By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – What felt like the Royal Rumble, the 42nd Busch Clash will go down as the ultimate attrition fest as only six out of the 18 drivers survived the mayhem at Daytona International Speedway.
It seemed fitting that the race winning car was a total wrecked machine as Erik Jones got the assist of a lifetime from his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin (who was a lap down) to win the crash fest that saw three overtimes, resulting the total laps going from 75 to 88.
Well before the carnage, Jones ran alone as there was two pack of cars putting on a show. That would change until Lap 67 where drafting and blocking between Kyle Busch and Joey Logano respectively went wrong, causing a multi-car crash.
From there, Jones simply survived the wrecks and kept on going without any rammfications. That brave and bold thinking paid off as he was all smiles for what he described as the coolest win of his career.
“An aspect that me and my friends will laugh about this for a long time. Looking back at it and wonder how we won,” Jones explained. “After the third wreck, I was like ‘Man, it’s pretty tore up.’
“(The No. 20 team) thought they can patch it back up and I went back out. ‘Yeah, I can still make laps.’ As long as the thing can keep making left turns and have power, we were going to keep going. We had nothing to lose. There was only six cars out there, so I thought ‘If I’m in it, I got a shot. Everybody’s got damage.’
“Just push it to the end and just hoping to still be in it. Hoping for people would keep taking each other and eliminate each other, we would have a shot which we did and it worked out.”
The Gibbs duo were the only Toyota cars left. As a matter of a fact, the other two manufacturers had two drivers left with Ford being third-place Clint Bowyer and fifth-place Ryan Newman. Meanwhile, runner-up Austin Dillon and fourth-place Kyle Larson represented the Chevrolet brand.
Out of contention Hamlin may have been, but his role in helping Jones was key as the top line proved to be the winning lane to get by Newman and Dillon, who were driving the wheels out of their cars at the Superstretch.
“Just pure awesomeness,” Hamlin on Sunday’s mayhem and helping Jones. “I knew (Erik) was in for a ride. If he could hang on, he was going to have a great shot. I was one lap down and I’m thinking that I kind of want him to wreck one more time to get me back on the lead lap, but my car was so damaged that I needed a car directly in front of me to cover the massive broken nose the whole car got.
“It just worked and when I linked up with him, we took off. Luckily he was able to hang on there. His car looked terrible, mine looked terrible but together it was a winning combination.”
Like you would’ve guessed, the extremely damaged front side of Jones’ No. 20 Sports Clips Toyota Camry had a tremendous disadvantage running by himself. Through his spotter Rick Carelli, the search for Hamlin to give him a boost began and went on from there.
“I knew he was out there and I figured our spotter had told me to help us out,” Jones said. “I was looking for (Denny) and started getting ahead of steam and he started pushing me.
“I’m like, ‘I know if we’re going to go fast enough to even catch him’ because we were both pretty damaged. We started getting a little momentum and I started getting a little air off those guys in front of me and we got a good run off of (Turn 2).
“(Dillon and Newman) were so focused on each other that we started passing them and we just kept going. I was like, ‘hell yeah, we’re going to win the race.’ It was really cool but a strange race. From a lot of aspects, the craziest race I’ve ever been in. Let alone won.”
Blocking with the current package on the superspeedways have proven to be an absolute disaster for some drivers. Hamlin felt that it’s just not viable to pull a block without utter chaos taking place, especially at a narrower track like Daytona.
“We’re seeing more and more with this package and big spoiler, you can’t block like you used to be able to,” Hamlin said. “I think some guys continue to block like they’ve always had and it’s just costing wrecks every time we’re doing this.
“The runs are going to be bigger than Talladega because the track is more narrow and the air doesn’t have anywhere to escape to. Runs are going to be bigger, less time to react for the blocking.”
Newman jokingly described this Clash and other previous editions over the past few years with millions of dollars being wasted on damaged vehicles, all for a non-points race.
“I guess it’s fun for someone to rip off hundred bills evidently,” Newman said.
He followed it up by telling Hamlin about if the race were to have paid more, how much of a difference would’ve been to destroy race cars.
“If it paid a lot more money to win, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal wouldn’t?”
As Hamlin wrapped up interviews, Newman said he was proud of the Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 6 team’s efforts of escaping the Clash, but also felt that while he had Bowyer as the only other Ford driver, the alliance wasn’t there for him to get the victory.
“We had some really good speed. The car drove good. Strategy was good, but I just didn’t have the alliance at the end to get ourselves that push,” Newman said. “I tried to block (Austin), but I didn’t see or know that Denny had (Erik) lined up in the freight train coming on the outside. I knocked the left rear tire in blocking Austin, but it’s just how timing worked out and I feel bad about the deal.”
In the first overtime, Newman was involved in a messy restart where possibly oil (which Newman described) resulted into a wad of cars plowing into each other before the start-finish line.
“We crashed and looked kind of stupid coming to the green,” Newman said. “I guess that happens but it wasn’t the peak of the stupidity that’s for sure.”
Bowyer wished the race would’ve had ended up a single-file train fest like it was for two-thirds of the race, but is glad to have just finished the event after he felt the multi-car crash on the restart was going to end his day.
“I was thinking it was kind of boring running single file, but damn I wished it would’ve stayed that way. We’re not capable of going two-wide,” Bowyer said. “It’s going to happen though. Here’s the thing, there’s a lot of scenarios and shenanigans on a race like that.”
An attrition fest like Sunday brought good memories for Dillon, who won an Xfinity Series race under those exact circumstances.
“It was very similar. There was about four cars left and it was me and Chase Elliott, and we beat them back to the line,” Dillon said. “It reminded me of that and I thought we were going to come home victorious. I started getting worried because we were losing Chevys fast.”
While Dillon and Larson were the lone Chevrolet drivers, it was Bowyer who helped Dillon getting him in a great position for the win. However, the JGR parade took over and it was too late as his focus was blocking Newman.
“Those guys just laid back enough that they had such a big run on the backstretch,” Dillon said. “My spotter said, ‘Go high! Go high!’ I was more focused out the front and I started to go high and Newman made a block on it.”
Dillon will do his homework over the next couple of days as he’ll watch the FS1 broadcast to see what he can do better that could get him in excellent position for a second Daytona 500 triumph next Sunday.
“If your in that situation again, what would I do different fending off multiple cars,” Dillon said. “It’s hard because you can block and get turned real easy. I’ve been on both sides, but we made it through. That was fun.”
Larson doesn’t think we’ll see something like today’s Clash going forward.
“People are always more cautious in Thursday because you don’t want to crash your 500 car,” Larson said. “The 500 is a much longer race and there’s points on the line, so it should be a little more tame.”
The mess is mercifully over. Jones’ car may more than likely be given to him, but the focus is now onto Thursday’s Bluegreen Vacations Duel with live coverage beginning at 7:00pm EST on FS1. Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano, who were among the 12 drivers who failed to finish the Clash, won the races a year ago.