By David Morgan, Associate Editor
If there is anything we have learned in recent years, it’s that NASCAR road course racing is always unpredictable and Tuesday night’s Busch Clash at Daytona was no exception.
Reminiscent of the 2018 race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course, the two leaders on the last lap looked to settle the race amongst themselves, but took each other out in the final chicane, handing the win to the third-place driver.
This time around it was longtime friends Ryan Blaney and reigning Cup Series champion Chase Elliott battling it out around Daytona’s 3.61-mile road course layout, with Kyle Busch waiting in the wings behind them, hoping some fireworks would transpire.
Blaney, who had fresher tires as the laps wound down, passed Elliott with a lap and a half to go, but the reigning champion was not to be denied as he hounded Blaney for the remainder of the race. Heading into the final chicane, Elliott dove in deep, making contact with Blaney and sending the No. 12 Ford for a spin.
With Elliott off the pace after his contact with Blaney, Busch was able to sneak past him and score the victory — just as Blaney had done at Charlotte two years prior.
“Just two guys going hard,” Blaney said. “We didn’t really get away from him like I needed to on the last lap there after we passed him. I didn’t get away from him. I kind of slipped up one or two corners and he was able to get into me there and kind of keep me close. I hit the mud hard on the backstretch and kind of let him get even closer and then I was trying to protect against the dive bomb there and I braked deeper in that corner than I had braked all night and he set it off in there and we came together and neither one of us won the race. It definitely sucks for sure, but I appreciate the fast car and it’s a shame it didn’t happen.
Even though it was just an exhibition race, Blaney noted that fact didn’t matter when it all comes down to it, especially coming so close to the win.
“A race is a race. I don’t care if it’s an exhibition race or a normal points race. I don’t care about that. It’s racing, but I was upset about it, for sure. Chase and I know each other well. I know he didn’t do it on purpose, but sending it off in there hard like anybody would do it’s just a shame we both got taken out or neither one of us won the race. If you’re gonna make a move like that make sure you either win the race, don’t let the third-place guy do it.”
Elliott, who had won the four previous Cup Series road course races, including last August at the Daytona road course, saw the opportunity to go for the win and took it, even though things didn’t go as planned.
“I was close enough to drive it in there and I feel like I’d be mad at myself for not at least trying,” Elliott said. “Obviously, I don’t mean to wreck anybody, especially him. Some guys I wouldn’t mind. But he’s not one of them. Hopefully he’s not too mad at me.
“I feel like you’ve got to go for it here in an event like this in any situation. I can’t be sorry about going for the win, but I certainly didn’t mean to wreck him. I drove in there and, just that corner gets so tight and I didn’t want to just completely jump the curb to the right. But I feel like I tried to get over there as far as I could. And at that point we were coming together at the same time. I hate it. We had a fast Llumar Chevrolet in a position to have a shot at it. We’ll try again on Sunday.”
In 12 days, the Cup Series will return to the Daytona road course for a points paying race. Given how the Clash played out, if the same situation presents itself on February 21, will we see the same set of events transpire?
Blaney certainly thinks so.
“Am I going to make the same move if we’re in the same position two weeks from now? Hell, yeah. I mean, why not?”