A last-lap get-together between Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney allowed Kyle Busch to steal the NASCAR Cup Series’ season-opening exhibition.
Kyle Busch took advantage of chaos on the final lap of the NASCAR Cup Series season-opening Busch Clash exhibition at Daytona International Speedway’s road course on Tuesday night, stealing the opening victory when Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney made contact in the final turn.
Busch was running third in his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota when Elliott tried to take the win from his close friend Blaney got together toward the final turn. With the cars ahead of him disabled, the two-time Cup Series champion took full advantage.
First run in 1979, the Busch Clash exhibition is typically considered the unofficial start of the NASCAR season. It is often run the weekend before the Daytona 500, but DIS’ Speedweeks festivities have been condensed to a weak to work with health protocols. The event was run on the speedway’s road course for the first time, nearly six months after the circuit ran a regular-season race for the first time. Criteria for entry into the event constantly changes, though this season’s event welcomed playoff drivers, race winners, stage winners, and pole sitters from on-track qualifying last season.
NASCAR will return to the road course on February 21, one week after Sunday’s main event on the oval (2:30 p.m. ET, Fox), for a points race.
Busch becomes the 11th driver to earn multiple Clash victories, previously winning on the traditional oval in 2012. This victory comes after a disappointing title defense in 2020. Busch won only a single race and failed to appear in the top four of the final standings for the first time since 2014. He also captured a win with new crew chief Ben Beshore, a former JGR engineer who served as Harrison Burton’s pit boss at the Xfinity Series level last year. Beshore was also Busch’s interim crew chief for three races during the 2017 season.
It was nearly deja vu all over against for Elliott, the defending Cup Series champion in the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Elliott came in as a popular pick for the Clash title, having won each of the last four races held on a road course (including August’s maiden voyage at Daytona). However, he was forced to start the rear of the field for the 35-lap event, a penalty for making unapproved adjustments to his Chevy. Elliott was previously sent to the rear at the last points event back in Phoenix in November. He’d brush to off to not only win the event, but his first Cup Series championship as well.
Elliott had made his way to third by lap 28 when leader Martin Truex Jr. wrecked in the sixth turn. The No. 9 would assume the lead when leaders Blaney and Denny Hamlin pitted. Blaney’s No. 12 Team Penske Ford won the race off pit road, situating him behind Elliott and five others who stayed out. Armed with fresher tires, Blaney took the lead from Elliott with two to go before engaging in a furious final lap. As they came to the frontstretch, Elliott bumped the No. 12, spinning him into the wall. Elliott tried to get back up to speed as Busch approached, but it was no use. As Busch celebrated in front of a limited crowd at the start/finish line, Elliott and Blaney shared a conversation on pit road.
Joey Logano recovered from a pit road penalty to finish third, while Tyler Reddick and William Byron rounded out the top five.
Preparation for the Daytona 500 will continue on Wednesday through single-car qualifying (7 p.m. ET, FS1) that will determine the front row for Sunday. The rest of the starting lineup will be settled through the Bluegreen Vacations Duels on Thursday night.
- A common complaint from Tuesday’s event was that mud crept onto the track from the infield. Several cars needed their grilles scrubbed on pit strops to remove the intrusions.
- 23XI Racing, the team founded by Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin, unofficially debuted its No. 23 Toyota on Tuesday. Though regular driver Bubba Wallace did not qualify for the Clash, the team welcomed in veteran Ty Dillon for a one-off deal. Dillon finished 18th and will next attempt to race Gaunt Brothers Racing’s No. 96 Toyota into the 500 on Thursday. The former driver of the No. 13 for defunct Germain Racing will also pilot the 96 at the return to the road course in two weeks.
- Other drivers in new rides included Alex Bowman in the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet (7th) and Erik Jones in the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet (8th). Bowman is taking over the No. 48 for seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson while Jones, defending champion of the Clash, replaces Wallace.
- Busch’s win is the record 10th Clash victory for Joe Gibbs Racing and second in a row after Jones won in the No. 20 Toyota last season.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags