Photo: Stephen A. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Lap 5 Mayhem Ends Daytona 500 for Burton, Hocevar and Grala

By Luis Torres, Staff Writer

It’s never an ideal way to kick off a NASCAR season when a driver’s Daytona 500 ends in less than 10 laps.

The case was proven on Monday when a Lap 5 crash collected seven drivers in the tri-oval, ending a few of their days and their dream of hoisting the Harley J. Earl Trophy.

Of those involved were former Daytona 500 winners Jimmie Johnson and Austin Dillon, as well as Daytona 500 rookie Carson Hocevar. Also involved were Ryan Preece, Kaz Grala, John Hunter Nemechek, and Harrison Burton.

Out of those seven, the carnage ended the days of Grala, Burton and Hocevar. All as a result of bump drafting going awry between Nemechek and Brad Keselowski.

Just outside the top-10, Keselowski gained a run on Nemechek, who was running in the top lane as the field entered turn 4. Due to the huge gain, the draft work collapsed as Keselowski ran into Nemechek and got him sideways and darted into Burton, who was running in the middle.

Consequently, the accordion effect sent Burton into Hocevar, leading to both sliding onto the damped tri-oval grass. Burton would return onto the racing surface, forcing drivers to react in order to avoid the melee. Both Noah Gragson and Todd Gilliland were able to avoid Burton, but the same couldn’t be said for Grala, who got into Preece before plowing into Burton.

Due to the brutal contact, Burton began doing pirouette spins on the top line which led to Dillon colliding into him. Further back, Hocevar didn’t face a brutal impact compared to Burton, but he was hit by Johnson which sent Hocevar into the tri-oval grass where his car was stuck due to the heavy rain the past two days.

With Hocevar being one of only two Daytona 500 rookies, the incident resulted in Josh Berry as the highest-finishing 500 debutant by default.

After sliding around in turn one, Preece was able to get it back together and resume his race, but did sustain front hood damage.

All drivers were checked and released from the infield care center, including Burton, who was frustrated to have his Monday afternoon derailed over an incident that was out of his own doing.

“It just looked like they either got a bad push or got loose and just hit me in the right side and sent me across,” said Burton. “The grass was so wet that once I got in the grass I thought I’d be OK, but the car just kept going and going, so really sad that our day is over as quick as it was.

“We had a really fast DEX Imaging/Motorcraft Ford Mustang. It’s just a bummer. There’s nothing we can do but just move on and try to win next week.”

Grala, who was running a third Front Row Motorsports car, explained he couldn’t do much to avoid Burton in the ordeal.

“Two cars wrecked it looked like through the tri-oval grass and just rolled right back up into traffic and, unfortunately, there was nowhere that we could go. It’s pretty disappointing to end our day that early,” said Grala. “It feels like we didn’t get a chance to race at all today. I’m disappointed that we’ll have to wait another year to go again in the Daytona 500 and that’s hoping I get an opportunity.”

Like Grala, little could’ve been done from Hocevar in terms of being collected by Burton. To be precise, Hocevar said he only had 0.1 seconds to react.

“It happened right in my lap. I tried my best not to slide across the grass, but obviously with two-plus days of rain, it’s going to be really slick,” said Hocevar. “I just kept sliding. It felt like I was all alone sliding across the grass and just hoping that nobody hit me. It’s just unfortunate that was the case.”

Once the dust settled, Grala, Burton and Hocevar occupied the bottom three positions.

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From the Pacific Northwest, Luis is a University of Idaho graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Broadcasting and Digital Media and a three-time National Motorsports Press Association award winner in photography. Ever since watching the 2003 Daytona 500, being involved in auto racing is all he's ever dreamed of doing. Over the years, Luis has focused on writing, video and photography with ambitions of having his work recognized.