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20th of February 2018


NASCAR Daytona: What we learned during The Clash

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The Clash at Daytona was essentially two races in one, but neither should be confused for a preview of the Daytona 500.

The first segment went 25 laps and featured side-by-side action and big runs that looked like a throwback to the late 1990s and early 2000s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series restrictor plate package. However, the final 50 laps went single-file, with drivers seemingly afraid to give up their track position to make a run at Brad Keselowski in the final laps.

Ryan Blaney was running third at the white flag and blinked first, dropping out of line but no one went with him. There was a crash on the backstretch and Keselowski largely coasted to the checkered flag over Joey Logano and Kurt Busch.

Fans were nonplussed.

Well that was anticlimactic! Why didn’t anyone make a move?

No one was shuffled around the field more than Austin Dillon, who started on the pole but was shuffled back to 15th before finishing fourth. It’s not that drivers weren’t trying to win, he said, they just couldn’t make a move when it mattered.

"Everybody wants to win," Dillon said. "I mean, it's hard to group up with non-teammates and sometimes even teammates to make them go with you at the right period of time. So everybody is kind of playing the wait game."

The challenge was that once drivers were hung out to dry, they went straight to the back. And once they were at the back, they had a hard time keeping up with the draft. Ryan Newman, Kevin Harvick and Chase Elliott all suffered that particular fate.

"They get shuffled around," Dillon said. "And I was lucky enough to be able to have a car that could stay with the draft. I think Harvick tried, and he lost the draft, and so did (Newman), lost the draft. I went one time, and he acted like he was going to go with me, and then he kind of got back in top to get me behind him."

So understand that it’s not that drivers weren’t interested in making a move, but getting the timing right was just a challenge on Sunday night.

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Not a Preview

Keselowski said it would be a stretch to use the Clash as a barometer to predicting how the Daytona 500 will play out.

The reason? Stages.

"I mean, there was a break, but there was no stage points," Keselowski said. "The stage points are really a game changer, I think. This race was more like what you would have seen before stages. Now with stages, you're not going to see this kind of racing in the 500.

"There's too many points on the line to do that. You'll see different strategies, which mixes the pack up a little bit more and creates different scenarios. I expect a much different look to the 500 than what you saw today, at least for the first two stages. Maybe not the third stage, it's hard to say.  But I would not rubber stamp the 500 as looking this way at all.  The stages and those points are just too valuable."

To his point, the stage finishes in the Daytona 500 last year were dramatic, with teams taking chances they wouldn't ordinarily take on Lap 60 or 120.

Sure, the changes NASCAR made to the competition package will help passing once the field gets side-by-side, but there’s just not a lot anyone can do when three Team Penske cars get lined-up nose-to-tail without budging.

It was the same two years ago when Toyota played that strategy, and it will be the same next Sunday if another team employs a similar strategy.

So the race will play out however drivers decide they want it to play out.

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NASCAR’s Contradictive Double Line Rule

Ricky Stenhouse was issued a drive-through penalty on Lap 43 for passing below the double yellow line and advancing his position.

For those out of the loop, the double yellow line rule is an out of bounds plane on restrictor plate tracks. Any driver that goes below them to advance their position is subject to a penalty. However, Stenhouse was forced below the line by Kyle Busch.

It was a double-edged sword:

If he doesn’t drift below the line, he crashes the whole field. If he lifts off the gas once he gets pushed down, he loses the draft and has no realistic chance to win the race. It’s the reason why NASCAR typically doesn’t call that caution.

Until Sunday …

With all due respect to O’Donnell, this rule has largely been applied consistently up until Sunday afternoon. This was a new interpretation and it’s sure to warrant several questions during the driver meetings on Thursday and before the Great American Race.

Tough call but 17 advanced position and rule is clear on that

— Steve O'Donnell (@odsteve) February 11, 2018

Slower Pit Stops

NASCAR took away an over-the-wall pit crew member during the off-season, but the end result was barely noticeable.

Sure the stops were slower, on average by four seconds per stop, but team choreography was already down to a precise science. They basically looked like pit stops -- just with one less person. In time, I suspect, we won’t even notice the difference.

Matt Weaver

Matt Weaver - Matt Weaver is an associate motorsports editor at Autoweek. Before becoming a journalist, he was a dirt track racer and short track cheeseburger connoisseur. See more by this author»

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