Mother Nature postponed the start of the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, as rain forced the Advance Auto Parts Clash to begin late Sunday morning rather than Saturday evening. Stop me if you’ve heard that before.
Anyways, the race didn’t disappoint. Joey Logano ended up winning the event, capitalizing on a crazy finish that saw his Penske teammate and pole-sitter Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin, who led 48 laps on the afternoon, most of all drivers, make contact, allowing the No. 22 to slide on through and ease his way to victory lane.
LUCKY LOGANO: “There at the end, it was kind of a mess,” Logano said to FS1 post-race in victory lane. “Everything was going really fast, and I was just in the right place at the right time.” The win was Ford’s first in “The Clash” in 13 years. Their last win came back in 2004, when Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett won it. This was Logano’s first as well.
Other notables included Chase Elliott in seventh, rookie Daniel Suarez in eighth, Matt Kenseth in 11th, Kyle Larson in 14th and Martin Truex Jr. in 15th.
SO, WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED ON THE LAST LAP?: Well, I’m glad you asked! Coming to the white flag, the field suddenly began jockeying for position after being single file. Three-wide racing bred aggressiveness, and the opportunity for bigger runs to be created from the draft.
Keselowski got a shove from Logano and tried to cross-over Hamlin on the bottom heading into turn two. The defending Daytona 500 winner tried to block the No. 2 Ford but was a fraction too late. The two made contact, and Logano took the rest of the field along with him to the start/finish line and earned his first checkered flag of the season.
“It’s unfortunate,” Keselowski told FS1. “I had to make the move[…]I know all the other drivers are back watching and they know not to make that block on me again. That’s part of what the fun is. You have to be two moves ahead, like a chess game.”
Hamlin understood Keselowski’s move. And big picture, this didn’t mean much, considering it’s a non-point paying event. “I was in a bad spot there,” Hamlin told FS1, who ended up finishing in 13th. “[Keselowski] was just coming so much faster than what I was. There’s not much that I could have done to defend.”
BOWMAN THE SHOWMAN: In his one scheduled race in the MENCS this season, Alex Bowman impressed—again. He came home in third place driving the No. 88 for Hendrick Motorsports, but it wasn’t without a little controversy. He had a short chat with Kyle Busch, who finished second. The 2014 champion was curious as to why Bowman opted to try and pass the No. 18, rather than drafting to try and catch eventual race winner Logano.
“He wanted my side as to why I was trying to pass him, and I say to try to finish better,” Bowman told Chase Wilhelm of FOXSports.com. “He wanted me to push him because he thought he could catch the No. 22 […] everything was really civil and all good. Just happy to be here with Hendrick Motorsports. It’s been a lot of fun. Looking forward to being a small role on the team in the future.” He also got some praise from the usual driver of the No. 88, Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was in the FOX Sports broadcast booth calling the action.
FAST FORDS: Logano finished first and Keselowski came home sixth in the 75-lap exhibition race. But where did the other Ford’s, most notably Stewart-Haas Racing drivers, finish? Well, Danica Patrick sneaked her way to a fourth-place finish, Kevin Harvick came home fifth but Kurt Busch came home last, 17th, after a loose Jimmie Johnson clipped the No. 41, sending the 2003 champion head-first into the wall. The Monster Energy car being the first to crash in the first race in the Monster Energy era? Bad omen? Conspiracy theorists: have a field day…
But in all seriousness, the blue oval brigade looked fast all afternoon. Anytime Harvick, Logano and Keselowski were hooked up in the draft, it seemed like they were 5-10 mph faster than the field. “We had to think the same way as Ford and with Stewart-Haas and the Penske cars and we were able to get a good enough run to work together enough to break them up and make the passes and then there at the end was kind of a mess,” Logano said in victory lane to FS1. Harvick also gladly tweeted regarding the speed of his race car after the race.
SEVEN-TIME CAN’T SHAKE HIS DEMONS: It must be something about coming off turn four at Daytona International Speedway for Hendrick Motorsports. Last season, one of the best to ever race at Daytona, Dale Earnhardt Jr., got loose and wrecked all by himself off turn four. And in The Clash, the seven-time and defending champion, Johnson, got loose twice in the same place.
First, he got into the No. 41, forcing a caution. Second, he spun out all by himself and contacted the inside SAFER barrier, meaning that the No. 48 would fail to finish “The Clash” for the sixth consecutive season. It goes to show you, NASCAR racing ain’t easy.
WHAT’S NEXT: Speedweeks are just beginning. The Can-Am Duels will take place on Thursday afternoon, the Camping World Truck Series NextEra Energy Resources 250 will take place on Friday evening (FS1), the XFINITY Powershares QQQ 300 will take place on Saturday afternoon (FS1), and the Great American Race, the Daytona 500, will take place on Sunday Feb. 26 (FOX).