Throughout the season-opening race weekend at Daytona, the winners of the earlier stages have failed to finish their respective events. It happened to Johnny Sauter in Friday night’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race and it happened to Elliott Sadler in Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race, and in Sunday’s Daytona 500, it happened yet again.
Kyle Busch, who was still seeking his first Daytona 500 win, was able to drive his No. 18 Toyota to the front of the field at lap 42, taking over the lead from Kevin Harvick. Over the next 18 laps, Busch led 15 of those laps to score the stage win along with the bonus points that came along with it.
Busch would lead another couple of laps in Stage 2 before joining the strategy of his Toyota teammates to pit around the halfway point of the second stage, which moved them to the tail end of the lead lap in the closing laps of that second stage.
As they were riding along in front of the race leaders, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Elliott Sadler, Busch had a tire go down entering Turn 3 on lap 106, sending his car for a spin in front of the pack and collecting a total of six cars by the time the crash was over.
Along with Busch, Matt Kenseth, Erik Jones, Earnhardt, Ty Dillon, and Elliott Sadler all sustained damage in the incident. Busch, Kenseth, Jones, and Earnhardt would all eventually go to the garage with their damage too severe to fix or maintain minimum speed. Sadler and Dillon were able to get their cars repaired to stay on track.
With Busch out of the race, his season gets off to a rocky start yet again and of course, he did not have anything positive to say about Goodyear, placing full blame on the tire manufacturer for causing the incident.
“Just getting into turn three as soon as we started picking up load it just started to come out from underneath me and started spinning,” said Busch. “I could feel the rear tire kind of start to flap in there and I knew one of them was down. I couldn’t tell left or right. I want to say it was a left because of how long it took it to spin. But man we tore up three really good JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) cars there. We also tore up the 88 (Dale Earnhardt Jr.), so I feel horrible about that but man it’s nothing I can do. Nothing that I did wrong. These Goodyear tires aren’t very good at holding air, so it’s very frustrating when you’re trying to win a Daytona 500 and you gotta rely on other people and they don’t do a good job.”
Likewise, Kenseth was looking to rebound from losing last year’s Daytona 500 on the last lap, but would not get the shot to redeem himself in this year’s race.
“It was just a weird day because of the segments and how everybody would pit off cycle, but we had our self in a good position to maybe have a shot at that second segment and finally get back on the lead lap. Those lapped cars picked some interesting places to get lapped instead of staying in line, we kind of had to snake through there. Went into turn three, made sure I was clear and it looked like Kyle (Busch) spun out in front of Erik (Jones) and I didn’t have anywhere to go,” said Kenseth.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who was making his first start since recovering from a concussion suffered last season, looked to be very racy and primed to possibly win a third Daytona 500, but was unable to avoid Busch’s spinning car and went up on two wheels when the two made contact. His team attempted to repair the damage, but they eventually elected to head to the garage, ending his race. Earnhardt would be checked and released from the Infield Care Center, but was disappointed he would not get the shot to race for the win.
“I really enjoyed the whole week. We had a lot of fun with everybody’s support to get back to the race track. It meant a lot to me and I’m just sorry we weren’t able to deliver a better result today for all of our fans and everybody that was looking forward to today. We had a great car. At least we went out leading the race. I don’t really know what happened there with the wreck, just looks like Kyle had a flat tire. I turned the wheel left, but you’re also out of the gas there and got on the splitter and it just kind of goes straight. Luckily, the hit wasn’t that hard and we’ll be able to get to Atlanta and compete again. It’s going to be a fun season and we’ve got pretty high spirits. Not the result we wanted today, but like I said, it’s been a great week.”
Stage 2 winner Kevin Harvick was also involved in a 16 car crash in the final stage, but was able to get his car repaired and returned to the track.