big wrecks in a row, resulting in just three cars in the whole field of 40 not being involved in incidents. 

Even with a mere nine cars left for the final run to the checkered, the race was still interesting with runs coming from Kyle Busch and Joey Logano as they both challenged Denny Hamlin, with Hamlin holding them both off. Busch finishing second, followed by Erik Jones in third was fitting after the loss of Joe Gibbs Racing team president J.D. Gibbs over the winter.

Though of course, the one thing will stick out in the fan’s and driver’s minds moving forward is the amount of wrecked cars, and you have to wonder how that will factor into future events and the strategy at Daytona and Talladega. The fear resulted in single-file affairs through most of the preliminary events. Will that return at the next superspeedway event? 

And for the record, we may not want to call drivers out, but Ricky Stenhouse Jr. looked like a dart without feathers with some of his blocks. It was only a matter of time before he caused an incident – let alone being part of the core cause of two. While he may be dubbed as one of the best at restrictor plate racing for his amount of success, he could use some lessons. 

Alliances have become the key to restrictor plate success. We saw Dale Earnhardt Incorporated teammates working together result in plenty of wins for Michael Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the early 2000s. Recently, it’s been the Fords working together, as shown by Stewart-Haas Racing’s dominance at Talladega.

So while you may have never expected an alliance between a Toyota team and Chevrolet organization, that’s what happened on Sunday. The threat of the Fords in the mere number of entries they had willing to work together resulted in Joe Gibbs Racing and Hendrick Motorsports working together.

It was a nice change of pace to see another group of drivers willing to work together, and not just let the Fords rule the roost with ease. It was also intriguing watching how the Hendrick Motorsports foursome did not heavily challenge the Gibbs duo at the end of the first stage, either.

The dynamic was displayed mid-way through the second stage with pit strategy, when everyone pitted except for the six cars that formed the train – Matt DiBenedetto, Busch, Alex Bowman, William Byron, Jones, and Chase Elliott. With continuing to make laps lined up together, they were able to chase down the rest of the field under green, almost putting them a lap down. Simply put, the gaggle of the field couldn’t stay completely single-file and work together, therefore creating drag, enabling this to happen. 

Unfortunately, the puzzling strategy was spoiled with an incident coming on to pit road, involving both Rick Ware Racing entries, Tyler Reddick, Stenhouse, and Jimmie Johnson. If they would’ve pitted before the incident, they could’ve restarted first through sixth easily.

Instead, they got shuffled throughout the field. Be interesting to see the dynamic if the caution hadn’t flown, or they would’ve been able to restart first through sixth when the caution came out.

NASCAR has been highly criticized for their decisions throughout the event, and this race can be included in the ever-growing collection. Michael McDowell was set to start on the front row, until deemed for pitting too soon, so he was sent to start from the tail end of the field. This would enable everybody else to move up, but that did not go smoothly with Elliott, Aric Almirola, and Paul Menard came to the green flag three-wide.

There would be no penalty from NASCAR despite the field not being in line, as they stated, “The 9 car was pushed three wide, and was unable to reset his position. He did not illegally change lanes prior to the S/F line. That is why we did not rule it as a restart violation.”

Meanwhile, how about NASCAR admits that they should’ve taken an extra lap to make sure everybody was properly in line after shuffling McDowell out?

Small fries can typically find success on the superspeedways by surviving the wrecks, and using the draft as the great-equalizer. DiBenedetto was doing a great job at that, pacing the majority of the laps before he was taken out of contention in a wreck.

The other driver who deserves an honorable mention? Ryan Preece. He drove directly through all three wrecks that happened, crossing the line with an eighth-place finish in his Cup Series debut. Just check this out for evidence.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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.