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OBSERVATIONS: Daytona 500

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Although the races leading up to the Daytona 500 for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series lacked excitement at times, that was all out of the window on Sunday as there was drama at every turn en route to the end of the event.

Constantly running in a single file train became a common theme throughout the beginning of Speedweeks, resulting in races becoming boring. However, the first stage of the Daytona 500 saw drivers side-by-side the entire stretch of the way under green – except for four laps. 

Of course, battling for position means the chance for trouble intensifies, and that was seen on Sunday, as well. In the closing laps of the first stage, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. got sideways ahead of the field, saving it, but causing a bunch of other drivers to wreck behind him. The Roush Fenway Racing competitor’s actions were a result of lane changing to try and block Ryan Blaney for position.

Anytime you go for a block, you take the chance of getting wrecked – and here is an unfortunate case where others paid the price. But that’s the hands that the drivers are dealt with this package. The runs come quickly, and the only way to maintain position is to try and stop them. Otherwise, you’re at the back of the pack. This is just even poorer situation being that drivers not involved initially saw their days end here. 

It’s also interesting in the timing of the incident, being three laps left in the stage.

“It looked like everybody thought that was the finish of the Daytona 500 and it was really only lap 59 coming to 60,” Jimmie Johnson said. “Unfortunately, we lost our third car for the weekend.  It’s unfortunate it has turned out that way, but we will get this Lowe’s for Pro’s Chevy dialed in for Atlanta and go do it again.”

Martin Truex Jr. proved last season how critical stage points can be towards moving from round to round in the playoffs. Other drivers showed how a single point could mean qualifying for the post-season, or missing it entirely. With the knowledge learned from last year, could it be changing how people think moving forward? Something to watch when we go to Atlanta Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and other races to come. 

But stage racing can’t be the main culprit for the accidents in the Daytona 500, as the next big wreck occurred with 18 laps left in the second stage. It could be dubbed another case of blocking between Brad Keselowski and Chase Elliott, but another element comes into play – the left rear corner of the car. As we seen in the Clash, you cannot ride someone’s left rear corner or you will turn them; Stenhouse turned a pair of people there. While trying to keep in line with the run that Elliott had on Blaney, Keselowski got to Elliott’s left rear corner and the wreck begins.

As this rhyme from Mike Joy says, “With this new aero package where the left rear is all the way to the ground, you don’t need to touch him to spin him around” meaning that if contact is made, it’s twice as bad. As we seen with the incident above, those earlier in the weekend, and another big wreck with three laps to go, as well. 

Jeff Gordon made the comment on NASCAR on FOX’s broadcast that the “cars are too unstable for moves like that” in relation to what happened. The drivers requested for the handling to be more back in their hands so they could have more control, rather than just locked down, stab the throttle and go. However, with all the wrecked cars from the events this weekend, there is a chance that perhaps they’ve gone a little too far. 

Although everything discussed so far was important, the big question after the Daytona 500 – was the move on the final lap fair between Austin Dillon and Aric Almirola?

You never want to see one driver hook another for the win. It’s the dirtiest form of driving, and takes out the strategy of out-battling the other for position. So certainly seeing Dillon give a bumper to Almirola, trigger an unfair victory for the Richard Childress Racing.

However, at the same time, Almirola was blocking and before the contact, he slid across the bumper of Dillon. As they say, you can take the chance of blocking, but know that there’s a possibility of getting turned. So you can’t totally fault Dillon here.

The only problem with Dillon’s actions are his reaction to what happened with his choice of wording. Speaking with Matt Yocum and FOX on the track post-race, he stated, “I did what I had to do there at the end. I hate it for the No. 10 (Aric Almirola) guys. We had a run, and I stayed in the gas. It is what it is here at Daytona.” He then went on to add in another interview, “I hate that for him, but Aric Almirola would have done the same thing if it were him in that position.”

There was still a whole other lane that Dillon could’ve moved down to, and how is he to know that Almirola would do the same thing? For his career, Almirola hasn’t shown the aggressiveness to equal a statement of that nature. When you make comments of this value, it allows people to question your character and choices, and how you choose to win. You may stand by it, but I can promise that some fans are not willing to accept drivers winning in this nature. In the weeks to follow, it’ll be interesting to see where Dillon’s popularity stands with the sport, given that it has been questioned already through the years in him being dubbed the “silver spoon” driver by Kevin Harvick. 

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.