With the commencement of speed week at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona, Fla., on Feb. 7, NASCAR’s 2020 racing season is officially underway. If the opening weekend is any indication then we are in for a wild ride as this year’s Busch Clash exhibition race provided fans with all the wreckage and associated drama that they could handle.
Normally comprised of 75 laps broken down into 25 and 50 lap stages, the 2020 Busch Clash was extended by 13 overtime laps before Erik Jones crossed the finish line in his badly damaged No. 20 Toyota Camry to capture the first checkered flag of the season.
“It was an awesome race,” Jones said. “I’ve got to give a huge thanks to Denny. He gave us a huge push that last run. It wasn’t the fastest car in the race, but we brought it home. I think, honestly, it was so draggy it wasn’t too much for him to lock on and push us to the win. Hopefully, next Sunday (in the Daytona 500) we can cap off another one.”
Jones, who suffered damage to his car in the first of two ‘Big Ones’ in the race was pushed across the finish line by teammate Denny Hamlin who went on to finish sixth, one lap down. In between the two, was Austin Dillon in second-place followed by Clint Bowyer, Kyle Larson and Ryan Newman.
“I knew he was going to be in for a ride,” Hamlin said. “It was just a matter of whether he could handle it … I knew that last lap he needed to strap in, because I was going to push him. I didn’t care if I pushed him into a wreck — I was going to push him.”
Due to a change in qualification criteria, this year’s Clash was only open to drivers who were 2019 Pole Award winners; former Clash race winners; former Daytona 500 champions; former Daytona 500 pole winners who competed full–time in 2019 and drivers who qualified for the 2019 Playoffs. The Clash awards no points towards the season standing.
Only 18 drivers were featured in the race that kicked off at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 9, including Dawsonville native Chase Elliott who won the pole at Daytona in the first two years of his career.
None of the remaining 12 drivers finished the race after a series of accidents, beginning on lap 66 with Joey Logano’s ill-advised block of Kyle Busch in turn 4, wiped out the majority of the field.
Those drivers not eliminated in the first accident found themselves tangled again on lap 77 when the restart resulted in an accordion style series of collisions that ended the day for another five cars.
Elliott was the last car eliminated from the race, finishing seventh, when he made a run for the lead on lap 82 and found himself tangled with the few remaining cars on the track resulting in damage to his No. 9 Mountain Dew Zero Sugar Team Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE.
Earlier on Sunday, the drivers competed in the official Qualifying event for the Daytona 500 set to take place on Feb. 16.
With a Hendriks Motorsports engine under the hood of his No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. captured the third pole of his career and his first at Daytona. Hendriks Motorsports driver Alex Bowman followed closely behind to lock up the second front-row slot.
Unique in the world of racing, only the top two drivers are guaranteed starting positions in the main event, with the remaining drivers being seeded into a pair of 150-mile, 60-lap races known as the Bluegreens Vacations Duels scheduled for Thursday night.
Elliott turned in the third fastest qualifying time to give him a front row position in Duel number one and the best opportunity to secure a top-5 position on the track. The winner of Duel 1 will start the Daytona 500 in third place, second place starts fifth, and so on through the inside row. The winner of Duel 2 will start the Daytona 500 in fourth place, second place starts sixth and so on through the outside row.
The 2020 season will officially begin when the green flag waves on “The Great American Race,” the Daytona 500, on Sunday, Feb. 16 at 2:30p.m.